Episode 54: Elder Weatherford T. Clayton talks about the multigenerational blessings of senior missionary service

Senior members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been contributing to the missionary efforts of the Church since the earliest days of the Restoration. Today the opportunities for senior missionaries are vast, and more missionaries are needed. Still, there are a lot of misconceptions about this important volunteer work.

Today we are joined by the Church Missionary Department’s Elder Weatherford T. Clayton and Arthur Johnson to discuss the need for senior missionaries in the Church and the variety of ways they can serve younger generations and the world. 

To learn more about senior Church service opportunities visit SeniorMissionary.ChurchofJesusChrist.org. Members and their priesthood leaders can also contact the Missionary Department directly at 801-240-0897, or via email at [email protected]

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Transcript

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with leaders, members and others on the Church News team. We end each Church News podcast by giving our guests the last word and the opportunity to answer the very important question, “What do you know now?” We hope each of you will also be able to answer the same question and say, “I have just been listening to the Church News podcast and this is what I know now.” 

Senior Latter-day Saints have been contributing to the missionary efforts of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since the earliest days of the Restoration. There are dozens of meaningful missionary opportunities for members of the Church, both close to home and across the world. Still, there are a lot of misconceptions about this important opportunity, which is the topic of today’s Church News podcast. 

Today, we are joined by Elder Weatherford T. Clayton and Arthur Johnson to discuss the blessings and dispel the misconceptions of senior missionary service. Elder Clayton is a General Authority Seventy and an assistant executive director in the Church’s Missionary Department. He also has the assignment to assist with missionary health services. A medical doctor by profession, he served as president of the Canada Toronto Mission before his call as a general authority. Brother Johnson is a Church employee who works in the Missionary Department as manager of senior missionary services.

Welcome, gentlemen, to the Church News podcast.  

Elder Weatherford T. Clayton and Arthur Johnson: Thank you. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, let’s just start today and talk about the need for senior missionaries in the Church. Elder Clayton, what are some of the opportunities for senior missionaries?

1:55  

Elder Weatherford T. Clayton: Oh, they’re so broad. There’s such a huge need for senior missionaries to go out and bless the world. My wife and I served as the president and companion of the Canada Toronto Mission, had a wonderful experience, and we were blessed to have so many different couples serving: public affairs; at the bishop storehouse; member leader services, working with branches across our entire mission. We had missionary couples who were working with CES, working with the youth down in Toronto, and on and on. They were glorious, they were filled with the Spirit, and they brought such a blessing and a strength to us as their mission leaders, to our missionaries, and to the Saints and nonmembers living in the mission.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and Brother Johnson, who is eligible to serve as a senior missionary?

2:46  

Arthur Johnson: There are two different types of senior missionaries. The one — we’ve referred to them as missionaries or senior missionaries — are those who choose to serve away from home, and those who serve away from home can serve either as couples or as a single sister. Conversely, there’s an opportunity for individuals to serve close to home, and those are called service missions, and they serve as service missionaries, and those who serve at home as service missionaries can be single or married, and really of any age.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And so what are some of the financial, health and other requirements of those who want to serve away from home?

3:18 

Arthur Johnson: For those who serve away from home, there’s a broad spectrum of financial costs, depending upon where it is they might be assigned. It’s very possible they’ll be assigned to an area with very reasonable apartment rental rates, and they might be able to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,800 to $2,500 a month per mission, maybe a little bit more than that. If they’re assigned to a location where rents might be a little bit more expensive, it could be closer to $3,500, maybe $4,000 a month. And typically within that expense you’ll have a housing expense, a transportation expense, a medical insurance expense, and then whatever you decide to bring in terms of your daily amenities —

3:52  

Elder Weatherford T. Clayton: Food — 

3:52  

Arthur Johnson: Food, that’s right. One of the remarkable things we hear, though, from members about this — is that quite often senior missionaries will come back and share with us that the amount that they spent per month in their mission was considerably less than they were spending back home. They often share that as a bit of a surprise, a very pleasant surprise that missionary service tended to be quite a bit less expensive than everyday civilian life was.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And, Elder Clayton, when we talk about things that may prevent someone from wanting to serve as a senior missionary, probably the No. 1 thing is grandchildren.

A senior missionary assists a couple in family history research at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. (Photo taken before the COVID-19 pandemic.)
A senior missionary assists a couple in family history research at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. (Photo taken before the COVID-19 pandemic.) Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

4:25  

Elder Weatherford T. Clayton: Yes, that’s true. That’s a real concern for many, and we understand that. The first phone call my wife and I had on our mission was, “Mom, I’m in labor,” five hours after we arrived. And we have a beautiful baby from that. I am very grateful. I just have to tell everyone that’s listening that if you choose to serve the Lord, He will bless you and your family. As we give our all to the Lord, then He can unleash power, He can open the windows of heaven to bring forth blessings that our family needs, our children, our grandchildren, those in the extended family, our nearby friends even, that had we not gone on a mission, we probably wouldn’t have been able to accomplish. But when we trust Him, then we open this magnificent opportunity for our family to be blessed. And not that we go on missions to have our families blessed — it’s just what happens when we’re out doing the work of heaven and helping others find Him. 

