You have had me here twice before. I am surprised you have invited me again. I am greatly honored.
Tonight I have thought to speak concerning what we as a Church are doing with two groups who face serious problems in our society. The first is the elderly.
Life is stressful. It is so highly competitive. As people move along, they look to retirement. They yearn for an escape from the dreadfully demanding regimens of their vocational pursuits. They get weary of the fight.
Fortunately for most, there are retirement plans the benefits of which when coupled with Social Security, provide the means whereby they can they rest when they reach 60 or 65.
Those who have never traveled dream of going to “faraway places with strange sounding names.” Others envision a motor home or some such arrangement under which they can get about and see the country. Yet others may be inclined to sit and think, or to just sit. In any event, we now have great numbers of people who are retiring. They have skills and capacity. But they are tired of what they have been doing.
For a short time, they may enjoy following their dreamed-of pursuits. But they quickly discover that these are not very satisfying. What is there to do? Join a bridge club and endlessly pass the hours? No. Let me tell you of some of the great and challenging opportunities we are offering to such people and of literally thousands who are taking advantage of these opportunities.
Recently on a trip to Brazil we stopped overnight in Jamaica to meet with our people there. I think it was the first time a president of the Church had ever been there.
At the airport, as we came through customs and immigration, were two wonderful women. Each is a widow. Each has reared a family to maturity. Each volunteered for missionary service without indicating where she might go or what she might do. They were assigned to Jamaica and there they are performing a marvelous work. Here they are teaching, lifting, encouraging those who have felt they had very small opportunity in the world.
As I shook the hands and conversed with Norma Hall and Erva Fredericksen I asked them if they were having a good time. They said they were having the time of their lives. They have found that they are needed. They have discovered that they can help. They have learned that someone depends on them. They have come alive in their declining years. They love what they are doing. About the only fear that they have is that all of this will come to an end before too long. When that happens there can be a short time of rest and relaxation, and then another opportunity. Their health is better because they are actively engaged. They had never known one another before, but they have become fast friends. They are making a contribution.
About four years ago I went to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, where I went many times during the war. I then traveled up to Hanoi and there had a meeting with a few of our people who are there. Among them were two retired doctors, brothers. One was from Utah, the other from Idaho. After long and busy careers, they had closed their practices and set aside their instruments. But idleness soon became boring. They volunteered for missions. They must have felt a little uneasy when they received calls to go to Vietnam. But they went and were doing a remarkable service, one of them using his specialty in establishing a neonatal clinic, and the other in general practice. They were now lost in the problems of their patients, using all of their energy and resources to heal broken bodies and fractured minds.
In Bangkok, we were honored at a delightful dinner at the Hyatt Hotel, as guests of the mayor of Bangkok. The public schools are run by the city. That evening he wished to pay respect to some 20 or so older people who were serving missions for this Church in teaching English to the Thai children. This knowledge will be of priceless benefit to those children as they grow and move into the world of commerce. He could not say enough for these capable and devoted women who, for the most part, had been public school teachers and who were now giving of themselves to the teaching of English as a second language to the young people of Thailand. We talked with these women. At home they had little or nothing to do. Some lived in rest homes. They had been members of sports clubs and physical fitness groups. Now, responding to calls from the Church, they were serving in that distant land among a strange people whom they had come to know and love. They bubbled over with enthusiasm. They were useful. They knew they were accomplishing good.
We now have altogether some 5,300 retired men and women serving in a meaningful missionary capacity for this Church throughout the world. The number is growing. They go where they are called. They serve where they are needed. Friendships are being established, skills are being shared, opportunities are being opened for those who will never forget the men and women who have come among them in a spirit of entire unselfishness to teach and do good. They receive no money. They go at their own expense. The measure of their devotion is unlimited. The fruits of their efforts are beyond calculation.
We maintain in Salt Lake City a tremendous family history resource. This organization has satellite facilities throughout the nation and abroad. One such facility is right here in Los Angeles. Some 424 volunteers work in these institutions to assist those who desire to know of their family roots.
Volunteer service is the genius of this Church. We now have over 26,000 congregations scattered over the world. Every one is presided over by a man who serves with two counselors on a volunteer basis. This same spirit, this work, reaches out to the elderly and brings a feeling of security, of usefulness, of service that brightens their lives and gives them a sense of making a great contribution.
On the way home from South America the other day, we stopped at Trinidad to meet with our people. A couple had come over from the island of Grenada. The man is a very successful Idaho farmer. He cultivates some 30,000 acres in Idaho. He runs a tremendous operation. But he was tired and decided to slow down and let his brothers and his boys see what they could do with the farm. He volunteered for a mission call and today presides over our work in Grenada under the direction of a mission president, who also serves on a volunteer basis as head of the work with offices in Trinidad.
