25992_000_013Senior missionaries bring blessings to themselves and the people they serve—and also to their children and grandchildren at home.
Bless Grandma and Grandpa
It began with the first letter we received from my mother. She and my father were brand-new missionaries in the Florida Tallahassee Mission. She told of a recent conference they had attended. As everyone was saying good-bye at the conclusion of the meetings, she noticed that her companion was missing. Hearing male laughter, she followed the sound to a classroom and found herself in the midst of a leg-wrestling tournament, which my dad had organized. “I got there just in time,” she wrote, “to see some 20-year-old elder flip your dad across the room.” So much for my worry that a mission might turn Dad into some sort of somber old gentleman.
In reading that letter I began to discover the delights and blessings of being the child of missionary parents. When I served a mission in my youth, I understood on some level that my family loved the letters I wrote them. But at that somewhat selfish age, I didn’t appreciate how eager my family was for my success or how much prayer and worry they invested in my mission.
Now the tables were turned. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself rifling through the mail each day for missionary news, devouring every line. I soon noticed that our family prayers took on a new urgency. Our children no longer prayed the generic, “Please bless the missionaries.” They prayed the specific, “Please bless Grandma and Grandpa on their mission.”
When my parents were called on that first mission, they were both in their mid-50s and not retired. But the seasonal nature of farming allowed them to spend the winter in the Lord’s service. So their mission call was for six months. Those six months seemed to fly by.
What a shock it was to see them when they came home. My parents had become a force. The same remarkable changes that most parents recognize in their young missionary sons and daughters had taken place in Mom and Dad. The most dramatic change was that they just hummed with energy. Enthusiasm is an amazing tonic. They looked and acted younger. My mother ignored some of the chronic health problems that had slowed her down for years. And maybe it was my imagination, but my parents seemed to be more in love. Once, in a private moment I will always cherish, my mother told me of some occasions when my father had taught the gospel with great power. With love and admiration in her voice, she said, “Your dad is the most amazing man.” I also noticed that their mission experience had been fun. Any conversation about their mission was punctuated with frequent and persistent laughter.
And my parents didn’t serve just one mission. The next winter they returned to Florida. During the ensuing years they served eight more six-month missions, making ten in all. They missed many family events—births, baby blessings, baptisms, ten Thanksgivings and Christmases—and none of it seems much like a sacrifice. The compensating blessings are too great.
How thankful I am for parents who set the example. We try to teach our children that they have an obligation to share the gospel. Nothing gives life to that teaching quite like beloved grandparents who forgo the comforts of retirement to serve the Lord. This example becomes a powerful force in an extended family.
A few years ago our oldest son, Matt, was serving a mission in California while my parents were serving in Virginia. I noted that Matt never once wrote a letter home complaining about how tough missionary work is. I have to credit his grandparents for that. How can a young elder in his physical prime think of complaining when his grandmother—in her late 60s with lung problems, back pain, and numerous allergies—is knocking on doors in another state?
My parents’ missions have shown me the error of the notion that once a child is raised, the parents’ work is done. Wonderful as my childhood training was, I believe some of the greatest parenting my mother and father have done has occurred after I became an adult. And while they have helped baptize or activate many people, I believe their most profound ministry has been to their own grandchildren.
My parents’ letters taught volumes of gospel lessons. Stories of serving in an inner-city branch in Washington, D.C.; hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon to teach investigators; laboring with impoverished single mothers, wealthy stockbrokers, fishermen, potters, farmers, addicts, alcoholics, ministers, police officers, and the elderly—what better way to teach grandchildren the worth of every soul?
The greatest thing my parents have done for their posterity is to leave them in the Lord’s hands and accept calls to serve Him as missionaries.
A Wonderful Reunion
My wife, Martha, and I were called from our home in Canada to serve in the Denmark Copenhagen Mission. After two weeks full of excitement and learning at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, and a long flight from Salt Lake City, we arrived in Copenhagen on June 22, 1999. President and Sister Rasmussen, our mission president and his wife, met us at the airport and took care of us for the next two days. We were then given a car and asked to live in Aabenraa and help in the Sønderborg Branch with missionary and membership work.
