My husband and I had always planned on serving a mission—after retirement when everything was neatly taken care of and organized. I had served many years in Church public affairs positions, and my husband had years of priesthood experience. We thought we could pool our talents and serve a public affairs mission. We had discussed the possibility with people I knew in the Church Public Affairs Department, but we had not made anything official. So when the telephone call came, it was a jolt.
“Could you two serve as public affairs directors and missionaries in Palmyra, New York, and do the publicity for the Hill Cumorah Pageant?”
“How soon?” I asked.
“We need you in three weeks.”
It was a beautiful, sunny day in May. Our garden was blooming. I could hear the laughter of our grandchildren outside. Our annual family reunion at Yosemite National Park was coming up in July. There would be Christmas, birthdays, weddings, missionary farewells, baptisms. How could we give all that up? And on such short notice?
Hesitatingly, I replied that I would call my husband, and we’d talk about it.
I called Bob at work. His answer stunned me. “Well, we can’t make it in three weeks,” he said. “Call them back and tell them we’ll be there in five!”
When we headed for the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, and then to the New York Rochester Mission, our house was not sold. My husband’s office was still not settled. We left behind my ailing father-in-law. In some ways it was not the ideal way to go, but we were needed.
Our first day in the MTC we saw a sign designed especially for the senior missionaries. Paraphrasing President Spencer W. Kimball’s well-known statement “Lengthen your stride,” the sign says “Lengthen your shuffle.”
My husband and I learned what that meant as we served in Palmyra, New York—2,800 miles from our 6 children, 29 grandchildren, and dozens of dear friends. We discovered new things about each other as we worked side-by-side every day, things we had never known in 50 years of marriage. We have bonded and grown and shared, and our lives will never be the same.
Many couple missionaries face health challenges. At our age, we realize we aren’t quite as sharp as we used to be. But we have much to offer in the way of wisdom, expertise, and support.
We learned for ourselves that a mission adds a spiritual dimension to the later years that no other activity can. We experienced that serving the Lord with a wholeness of heart and mind gives a sense of peace, fulfillment, and completeness to one’s life. Blessings are poured out upon our heads as we serve him as a couple in gladness and love. There is such a variety of mission opportunities. Small branches and fledgling members can benefit greatly from the love and expertise that senior couples offer.
When the Savior called his disciples, he told them to leave their nets and follow him. Their nets were full, but they obeyed. Bob and I were called when our nets were full. We even thought it was difficult to leave all behind. But just as the disciples of old, we were so richly rewarded and so blessed to serve.—Kit and Leland (Bob) Poole, Murrieta, California
The people in Portugal are still pioneers as they join the Church and build the Church in their country. We had some especially memorable experiences as we served in the Portugal Porto Mission along with these modern-day pioneers.
One night we sat in the home of a young family who had listened to the missionary discussions. They were interested and ready to be baptized. However, the father was having a difficult time giving up his wine.
“What is more important,” we asked him, “wine and the things of this world or Jesus Christ and your family?” The young man looked at his children, his wife, and then us. Quietly he replied, “Christ and my family.”
The family was baptized, and in time this young man served as branch president in a beautiful town near the sea, making a difference not only in his own family but in a small corner of the Church.
This story is only one of many that we treasure, stories of people who have strengthened our testimony and changed our lives forever. During this sesquicentennial pioneer year, we reflect often on our mission experiences. What a great opportunity and blessing to show our gratitude by serving a mission! Is there a better way to show our appreciation to a loving Heavenly Father and to our forefathers than to provide encouragement to people who are paving new ground in the gospel?—Jack R. and Mary Lois Wheatley, Monterey, California
Don and Ruth Harris shifted uncomfortably in their chairs as the Alabama minister finished his attack on the Church.
“Any questions?” the minister asked. He looked surprised when Don weaved his way through the congregation and approached the stand. “I am a member of the Church,” Don began simply, “and the things you have heard tonight are simply not true. I would like to give my witness to the truthfulness of the restored gospel.”
Startled, the minister snatched the microphone away. “Do you have a question? I asked only for questions, sir.”
“I do have a question,” Don replied in a playful voice. “May I finish what I was saying?”
