In the priesthood session of general conference on 31 March 2001, President Gordon B. Hinckley made an announcement heard around the world. The Church was to create a Perpetual Education Fund. It would be patterned after the 19th-century Perpetual Emigrating Fund, which helped tens of thousands of Latter-day Saint converts from Europe join the body of the Saints in the valleys of western North America.
This new PEF would provide loans to help worthy returned missionaries and other young Latter-day Saint adults gain the training and education necessary for adequate employment in their own countries. President Hinckley concluded his bold announcement with this invitation and promise: “I believe the Lord does not wish to see His people condemned to live in poverty. I believe He would have the faithful enjoy the good things of the earth. He would have us do these things to help them. And He will bless us as we do so. For the success of this undertaking I humbly pray, while soliciting your interest, your faith, your prayers, your concerns in its behalf.”1
Latter-day Saints everywhere received the announcement with joy. Many shed tears. Thousands and tens of thousands who had been blessed with sufficient material blessings for their needs had wanted some way to help those Church youth mired in poverty and hopelessness. Now, here was a way for virtually everyone to help provide education for those without resources, enabling them to rise out of poverty. The recipients would, after securing good employment, repay their loans, providing the means for others to enjoy the same assistance. The whole concept, explained in detail by President Hinckley, resonated in hearts and minds.
In developing countries, young people with ambition and desire to rise out of their circumstances immediately grasped the meaning of the PEF. Here was the way to gain skills, knowledge, and opportunities. President Hinckley had taught us that education was the key to progress. The Perpetual Education Fund became a bright ray of hope.
The story of two equally fine young men will illustrate the PEF’s impact. They have recently served missions in a less-advantaged country. Both of these elders served obediently. But when one returned home, he enjoyed the means to attend a great university, thanks to parents who have saved enough through self-reliance and provident living to pay for his education. He would not even have to work during school. The other missionary, equally worthy and obedient, returned home to face the same poverty from whence he came.
Anguished at the situation, the returned missionary from better financial circumstances sent a letter to the PEF office. Following inner promptings, he took the money his parents provided for a year of college, donated it to the PEF, and found a job to earn his own way through school that year. Clearly he sought to become one with the Savior by becoming one with his brother. (See D&C 38:25–27.)
This generous young man is just one of many Latter-day Saints who have responded to President Hinckley’s invitation. In the days and months that followed the general conference announcement, hundreds of thousands opened their purses and sent what they could to the fund—in addition to their tithing and fast offerings. The fund grew, almost overnight, to major proportions. “It is a miracle!” President Hinckley exclaimed over and over.
Less than two years after the announcement of the PEF, the program had been introduced in most of the areas where our young adults face serious conditions of poverty. More than 10,000 loans have been approved, and the applications for loans continue to arrive in the PEF office. The loans are helping our young people gain a rich variety of vocational and technical skills needed in their countries.
A recent batch of loan applications from one South American country revealed the following occupational goals: automobile mechanic, banking clerk, certified software systems engineer, clothing maker, computer maintenance worker, computer network systems engineer, computer programmer, electronic technician, environmental technician, hairstylist, hotel administrator, marketing and sales technician, natural gas technician, nurse, nutritionist, pathology lab technician, and Web technician. Note the practical nature of these educational goals.
As this effort begins to bear fruit, the implications for the Church are wonderful to contemplate. Finding leaders to meet the needs of a rapidly growing Church membership ranks high on the list of challenges the Church faces. The issue is particularly pertinent in places such as Latin America and the Philippines, where our major growth is taking place. Where will we find these leaders? They will come as those who have stable financial circumstances—gained through educational opportunities—take leadership roles, marry, and establish righteous families. Those righteous families will continue to produce the next generation of Church leaders.
Speaking of those who would be blessed by the PEF, President Hinckley said: “With good employment skills, these young men and women can rise out of the poverty they and generations before them have known. They will better provide for their families. They will serve in the Church and grow in leadership and responsibility. … As faithful members of the Church, they will pay their tithes and offerings, and the Church will be much the stronger for their presence in the areas where they live.”2
The blessings for future families are already becoming evident. A young returned missionary in Mexico reports:
“In December 2001, I returned home after a full-time mission in the México Veracruz Mission. My goals were high, but it appeared that I would be unable to achieve them due to finances, even with the help of my family. It was then I discovered that through the PEF my dream could be achieved.
“Only last week I finished my studies and was immediately hired at a salary three times greater than that which I was earning before. I can now begin my family. I was married on 20 December 2002.”
The blossoming of hope among those who had previously despaired is proving to be one of the powerful effects of the PEF. One Brazilian young man speaks for many when he says: “I was discouraged and had abandoned my goals for a good career. But then the Perpetual Education Fund helped me raise my head and discern new horizons.”
To hope is “to cherish a desire with anticipation [or] expectation of obtainment [or] fulfillment.”3 We think of it in gospel terms as the expectation that we will live again and be saved with our Father in Heaven. Our young people with testimonies cherish the hope of immortality and eternal life. It is hard, however, for them to become excited about the next life if they cannot anticipate having a good life while on earth, including a decent career and the opportunity to develop their skills and talents. When these goals appear impossible to attain, hope turns to hopelessness. Without such temporal hope, the spiritual hope of salvation can seem unreal.
The PEF has already increased hope in our young men and women all over the world. Just knowing that our prophet is deeply concerned about them and wants the best for them has been powerful. Knowing that he has declared that education is the key to opportunity has turned their hearts and minds to education, training, and a search for a satisfying career. Knowing that career training, guidance, and the means to obtain them are available is powerful medicine. This reaching out to the youth may yet prove the most important principle and brightest light of the Perpetual Education Fund.
