In the past two years, more seniors have answered the call to serve full-time missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The influx follows the age change that allowed young men and women to serve at a younger age. As of this week, eight percent, or 6,609 of the 83,471missionaries currently serving around the world, are seniors (age 40 and older). Before the age change, there were 5,778 senior missionaries serving. The increase in senior missionaries is up a total of 14 percent, according to the Church’s Missionary Department.
Married couples can be found in the Church’s 406 missions serving alongside the younger missionaries at a time in their lives they could be enjoying hobbies during their retirement such as spending more time on the golf course, fishing, traveling or being with their grandchildren. Some couples end up serving multiple missions because they find the opportunity to serve others very rewarding.
“It has always been our goal to serve a mission together,” said Elder Stanley Nance. He and his wife, Rosalie, of Bountiful, Utah, both retired from state government and are currently serving for 18 months as public affairs missionaries in the Madagascar Antananarivo Mission. Elder Nance served a mission in France as a young man. This is their third full-time mission serving together following two other missions in New Zealand and Ukraine.
In New Zealand, the Nances worked closely with the area presidency and mission president to conduct an open house at the newly constructed missionary training center for several thousand members in that country. In Ukraine, they worked with the mission president and three local leaders to plan and provide conferences for the youth and young single adults of Ukraine and western Russia.
“We have always felt that we needed to serve as soon as we could because the Lord has provided us a window of good health, our parents are relatively healthy, our children are more or less stable, the wardcan certainly do without us for a while, and if we are prudent, we can afford to go,” said Elder Nance.
In April 2013, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles mentioned senior missionary service in his general conference address titled “Catch the Wave.” “You senior couples, you plan for the day when you can go on your mission. We will be most grateful for your service,” said Elder Nelson.
Changes for senior missionaries were announced in 2011 such as the length of missions (6 to 23 months) and a cap on housing costs (not to exceed $1,400). These changes made it possible for some Latter-day Saints to serve full-time missions who would not otherwise have the resources.
Full-time senior missionaries are called by the president of the Church. They serve voluntarily and at their own expense and generally serve after their retirement from the workforce.
Senior couples and senior sisters fulfill a wide range of missions, including proselytizing, humanitarian, health and education, as well as leadership missions. In the 400-plus missions around the world, senior missionaries help keep the mission offices running as they fulfill duties including secretarial, finances, telephone, housing, carpool and tracking weekly referrals (people interested in knowing more about the Church). They can also be a great asset to local congregations as they seek out less-active members and mentor local Church leaders.
Elder Steve and Sister Robyn Levesque from Bluffdale, Utah, are serving for 23 months as proselytizing missionaries in the Oregon Salem Mission. After spending time in the Provo Missionary Training Center (MTC) last October, Elder and Sister Levesque were transferred to Vernonia, Oregon, where they are serving in the community and working with the branch president (local Church leader) and mission leader to find less-active members, as well as teaching lessons to people of other faiths.
“The greatest advantage to serving a mission is that you can actually serve the Lord every day without getting interrupted by job or family concerns,” said Sister Levesque.
Humanitarian missionaries use their talents to improve the lives of people around the world, working on everything from medical to agricultural needs. For example, Mormon doctors and nurses recently traveled to Indonesia to help train local physicians in newborn resuscitation. The Church was recognized last August for its humanitarian work in Bolivia, including Latter-day Saint ophthalmologist Dr. Joel Moya, who helped lead the fight against blindness, especially in La Paz. The Church’s clean water program has helped communities such as the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.
John Hess and his wife, Shirley, potato farmers from Ashton, Idaho, are credited with helping the people of Belarus in the Russia Moscow Mission increase the yield of their potato crops from 50 sacks of potatoes a hectare (equal to 10,000 square meters) to 550 sacks per hectare, 11 times better than any previous yield on the land. The Hesses served for 18 months, beginning in October 1998, to assist the farmers in Belarus. “It was one of the finest experiences that I ever had,” said John Hess. “I was grateful to serve a mission and grateful to take my wife and serve a mission.” He served a mission as a young man to northern California.
