In helping prepare the list of the 105 new mission leadership couples — mission presidents and their companions — for print and online publication in the Church News this week, I found myself thinking of what awaits them.
I tried to envision the start of their several years of service, given how the COVID-19 global pandemic radically altered traditional missionary work, routines and relationships in 2020 — from early releases to home-country reassignments, and from at-home missionary training to isolating in place while contacting and teaching through technology.
Next, I imagined the countless number of individuals each couple will influence in the coming years of their service — foremost, all the missionaries the new leaders will mentor and nurture. But that circle of influence extends to interactions with stake and ward leaders and members; peers at area mission leadership seminars; visiting Church authorities; parents and relatives of missionaries; individuals learning of our faith and those converting to it . . . and the list goes on and on.
And then I thought of two items made of fabric — a flag and a quilt.
Ten years ago, the names of R. Scott Taylor and Cheryl Taylor were on a similar list, showing our 2011 assignment to preside over the Arizona Phoenix Mission.
Months before our start, Cheryl led out in creating both a flag and quilt that would tie our tenure with those whom we would serve with. Flags and quilts — along with other things ranging from pins and ties to notebooks and journals — are not expected, standard mission fare. It was simply something we chose to do on our own.
The large, white flag featured a circular logo created by our graphic-designer son. A pair of simple, iconic images — an angel Moroni statue common to Latter-day Saint temples and the alternating red and yellow sunset rays from Arizona’s state flag — represented both the mission and the new Phoenix Arizona Temple, which had its groundbreaking just weeks before our arrival in late June 2011.
The flag provided plenty of open, white space around the logo for missionaries, mission leaders, Missionary Department guests and visiting General Authorities and their wives to sign their name with permanent marker — and all did during our three-year service.
Cheryl’s idea for a quilt depicted the Phoenix temple in front of sunrays, and we explained that the missionaries’ efforts were to help lead people to the temple and its ordinances. Her desire was to have every missionary — including office and presidency couples — sign a four-inch-square quilt block with a permanent paint marker.
From the first interviews and interactions with our 600-plus missionaries over three years, one of the first matters of business was to get a block signed for the quilt, which ended up being nearly 8 feet square, with 648 signed blocks.
Ironically, both the quilt and our mission assignment were completed before the Phoenix temple was — we returned several months after finishing our mission in late June 2014 to attend both the open house and the dedication.
In subsequent years, we took the quilt and flag to mission reunions and barbeques, watching returned missionaries point out their “block” to friends, family, fiancées, spouses and children. We’ve hung the quilt along walls in our homes, first in the family room in our old home and now in a guest room we’ve turned into “the mission room,” complete with nametags, shadowboxes, framed photos and other mementos from our time in Phoenix.
Often when we walk by, we pause and look at different missionary names at different times — being reminded of the stories, anecdotes and memories associated with each one. While we have manila folders full of correspondence and digital folders of thousands of photos from our mission, and while we relish the calls and the cards, the social posts, the path-crossings and the in-person visits, the quilt provides a quick mental prompt.
We treasure learning of our returned missionaries’ important family events, education or professional advancements and ecclesiastical responsibilities. We also lament with tender situations — challenges or losses in marriage and family, in health or of faith. A decade later, they remain in our prayers.
Over the years, we’ve explained that as their mission leaders, we are their “cheerleaders for life” on their journey of “becoming.” (see “Scott Taylor: One word that defines the path of discipleship,” Church News, Nov. 24, 2019, page 24).
And so, as I look at the list of 105 new mission leadership couples, I think of their upcoming opportunities of influence and interaction.
And in turn, I reflect on our service and experiences and on the names found on 648 quilt blocks. The names represent not just a treasured group collectively but each an individual who is appreciated, admired and loved.
They are names written in ink and paint on fabric — and etched in our minds and hearts forever.
This is the starting point of what awaits these 105 new mission leadership couples.