Other things that seniors can do that are just wonderful — you have to know that if you have an expertise, we can use it. For example, if you’ve had medical training, you’ve been a physician, you’ve been an osteopath, you’re a nurse practitioner, etc. etc., there are things that you can do to help bless the missionaries, and it’s very, very, very helpful. If you have legal experience, there are specific missions for people who have served as lawyers. You can support Church operations. There are missions to go out and help with Church camps. There are temple service missions available, just a myriad number of things that people can do, if they’ll think out of the box, discuss it with their mission president. And as they’re able to discuss it with the area presidency — we had missionary area medical advisers serving in Europe during the refugee crisis, when it was at its peak. The wife of the area medical adviser spent 110% of her time helping refugees, and it was magnificent. She was so needed. So, what you have is a gift to offer the Lord can be used. The door is wide open. You just have to correlate it with your mission president and the area presidency.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, you know, we have two daughters. One is home from a mission in Honduras. Our second daughter is in Brazil, and she went to Brazil via Ohio. They talk as much about the senior missionary couples who are influential as they do about their mission presidents. Certainly, that opportunity to mentor and help and strengthen young people is part of this.

7:15  

Elder Weatherford T. Clayton: May I just make a comment about that? One of the things we found on our mission with these wonderful couples was that their example of just loving each other and carrying each other informed the young missionaries as they watched them. And as they watched them, it gave them a sense of what their lives could be like in the future. They’re seeing them outside of their normal circumstance. This is a couple without all the trimmings of children and grandchildren, they’re just there serving the Lord, and they’re watching them love each other and support each other in the work. That was such a remarkable thing for us as we were trying to help our missionaries with exactly the same thing. You serve the Lord, the future the Lord has for you will be blessed as you follow this path. Look at these senior couples, look at the example of their lives.

8:05  

Arthur Johnson: The senior couples really provide this wonderful sense of support and structure as well to missions. We have many senior couples serving in mission offices, or in member and leader support roles. I have a son currently serving in a very remote portion of Alaska. And it’s a real relief to me as a missionary parent to know that a senior couple is there helping to care for their housing and their electricity and their transportation. And so, senior couples provide relief to missionaries actively serving, to the missionaries’ parents, to mission presidents, to in-field bishops and stake presidents, and area presidents as well. There’s really just no end to all the different ways a senior couple and a senior sister can positively influence the missionary service experience for all involved.

8:44  

Elder Weatherford T. Clayton: One example of things that were inspiring to me with our senior missionary couples was — the end of the Underground Railroad was in Canada, in Ontario. There was a huge area in western Ontario where the slaves who escaped would go and they were received. They have this huge genealogical history that’s been recorded on paper documents there; and our senior couples, one of the things that they did was work hard to make certain that those could be preserved because that history is so incredibly important. Working with Church historical documents, working with genealogical documents, etc., is an aspect of what’s important. It will make a difference not just for the moment, but for generations going forward as this kind of work, and so many others of the other kinds of work, lay a foundation.

9:42  

Arthur Johnson: Elder Clayton, that’s a wonderful point, I had the blessing to spend some time in the Family History Department for several years, and these couples that go out on record preservation missions really help to literally preserve records of individuals before they blink out of existence; and through their efforts, they help to capture and retain that information so that their posterity and descendants many, many years later can identify them, and potentially even perform temple work on their behalf.

Read more: Interested in serving a family history mission or volunteering? Check out these updated FamilySearch resources

Sarah Jane Weaver: And I’d like to talk a little bit about the living conditions of senior couples. One day my daughter called us from Ohio, and I said, “Wow, your new apartment is nice,” and she said: “It’s not mine. This is one of the senior couples’ apartments.” Certainly, we don’t expect our senior missionaries to live exactly the way that our full-time, younger, more sturdy elders and sisters live, and maybe we don’t expect them to keep the same schedule. Is that correct?

A senior missionary couple stands and smiles. Senior service missionary assignments are now available in temples in the U.S. and Canada.
A senior missionary couple stands and smiles. Senior service missionary assignments are now available in temples in the U.S. and Canada. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

10:35  

Arthur Johnson: That’s exactly right. There are a number of differences between the service experience for young missionaries and for senior missionaries. For senior missionaries, we have a very different expectation in terms of their schedule. It’s quite a bit more temperate. It might be closer to 45 or 50 hours a week instead of many more hours that young missionaries put in. Senior missionaries also have the opportunity to interact with their family, even on a daily basis if they chose to do so. And so for those that are concerned about those family connections, we encourage them to maintain frequent and constant contact with children and grandchildren to share with them the experiences that they’re having. Senior missionaries have a variety of different assignments as well, that enable them to really, I think, perform a number of different functions that young missionaries never really would. They can help support and develop and build units in ways that may be difficult for young missionaries. 

Other differences for senior missionaries would include their daily schedule, the opportunity to have more flexibility: If a senior missionary couple felt that they needed to return home during a mission for a few days to care for a family concern or a critical family event, perhaps an ordinance in the gospel or something else that needed to be addressed, there’s a lot of flexibility for senior missionaries to return home and spend more time with family than might be offered young missionaries.

