Givers become receivers

They move thousands of miles from home, serving as advisers to such organizations as the Scout Association of Mongolia.

They volunteer their time, initiating a food production and processing training program in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.They keep busy, distributing text books and teaching employment classes in Nairobi, Kenya.

They are the Church's humanitarian service missionaries working in areas throughout the United States, Central and South America, Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia and India.

Unlike most LDS missionaries, who focus on helping others with spiritual needs, these missionaries - all 186 of them - focus on helping others with temporal needs. Working with the humanitarian service division of the Church and with Latter-day Saint Charities they provide relief and development assistance to the needy of all religious faiths.

Larry Crenshaw, manager of administration for Church humanitarian service, said these volunteers, who are mostly retired couples, are the power and essence of LDS humanitarian aid programs.

"Outsiders would say they are givers - but they say, `Oh no, we are receivers,' " he explained.

Owen and Superla Staley, members of the Coalville 2nd Ward, Coalville Utah Stake, know exactly what he means.

Returning from a 18-month humanitarian service mission in Mongolia where they served as advisers to the country's Scout association, the couple said they received far more than they gave. "It was one of the great experiences that we have had," Brother Staley said.

Brother Staley helped organize the country's first national jamboree, which was attended by more than 2,800 Scouts, and coordinated a donation of tents, sleeping bags, Dutch ovens and camp stoves from the LDS Sort Center in Salt Lake City. He and his wife also taught English classes to the Scouting Association staff and volunteers.

On one occasion, the Staleys had been camping with a group of Scouts. After spending a day with the group, they retired to a rented hotel room. They had not been there long, however, when the Scouters and their leaders joined them in the room with all the fixings for a party, including a guitar and lots of food. "They spent a couple of hours singing to us," Brother Staley recalled. "Then they asked us to sing to them."

Sister Staley said the group came to thank the couple for their service. "They were just so appreciative of any little thing we did," she explained.

Like the Staleys - who returned home November 1997 - most humanitarian service missionaries spend between 18 months and two years contributing to welfare projects that emphasize education, enterprise development, and health-related programs.

To become a humanitarian missionary, single sisters over the age of 40 and couples must have no dependent children at home and be in good health. They can view service opportunities in a monthly bulletin sent to bishops or stake presidents.

In the spring of 1994, the Church, in cooperation with the Royal University of Agriculture and the Ministry of Agriculture in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, initiated a pilot food production/processing program.

Garth and Isabell Nelson, both certified cannery operators and members of the St. Johns 1st Ward, St. Johns Arizona Stake, served in Cambodia, where they contributed to this project.

While her husband worked to open a cannery in the country, Sister Nelson taught English at the University of Agriculture, at local pagodas, and at her home.

"A few days before we left, 12 Buddhist monks and nuns (all Sister Nelson's former students), rented a truck and came to tell us goodbye. They brought wonderful fruit," she recalled, explaining that the visit and the gift proved to be a great financial sacrifice for them. Many of their other students saw them off at the airport. "It was so enlightening to make that kind of friends," she said.

While many humanitarian projects require special skills and training - such as the Nelsons' cannery certification - Brother Crenshaw said there is also a great need for couples and single sisters who have life skills.

He noted that the couples receive training in welfare and humanitarian principles, as well as direction on administering the duties of a non-profit agency. Many humanitarian couples teach English as part of their assignment. They receive teaching and language training in the Provo Missionary Training Center.

In many countries where the Church is organized, humanitarian volunteers may serve in Church assignments that do not interfere with their humanitarian work. In countries where the Church cannot proselyte, such as Vietnam or China, volunteers serve solely as Latter-day Saint Charities representatives.

G. Albin and Bonnie Matson, members of the Taylorsville 1st ward, Taylorsville Utah Stake, worked with the International Foundation for Education and Self-Help and the University of Nairobi to distribute textbooks and other donated educational materials throughout Kenya.

The Church donated 237,000 pounds of textbooks to 54 technical schools, 28 teaching and post-graduate diploma colleges and 35 primary-through-secondary schools there.

The people "were so thrilled, they just wept when you would give them a book," said Brother Matson.

The couple, who returned last year, also taught employment classes in the country, helping community members there find full-time jobs. They taught them how to write a resume, fill out an application form and dress for an interview. "Then they would go out and do exactly as we taught them," Sister Matson recalled. "Then they would come back and be so thrilled that they had found work. Oh, how it changed their lives!"

Sister Matson said the couple would not take a million dollars for their experience. "It is just wonderful," she said, "to see what the Church is doing."

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