“Who are these people?” The miracle of missionaries and mission presidents
Jesus commissioned his disciples, saying “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
One of the most recognizable characteristics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the thousands of young missionaries, men and women, who go forth unselfishly and at their own expense to serve missions of from 18 to 24 months throughout the world. They disseminate the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, inviting all to come unto the Savior and Redeemer of Mankind.
They look for opportunities to serve others as the Master served. When invited, they bear witness that God lives and loves His children; that Jesus is the Christ, and that through prophets called in our day the church which Jesus organized as recorded in the New Testament has been restored to the earth.
Not so well known is the fact that thousands of senior couples also serve missions. For example, each of the 407 mission areas of the Church is presided over by a mission president and his wife, who typically serve for a three years.
Last June, while on vacation in Utah, I visited with my former mission president, now 92 years old. Fifty-three years ago, C. Elmo Turner, a school administrator then in his late 30s, took his wife, Lois, and their five children to Curitiba, Brazil, to preside over that mission area where I was assigned. His daily example to me — while I served as mission secretary for eight months and lived in the mission home and headquarters with his family — was an invaluable experience for this young missionary.
It was not easy for them. Lois and the children would learn a foreign language. Turner and three of his children would survive an air-taxi small plane crash into a mountain side and be miraculously spared to complete their three-year mission and return home to Utah. God blessed them for their faith and dedication. Hundreds of us who served with Elmo and his late wife Lois revere them to this day.
To me, this work is marvelous. This year, 111 new couples from some 20 countries have recently accepted calls to leave the comforts of home, family, friends, positions, professions or retirement, to go into the mission field in some 61 different countries where some 64,000 young Mormon missionaries currently serve. The new presidents will arrive in their fields of assignments in July.
Who are these people who give up so much? Last year, of the 127 couples called to preside, 82 came from the United States, 10 from Brazil, and four couples each were from Argentina, Mexico and the Philippines. The rest hailed from 19 other countries, speaking various native languages. Some are converts, and most served two-year missions in their youth.
They came from the ranks of the business world, legal professions and academia. Besides their professional lives, most had already ministered for years as ordained bishops or presiding leaders in the areas where they live. In all of this, they received no pay for their ministry.
The Washington Tacoma Mission president is L. Sciott Leishman and wife Kris Leishman, a retired executive from Bountiful, Utah. They brought a wealth of ministerial experience to their new calling and they love the missionaries serving in our area.
I am a witness that this is the Lord’s work, and that He continues to call and qualify worthy and capable leaders, men and women, from within the Church membership, in fulfillment of the Lord’s great commission to go forth and teach all nations.