11:46  

Elder Weatherford T. Clayton: I really appreciate the flexibility that’s here. Working with the mission president, with the area presidency — if there needs to be time to go home, we just talk about it, it’s approved, it’s reasonable. One of the other aspects of this being able to communicate with the family differently than with young people is the family gets to go on the mission with you. What a blessing to be able to talk about what you’re experiencing, talk about what you’re learning in the scriptures together as a couple and with the missionaries and your experience you had when you were out with the missionary supporting a lesson, or even making friends of your own as you’re loving people where you live and you’re sharing with what you love and inviting them to do different things. Those experiences are gold for your family. It teaches who they are, it informs them about what their family means. So, I find that a very important part of serving a senior mission.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And just a few weeks ago on the Church News podcast, we had Elder Marcus B. Nash and Dave Weidman of the Missionary Department, who talked to us about some of the experiences young elders and sisters have had during the COVID-19 pandemic. They detailed, as did Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf on another Church News podcast, the moving of massive amounts of missionaries across the globe as the pandemic began to intensify. Certainly, senior missionaries were part of that. They’re all returned to their home countries. They’re looking for ways to serve. And so now, how has the pandemic impacted those service opportunities?

13:23  

Arthur Johnson: You know, I think we really want to express our appreciation and gratitude to those senior missionaries whose missions were disrupted — just as they were for young missionaries, but they were for senior missionaries in a different aspect. We had many senior couples who had sold their home without a place to return to, so their adjustment, their return home is very different and really quite difficult in a lot of different ways. And so, I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t express our appreciation and gratitude to so many wonderful senior couples and sisters whose missions were adjusted, and they patiently looked for and waited for opportunities to go back to their mission experiences. So we’ve, over the last several months, been able to have many missionaries returned back to their original assignment. Other missionaries sought to be reassigned to another experience. We even had quite a few missionaries learn — I think this has been one of the blessings of learning through the COVID-19 pandemic, as Elder Nash and Brother Weidman addressed — we’ve had many senior missionaries now be able to serve and support missions remotely from across the globe, and that’s been one of the great benefits that we’ll take from the pandemic as we go forward, where we will now have senior missionaries remotely assisting a mission office, remotely assisting in the administrative affairs of the Church from their homes in ways that we really hadn’t envisioned or conceptualized before the COVID-19 pandemic came upon us.

Sarah Jane Weaver: So for anyone who thinks that maybe now is not the best time to serve, that maybe they should wait till the pandemic is over, you’re saying, “No, no, you can serve now.”

14:43  

Arthur Johnson: Please don’t. Yes, there are many, many different opportunities available. Really there’s a whole menu of options that are out there. We have area presidencies and mission presidencies contacting us very frequently, looking for, asking for, even pleading for senior missionaries to bring their talents, their capacity, their decades of expertise out into the mission field to help support and bless these wonderful missions of the Church. And so, our message would simply be that there are a large number of opportunities that are available and that are out there. Many missionaries are being assigned and departing to the field now. It really is a very different experience than we had in the height of the pandemic.

First Presidency expands senior service missionary opportunities worldwide

Sarah Jane Weaver: President Russell M. Nelson is coming up on four years as leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We’ve all heard him speak multiple times about the importance of gathering Israel on both sides of the veil. Certainly, what senior missionaries would be doing are part of that great work.

15:34  

Elder Weatherford T. Clayton: Oh, my — Yes. They play an integral role in all that’s going on in the work that President Nelson is helping us to see. The work of gathering always was on both sides of the veil, but we just didn’t understand it. That gives such great opportunity for these wonderful seniors to go. I guess in my mind, there’s never been a better time to go serve a senior mission than right now. We need you, across the world. It’s important to understand that as you fill out your missionary paperwork in the computer, one of the things we need to discover is your health needs and requirements, so that we can make certain that where you are assigned is a place where you can obtain medications and receive care should you need it because of known medical problems, etc. It’s very important to know that as you go serve the Lord, the sacrifice isn’t intended to put you at risk at all, medically, but to be safe and protected should something untoward happen. So, please encourage all those who are filling out those electronic papers to just be open and transparent so that the Brethren who make the assignments can have the best inspiration from heaven. 

The other thing about that is when you’re requested for a certain assignment — for example, in your ward, Brother and Sister Smith are called to be mission leaders somewhere in the world, and they ask you to serve with them, and you feel confirmation from the Lord that you should go. About, I think 98, 90 — well into the high 90 percentile, that’s where you’ll be called. It’s different for seniors than it is for young missionaries. The seniors needed to make the Church work, and so when they’re requested in an assignment, almost always that’s where they’ll end up, so long as they have the health necessary to go to that particular place. There are thousands of needs, thousands.

