Couple Missionaries: “A Wonderful Resource”

David B. Haight
With a lifetime of experience to offer, couples can make powerful contributions to the missionary effort of the Church.

Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles serves as Chairman of the Missionary Executive Council. Recently, in an interview with the Church magazines, 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.

What do you suggest couples do if they want to go on a mission?

First, they ought to pray and talk to the Lord about it. Hopefully, they 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, number 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.

Do local bishops have a role in encouraging more couples to serve missions?

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 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.

For a variety of reasons, some couples are fearful of going on a mission. What would you say to them?

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 only 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!”

Are couples to take a car into the mission field?

If called to serve in their home country, a couple who owns a car is encouraged to take it. 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 can also use public transportation.

What about medical insurance?

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.

How much does it cost to serve as couple missionaries?

Cost varies greatly depending on the area of assignment and the personal living standard the couple wants to maintain. Couples indicate on their application form how much of their financing they can provide, how much their family can provide, how much their ward can provide, and how much will come from other sources.

Can couples choose where they serve?

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. Couples may express interest in a particular assignment, but the final decision rests with the Brethren.

Are couples required to learn a language?

No. However, if a couple is willing to learn a language, consideration will be given to a foreign-speaking assignment.

Do missionary couples tract?

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.

Do couples maintain the same schedule as the young Elders and Sisters?

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.

What types of assignments do couples fill?

The greatest need is for couples who can help train local leaders in places where the Church is still relatively new. 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.

Are there health and age limits?

Normally, the age limit is 70 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.

How long do missionary couples serve?

We have a limited number of couples who serve for 12 months, but most go for 18 or 24 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 18 months.

About how many couples are currently serving in the missions of the Church?

More than 1,600 couples (3,200 individuals) are currently serving missions throughout the world. Sadly, even though the need for couples continues to increase, the number of couples coming into the mission field 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 meet our needs. We currently have 318 missions. Less than 50 percent of the requests for couple missionaries from those 318 mission presidents are being filled.

What are some of the unique contributions couple missionaries make in the mission field?

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.

Why do the Brethren feel it is so important for couples throughout the Church to consider serving a mission?

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. I 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, encouraging them to come on a mission and suggesting that they indicate on their missionary applications 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.

[photo] Photograph by Russell Holt

[photos] Missionary work can be fun, as demonstrated by this missionary, below, who, with his wife, works with Native Americans in the southwestern United States. Right: Sisters Susan Curtis and Joanne Williams travel more than 4,000 kilometers per month visiting people in North Carolina and Virginia. Far right: Jayne and James Layton, welfare and Public Affairs missionaries, use puppets to teach children in the Ecuador Quito Mission. (Photograph by Pam Wilkes.)

[photos] The joy of serving is evident in the faces of these two sisters, Edith Grimston Amaral and Ruth Grimston Zingg, who serve as missionary companions. (Photograph by Jerry Garns.)

[photo] The Hechtles, left, and the Muellers

“Our Work Helped Others”

In Friedrichsdorf, Germany, just north of Frankfurt, two missionary couples recently shared their talents in the family history program. Located here is a Church family history service center, where microfilm files containing millions of facts about censuses, births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths are stored and maintained. Upon request, these files can be sent to any of the 250 family history centers throughout Europe.

Two missionary couples recently shouldered much of the responsibility for sending and receiving the microfilm files. Manfred Hechtle, a native of Mannheim, Germany, and his wife, Karin, born in Königsberg, German East Prussia, moved to the United States more than 40 years ago. They returned to Germany as missionaries because “we knew it would be wonderfully rewarding to help people all over Europe discover more about their family history,” explains Sister Hechtle.

The Hechtles also spent quite a bit of their mission time traveling to various family history centers to offer assistance. “When they asked us, we taught the family history center directors and their staffs how to use Church computer programs,” says Elder Hechtle. “These visits also gave us a chance to repair and maintain the microfilm and microfiche equipment.”

The couple also helped present family history seminars.” We piled our equipment into a station wagon and headed out,” says Elder Hechtle. “We then taught members and others interested in learning about the Church’s family history programs.”

Serving with the Hechtles were Rudi and Erika Mueller, both of whom were born in Europe but moved to the United States more than 40 years ago.

“We worked 10 or 11 hours a day,” says Sister Mueller. “On busy days we received and sent as many as 1,000 microfilm boxes. They all had to be numbered and entered into the computer.”

Elder Mueller points out that “we were so happy to be there because we got such a sense of satisfaction knowing our work helped others.”

The Muellers celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary during their mission. They say they couldn’t think of “a better way to observe it than in the work of the Lord.”

Great Opportunities on a Small Island

In the fall of 1994, Lamont and Janice McDowell Gingerich bid good-bye to their children, left their home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and headed for the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. There they spent two weeks involved in “the most delightful, spiritually uplifting, and yet physically tiring training and activities sessions,” Sister Gingerich reports.

On 15 September, the Gingeriches headed for Guam. After a brief orientation, they continued on to Ebeye, a small island in the Kwajalein atoll. The island is about one kilometer long and about 110 meters wide. It is home to approximately 13,000 people.

“As a missionary couple, we helped with as many of the administrative and other duties as possible, thereby allowing the younger missionaries maximum time for proselyting activities,” Elder Gingerich says.

But the Gingeriches did more than that. Twice a week, they volunteered at the island hospital. Their work did not go unnoticed. In fact, after the members had waited almost a year, the mayor of the community finally granted permission for a meetinghouse to be built—primarily because of the Gingeriches’ community service work. Initially the community leader had been concerned about the perception that the only thing Church members wanted was to baptize people, but when he saw the missionaries volunteer their time, he realized that they truly cared about the community and local people.

“Couple missionaries also enjoy great success in helping less-active members come back to church,” Elder Gingerich observes. “The only problem this mission has with missionary couples is that there aren’t nearly enough of them to go around!”