John Hess said the farmers in Belarus had access to pesticides and other modern materials, but they needed advice to improve some of their growing techniques. “That is the most beautiful soil I have ever seen — rich, organic based soil. I didn’t bring anything up that I couldn’t get locally. You had to show them [the potatoes] were very delicate.”
“They were very uplifting to us, and I hope we did the same for them,” reflected Shirley Hess. “I loved the people. They were very kind and generous. The members of the ward were very special. I couldn’t help but love every one of them.”
Senior missionaries do have more flexibility than young elders and sister missionaries while away from home. “If we get tired, we can rest. If we need to catch up with our children at home, we can Skype them,” said Elder Nance. Senior missionaries can get permission to travel home for family emergencies or special occasions, but must do so at their own expense.
This is the Levesques’ first full-time mission serving together after working with the Church’s Addiction Recovery Program in Utah for more than three years. Elder Levesque served a two-year mission to the West Central States at age 19.
“The hardest part for us serving so far was learning how to work together,” confessed Sister Levesque. She and her husband have been married for 42 years. “This is the best thing we have ever done together,” she added. They have six married children and 21 grandchildren. Sister Levesque said one of the biggest sacrifices was leaving their grandchildren. Their oldest grandson is currently serving a mission in Florida.
Mary Lee and Lloyd Burton were in the MTC at the same time as their first grandson to leave on a mission. “We were able to have our meals with him. A very special blessing,” recounted Sister Burton.
The Burtons are home in Utah now after serving four missions, including missions to historic Nauvoo and the California San Diego Mission, where they were assigned to the Mormon Battalion Historic Siteand they taught newly baptized marines at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. The Burtons were in Illinois on a public affairs mission when the Nauvoo Illinois Temple was completed, and they participated in shows to entertain visitors in the Nauvoo Cultural Hall. “Lloyd played the mandolin and I played the fiddle,” said Sister Burton. “We had so much fun on this mission.”
The Burtons were able to proselytize and teach full-time in the Mississippi Jackson Mission before returning to Utah to serve for three years in the Vernal Utah Temple presidency. Their last mission call was to the Virginia Richmond Mission, where they were assigned to the mission office. “We came home more tired from this mission than the others. But if the Lord called us again, we would go,” said Sister Burton.
Elder Clair and Sister Julia Hopkins have been serving at the Manhattan New York Temple since last August. They work five days a week in the temple for seven hours each day. “We serve as ordinanceworkers and we’re also responsible for all of the laundry (special white clothing used in the temple),” said Sister Hopkins who lives in a Manhattan apartment building with her husband next to the temple located near Lincoln Center in New York City.
The Hopkins started their service in New York City with a six-month mission, but extended their call for another six months. “It’s going fast and we’ve enjoyed it,” she reflected. “We’re not thinking another [mission] at this point in time, but I know we will miss this one,” said Sister Hopkins.
Sister Hopkins said one of the highlights of their mission is having their children visit them in New York. “We have been lucky because four children have made it out here. That’s really been fun to have them here and show them around.”
The Hopkinses also served a Church Educational System (CES) mission in Manchester, England, from 2005 to 2006, where they taught institute classes and assisted with dances for young adults.
Despite the sacrifices and hard work, the senior missionaries say there are many rewards.
“We don’t want to give the impression that everything goes perfectly smoothly,” said Elder Nance. “We have our times of struggle and disappointment and sometimes our mission can be discouraging, but we know that everything that happens will strengthen us and help us to grow.”
“We have had the experience of living with and working with choice members of the Church in several lands, and we have gained eternal friends,” added Sister Nance.
“After four missions, we have literally hundreds of new friends we would never have had without our missions,” remarked Sister Burton. “We never felt our missions to be a sacrifice.”
Opportunities and estimated costs for senior missionaries can be found in the weekly Senior Missionary Opportunities Bulletin. The Church also posts missionary service openings on its LDS Church-Service Missions Facebook page.