17:33  

Arthur Johnson: And if they’re not requested, there’s a wonderful experience that’s available for senior members. It’s fairly new on the senior missionary website, and so we’d encourage members to visit SeniorMissionary.ChurchofJesusChrist.org. And on the website, they can go and identify specific preferences that holds an appeal to them, they can navigate through a series of options where they can share with the Brethren when they’d like to serve, how long they’d like to serve for, different types of service experiences that are appealing to them, specific countries throughout the world or specific languages they might speak; and as they share all that information on the senior missionary website, they’ll have returned to them a customized, small list of opportunities that will be available in the next nine, 12, 15 months. And from there, the senior member can choose to append or attach those preferences to their recommendation, and those become the preferences that the Brethren review as well. So we very much want this to be an interactive experience for the senior member where they feel like they have the opportunity to share with the Brethren their interests and their preferences, and those are taken into consideration as assignments transpire.

Elder Karl Ray and his wife, Sister Deloris Ray, left their business to fill a six-month mission in Cove Fort, Utah. Like many other senior missionary couples, they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary while serving.
Elder Karl Ray and his wife, Sister Deloris Ray, left their business to fill a six-month mission in Cove Fort, Utah. Like many other senior missionary couples, they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary while serving. Credit: Photo by Shaun D. Stahle

18:33  

Elder Weatherford T. Clayton: One of the points about what you just said was that as you include those desires on your application, an Apostle is making the assignment. It’s not a checklist thing. It is an Apostle of the Lord is making the assignment. So, you are called by the Lord just as the young missionaries are. You never have to worry that it’s other than being assigned by an Apostle.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and my husband and I, we hope someday to have a senior missionary experience. We talk about it a lot. But as you were talking about that whole — list your talents, your strengths — it made my blood pressure go up. I don’t know if I’m qualified.

19:13  

Arthur Johnson: You know, it’s an interesting observation. We hear that from time to time from various members of the Church, and I think my answer to that would be: Our senior members are just absolutely remarkable, in that as they approach their 50s and their 60s, maybe their 70s, they have 30, 40 or 50 years — really, decades of Church leadership and teaching experience. You can make the argument that among their peer group there was no one more qualified than senior members of our Church are to serve, because of the tremendous amount of leadership and ecclesiastical leadership experience they’ve already had. And so, some senior members might say, “I don’t feel qualified; I feel inadequate,” or, “I feel like I’m maybe not quite ready for this.” And I think our simple rejoinder would simply be to say, “Look back across the last few decades, look at the lives you’ve blessed, look at the people that you’ve taught, look at the callings that you’ve held and look at the ways that that has brought the kingdom together, and all the Lord looks for are the experiences you’ve already had. All the Lord looks for are the talents you already possess.”

20:06  

Elder Weatherford T. Clayton: And along that very same line: I was thinking of the example of Ammon in Alma 26, where he talked about the fact that he felt that he was, in and of himself, a weak person; but with God, he could do whatever was needed. And also I was thinking of Mary, when she was visiting with the angel and the angel was telling her about her future, and then she had some questions. And part of the response was, “With God, nothing shall be impossible.” And then Mary’s response, I think, informs us as we consider opportunities the Lord sends our way: “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to Thy word.” 

The Lord will be there to help you in whatever circumstance you’re in. In fact, if you go on your mission assuming that your training will be all that’s needed, you won’t be able to accomplish what you need to accomplish. The Lord will guide you, He’ll direct you, He’ll open doors you don’t see, He’ll bring things to your memory that you learned 40 years ago that you need in the moment. This experience of working with the Lord — He will make things possible for you. An example of that is with our area medical advisers who were radiologists and hadn’t actually touched a patient in four decades, and then they’re dealing with missionary problems, and they’re worried about it and what they need to study, and we talked about some simple things, but the bottom line is: The Lord will help you. It’ll work out, and it’s basically always worked out.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And so, we’re talking about qualifications. There are a few things that senior missionaries can do to prepare. Certainly, they don’t need to ride a bike, but it would be good if they knew how to use a computer, right?

21:54  

Elder Weatherford T. Clayton: That would be very, very helpful. And most all the circumstances that senior missionaries will be in, they’ll be using a computer, and so it’s a very good idea to get some kind of experience with computers so that when you have opportunity to use it, to store records, to work in the mission office, etc., etc., etc., you are able to do it, it won’t be a shock or a difficulty for you.

22:18  

Arthur Johnson: That’s exactly right. That’s a skill — it’s really a need, is the computer fluency as they come to their service experience. Some missionaries bring previous language fluency, which is very helpful as well. As Elder Clayton mentioned earlier, many couples or sisters bring their professional experience, and really there’s almost an infinite number of different ways that professional and personal experience will be put to use in the mission field. 

Senior service missionary assignments now available for temples in U.S., Canada

One of the other messages that we’d love to convey would be that until this time in their life, senior members have waited on priesthood leaders to extend to them callings; and as a result of that, we wonder if some senior members maybe sometimes feel like they should wait and hold back until their bishop or their stake president approach them and invite them to serve. And our message today would be that we hope that doesn’t happen. We hope that the senior member feels comfortable going out to the website, reviewing opportunities, speaking with others that have recently served as missionaries, and initiating this process or this experience on their own. We’re hoping that they have an individual revelatory experience that suggests to them that missionary service may be possible. And as that revelatory experience occurs, they speak with other family members, and they speak with their local priesthood leaders, and as that develops and comes together, we hope they’ll feel comfortable that this is a process they can participate in, they can lead, and then they come to their priesthood leaders and share with them that they’re excited and they’re ready to serve. And then the recommendation will be submitted to the Brethren, and then an assignment will be made.

