Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles serves as Chairman of the Missionary Executive Council. In a recent interview with the Ensign, Elder Haight stressed the growing need for couple missionaries to serve throughout the world. He also pointed out the joyous opportunities and blessings that come from serving a mission.
Elder Haight: Let me answer from my own experience. In 1963 I was called to preside over the Scottish Mission. When I arrived, I made a tour of all the branches and could see that the members, many of whom were new converts, were still learning the patterns of the gospel and why we do things the way we do. I realized that what these branches needed was the example of members who were well seasoned in Church experience—priesthood and Relief Society knowledge and operating procedures. I thought of the vast numbers of healthy retired people sitting in rocking chairs on sunny patios when they still had many years of productivity in them and could visualize how successful we could be in Scotland if we had some of those experienced retired couples in some of our branches. What a help they would be!
So I wrote to some of our retired friends in California and encouraged them to come on a mission and suggested that they indicate on their missionary application that they would enjoy serving in Scotland. Seven couples responded to my encouragement.
In addition, as a mission president I submitted my request to the Missionary Department for couple missionaries. Since assignments for missionary service are made by inspiration through the Brethren, there was no guarantee that these couples from California would be able to serve with me. However, to our mutual joy, these seven couples were assigned to the Scottish Mission, and we put them to work in these branches. Their influence was just as successful as I had hoped it would be. What a wonderful resource they were!
Mission presidents all over the world need the maturity, knowledge, and personal skills of retired couples to help strengthen their missions today just as much as we needed them in 1963. Couples add stability to a mission. They are role models for younger missionaries, and they offer mature thinking.
Elder Haight: Retired couples have talents and abilities that are often not used after they retire. People with special skills in the health field, such as doctors and dentists, are always needed. Teachers and farmers provide invaluable services.
Serving a mission gives retired people a chance to use their talents and gifts again. They discover that they are truly needed, and as a consequence they find a powerful new sense of direction in life. They joyfully lose themselves in new experiences and opportunities for growth. The reward for those who serve is often renewed health and energy. When they go home, they are filled with the rich spirit of missionary work and a great love for the people they have served.
Elder Haight: More than sixteen hundred couples (thirty-two hundred individuals) are presently serving missions throughout the world. Even though the need for couples continues to increase, the number of couples coming into the mission field sadly has been decreasing.
In behalf of the Brethren, this is a call for retired couples to seriously consider serving a mission. We desperately need more couples to help met our needs. We currently have 307 missions. Less than 50 percent of the requests for couple missionaries from those 307 mission presidents are being filled.
Elder Haight: We have a limited number of couples that serve for twelve months, but most go for eighteen or twenty-four months. Some of these couples extend their missions because they are so involved and happy in the work. Couples serving outside their home country serve for at least eighteen months.
Elder Haight: Normally, the age limit is seventy years old. Couples need to be in good health, with no permanent debilitating illnesses. A thorough medical exam is required before submitting papers. However, if both husband and wife are in good health, the age limit is often waived.
Let me say also that couples with dependent children at home (regardless of age) or couples who are in the childbearing years are not called.
Elder Haight: The greatest need is for couples who can help train local leaders in places where the Church is not yet strong. They also help activate members and fellowship new converts. Some couples serve in mission offices as secretaries, financial clerks, vehicle coordinators, and so forth. In more remote areas of the Church, couples may be involved in ward or branch leadership. Also, much goodwill for the Church is promoted by couples who are actively involved in community service.
In addition to working in missions, a limited number of couples serve in temples. Some are given additional assignments to work in family history, public affairs, welfare, Church education, and a variety of other Church-service assignments. In fact, the opportunities for couples are endless because the need for their services is so great.
Elder Haight: Couples are not expected to tract or memorize the discussions. They are assigned a regular tracting area only if they request it. Most couples work with local priesthood leaders, less-active members, or converts.
Elder Haight: No. However, if a couple is willing to learn a language, consideration will be given to a foreign-speaking assignment. Incidentally, couples living along the Wasatch Front in Utah who would be willing to learn Spanish, Portuguese, or French can participate in a six-month correspondence class offered by the Provo Missionary Training Center.
Elder Haight: The need for help outside of the United States is greater simply because of the size of the world. We are fast approaching the day when we will have more members outside of the United States than inside. But the need within the United States is still there.
Elder Haight: All missionary calls come from the Lord through inspiration to his servants. Therefore, it is not appropriate for couples to dictate where they will serve. President Howard W. Hunter said, “When we know why we serve, it won’t matter where we serve!”
However, we want to know as much as possible about potential couple missionaries, including what type of assignment they might like. When couple missionaries and sister missionaries apply to serve a mission, they fill out an additional form that provides us with such information as past employment experience, education or training, language skills, Church positions, special skills, abilities, interests, hobbies, and limitations or special circumstances. This information is considered when making assignments, as are age and health. Even couples who respond to openings listed in the “Church Service Missionary Opportunities” bulletin may express their interest in a particular assignment, but the final decision still rests with the Brethren.
