You may be like John and Winnie Spuhler. They were enjoying what some call “the golden years”—serving actively in their ward, keeping track of grandchildren’s birthdays, putting some time into a small business enterprise for after John’s retirement in a year or two, and fortunate to have good health generally. John was serving in the high priests group leadership, they attended the temple regularly, and though Winnie had been released from serving as president of the ward Relief Society, she continued to be compassionate and involved in the lives of many people.
Quite a Surprise
“When the bishop called us in,” recalls Winnie, “I was not expecting any surprises, but we got one.”
“We had been in pretty close contact with Bishop Ogden, so when he popped the question, it seemed to come like a bolt out of the blue—we were caught completely off-guard,” adds John.
The question their bishop posed was, “Have you given much thought to serving a mission?”
John and Winnie looked at each other with identical expressions of surprise.
“No,” was John’s reply. “But after I’m retired, we might think about it.” He paused and added, “Just give us a year or two, Bishop, and I think we’ll be ready.” Then their bishop asked them to give it some more thought and prayer.
It was only a matter of months before John and Winnie Spuhler were back in Bishop Ogden’s office talking about a mission. Some things had happened to the Spuhlers, and they wanted to talk about them. For one thing, they had been on a trip to Atlanta, Georgia, where they had visited with some old friends who were now serving a mission in the Atlanta Temple. While visiting with their friends, the seeds Bishop Ogden had planted in their hearts about serving a mission had begun to swell within them, as Alma describes.
“Bishop, we don’t know,” began John, “we want to do what’s right, but there’s the business we’ve started, there’s the condo to rent, our children and grandchildren to leave behind—we’re just not sure we could get everything in shape to leave if we went to serve a mission.”
Of course, the bishop smiled that smile-full-of-understanding that says, “I think the Lord will fit everything into place, if you’re ready to serve him.”
Faith Made Manifest
John and Winnie will tell you that once they decided to go, a series of events began that nourished their faith enormously.
“I had never thought of myself as a highly spiritual person,” Winnie explains, “but it became clear to me that years of serving in callings, accepting assignments, trying to learn and grow—years of normal and uneventful effort with family, Church, and community—suddenly took on great meaning. It was as if my faith were a flower that had burst into full bloom and I hadn’t even remembered seeing it happen.
John, too, spoke of how everything seemed to fall into place confirming the decision—the business was sold to an LDS family relocating from another city, and both households were benefited by the transaction; a couple wished to rent their condominium for the time they would be gone; and family members gave great emotional support. For John and Winnie, it became a time of rich spiritual feelings confirming their choice.
“Yes, there have been problems along the way,” Sister Spuhler adds, referring to things like complicated surgery on her husband’s arm that delayed their departure. “But we are living now on a whole new level of spirituality,” she adds. “We have always been close and had a fairly nice life, but we are closer to each other and to the Lord than at any time in our lives.”
John affirms, “Our prayers have become more purposeful, our lives better directed, and we both feel a vigor that enables us to deal with problems better than ever. This experience, so far, has capped every experience in our life. And serving a temple mission in Washington, D.C., is the continuation of that rich experience.”
When the Spuhlers entered the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, they were told that their group of senior missionaries was the largest group to enter the field at one time—108 adult missionaries. “They make you feel so wonderful at the MTC,” Winnie says. “That part alone is worth it.”
Currently, there are nearly 1,200 mature members serving full-time missions, both single sisters and couples. The number of mature members serving missions is growing, but unfortunately, it is not growing as fast as the need for them.
Accounting for much of the growth in numbers of seniors in the mission field are couples like Eugene and LaPriele Price. The Prices are now serving their second full-time mission. “We made so many dear and wonderful friends when we served in Australia,” says LaPriele Price, “that both of us wanted to serve another mission.”
On several occasions during their service in Australia, the Prices were instrumental in teaching and baptizing individuals who had been taught by the younger missionaries but who had not joined the Church. “It seemed that for some people,” explains Eugene, “an older person with more experience could relate better to certain questions about the Church. So we felt we were needed and could make a difference.”
While serving as leadership missionaries, the Prices spent a major part of the time in Australia among members, working with less-active and part-member families. Elder Price served as a branch president or other priesthood leader often, and Sister Price served in the Relief Society and Young Women organizations. The same kind of opportunities are theirs now in the New York Rochester Mission.
Both Eugene and LaPriele Price agree that because they have been given much, they feel they want to give to others. “We have been so blessed,” LaPriele says. “And we have been out once already and seen how much unfinished work there is to do,” Eugene says.