A senior missionary couple talks with a man.
A senior missionary couple talks with a man. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Sarah Jane Weaver: So we know that couples and senior sisters who meet health and financial requirements can serve away from home. We also know that missionaries who serve outside of their home country have to be willing to receive certain vaccinations, including the COVID-19 vaccination; but there are other opportunities for many men and women and couples to serve and live locally. Brother Johnson, can you talk more about that?

24:03  

Arthur Johnson: That’s absolutely right. It’s been a wonderful experience to see, in the last several months, members throughout the world, area presidencies throughout the world really respond to and embrace that message. We’ve had the recent opportunity to interact with several area presidencies that have cascaded this message to their membership, and we’ve had wonderful successes. We’ve seen in Latin America and in the Pacific and in some of the African countries as well, where members are aware of opportunities. I think in many cases, they thought because of their individual circumstance, missionary service wouldn’t be a possibility because of financial constraints or family constraints, particularly for members outside of the United States or Canada. But as these local service missionary opportunities emerge, they realize that they can participate eight, 10, 12 hours a week in a variety of different ways and create missionary experiences for themselves and their families that they had previously never thought possible.

24:49  

Elder Weatherford T. Clayton: Speaking to that point, this is evidence that the Church is maturing across the world. There are people who are raising generational families now in the kingdom, and the culture of serving missions as seniors is changing. It’s just a wonder to see. We’re so grateful for it. 

Let’s talk a little bit about what the children and grandchildren can do to help their parents, their grandparents prepare for a mission, think about a mission, and then when they’re on the mission, really support them in the fashion that they need. It’s a really interesting thing. You helped your children as they prepared for missions and for their lives, and now, as you’re thinking of going out and serving, this is a wonderful time for children and grandchildren to be responsible for having those family prayers, the “Come, Follow Me,” including grandparents in it, becoming the power behind making the kingdom move forward in the family. And then when you’re on your mission, to make certain that you continue having that “Come, Follow Me” experience with the family. And at this point in time, share with them what you’re learning, so that they can feel the reality of the call from the Lord. The whole family can be involved in this. It’s a wonder, it’s such a blessing for a family. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: And certainly one of the things we learned in the pandemic is that we’re all just a Zoom call away from each other.

26:13  

Elder Weatherford T. Clayton: We are only a Zoom call away. I just have to tell you: I’ve come to find, as difficult as it is to have been separated, the Lord made those Zoom calls extremely effective. I’ve called several new stake presidencies with my companion, an Area Seventy, and the Lord made it very clear who the new stake president was to be, and we were 2,000 miles away. The Spirit works through a virtual medium, it really does. In a sense, you won’t really feel that you’re that far away.

26:43  

Arthur Johnson: Senior missionaries really help build the kingdom through all aspects remotely, and so they can help teach an employment class, or they can participate in BYU– Pathways. They can help with addiction recovery courses; they can help with temple and family history work remotely. Really, the medium is wide open for senior missionaries to bless the lives of the peoples of the world, whether they’re serving around the world or around the corner, or even from their homes. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Elder Clayton, can you share something anecdotally that may help us understand the opportunities of senior missionary service?

27:13  

Elder Weatherford T. Clayton: During my time serving in missionary health services, we had the privilege of visiting different parts of the world, including Polynesia. And some of the missionary couples I met were serving in dental clinics and providing services not only to missionaries, but in this particular island, to the other people living in the area, and performing a great service. You could feel their attachment and their love. They were working with another couple that was specifically called to work in medical, but also to help prepare the Saints for moving from a district to a stake, and how involved they were in the lives of the Saints and in the work of the missionaries in the preaching of the gospel and strengthening the individual members. It was wonderful to see the experience they were having as a couple moving forward. There were so many examples along these lines, in many other assignments that we experienced as we had the privilege of visiting different parts of the world.

29:16  

Arthur Johnson: A few years ago, we had the opportunity to work with a single sister in the Family History Department, and her mission was to receive phone calls and emails on behalf of FamilySearch. During the course of her service, she contracted cancer; and as she became sicker and sicker and more ill, it became evident that this would not be something she should be able to recover from. As we had conversations with her about her ailments and about her concerns, we suggested to her that perhaps her mission service should come to a close and she should be able to interact with her family, do all that she wanted to do. As we had these conversations, she said, in essence: “Who are you to deny me that blessing? I want to serve, I want to contribute, I want to wear a badge.” And as we continued to interact with her, she was admitted to the hospital, she was in hospice, and there was a picture sent back to us within a couple of days of her passing of her missionary badge on her hospital tray card. And that was everything that mattered to her as she prepared to leave this life; that was the most important thing. It was so precious to her that she wanted to serve and contribute until literally the very end, and it was just a remarkable reflection of her faith and her testimony.