Another powerful principle at work in the PEF is self-reliance. President Hinckley continually stresses that young people are not being given anything but an opportunity: “They will repay their loans to make it possible for others to be blessed as they have been blessed.”4 He believes in our young people, and they are responding. The early reports on repayment rates by those receiving the first loans are encouraging evidence of this principle at work.
Built into the program is a strong covenant-like promise to repay the loans to benefit others. Applicants for loans also promise to borrow only the amount absolutely necessary to help achieve their goals. They must pay all of their own room and board, stay in their own communities, and find ways to pay as many of their own school expenses as possible. They welcome this responsibility.
One young married couple applied for PEF loans. During the application process, they took the short training course designed to help them choose a career and budget their money. Upon reflection and upon working out their budget, they decided what unessential expenditures they could reduce or eliminate, such as eating in fast-food establishments. They were startled to discover that by exercising frugality they would not need the loans. They could pay for their own schooling.
The PEF has already proven a catalyst for teaching self-reliance to our Church members—and particularly to our young adults. The benefits will extend to their children, to their wards and branches, and to the Church as a whole. Every community will be better as our people learn and exemplify self-reliance. Self-esteem and confidence will soar, and the effect will be miraculous.
From the wards and branches have come literally millions of dollars. Most of the contributions have been from the rank-and-file members of the Church. Every day, every week, their small contributions arrive to build the fund. If there were no other result than this outpouring of love and sacrifice, we would have to conclude that the fund had increased the spirit of sacrifice among the Saints everywhere in the world, thus exerting a powerful influence for good among them.
But there is also a corollary principle involved here. It is the principle of making choices to make us a more caring and just people. When someone sees people suffering in poverty and hopelessness, a voice inside asks, “When I have so much, how can I rest and feel that I am just?” The PEF is a wonderful way for ordinary individuals to help tip those scales toward balance and justice.
The contrast between those with enough and to spare and those without enough is not new. Paul saw similar conditions among the Corinthian Saints. The solution was to share. He reminded the Corinthian Saints that the “Lord Jesus Christ, … though he was rich, yet for [your] sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Paul urged those who had means to use their abundance as a supply for what others lacked. In doing so, they would receive as well as give because “their [the poor’s] abundance also may be a supply for your want” (2 Cor. 8:14). He urged them to “give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).
This is a win-win situation with tremendous potential benefits. Those with enough and to spare can help those in poverty. In the process, those receiving loans gain independence and repay their loans to help others. As President Hinckley has said: “With greatly improved opportunities, they will step out of the cycle of poverty which they and those before them have known for so long. … They will become leaders in this great work in their native lands. They will pay their tithes and offerings, which will make it possible for the Church to expand its work across the world.”5
Since its initial announcement, the Perpetual Education Fund has advanced from a vision foreseen by a prophet to a powerful reality. It is preparing Church leaders, fostering hope, and building character and self-reliance—all of which will bless generations to come.
President Hinckley has invited us to become a part of this bold initiative. Church members who give to help others will gain spiritual blessings in the process. Qualified young people who accept the prophet’s invitation to participate will be better able to provide for themselves and their families. And they will gain skills and confidence that will enable them to make greater contributions to the Church and their communities. The Lord loves wonderful, worthy young people, and He loves those who give with pure intent, regardless of the size of their gift.
Through the establishment of the Perpetual Education Fund, the Lord has provided another powerful mechanism for the continued growth of His kingdom. And He has provided another way for us to grow individually as well—becoming more just, more generous, more hopeful and self-reliant, more as one with our fellow Saints.
“It has been said that if one obtained something that is worthwhile and very desirable for nothing he has paid too dearly for it.”
President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
The PEF is governed by a board of directors that includes the First Presidency, members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, other General Authorities, and general auxiliary leaders.
The PEF is funded by donations—most coming from average, not wealthy, members of the Church. All contributions go directly to educational loans; none are used for administrative costs.
Only earnings from the corpus (or body) of the fund are used for loans; the corpus is untouched and continues to generate money for loans.
More than 10,000 loans have been approved.
The full program is available in 11 international areas, which include 85 percent of the 1.2 million Latter-day Saint young adults living outside North America. An additional 6 international areas are preparing to implement the program.
The average age of participants is 26. About 55 percent are young men (85 percent returned missionaries); 45 percent are young women (25 percent returned missionaries).
The average payment for a year of quality education is U.S. $800; the average training program length is 2.2 years.
Each participant receives training in setting realistic goals, budgeting and managing finances, and developing other skills and attitudes necessary for success. Many who take this course discover they can enter school without a PEF loan.
Most loans are for vocational or technical training that matches local job opportunities.
Loans are typically used only for costs of tuition, books, and fees.
Participants may include worthy young men and young women who are:
Generally between 18 and 30.
Married or single.
Active in the Church and enrolled in the local institute of religion.
Living, working, and attending school in areas where the PEF program is approved.
Lacking resources to finance their own education.
If you live in an area where the PEF is approved:
Enroll in institute.
Maintain a job, if possible, so you can pay for your living costs and help pay for your education costs.
Talk with your institute director about a Perpetual Education Fund loan application. Church Educational System personnel will help you begin the process.
Who can benefit from participation in the Perpetual Education Fund?
Why do you think Church leaders created a loan program rather than a scholarship program?
Why does the Lord want us to be self-reliant?
How did you feel about the Perpetual Education Fund when you initially learned about it? How do you feel about it now?
How does adequate employment help strengthen family life?
How do strong Latter-day Saint families produce strong leaders?
The scriptures frequently include hope along with faith and charity as an essential principle (see Moro. 10:20). What role does hope play in your own life?
Why is sacrifice such a powerful principle? How have you personally benefited from the sacrifice of others?