20904_000_009For many Church couples, serving together as full-time missionaries is one of the highlights of their retirement years.
“There is a great need for missionary couples,” says Elder Earl C. Tingey of the Presidency of the Seventy, who serves as executive director of the Church’s Missionary Department. Couple missionaries have been specifically requested in some 3,000 places worldwide, but only about 1,800 couples are presently serving. To encourage members to make full-time missionary service part of their retirement plans, this article features experiences and insights from returned couple missionaries.
To couples who may be putting aside their decision to serve a full-time mission, Elder Tingey says: “There is always a family circumstance or other situation that pops up that will seem to be more important. The best thing is to just decide to go and let the Lord take care of the things that seem to get in the way. If you wait for the ideal time, it never comes, because age and health get in the way.”
Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone of the Seventy urges couples to “go to your bishop; let him begin the process of a mission call. You can express your feelings where you would like to go, but be willing to go wherever you are called. The time will pass in an instant, but your mission will have eternal consequences for you and your posterity. Let us carry into the new century the greatest thrust of couple missionaries ever in the history of the world” (“‘Too Wonderful for Me,’” Ensign, Sept. 1998, 16).
“How Great Will Be Your Joy”
My wife, Darlene, and I had the pleasure of serving a mission in Peru. We didn’t like certain inconveniences at the time, such as sleeping on two-inch-thick cotton mattresses, showering with a bucket and cup, and brushing our teeth with one cup of boiled water. During our mission we missed the wedding of our youngest son and the births of two grandchildren. But those sacrifices were made up for by the joy we felt in teaching and baptizing 19 people, interviewing and sending 6 young men on missions, and dedicating three new chapels in Sicuani, Marcona, and Quillabamba, Peru.
Serving a mission brought us numerous personal blessings:
By taking time to follow the missionary study program, we read the standard works and other gospel books. What a blessing it was to learn more about the principles of the gospel together as a couple!
Our time together as missionary companions gave us the opportunity to talk with each other and get to know each other better.
id="6">Learning a new language was great. It was difficult, but we grew considerably.
We had many opportunities to learn from inspired Church leaders. We sat at the feet of Apostles at the Missionary Training Center and in the mission field, and we benefited from the guidance of our mission president.
We were enriched by encountering many different foods and customs. We learned to make fried squash pancakes, squash soup, and rice chaufa. Late one Christmas Eve, our landlady brought us a warm apple cider drink with whipped egg whites on top to celebrate the holiday Peru-style.
We made many close, eternal friends among the people of nine Peruvian cities. We also formed friendships with numerous fellow missionaries, both young and old.
We testify of the joy that comes from teaching others about the gospel, training and assisting branch leaders, and helping members regain their faith. We learned through firsthand experience the truth of the following scripture: “And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!” (D&C 18:16).—, Escondido, California
Overcoming My Pain
My husband and I always wanted to go on a mission together. Because I was suffering chronic pain due to a degenerative disease, we decided we had better go as soon as we could rather than waiting until after age 65.
Having lived far away from a temple for 24 years, we hungered to be in the temple day after day. We were thrilled and excited when we received calls as ordinance workers in the Chicago Illinois Temple. But I was also scared and anxious, and I wondered what would be expected of me and whether I would be physically up to the challenge. As we prepared for our mission, I prayed often that I would be able to work at least part time and not be a burden to the other temple workers.
At last the time arrived, and we made the two-day journey to the temple. We were welcomed with joy and enthusiasm by other temple workers, and we met with the temple president in his office. I told him about my health concerns and said I thought I would be able to work two or three hours a day. We were assigned to begin on the morning shift, which concerned me because mornings were the worst time for my pain. During my setting apart, the only thing mentioned related to my health was, “Please bless her so she can do the work.” I worried that the magnitude of my problem wasn’t understood. By the time we got back to our apartment, I was in tears. In our prayers that evening, we pleaded with Heavenly Father to give me health and freedom from overwhelming pain.
I learned many things those first weeks. As I grew to know the other sisters better, I found out that almost everyone had a physical handicap of one kind or another, including two part-time workers who were blind. I watched all these beautiful sisters perform their tasks with grace and poise, and I realized that little miracles were happening all around me.