Sarah Jane Weaver: In my stake in Sandy, we had a companionship of sister missionaries who found a man who wanted to learn about the gospel. They taught him for a while, and then transitioned him to the [member leader support] couple that was serving in the stake and living in their own home. And as that man went down the covenant path, he was baptized, he’s been to the temple, and that MLS couple, years passed their time that they served as a missionary couple, has been with him along that journey. So many of the senior couples that serve, serve again, is that correct? They sort of get that in their blood?

30:52  

Arthur Johnson: And that’s really one of the most wonderful things about senior missionary couples, is that they have the opportunity to be in an area not for two or three or four months like a young missionary might, but for 12 months, for 18 months, for 23 months. And they really help to be this tremendous bridge for newly baptized members to stay rooted into the branch or their ward because of their longevity and because of the relationships they build and construct with these members. They have the opportunity, also, in many ways to relate to more of the life challenges that individuals have, even maybe a little bit more than that than young missionaries do. They can help an individual transitioning into Church membership overcome addictions, overcome financial challenges, overcome other difficulties, whether it’s employment or other literacy issues or things like that, and a variety of different ways that young missionaries simply aren’t there to do. And so the utility, the opportunity, if you will, to be a Swiss Army knife, a multipurpose resource for their mission president is one of the most remarkable things about member leader support couples.

A senior service missionary answers the phone at the Latter-day Saint employment resource center.
A senior service missionary answers the phone at the Latter-day Saint employment resource center. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Sarah Jane Weaver: And Elder Clayton, I can’t have you here without asking you about missionary medical care. Certainly, you have some responsibilities over that. I think that every mother of missionaries, every grandmother of missionaries, every child of a senior missionary couple worries about the health and the medical care of their loved ones.

32:10  

Elder Weatherford T. Clayton: Such a great question, and I’m happy to report that the systems are in place to take care of people. It’s wonderful to be able to know that the Apostles are being given information that helps them know where a missionary should be safely able to serve, or a missionary couple should be safely able to serve. Once they arrive, they have the infrastructure necessary to take care of diabetes, or any number of other kinds of medical problems, ongoing difficulties with a cancer in the past that needs to be followed around, or a heart problem. As people go to these places which have the infrastructure necessary to take care of them, we can take care of them. It’s just very, very, very nice; and as we send people, we also instruct them about things they need to do to take care of themselves. As they do that, it’s amazing how much better things will go. We’ve seen the miracles occur where an accident occurs, that sort of thing. And the Lord intervenes. The intervention is according to His will and purpose. Our job in missionary health services is to, as best we can, get people to a place where they can serve safely and then make certain we have good people there to help take care of them should they get ill. And then we trust the Lord. We trust the Lord, and we see His hand every day. Every day we see His hand. It’s beautiful.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And we certainly see the blessings of missionary service ripple to families. Families must feel that as their senior loved ones, or even their children, go out and serve the Lord. 

33:57  

Arthur Johnson: There’s really this remarkable multigenerational influence or benefit of senior missionary service. They bless the lives of those they serve out in the mission field. They help sustain the Church where they are. They bless the lives of their children and their grandchildren. They sustain the Church where their children or grandchildren are. As a teenager, I adored my grandparents and wanted to be like they were, and as I listened to them and watched them and observed their testimony, I wanted to have similar experiences to what they had. And we hope the same thing is true for our senior missionaries as well, where they’re able to set an example, they’re able to inspire grandsons or granddaughters and children to contemplate missionary service. And we fully believe that this multigenerational influence will echo throughout the eternities and create this lasting legacy of faith throughout multiple generations in the Church.

34:41  

Elder Weatherford T. Clayton: We know in the temple that families are sealed together for eternity, extending backwards in time; and as we teach our children, extending forward in time. The influence and help that we receive as senior missionaries is much broader than we think.

The other thing I’d like to say about that is, when my wife and I had been serving for about a year together — as we communicated with our children, kind of the sense we felt from them was, “Thanks for serving, don’t come home,” because they were feeling blessings from our service in their lives, and we were so grateful that the Lord would would watch over them a bit. And while we were gone, the other blessing that came with that that I just love very, very temporal — is that the kids, they bonded together in a different way than when we were present. My wife is the glue of our family, and now she wasn’t there. And so, the other children supported each other in their marriages, in their child-rearing, in the aspects of life that we would do when we had been there, but we weren’t. And so they took over and it was just wonderful to see the bonding that came from that.

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’ve been so touched as we’ve talked about the experiences of these senior missionaries who give so much and donate so much of their time and bless the Church and in very unique ways. And I wanted to give our listeners an opportunity to actually hear from someone who has served as a senior missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and so I’d like to bring on Sister Charlotte Collinson. Sister Collinson, welcome to the Church News podcast, and tell us how you are serving as a missionary.