Elder Haight: Cost varies greatly depending on the area of assignment and the personal living standard the couple wants to maintain. The normal range is from two hundred dollars to twenty-five hundred dollars per month per couple. The least expensive missions are in Central and South America. The more expensive ones are in England and Europe. Most missions in the United States cost from eight hundred dollars to twelve hundred dollars per month. Costs include housing, utilities, food, auto operation, and so forth.
Elder Haight: Among the resources that couple missionaries need to maintain is their own insurance coverage in their home area and for the area where they are serving. Couples also pay their own medical expenses while in the mission field. If couples are assigned outside their home country and their policy will not cover them, they may purchase additional coverage. Actually, if couples want information on available policies, they can call toll-free in the United States on 1-800-777-1647. Missionary couples from the United States who will serve in the United States should keep their Medicare insurance; those going out of the country are encouraged to keep their own retirement insurance where applicable.
Elder Haight: If called to serve in their home country, couples are encouraged to take their own cars. Insurance and maintenance costs for personal vehicles are paid by the couple. No couple is required to take a car; however, there is no guarantee that the mission will be able to provide a car for them. Couples serving in foreign missions usually use public transportation.
Elder Haight: No, couples are not expected to work as many hours as the younger missionaries. Couples have many varied talents and are to prudently work to their strength and abilities. They are not expected to do more than they are able. Most couples have some limitations based on age and health. If they need to rest occasionally, they may do so.
Elder Haight: I’ve talked to enough couples to know that there is often a real fear in their minds—fear of not being able to measure up, of being embarrassed, of climbing stairs, of slipping on the ice, of many other things. But there really isn’t much to be afraid of, because assignments are made by people who understand the situation—the mission president or the stake president in cooperation with the mission president. These priesthood leaders know that married couples fill a void that no one else can fill. And they know many great ways couple missionaries can serve and how they can be productive.
Some couples say, “I can’t leave my grandchildren.” My answer to them is: Your grandchildren will be there when you return, only they’ll be two years older and even cuter than when you left them. Besides, what better legacy could you leave your grandchildren than the example of putting your testimony in action by serving a mission?
Usually our fears are straw men that we have imagined. When I was a little boy growing up in Oakley, Idaho, we had a long line of poplar trees growing along the road leading to our home. When it was dark, I used to run as fast as I could past those poplar trees. I always imagined that there was something behind one of those trees waiting to jump out at me. Of course in the daylight, I knew it was all in my mind. That is how it is with our fears—99 percent of the things we worry about are not real.
It would be a rare incident for a couple to come back from their mission and say, “We didn’t have a good experience.” Now maybe such a thing has happened, but I’ve personally never heard of it. Never. But I’ve heard many couples say, “The thrill of our life was going on a mission!”
Elder Haight: Absolutely! When in doubt, it is the bishop’s responsibility to suggest to couples that they think about going on a mission. He ought to have a list on his desk of all those couples he thinks are eligible. He needs to know something about their family, health, and financial situations. Then he should call them in for a warm and friendly interview and say, “Now that you’re retired, you have the opportunity to be doing something more to help build the kingdom. Have you ever thought about serving a mission?”
We don’t force anyone! We don’t say you have to go! But we are saying that there is a need! Bishops can talk about the couple’s possibility of going in six months or a year if the couple isn’t ready to go right now. It doesn’t have to happen overnight; the need of the Church is ongoing.
I think that some bishops are a little reluctant to bring up the idea of a mission to some couples because they are not sure of all the details in a couple’s life. In that case, a couple should go to the bishop and say, “We’re ready!”
We need to improve communications from both directions, but it is ultimately the bishop’s responsibility to at least raise the question.
Elder Haight: First, they ought to pray and talk to the Lord about it. They hopefully do understand that the purpose of the Church is to carry to all people the message that God lives, that Jesus is the promised Christ and Redeemer, and that this is the church that the Lord has restored to earth in the latter days through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Potential couple missionaries should feel the importance of a mission and feel that they can make a contribution.
Then couples need to review their family, health, and financial situations. If they feel that things are in place and if their bishop has not talked to them yet, they should go to their bishop and say, “Bishop, we think it’s time to talk about our going on a mission, and we’d like to talk to you about it.” The bishop will be thrilled and can take care of everything from there.
The Brethren hope that many, many more couples will make themselves available for full-time service to the Church. The need is great! Hundreds of thousands of new members join the Church each year, and they need to hear a friendly voice of support and comfort from experienced members.
The refrain, “I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord” (Hymns, 1985, no. 270), should be more than a hymn we sing on Sunday. It should be our own prayer of faith as we serve wherever the Lord has need of us.