Elder John K. Carmack, an emeritus Seventy and executive director of the Perpetual Education Fund, told the Salt Lake City chapter of the BYU Management Society on Sept. 10 the PEF has now helped more than 38,000 Latter-day Saints in 42 countries since 2001.
According to its Web site, the PEF is a "resource for faithful young members of the Church who wish to improve their education, find a good job, and better serve their family, the Church, and their community." It functions by providing modest loans for education or training to young adults who would not be able to afford higher education by themselves, and is in theory modeled after the Perpetual Emigration Fund, which helped thousands of Latter-day Saints emigrate to the United States in the early days of the Church.
President Gordon B. Hinckley announced the PEF at April 2001 general conference. Elder Carmack, the organization's executive director since its inception, recalled the first time President Hinckley told him about plans for the PEF.
"President Hinckley called on the telephone and went on to describe to me in some detail what he was going to do," Elder Carmack said. "So it was that he described to me a plan. He said, 'We've got an idea in mind, we've got a plan, that we will describe at general conference. We are going to make loans in a very similar way to the loans made in the Perpetual Emigration Fund days. We'll make loans to our young adults, and those loans will be repayable. We don't want to give away money and make people weak.' …
"Many of them just cannot do it without a little bit of help, a little loan. And so the miracles come."
The PEF was originally limited to only Mexico, Peru and Chile. But now that it's in 42 countries, there appears to be no end in sight to the current growth.
"This program is growing very, very rapidly, and it really is quite a challenge to keep up with it," Elder Carmack said. "This year, we're about 50 percent ahead of last year in terms of applications, and last year we were about 62 percent ahead of the year before in terms of the number of loans that we made."
Each area in the Church has its own committee to screen PEF applications. More than 98 percent of the applications that reach PEF headquarters in Salt Lake City are able to garner final approval.
Elder Carmack estimates two-thirds of PEF recipients are current with or have completed the payback of their loans.
"We would love to have 100 percent payback," he said. "These are people most of whom never even had a bank account. They have never been involved in a business transaction or signing a promissory note. But they're paying back better and better all the time.
"For example, those who just joined the program in the last 12 months, their paying-back percentage is something like 88 percent. These people are showing their integrity, and we keep working to move that up."
Although he knows his service with the PEF is winding down, Elder Carmack is enjoying the journey while it lasts.
"It has been wonderful to be a part of this," he said. "I had no background for it, but we're glad to do it. I've been doing this for 8½ years and I don't know how much longer I'll do it. President Hinckley did ask me a couple of times if I was good for 10 years, and I think I can make that."