With 109 couples worldwide invited to the 2021 Seminar for New Mission Leaders, there are about 109 different stories of when, where and how the new mission presidents and companions are participating in the June 24-26 event.
Some are viewing the livestream originating from the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City in their own homes; others in the homes of extended family, in offices or in hotel rooms. Some join in the videoconference during daytimes hours for the 8 a.m. start time in Utah; others begin in real time when it is late evening in their local time zone.
Seven couples spoke to the Church News about their participation, their questions going into the seminar and their hopes as they prepare to start their mission leadership assignments.
President and Sister William, India New Delhi Mission
Participating in the seminar in their native India halfway around the world from Church headquarters, President Robert K. William and Sister Anne William begin each day’s seminar sessions not at 8 a.m. — the local start time in Salt Lake City — but at 7:30 p.m. each evening. The first two full days didn’t end until 2:30 a.m. their time.
But the time difference and distance weren’t distractions for President and Sister Williams, who started their assignment early several weeks ago.
“Technology is a miracle,” President William said. “I can feel the love of the Brethren for us and for our missionaries as they shared their messages. I feel the brotherhood and love of all my fellow mission leaders, even without being with them.”
Sister William said she was looking for reassurances, confirmations and the answers to some questions at the start of their mission service. “The biggest question that I hope to get answered is how will I be able to balance my responsibilities as a mission leader and a mom? Will I be able to continue to be a successful leader throughout these three years?”
President and Sister Welch, Washington Yakima Mission
Less than a week before the seminar’s start, President Phillip Welch and Sister Anita Welch accepted a last-minute call to serve as mission leaders, moving from a pending assignment as a senior missionary couple. From Erda, Utah, the Welches are participating in the seminar from a daughter’s home in Weymouth, Massachusetts.
The couple was completely overwhelmed by the call, President Welch said. “The time to prepare is a bit intimidating.
“The first day of the mission leadership seminar exceeded every expectation. The direction from the Brethren and the prophetic blessing pronounced by President (Russell M.) Nelson are just what we need as we begin our missionary service.”
Sister Welch admitted to having “a million things to do” in preparation to serve. “The seminar is going to help us focus on the things that are of upmost importance. We have been blessed by the Prophet and the Apostles that if we do that, the little details will work themselves out. That is very reassuring to me.”
President and Sister Cavalcante, Brazil Rio de Janeiro South Mission
President Aroldo B. Cavalcante and Sister Christiana Cavalcante are viewing the seminar in the offices of his law firm in Recife, Brazil.
“I’ve heard from many leaders and friends that the mission leadership seminar is the summit of preparation to enter the mission field,” President Cavalcante said. “They were right! It has been a milestone in my personal journey that started six months ago to become a full-time, Christ-centered leader.”
For Sister Cavalcante, watching the sessions via livestream seemed to melt away the nearly 6,000-mile distance between Salt Lake City and Recife.
“I felt the influence of the Holy Ghost so strongly that I sometimes forgot the virtual format,” she said. “Indeed, at times it seemed that I was sitting in the front row of the (missionary training center).
“Being able to see everyone on the screen and interact in the breakout session helped me to feel close to the other attendees.”
President and Sister Bohn, Chile Santiago East Mission
President Matthew L. Bohn and Sister Jamie L. Bohn — from Gilbert, Arizona — are watching the leadership seminar from the home of her parents in Provo, Utah, where they are staying temporarily before departing for Chile.
“The seminar is really the icing on the mission preparation cake,” Sister Bohn said. “The marvelous training resources available to us through technology these past six months have provided a substantial foundation and helped us feel better prepared to serve as mission leaders, but the seminar complements and completes all of that.
“To learn from the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve and other seasoned disciples, to feel their love and have our vision expanded, and then to be able to discuss with other outgoing mission leaders what we have learned is really a treat — a cup-filling culmination of all of our training.”
President Bohn said he was looking forward to having several preeminent questions going into the seminar for new mission leaders. “How do we help each missionary develop the motivation from within to become the best and most successful version of himself or herself as a disciple of Christ and how do we help the missionaries find joy in the process?
“And as this individual motivation develops, what are the key areas of focus that will yield the greatest collective results in our purpose as missionaries?”
President and Sister Johannson, Australia Adelaide Mission
Having concluded their interim service as president and companion of the Fiji Suva Mission, President Adolf J. Johannson and Sister Martha A. Johannson of Auckland, New Zealand, arrived early in Adelaide in order to participate in the seminar uninterrupted.
Similar to the Williams in India, the Johannsons face even later start times for the seminar — 11:30 p.m. for each of the three days.
“I’m hoping to learn from the Brethren their desires for missionaries and mission leaders, their prophetic priorities, and to receive of their special witness of Jesus Christ. I look forward to the outpouring of the Spirit during the seminar and to be personally tutored by the Holy Ghost.
“I am personally grateful for the privilege to participate in the seminar as mission leaders with my eternal companion, Martha.”
Sister Johannson expressed a hope that the seminar would help the couple expand on their early experiences in leading the Fiji mission. “My time in Fiji taught me about following the Spirit, tolerance of differences and the need to always be serving,” she said. “As such, I feel this mission leadership seminar will enhance and add to the time we spent in Fiji.”
President and Sister Cates, Costa Rica San José West Mission
With six children accompanying them from their home in Provo, Utah, to their mission assignment in Costa Rica, President Shawn R. Cates and Sister Nadia A. Cates left the young ones with grandparents to lessen the distractions and are participating in the seminar from a hotel in Chula Vista, California.
President Cates, who has worked in the Missionary Department in different capacities for over a decade, anticipated a seminar for new leaders that would be steeped in the adaptations for missionaries and members sharing the gospel during the pandemic.
“I think this seminar will be unique in that we’ll hear about those adaptations and how the work of bringing others to Christ continues, but with adaptations,” he said.
“I also believe that each year (in the annual seminar) we hear God’s voice, and each year different themes and patterns come out of the messages. I’m excited to search for these this year, since we will be helping our missionaries understand them.”
Sister Cates said she is hoping the seminar provides an opportunity to sense and understand the will of the Lord for their missionaries in Costa Rica. “We are sure He has promises in store for the missionaries we will serve with and the people they will help,” she said. “We really hope to get insight into what that might be as we begin.”
President and Sister Holmes, New York New York City Mission
President Patrick H. Holmes and Sister Jennifer D. Holmes are participating in the leadership seminar in their home in Draper, Utah.
“As the missionary purpose encompasses everything we do, I hoped to receive inspiration and direction on how to teach this purpose, so it penetrates deep into the hearts of the missionaries,” said President Holmes, who has been serving as a counselor in the Utah Salt Lake City South Mission presidency.
“I have come away with that and so much more. We are truly led by apostles and prophets.”
Added Sister Holmes: “To hear and learn from apostles and prophets and feel like they are speaking directly to us has been the perfect culmination of our training. Their reassurance and confidence in us gives us great hope and peace.
“What a blessing to know that the Lord truly does know each of us.”