The first Sunday at sacrament meeting we greeted members and introduced ourselves. Shaking hands with a middle-aged gentleman, I said, “I am Ejnar Iversen.” He replied, “I am Bent Bisgaard.” We looked at each other and could hardly believe our eyes. It was the same Bent Bisgaard who 32 years earlier had joined the Church while living with us in Canada. He said he lived in Fredericia and had been assigned to speak in our branch that day. What a wonderful reunion it was—much more than a coincidence. We felt that our Father in Heaven had sent him to welcome us.
In 1967 Bent had come to British Columbia, Canada, where I worked at the government employment office. He was looking for work and a place to stay. I found him work, and Martha and I agreed that we had room for one more boarder. We already had two, one of whom was Svend Hansen, a strong Church member.
Svend soon challenged Bent to read the Book of Mormon, and Bent did so with the intention of finding fault with it. Finding none, he wanted to be baptized. He was the first person baptized in our new stake center.
Soon afterward Bent returned to Denmark, and we were concerned that he might lose touch with the Church. But he attended church in Denmark, and it happened to be a fast Sunday. He was sitting at the back of the chapel minding his own business when he was asked to bear his testimony, something he had never done before, in either English or Danish. He wished he could disappear, but instead he stood and told how Svend Hansen had challenged him to read the Book of Mormon. As soon as he mentioned Svend’s name, people looked up in surprise. After the meeting Svend’s many friends wanted to know how he was doing.
Suddenly Bent had many new friends, and he felt right at home. He has since worked many years with the youth and served on the high council of the Århus Denmark Stake.
Martha and I are very happy to have known Bent and Svend all these years. And had we not served as a missionary couple, we never would have had this wonderful reunion.
Healed Hearts and Family History
Although we live on the east coast of Queensland, Australia, we are Germans. My husband, Siegfried, was born in Danzig, and I was born in what is now the Czech Republic. When we considered going on a mission, we had concerns. Our family is constantly growing. The separation would be very hard for us. Our little house couldn’t be rented, and there were financial worries. We discussed it together and spoke about all the pros and cons. But in the end we knelt down and asked our Father in Heaven for guidance. After that it was very easy. We both had a good feeling and the certainty that we should go on a mission.
In the application the bishop gave us, we could list the country we wanted to go to. Of course that was Germany. And although it seemed rather doubtful that we would be sent to the other side of the world, our Heavenly Father knew exactly what we needed. We were asked to fulfill a temple mission in Freiberg, Germany. I was excited because I still understand the Czech language from my youth and can speak a little bit. I knew that members from Eastern Europe often visit the Freiberg temple.
We began our mission on February 25, 1992. Our temple president was Jirí Snederfler, and his wife, Olga, was the temple matron. What excellent people they were—loving and always friendly.
We experienced only good things in Freiberg. Everyone was helpful and nice. We worked hard, and we were a large family of temple workers who loved each other. We still keep in touch with many of them.
The highlight of our mission was the visit from the first members in Ukraine. We had prepared ourselves. The mission president’s wife spoke Russian, and even I learned part of one of the ordinances in Russian. These members had such a reverence for the house of the Lord. As they came and left, they bowed in humility. They were so happy they could receive their endowments, and many cried for joy and didn’t want to leave the temple.
Polish members come often to Freiberg, and at first my husband was nervous about meeting them. His grandmother had starved in a camp in Poland after World War II. But through meeting with these brothers and sisters and worshiping together with them, my husband was emotionally healed. This was a great blessing brought about by our mission.
My great blessing was becoming acquainted with a Czech sister named Marie Smidova. With her help I was able to begin work on my family history. There were no Church microfilms from the region I needed, and my knowledge of Czech isn’t sufficient to write to Czech officials for information. Sister Smidova has done much for me, and I am very thankful for her help.
When we returned home after 18 months, we were amazed at how our financial situation had improved. Our little house waited for us, and our children prepared a lovely welcome. After a year we went to Sydney, Australia, to serve a temple mission there for a year.
We are thankful for the experiences we have had through our work. We would remind every senior couple of the saying of President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985): “Do it now!”
To the Bishops of the Church
“There is a constant need for more couple missionaries. They perform wonderful service throughout the world. You [leaders] need not wait for the couples to volunteer. The sacrifices associated with serving the Lord full-time will abundantly bless the couples, their families, and the people they serve.” President Gordon B. Hinckley, “To the Bishops of the Church,” Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, June 19, 2004, 27.