The congregation erupted in friendly laughter, and Don Harris concluded his testimony to a softened audience.
Brother and Sister Harris love to tell that story about their mission to Alabama, one of four missions they have served. Brother Harris remembers well the morning he awoke suddenly with the strong impression that he and his wife should serve another mission. “I tried to rationalize,” he said. “I couldn’t believe the Lord wanted us to serve another mission. But couples are so needed. So Ruth and I went again. We knew we would be blessed. We could never repay the Lord.”
On their first mission, the Harrises tracted through many parts of Alabama. In Leeds they arrived to find no local members. One year later, a branch existed with 74 members.
They served next in Argentina, where Elder Harris always wore a button that read: “I’m the happiest person alive. Ask me why!”
“When people asked, I’d say there are four reasons,” Elder Harris explained. “‘First, I belong to a church that meets my spiritual needs. Second, I have a wife who loves me and tries to understand me. Third, I have 6 children and 25 grandchildren whom I love. Fourth, I’m in a job I love, a mission. Let me tell you about it.’ They’d have to listen!”
After their mission in Argentina, the Harrises spent 18 months serving in the Utah Salt Lake City North Mission, teaching English and the gospel to Cambodian refugees. They finished their full-time mission service by spending 18 months in the Philippines.
“It has not been a sacrifice to go on missions, but a privilege,” Elder Harris stated. “The Lord has always taken care of us.”
Sister Harris agrees. “We have learned not to counsel the Lord,” she said. “He will help us through any difficulties. Do you want to know our mission motto? Faith without fear puts us in gear!”—Cynthia Covey Haller, Salt Lake City, Utah
Nestled in the mountains of Ecuador lies the city of Otavalo. Here the Church has steadily grown through the years as honest people have searched and found the truth. Just over a year ago, only one member out of the area’s approximately 3,500 members could play the hymns on the piano during meetings.
Enter Elder Alfred and Sister Phyllis Heywood, couple missionaries from Mesa, Arizona. The Heywoods had been called to the area to teach Spanish to the members, who speak and read their own dialect, so they could read the scriptures in Ecuador’s native language.
On the Heywood’s first Sunday the bishop invited Sister Heywood, who played the piano, to accompany the ward during sacrament meeting. As she played the postlude music, she was surrounded by an enthusiastic group of people, several of whom asked if she would teach them how to play. She took down some names, but she had no idea where or how to begin. Sister Heywood had never taught piano before and was struggling with Spanish as it was. Her husband, who many years before had served a mission in Mexico and who had taught Spanish before retiring, assisted her in her missionary work.
But Sister Heywood recognized an opportunity to share a talent and serve the Lord. She began by teaching the Church’s Basic Music Course, material designed to help members learn how to conduct hymns, play simple hymn arrangements on the piano, and teach those same skills to others. Sister Heywood found that with her husband’s help she didn’t need to have mastery of the language. “You don’t need to be a linguist to teach music in a foreign tongue,” she pointed out. “You just need a great love for the people and—in my case—a missionary husband who is willing to help with the language.”
At first the students practiced on simulated cardboard keyboards. Soon, however, with assistance provided by members who had heard of the need, the Heywoods were able to purchase electronic keyboards through the Church Distribution Center. The students seldom missed a class and often arrived early because they were so eager to begin. One young mother, Luz Maria Pineda, attended lessons with her baby strapped to her back; she is now pianist in the Pucara Ward.
Many of the 24 students in the class practiced more than two hours a day. During the week, Blanca Campo took her keyboard with her as she sold her family’s handmade products in a booth, practicing whenever she had a free minute. After just a few months of lessons, Blanca was called as pianist in her ward. She has begun teaching lessons to others.
Other piano students have followed her example, report the Heywoods. David Arellano gets up every morning early enough to practice for several hours. David, a gifted musician who wept when he learned how to play “Angels We Have Heard on High” (Hymns, no. 203), is teaching his mother and aunt how to play the piano.
“These young people work their hearts out to please you and master the hymns in order to become capable musicians serving in their wards,” said Sister Heywood.—Gary E. Stay, Ogden, Utah