NEW YORK, N.Y. Carmen Carrera and Yolanda Flores don't fit the mold of many sister missionaries. Both are grandmothers from Mexico, speak little English and raised their children as single parents.
Once companions in the New York New York South Mission, they made great personal sacrifices to serve. Assigned to the Freeport Spanish Branch in the Lynbrook New York District for 16 months, they grew in their admiration for each other.
According to President Jeffrey Morrow of the mission they're extremely successful and inspire similar success in other missionaries. "They continually challenge the other missionaries by setting the pace, proselyting daily, bringing investigators to sacrament meetings and bringing wonderful converts to baptism. The younger missionaries have a hard time keeping up with them."
In 1990, following a recommendation from a friend, Sister Flores and her 10 children immigrated from Mexico to California. The family had struggled financially in Mexico, where she worked for low wages in a factory and later a motion picture studio.
Despite the sadness of leaving Mexico, California was a welcome change and a challenge that Sister Flores was determined to conquer. With minimal education and little understanding of English, she continued to work long and difficult hours as a housekeeper. Improved wages made life manageable.
"I had to work very hard to provide for my children and their education," she remembers from those years.
About two years ago, her bishop called her into his office. She was shocked when he invited her to serve a mission. Though she had always been a faithful member of the Church, she was obligated to meeting the demands of her family and seldom felt she had sufficient time to do anything more than visit teach. The demands of life seldom left sufficient time to study the scriptures in depth.
But she accepted the call, knowing that it would be difficult to leave her grown children. She wasn't called to Mexico as she had hoped, but New York City was the next best thing, she feels. Two of her children served previously in New York. She figures she "came back to finish what they couldn't."
Her companion, Sister Carrera, is a successful businesswoman from southern Mexico. She discovered the gospel in 1965 and was immediately converted. Still, after all these years, her face lights up when discussing her introduction to the Church.
"Two blond young men, angels, knocked on my window and shared the first discussion with me. From the moment they told me that Jesus Christ came to the Americas, I was convinced. I was baptized 15 days later," she said. Her husband was baptized at the same time, but soon drifted away from the Church, and later from the family. Sister Carrera shouldered most of the responsibility for raising her four children and three nephews.
Life has not been easy for either Sister Carrera or Sister Flores, and missionary work has been no different. They draw strength and peace from the gospel and each other. Their lives are living testaments of the truth they fondly teach: "the gospel changes people."
For them, living the gospel has given them compassion, humility and perspective. "Some people don't think they need to change," says Sister Carrera, forever an optimist. "But I always tell them that they are missing something and that their lives could be better."