As I spent time in the celestial room praying, pondering, and listening for counsel and answers, I came to realize that the Lord had called me on a mission to succeed, not to fail. He wanted me to faithfully put my pain and exhaustion into His hands and let Him take care of my problems. For a long time I had assumed total control of my pain management, but as I put myself into the Lord’s hands I began to see results.
Before long, I was awaking each morning enthused about the day ahead. When I arrived at the temple to present my recommend, my pain would diminish. I was so involved in temple work that I did not think about pain, and soon I was working full time. Because I was free of pain for eight hours a day, I began to have more energy and look younger. I felt greatly humbled by the Lord’s love and concern for me.
As I pondered on the power of these blessings, I realized I could have missed all that marvelous spiritual time by deciding I hurt too much to serve a mission. In the later months of our service, we were called to teach other ordinance workers, which brought new and interesting challenges that invigorated us. Far too soon we neared the end of our mission.
I learned a great deal from that experience. The Lord really wants us to succeed in all our callings, and He will help us. To trust the Lord enough to place my burdens at His feet and let Him take care of me has been a humbling and thrilling experience.—, Cedar City, Utah
Cultivating the Lord’s Vineyard
After Jack and Mary Lois Wheatley visited friends in Portugal and observed the tiny branches struggling without enough priesthood leadership and fellowshipping, they submitted their papers for a mission. Before long they were living in an apartment above a cafe in the Portuguese city of São João de Madeira. They bought a car and began bringing hope and joy to a discouraged little branch. They came to love the beautiful country and the warm, caring people.
Sister Wheatley taught with the sister missionaries, showed branch sisters how to lead singing, organized a branch choir, and trained Relief Society leaders how to help and bless each sister. Her laugh was contagious, and the people loved her. She demonstrated her enthusiasm through the recurring theme of the talks she wrote, memorized, and haltingly delivered in Portuguese: “Sempre em frente,” which means “Always forward.” When she was called as district Relief Society president, she worked alongside two Portuguese-speaking counselors and a bilingual secretary. Together they organized programs, visited branches, trained branch leaders, and initiated a scripture study program.
Meanwhile, Brother Wheatley visited less-active members and fellowshipped new members with his wife, trained branch leaders how to preside, and went on companion exchanges with the missionaries. Young full-time missionaries had been presiding over the district, and Brother Wheatley soon accepted the calling of district president. His first challenge was to find a capable priesthood leader to be his counselor and eventual replacement.
Around that time, the Wheatleys met José and Otilia Perreira. The Perreiras had joined the Church while living in Venezuela, then had moved to Avanca, Portugal, where they built a beautiful home and José became a gentleman farmer on 15 acres of beautifully manicured land. Over the years, Otilia remained active, but José had only recently returned to activity. In fact, José was a wine producer, and his wine cellar was stocked with thousands of bottles of fine wine.
“As we visited,” Elder Wheatley recalls, “my feelings were reinforced that José, with the support of his wonderful wife, should be called as my counselor in the district presidency. But how could I ask him to give up his lifelong dream of being a producer of fine wines? Would he humble himself and leave this pursuit to serve the Lord and his brothers and sisters?”
Brother Perreira accepted the call, and together the two brethren immersed themselves in strengthening the district. Brother Perreira responded to the call with love for the Lord and the people in his district. “He got rid of the wine as serving others became his full-time pursuit,” says Brother Wheatley.
The leaders realized that at that time, with the nearest temples in Germany and Switzerland more than 48 hours away by bus, the district had no temple-endowed members. They immediately focused on preparing people to attend the temple, and 55 members did so during the Wheatleys’ time in Portugal. When the couple went home a year later, José Perreira became district president, and his wife was called to be the next district Relief Society president.
“We felt the Lord’s presence so intimately in our lives,” says Brother Wheatley. “He sent His Spirit in such abundance, and we felt the joy and sweet peace that come from serving Him. He repaid our every effort, and we knew He was at our side. When we testified, we felt His Spirit touch peoples’ hearts. Watching those people commit to follow the Lord and become strong Saints of God brought us unimaginable joy.”—, Sandy, Utah