Another retired Idaho potato farmer was sent to Minsk, Belarus, a part of the former Soviet empire. He was surprised at the low potato yield. He took a piece of ground. He used the fertilizer available to all other farmers in the area. He used the same equipment. And with his knowledge he produced a harvest 50 times greater than that of neighboring farmers.
They could not believe it.
When he returned home he sent, at his own expense, potato-harvesting equipment such as they had never seen before. It was a gift of love for the people among whom he had served.
Now, I know, of course, that there are many other volunteer groups doing a great service in the world. There is the Peace Corps, and there are other organizations like it. But I know of no other organization which so harnesses the abilities, the capacities and the willingness of retired men and women in an organized program of Christian service in many areas of the world.
These people are experiencing in a very real way the promise of their Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, who said: “Whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it” (Mark 8:35).
Some years ago I was in the Philippines, down in Cebu. We had convened a conference of our people. I saw in the congregation an American and his wife. I had known them previously when he was a stake president, a leading officer of the Church in New York City. At that time he worked for Union Carbide. He was a well-paid chemist and, as I understand, largely responsible for the discovery of Prestone. At the close of the meeting in Cebu, I said, “What are you doing here?”
He said, “We are having the time of our lives.” They told me their story.
When he was about to retire, they said to themselves: “What are we going to do? We still have our health. We still have some ability. Let’s make ourselves available to the Church to use us wherever they wish.” They received a call and then, as they related, “We sold our home. We gave our children what furniture they wanted and gave away the rest. We found ourselves left with a few clothes, some private records and our retirement income.
“The Church called us to come here, and here we are.” They were living in a small apartment, altogether about the size of their New York living room. They had previously known nothing of the Filipinos. Now they were working among them, lifting their sights, giving them understanding, building their faith in a great cause and faith in themselves. They were doing a wonderful work and having a wonderful time.
They have since served in other areas in various parts of the world. They are now growing old and somewhat handicapped, but they have rich and wonderful and nurturing memories, not just of the days when he was a great chemist, but of more recent years when they have been out serving among those who needed their help. These volunteers include retired medical doctors, educators, farmers, business executives and the garden variety of ordinary good people.
My dear friends, I speak to you of a reality. Caring for the elderly has become one of the great social problems of our time. Of course they reach an age when they cannot do very much. I can testify of that. But there are years between retirement and that age when they can play around doing things that really lead nowhere or they can give their great talents, the fruits of many years of marvelous experience, to lift and help people. They become concerned with others less fortunate and work to meet their needs. And they say, “What a great time we are having!” They finish one duty and volunteer for another, time after time. I know of one couple now on their eighth such mission. God bless them for their great and dedicated service.
I could go on a long time with you concerning this wonderful program which touches for good the lives of people in a hundred different ways and a thousand different circumstances. But I think I shall leave it and speak to you of another group facing serious challenges: some of the world’s poverty-ridden young people.
By way of introduction, let me share a bit of history. In the pioneer days of our Church when our people were gathering from the lands of Europe and the British Isles, many of them were poor. The journey across the ocean was long, then all the way to the Salt Lake Valley in the Rocky Mountains. It was difficult and it was costly. Many wanted to come, thousands. The Church organized what came to be known as the Perpetual Emigration Fund. It established an endowment, the earnings from which provided loans to those wishing to gather with their people in the valleys of the mountains. When they arrived, they went to work. As they were able to earn, they repaid the loan and this money was used to make it possible for others to emigrate. It was a perpetual revolving fund that brought some 30,000 converts to gather in the western area of the United States.
There were some failures. Of course there were. There were some who did not repay the loans. But on balance, it was a tremendous success. The forebears of some of the strongest families in the Church today came to their Zion by means of this Perpetual Emigration Fund.
Now we come down a century and a half to our day. We found a problem existed. We have many young men and women in Third World countries, in the underprivileged nations of the earth. They are good and able and bright. But they live in poverty as have generations of their people before them. Many of these young people have served missions for the Church. While doing so they have learned to speak English. As they served as companions of young men and women from the United States and Canada, their ambitions were awakened. Their sights were raised. Then they were released after 18 months or two years and they soon found themselves back in the same condition of poverty out of which they had originally come.
We pondered this problem. We prayed about it. A year ago last April in our general conference I announced that we were undertaking a new program patterned after the Perpetual Emigration Fund of our forebears. We would call it the Perpetual Education Fund. We would invite our people to make contributions to this fund on a strictly volunteer basis. Hopefully, we would establish a substantial corpus and set up a simple organization under which loans would be made to deserving young men and women by which they could acquire an education. We knew that education is the key to unlock opportunity.
We would not give them the money. Growth seldom comes of handouts. We all value that which comes of effort and sacrifice.
These young people would not be brought to the United States for training. They would go to educational institutions in their own lands, in fact, in their own communities. Research had shown that there were good schools available right in their own back yards.
I sent out an invitation in our conference for the Church, for members who wished to do so, to voluntarily contribute to this fund. We started with nothing. Contributions have been received from a quarter of a million people, ranging from very small donations to donations in five figures.