36:33  

Sister Charlotte Collinson: Well, thanks, Sarah, and thank you for asking me to do this. This is a nice opportunity. I actually never intended to be a missionary. At the time I became a missionary, I actually was at home. My husband was still working full time, and about six and a half years ago, I had some changes in the family that allowed me to go out and serve somewhere in the community one day a week. I decided that would be a very good thing for me, and take my mind off of other things and go serve somewhere. I really wasn’t thinking of a mission, but I prayed about it quite a bit for the Lord to tell me where am I needed in this community. And I had looked online, and I really didn’t know much about missionary work or service missionary work. But I was driving and ended up in Sandy, where I live, close by, and saw the Deseret Industries. And by Deseret Industries is also an employment center and a Family Services center, and Deseret Industries right in the middle. So I pulled into the parking lot, and I literally just prayed and said, “If somebody needs me, let me know which door I should go in or what I should say, and maybe I can serve somewhere here because I know there’s service opportunities here.” And I had parked closest to the Employment Resource Center, so I just walked right in, not dressed up or anything, walked into the Employment Resource door, and was greeted by a missionary and introduced to the manager. And we talked a little while and I said: “I’d like to be maybe a volunteer. One day a week would be OK.” And they said, ”Oh, you can volunteer here.” After they spoke to me and found out I might qualify for this, they said, “You could also be a set-apart missionary,” and I said, “I didn’t really intend to be a missionary, but tell me what that means.” And so they explained a service missionary, which I did not understand at first, but I came to understand that I took paperwork back to my bishop, and could serve one day a week there. Six and a half years later, I am still a Church service missionary for employment, because I just love it. It gives me a chance to interact with people and help them in some ways that I didn’t even know that I had talents to help.

Sarah Jane Weaver: How has your service been impacted by the pandemic?

39:07  

Sister Charlotte Collinson: Well, what has happened was — in March of 2020, we closed all our doors, all the Church doors really, all at the same time, and so all missionaries were sent home. Of course, we were all kind of sad about that, because we enjoy going once a week over there or meeting when we can and working as missionaries together. It’s a wonderful crew in Sandy; I missed them. And within about a week, my manager, Michael Baker, called, and Michael asked if I would take part in something brand new and kind of different for me, if I would be on Zoom meetings. I did not know what a Zoom meeting was. We were all pretty new about that.

Sarah Jane Weaver: None of us knew what Zoom meetings were.

39:56  

Sister Charlotte Collinson: Exactly, and I said, “I don’t know but I have one of these attitudes. ‘Sure, I will try it.’ I’m computer literate. I’m sure I can figure this out.” Well, he asked me to take part in something new that they were starting called “Ask an Expert” sessions that are three afternoons a week, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 3 p.m. Mountain time, and that they would be accessed through our website and also through the Church’s main website —they are still there — and would I be on a panel of experts? And I said: “Well, wait a minute, I’m not an expert. I don’t consider myself an expert.” And he said, “Well, Sister Collinson, since you’ve been with your mission a long time we consider you the expert on this, and we’d like you with the missionary part of the panel.” So, we’re on a panel with regional managers of the Church employment, plus some missionaries, and I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit. We opened this up to the entire nation, and, in fact, to people in Canada, and other countries have come into our sessions, And we get to just discuss employment problems and give our ideas. And I found that this whole interaction has been very natural for me, and now I also do Zoom meetings from home with people when they need it. So, I was given the opportunity to keep working as a missionary, which I felt so blessed when I was stuck at home and couldn’t do anything else, I could still be a missionary. So, that’s how I’ve been serving, and I’m still serving in that capacity now.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I love that your service was born of a desire to do something, that you didn’t know what to do, and you prayed and felt directed and found a place where you could actually serve and share your testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ with others of God’s children. Now, that looks different for every senior missionary; it looks different for every young missionary in this day and age, but tell us how that decision has blessed your life.

42:00  

Sister Charlotte Collinson: Well, it has just been a blessing that I didn’t know was there for me, but now I know that that’s where the Lord wanted me to be. I felt like I had to wait for my husband to retire, and then we would go and be missionaries. One thing that blessed my life was to find out that I was needed, even if my husband was busy doing other things. Or if I’m a single sister, I can go contribute. I didn’t know those things before, and I just felt like, perhaps I wasn’t needed in those callings, and I guess that’s what’s truly blessed me. And as far as the testimony to others — we work in employment, but more often than not, the spiritual aspects of this come out because it’s not only temporal that we discuss. People come to us with many issues that have to do with employment, but they need our testimonies and our strength and our support to get through some of the troubled times in their lives. So I’ve literally seen miracles happen, and that’s what keeps driving me forward, and why I keep extending the mission, is I guess. I just love seeing these miracles.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And what’s your advice for someone else who may be considering senior missionary service, may have some fears, may have some trepidations, but sort of feels like this could be the thing for them?

43:33  

Sister Charlotte Collinson: I would say, missions come in all different forms, and since I became a missionary, I learned that. I learned that if you have one day to work as a missionary, you’re a missionary. If you speak a language, you can be a missionary. There are so many ways that you can be a missionary that you just need to reach out and discover those ways. They’re not always presented to you by the leadership. Sometimes you need to reach out and find them. But the encouraging part is that no one is excluded from this. Everybody can go out and serve in this way, if they’re prepared to be a missionary, and they don’t have to wait. They can do it right away, and we certainly need people.

Sarah Jane Weaver: I love that you described your mission as a blessing that you didn’t know you were missing, as a blessing you didn’t even know you wanted. Tell me what you know now after serving a mission.

