The first of its kind in Utah, Senior Service Missionary leadership recently held a zone conference to recognize the hundreds of Senior Service Missionaries serving in the Southern Utah region.
Over 450 Senior Service Missionaries were in attendance in the historic St. George Tabernacle on Sunday, Aug. 20, to hear words of encouragement and testimonies from missionaries and local leaders. Bruce Coombs, Senior Missionary Coordinator for the St. George Senior Service Missionary Group–under the direction of Area Seventy Elder Daren R. Barney–organized and then conducted the evening’s program.
Brad Giles, Global Manager of the Service Mission Office, began the meeting by stating, “What a wonderful, historic moment. I have operational responsibilities for the global program and this doesn’t happen. It hasn’t happened anywhere else where we have a large conference of Senior Service Missionaries. We hope this becomes something that happens on a regular basis, not just in your area but throughout the world because all missionaries, I believe, need to be edified and come together in a conference like this.”
According to Giles: “There are 28,000 Senior Service Missionaries throughout the world, all serving from home. 11,000 of them are here in Utah. They are all serving in various Church operations. All those operations report to Church departments at headquarters, overseen by Church leaders. Those 28,000 senior services missionaries are more than the number of employees of the church. Some departments like the Family History Department or Welfare & Self Reliance Department utilize 70-80% of their workforce as missionaries.
“In addition, there are about 10,000 senior missionaries who serve away from home around the world, and about half of them come from Utah. There are currently 10,000 local positions for senior missionaries to serve globally that are unfilled. In addition, there are 30,000 senior service missionary opportunities to serve from home. We need about double the missionaries to meet all the needs of the Church operations and requests from general authorities.”
These opportunities are found on the Senior Missionary website https://seniormissionary.churchofjesuschrist.org/.
Sister Maxine Davie next offered her testimony of how serving brings us closer to the Savior. She and her husband are serving as Senior Service Missionaries at the Family Search Center. She said, “The best way to show gratitude is to do as the Savior asks. To serve and to feed His sheep.
“As senior missionaries, we are serving in many ways. I know we have different roles and are trying to contribute and, as we serve, we are immediately repaid with abundance of joy. We are repaid as we draw closer to Him and see His hand in the lives of others as we serve Him.”
Elder James Skousen, along with his wife, are Senior Service Missionaries at the St. George Temple Visitors’ Center. He shared that there is “such electricity in the air” in St. George right now. People who walk into the St. George Temple Visitors’ Center say they feel something special. Many from all over the world come on tours and stop in. Having sister missionaries who are from various countries and speak these different languages helps when sharing gospel insights.
According to Elder Skousen, “There is a connection when you speak the language of the people who come to visit, and what’s great about our calling is we have the opportunity to communicate the gift of the Holy Ghost, which is the greatest communicated language. Each of us has the opportunity to carry the Holy Ghost into whatever calling we have, and we truly can make a difference in the world.”
President Thomas Nead, Director of the St. George Historic Sites Mission, spoke about the opportunity he and his wife have of serving with approximately 100 Senior Service missionaries. “We love our missionary service, but there is not a day or night that goes by that we step into this Tabernacle, we cannot feel the spirit of the pioneers who sacrificed all and gave us this beautiful edifice and the temple. President Nead observed that the life experiences of senior missionaries qualify them as great teachers, with the ability to overlook the misgivings and shortcomings of others, and to have increased perspectives on life.
Sister Bonnie Coombs and her husband Bruce serve as the Senior Missionary Coordinators for the St. George Senior Service Missionary Group. She discussed the various departments where senior service missionaries serve. Quoting President Ezra Taft Bensen, Sister Coombs stated, “The Lord needs the wisdom and experience of age, the inspired direction from those with long years of proven faithfulness to His gospel.” She mentioned that each of the senior missionaries is making a difference wherever they are serving. Many people are being blessed when they interact with missionaries serving in the various departments which include Welfare, Family Search, the Visitors’ Center, Employment, Addiction Recovery, Historical Sites, Mission, Temple, Church Education and others.