Many donations have come from children.
One family donated money they had worked all year to earn with the intent of purchasing snowmobiles. The five children each earned $1,000, but when they heard about this program they donated it all to the Perpetual Education Fund. They concluded they could get along without snowmobiles and that greater good would come from such a contribution.
Some whose ancestors were helped by the Perpetual Emigration Fund, after which this fund was patterned, have tried to pay what they thought their ancestors in the 19th century borrowed. A substantial number who are not members of the Church have contributed.
In the little more than a year that has elapsed since the first announcement we have, without touching the corpus, earnings enough to provide loans to more than 3,000 individuals.
We placed in charge of the program a very able California lawyer with extensive business experience who was ready for retirement. He gladly shouldered the burden and indicates he has never had a more challenging responsibility or one which has made him happier.
Assisting him is a retired Ford Motor Company financial executive with broad international experience. He, too, is having a wonderful time.
And so, today, only 14 months after the first announcement, we have made loans to 720 young people in Brazil, 696 in Chile, 338 in Peru, 194 in Mexico, 523 in the Philippines, and 634 in other countries, making a total of 3,106 as of the first of June. I am confident the number will rise dramatically.
This costs the Church nothing. Everyone who is working on it is doing so on a volunteer basis. It is soundly financed and operating in a businesslike way.
What will be the result? A boy from Mexico whose forebears have lived in poverty for generations will be enabled to rise out of that quagmire. He will become skilled. He will have good employment. He will marry and rear a family. He will go on and serve in positions of leadership in the Church. He and the generations after him will be blessed beyond measure and the Church of which he is a member will be assured of generations of strong and able leaders in that land.
I recently met with President Vicente Fox of Mexico, who expressed deep concern for those of his people in poverty. What a wonderful thing, what a marvelous thing, to be able to light a candle by which to brighten the way of those with intellectual capacity to move out of the darkness when given an opportunity. As that happens, they will return that money to assist another and so it will go on in perpetuity.
Let me give you in their own words two or three expressions. This from a young man in Concepcion, Chile:
“I have felt frustrated and inadequate to provide my future family a better economic state and at the same time a spiritual surrounding. All my life I have fought mediocrity. My feelings for the Perpetual Education Fund are those of gratitude to the Lord. This is a great blessing for so many of us, not only from Chile, but in all Latin American countries. Today I can change the future and give something better to my children. Thanks to all who have made this possible.”
This from a young man in Colombia who is studying to become a computer systems network technician: “When I was serving my mission, many of the members and even the investigators would ask me about my goals after my mission. Without hesitating I would always respond, ‘I’ll go to school, work and get married.’ Then, when I was in the apartment with my companion, the truth would come out. I told my companion that it would be too difficult for me, that I could never have the money to do it. My good companion would try to encourage me by saying that the Lord would help me somehow if I were just patient. Still, it seemed hopeless.
“The Perpetual Education Fund was an answer to my companion’s faith and the prayers of many others. Now I am achieving that dream. I am attending one of the best schools in my city. My desires and motivation are higher than ever. I can see how I will be able to help my family, the Church and others, and I will return in many ways the assistance given me. I am so grateful once again to see the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to ‘always protect His sheep.'”
This from a young man in Brazil. He is now 27. “I came home from my mission six years ago and eventually found a wonderful wife. However, all my efforts to gain an education were frustrated. The free courses I took were ineffective, and the good courses were expensive and, therefore, totally inaccessible. When the Perpetual Education Fund was announced, it gave me new hope about becoming self-reliant, about having a promising career. Today I am in training to become a radiology technician thanks to a loan from the Fund. After my graduation I will find a job that will give me the time and money to take care of my family and serve better in the Church.”
The list of educational programs for which loans were approved in the last meeting of the loan committee includes: automobile mechanic, banking, clothing maker, computer network systems engineer, computer maintenance, computer programmer, electronic technician, environmental technician, foreign commerce, hair stylist, hotel administration, marketing and sales specialist, Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, natural gas technician, nurse, nutritionist, pathology lab technician, pilot, Portuguese translator, radiology technician, secretary, telecom technician, Web technician.
I know my time is up. But can you get the wonderful vision of this thing?
I have spent much time in the Philippines, in the nations of South America, Central America, Mexico. I have seen the poverty, the utterly hopeless condition of so very many who are born, live and die without rising above the level of those who have gone before them for generations.
I am profoundly grateful for what we are able to do. I am excited. I am optimistic. And I know it will succeed. The pattern of that success was established 150 years ago. It is now being repeated, with a different application, in our day and time.
It is necessary to hand out food to those in need. They are in distress. They need help, and we are extending a great deal of help through our humanitarian services program. But it is an even greater thing to strike fire in the minds of the coming generation to walk out of the swamp of the past into a new day and a great future. The Lord being our Helper, we are making it happen.
Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.