At 5:45 a.m., Elder Chad McKendrick wakes up and crawls to the bathroom. His father, Kelly McKendrick Sr., turns on the lights. Elder McKendrick spends the next hour getting dressed with the clothes he set out the night before.
Once dressed, Elder McKendrick crawls out to the hall, where someone lifts him into his electric wheelchair. His sister Caroline puts on his socks, buttons his top button and adjusts his tie and clothes.
With his nametag clipped to his white shirt, Elder McKendrick is ready to go to the nearby seminary building, where he is currently serving as a service missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I’ve wanted this since I was a little kid in Primary,” said Elder McKendrick, 22, who has cerebral palsy and was adopted from Taiwan as a young boy. He and his family live in Gilbert, Arizona.
At the seminary building every weekday morning, Elder McKendrick greets the students, gives devotionals, participates in lessons and supports the teachers. His favorite part is being a friend to those who might be struggling.
“He knows everybody, he loves everybody,” said Christina McKendrick, Elder McKendrick’s mother. “He’s always got a smile on his face.”
Elder Jonathan S. Schmitt, an Area Seventy assigned to service missionaries in the North America Southwest Area, lives near the McKendrick family and recently passed Elder McKendrick driving his power wheelchair the 2 miles home from the seminary building.
“There is no sense of self-pity,” Elder Schmitt said of Elder McKendrick. “He is optimistic. He is absolutely full of faith. He knows the gospel, and he lives it.”
Elder McKendrick is one of Kelly and Christina McKendrick’s 24 children, who range in age from 5 to 40 years old — 17 of whom were adopted. He is the fifth to serve a service mission.
Service missionaries live at home and serve locally under the ecclesiastical direction of their stake presidents. Their assignments are customized to the missionaries’ capabilities, needs and interests, and they serve as close to full time as their circumstances allow.
“Service missionaries are missionaries,” Elder Schmitt said. “Missionaries are missionaries. … The Lord loves them and honors them and is grateful for them.”
‘Happiness and making hats’
Ashley McKendrick, 25, was born in Taiwan and has Goldenhar syndrome, a rare congenital condition causing craniofacial anomalies. As a service missionary beginning in September 2019, she volunteered at the Mesa and Gilbert bishops’ storehouses, the Midwest Food Bank and with a group supporting foster children.
When someone she served with tested positive for COVID-19, Ashley McKendrick was sent home for two weeks. A few days in, she was bored. She found the loom she received for Christmas and taught herself how to make baby hats.
Since then, Ashley McKendrick has donated more than 100 baby hats to a local hospital.
Each hat includes a card with a special message from her: “I am special because I have Goldenhar syndrome, have a big family, two silly cats, and was adopted from Taiwan. I love being a service missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I hope this hat keeps your baby very warm.”
Ashley McKendrick finished her service mission in March and continues to stay busy. She was recently featured in a video for her stake’s women’s conference on the theme “Let God Prevail.” When asked how serving others has blessed her life, she said, “Happiness and making hats.”
Kelly McKendrick Sr. said of Ashley and his other children who served service missions: “It doesn’t matter where they serve — it’s just that they want to serve. … It’s fun to see the excitement.”
‘I like to serve’
Amy McKendrick, 29, was the first of the McKendrick children to serve a service mission. Born in Korea with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, she is mute and wears a bilateral hearing aid.
In her baby blessing, she was told she would serve a mission. At the time, Christina McKendrick wasn’t sure how that was going to happen. “Heavenly Father knows His children. And He knows the end from the beginning,” she said. “He knew that Amy was going to serve a mission.”
As she got older, Amy McKendrick wanted nothing more than to serve a mission like her brothers. Thanks to a teacher at her high school, she began serving at the bishops’ storehouse when she was 22 and was later grandfathered into the service mission program, still in its infancy at the time.
Among her favorite tasks was organizing the cans. “I’ve seen her work, and she does a good job,” said her younger sister Caroline McKendrick, sitting by Amy’s side during a Zoom interview. “She loved to serve her companions and other people around her.”
Following Amy McKendrick’s example, Caroline McKendrick also served a service mission. For 18 months she worked with special needs children at Lauren’s Institute for Education, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the quality of life for children and adults with disabilities.
Caroline McKendrick, 25, who has a developmental delay, spent the first five years of her life in an orphanage in Taiwan, where she often helped take care of the younger children.
“I helped out with a lot of children throughout my life,” she said. “I’m like a second mother. I just like to be kind, take care, nurture the kids and make sure they’re OK. … I like to serve, and that’s what I love about myself is serving others, just making them feel happy.”
In January, Caroline McKendrick started a full-time job as a teacher’s assistant at a day care center. She rides her bike there every morning. “She is loyal,” Christina McKendrick said of her daughter. “She’s not on time — she is early. Every single day. And she doesn’t leave until they tell her to leave.”
Caroline McKendrick’s advice to anyone with a disability wondering if a service mission is right for them: “Special needs doesn’t define you. You’re unique in your own ways. Everybody’s different. … Don’t be afraid to come out of your shell.”
Preparation for life
A service mission wasn’t originally in Hailey McKendrick’s plans, but when she returned home early from a proselyting mission, she decided to give it a try. She served at the Mesa cannery, Deseret Industries, the distribution center and the Summit at Sunland Springs, an assisted living and memory care facility.
She credits her mission experience with teaching her how to deal with change. “I have a huge testimony of faith,” said Hailey McKendrick, 26, who completed her mission in June 2019. “We have to have that faith in order to keep going.”
After struggling for a while to figure out what she wanted to do in life, Hailey recently enrolled in a cosmetology program, thanks to the guidance of her sister Heather.
“All I want to do in life is help people, and I feel like this would be a great gift to give to people,” Hailey McKendrick said.
The program also allows her to finish her associate’s degree through a local college. “I have attended a lot of community colleges, and because of my learning disability, I have to take things at a slower pace,” she explained. “Now I can finally be able to graduate.”
When asked how watching her children serve service missions has strengthened her testimony, Christina McKendrick said: “Heavenly Father knows these kids. He knew where they needed to be.”
To learn more about the service missionary program, go to ChurchofJesusChrist.org/service-missionary.