Newly-called Area Seventy, Elder Emerson Carnavale, offered his thanks to all the missionaries serving in the region. “Thank you for who you are and for your sacrifice and your willingness to serve a mission at this time in your life when there are countless other things you could choose to do with your time. Thank you for living a purposeful life. Thank you for setting the example to those around you.” Elder Carnavale spoke of joy and the importance of sharing the joy of one\’s mission. He reminded the missionaries that the Lord promises treasures in heaven to those who dedicate their lives to missionary service and who sacrifice time away from children, grandchildren, travel, vacations, and whatever it is that could be done with their time right now. He testified, “Know that you are building up treasures in Heaven and Heavenly Father will fill your life with joy now.”
In closing, Elder Barney mentioned meeting Sister Wanda Allred prior to the meeting. Sister Allred is a 98-year-old sister missionary who has been serving at the Bishop’s Storehouse for the past 20 years. When asked, Sister Allred doesn’t like attention, but loves to serve. Elder Barney asked for everyone to reflect on why they decided to serve a mission and then related the following letter from his cousin.
My cousin and his wife returned from being mission leaders in Minnesota three years ago. They recently left their home to serve a second mission in Manchester, England. In an email to their family and friends, they shared the following: “After our mission to Minnesota, Annette and I moved to Mesa, Arizona to be nearer to many of our children and grandchildren, all of whom had moved from our prior home in California. We bought a home in Mesa, and enjoyed the process of decorating our home and designing and putting together our barbeque, landscaping and other outdoor areas around our home. As we were coming up on the third anniversary of our return home from Minnesota, Annette and I started talking more about going out to serve another mission, this time as a senior missionary couple.
Many have asked us why we decided to serve another mission for our church at this point. We have indeed loved living in Arizona, close to our kids and grandkids, during the past three years. We have made many friends who we are sad to leave. We have enjoyed pursuing hobbies like sewing and golfing, going on fun trips, seeing our local congregation grow so quickly, serving together in the Gilbert Arizona Temple, and taking naps. Things are going great, in other words. So why would we decide now to just set this all aside, throw some things in a couple of suitcases, sell our car, lock up our house, and leave this life behind to spend two years in northwest England, where it rains on average about 300 days every calendar year?
I guess, for us, it boils down to our love for the Savior and our desire for spiritual growth and change. Our experience has been that we have seen the greatest personal spiritual growth when we are pushed well out of our comfort zones to do things that are difficult, that keep our focus outward on others, that turn our hearts and minds to our Saviour Jesus Christ. For us that pretty much describes a full-time mission. So that’s what we have decided to do. Although we will miss our family and our friends terribly, we feel strongly that this is what the Lord wants us to do at this point in our lives, and we are confident our family will see many blessings because of our decision to serve, as they certainly did during our first mission in Minnesota.”
Elder Daren R. Barney spoke about the amazing night it was to be with so many missionaries saying, “You are truly an inspiring sight.” He also thanked those in attendance for sharing the Light of Jesus Christ with the world. Quoting from a recent General Conference talk by President Russell M. Nelson, Elder Barney offered this message: “There has never been a time in the history of the world when knowledge of our Savior is more personally vital and relevant to every human soul.” Continuing with his remarks, Elder Barney stated, “The call of every missionary is to invite others to come unto Jesus Christ through His restored gospel…to have faith in the Savior and in His atonement.”
Elder Barney repeated the suggestion from President Nelson that we need to change the slogan for senior missionaries from “Lengthen our stride to hasten our shuffle.”
Finally, Elder Barney encouraged the senior missionaries to share their experiences of serving and ministering to others with their children and grandchildren. He said this would help their posterity “to focus on the Savior in a world that is becoming increasingly dark and where the light of the Savior shines even brighter, as we see the darkness increasing.”