44:33  

Sister Charlotte Collinson: I know now that you don’t have to sit and wait to be called. You could actually volunteer for work, and the Lord has work ready for you to do. And you aren’t excluded because maybe you aren’t going as a couple, or you’re a certain age. I didn’t consider myself a senior when I started becoming a missionary. So you don’t have to wait to be a senior. You don’t have to wait for anything. You simply need to have a desire to serve in some capacity, and you have a lot of choice, especially in Utah. I have to say we have a lot of choice right here in the Salt Lake Valley, which I’m very blessed to have all around me, and I found the choice that works for me. And that’s why I love it.

Sarah Jane Weaver: It was such a pleasure to hear Sister Collinson’s experience with senior missionary work; and Elder Clayton and Brother Johnson, we also want to give you the opportunity to tell us what you know. Now, before we do that, I wanted to share a little information with our listeners, in case they want more information about senior service opportunities. They can go to SeniorMissionary.ChurchofJesusChrist.org to learn more about available opportunities, or either members or their priesthood leaders can contact the Missionary Department directly, and that phone number is 801-240-0897, or they can email [email protected], and we’ll also include this information in our podcast description. And so, as we conclude, Elder Clayton and Brother Johnson, I hope each of you will take this opportunity and tell us what you know now, what you know now after working in the Missionary Department and praying and thinking about and pondering all the good that comes from senior missionary service. So, what do you know now about senior missionary work?

Service missionaries Mark and Janae Martin listen during the 191st Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021.
Service missionaries Mark and Janae Martin listen during the 191st Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

46:26  

Arthur Johnson: What I know now is that there’s so much good in the world that needs to be done, and there’s so much good that our members are capable of doing. Senior missionary service provides a remarkable bridge between those things. Senior members go throughout the world and help lift, bless and strengthen people in ways that are just absolutely extraordinary. So, what I know now is, as senior members come, as they decide to serve the Lord, they will have rich and edifying experiences that they’ll remember always. They’ll feel this tremendous outpouring of love that they may have felt when they served missions when they were younger. If this is their first mission experience, they’ll feel that again, as they realize the example they’re setting for their children or grandchildren, and the opportunity they have to bring more and more souls back to our Heavenly Father through their service. What we’re grateful for — as well as that there’s an environment in place for senior members to go and interact with the opportunities that are out there — as they do so, the ability that they have to share their interests with the Brethren will create the experiences that will be edifying and wonderful and will last with him for for many, many years.

47:27  

Elder Weatherford T. Clayton: What I know now after having worked with senior missionary services, with Art and his magnificent team, is there is such a depth to the opportunities of service, and there’s such attention paid to trying to help these wonderful senior missionaries have the experience that they would like to have. I’m just so impressed that the need is so great, and the privilege of thinking out of the box, of looking at our lives differently, is really there. It’s very concrete, very real, and the blessings that will come from having given ourselves permission to think out of the box about what we’re going to do for the next 10 years, at least for part of it, is very real and very powerful. It’s much more present, and most people think the blessings that will come will be tremendous.

48:24  

Arthur Johnson: It’s been a remarkable thing to witness so many interested senior members share their lifetime experience, and as we see these things, it really has deepened and enriched my testimony and appreciation of a loving Heavenly Father and a redeeming Savior. We have individuals everyday that come and want to help people overcome addictions, they come and they want to help people find employment, they come and they want to help build and strengthen the Church where they are; and in many different ways, thousands of remarkable small miracles that occur every day, the Church builds and grows and the Restoration of the gospel continues, and as I’ve been able to witness and observe so many wonderful members choosing to do this. It brings home to me the love that our Heavenly Father has for us and how that love can be manifested and demonstrated in the kind, thoughtful and conscientious example that senior missionaries give throughout the world. I’m personally grateful for a loving Heavenly Father, for a redeeming Savior, and for the knowledge that I have of the Restoration of the gospel and the peace and certainty that brings to my life and the lives of the people across the world.

49:24  

Elder Weatherford T. Clayton: Thank you, Art. I join him in testifying the reality of our Heavenly Father. He exists. He’s real, and He loves us. We are spirit sons and daughters of heavenly parents, and there is a plan for us all that can enable us through the magnificent, infinite atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the covenant path to enter the presence of God and live with Him forever in never-ending happiness. An aspect of that testimony is the part we can all play in helping the Lord with His work in His vineyard. We work with Him as He works in His vineyard, just as it says in Jacob 5. I testify that the gospel is true. I testify that Jesus did appear to the boy Joseph with His Father in the grove of trees in upstate New York. I testify that the angels came and gave the priesthood and the keys of the priesthood to Joseph and Oliver. I testify that those keys have been transmitted from that time to the present day, and that we have living Apostles on the earth today. I testify that Russell M. Nelson is a Prophet of God, and that the work of the kingdom is accelerating. I testify that the kingdom is doing well, that despite what we might hear in the news media, the kingdom is moving forward. Christ has already won. Our privilege is to work to help prepare the way for His return, and senior missionary service is part of that. The Gospel is true. Our Savior lives. It’s all true. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News Editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen, and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on thechurchnews.com.