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More than 800 Church-service missionaries gathered to hear President Dieter F. Uchtdorf say that “having charity and caring for one another is not simply a good idea. It is not simply one more in a seemingly infinite list of things we ought to consider doing. It is the core of the gospel — an indispensable, essential, foundational element.”
The missionaries, representing 185 congregations of the Salt Lake Inner City Mission, gathered on Friday night, December 4, 2015, to listen to President Uchtdorf, one of the highest ranking leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, deliver the address, which emphasized service.
“I have been looking forward to being with this group, who truly exemplifies the spirit of this season every day of the year,” said President Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of the Church. “For me, it just feels right to be spending part of the Christmas season with you who give so much of yourselves to bless the Lord’s poor.”
The volunteer missionaries, mostly senior couples from the Salt Lake City area, met in the chapel of a Church building on the city’s east side.
“The Lord has always commanded His children to serve and to love Him and to seek the welfare of their brothers and sisters,” President Uchtdorf told the missionaries.
The missionaries leave their own congregations for 12 to 18 months to become part of inner city congregations, serving as volunteers under the direction of local bishops and other leaders to help members and nonmembers become more self-reliant. The mission serves congregations that include the refugee population, Tongans and those who speak Spanish, Swahili, Karen, or Nepali in metropolitan Salt Lake City.
“Sometimes we think that those we help are the ones who receive the greatest blessings, but I am not so sure,” President Uchtdorf shared with the audience. “Something happens within us as we extend ourselves to others. We become more refined, more charitable, more humble. Our hearts become more receptive to the Spirit, and the windows of heaven can be opened to us.”
“You, your children, and your children’s children will be blessed because of the compassion you are showing while serving in this mission,” he promised the missionaries. “But as you have experienced, the blessings do not all come at the end of the path. Often, the reward is in the doing.”
While the size of the gathering was impressive, local Church leaders emphasize the growing need for more members to serve as inner city missionaries and assist those in need.
“We’re always looking for new missionaries,” explained Roger Boyer, who has been serving as the Salt Lake Inner City mission president for a year. He said the mission could accommodate up to 950 inner city missionaries, including couples and some women. “The people that come are well-qualified.”
President Boyer reports that about half of the missionaries renew their missions after they have served their 12 to 18 months and that they all find their service a rewarding experience. “They get there and they feel they are really doing something substantive.”
Thousands of full-time missionaries serve in more than 400 missions around the world, most of them young men and women under age 25, though many senior men and women serve as well. Missionaries in inner city missions don’t proselytize, although they can assist the full-time missionaries if asked. They are considered Church-service missionaries who mentor and assist members and others in diverse ways that are as unique as the families and individuals they visit. Unlike full-time missionaries, Church-service missionaries live at home and serve part-time.
“We ask that they work under the bishop’s direction to help people in the ward by assignment,” said President Boyer.
The inner city missionaries serve a minimum of eight hours a week, but many average 20 or 30 hours on a weekly basis. Duties may include helping someone find employment, providing transportation to medical appointments or teaching Church classes on Sunday.
“It should not surprise us that caring for the needy is such a central part of our faith,” said President Uchtdorf.
“Yes, this has been the pattern of our Father from the days of Adam until now. … The Savior, of course, exemplified this pattern, for He walked among and loved the sick, the broken, the rejected. He spent time among the poor, the unpopular, and the burdened,” he taught.
President Uchtdorf emphasized, “Not only is this the pattern God has given to His children, it is also the path we must walk if we wish to please God. We are called to follow the example of the Savior, and it is impossible to do so if we set aside our compassion and refuse to care for our fellowmen.”
There are numerous opportunities for couples and individuals to serve as Church-service missionaries. Examples include offering support in addiction recovery programs, bishops’ storehouses, employment resource centers, mission offices and family history research efforts. For more information, visit the Church-service missionary website.
Also see this photo essay: Hundreds of Mormon Volunteers Serve in Ethnically Diverse Inner City Mission