They admit that it is hard to leave their growing and changing grandchildren, but they share the joys of their missions with their families. “Knowing that our little grandchildren are praying for us every night—that’s a sustaining and inspiring feeling each day,” Sister Price says. “And besides, it’s all for our Father in Heaven, who has promised us that our family bonds will never be broken if we serve him.”
For Philip and Helen Palkki a mission call came as the culmination of their own conversion to the Church back in 1963. That culmination has been nowhere more evident than on their first day in the Missionary Training Center when they happened upon the very missionary who had baptized them more than twenty-five years earlier. He was there dropping off a missionary.
“We couldn’t believe our eyes,” Elder Palkki recalls. “There stood Elder ‘O’, as we affectionately called him. He had been the young missionary who came along—after Helen and I had investigated the Church for five years—and challenged us to finally turn ourselves completely over to the Lord. Once we did as he suggested, once we humbled ourselves enough and turned the matter over to the Lord, the answer was plain and was simple to follow.”
After the Palkkis joined the Church and became fully involved, their five children began to complete their own conversion cycles by serving missions. All five children served missions—one a stake mission and four full-time missions. “We’re following their examples,” smiles Sister Palkki.
Helen and Phil are both of Finnish descent and thought they might be called to the homeland of their parents. “We would have loved that,” says Sister Palkki, “but we plan to serve more than one mission, and we’ll go wherever the Lord needs us.” The Palkkis’ service takes them diagonally across the U.S., from Sweet Home, Oregon, in the Pacific Northwest—where Brother Palkki spent forty-one years in the lumber industry—to the Florida Ft. Lauderdale Mission, in the Southeast.
They sold their house in Sweet Home and plan to devote the rest of their lives to missionary and temple work. Brother Palkki has served in three bishoprics, Sister Palkki has been president of both the Relief Society and Young Women, and they have served two stake missions. So this new calling may change their place of service but not its nature.
There are many ways to serve in the mission field. As a young woman, Dorothy Burton served in the British Mission as the mission accountant. Today, Sister Burton and her husband, Melvin, a retired schoolteacher and counselor, have recently returned from serving an office mission in the Massachusetts Boston Mission, where she was also mission accountant. Elder Burton was in charge of the hundreds of supplies and other materials that make a mission function smoothly, but they also had the opportunity to teach the gospel.
“I had always wanted to serve a mission,” says Brother Burton, who was unable to because of World War II. Sister Burton adds, “It is a wonderful spiritual experience to be out here. Since Elder Haight’s conference address in April 1988, so many couples have recognized the great need for missionaries. But even in this one mission we could use so many more.”
Ray and Colleen Fergeson used their talents in yet another way in the mission field. The Fergesons served a public relations mission in San Diego, California. Brother Fergeson is a retired executive who served for twelve years as president of the Mormon Youth Symphony and Chorus in Salt Lake City—a calling extended to him because of his background in the entertainment industry.
“Besides working with the media, which has been a major function of a public relations missionary,” explains Elder Fergeson, “we attempted to increase the Church’s participation in community service in southern California. We wanted to urge members to become more involved in their community and to contribute service to it.”
Familiar with the challenge of involving people in their community, Ray Fergeson founded and solicited donations for a workshop for the disabled in Salt Lake City, employing more than 250 people and training them for jobs. He also headed Primary Children’s Hospital’s Project Happiness, which turned community attention to needs at the hospital. “I am excited about putting my career to work for the Lord, building and strengthening his kingdom,” says Brother Fergeson.
Many Ways to Serve
In addition to temple missionaries like the Spuhlers, leadership missionaries like the Prices, office missionaries like the Burtons, and public relations missionaries like the Fergesons, the Church also calls mature members to serve in four other ways.
Welfare services missionaries are assigned to solve temporal problems affecting Church members. They may work with local ecclesiastical or government leaders to improve living conditions and make friends for the Church.
A couple may also be called to serve at a visitors’ center, information center, or historical site. (For example, see Ensign, Oct. 1987, p. 20.)
Family history missionaries are called to areas where family history skills and interests are needed. Couples may, for example, be needed to contact officials of governments, genealogical and historical societies, and other churches to locate family history records. Couple missionaries may even be called upon to teach family history skills to members in certain areas of the world.
Occasionally members are called on education missions. In this kind of mission, under the local Church Educational System director, they might receive an assignment at a Church school or at a seminary or institute.
If You Desire
Perhaps you have not thought about serving a mission. Or perhaps you have thought about it, but weren’t aware of the many types of missions that need people like you.
The field is white, ready to harvest. If you desire an opportunity to serve in any of the ways we have discussed, now is the time to “thrust in your sickle.” Your faith and love qualify you for the work. Join the thousands of couples who are serving with heart, might, mind, and strength.