Elder Jeffrey Holland: LDS Church desperately needs more senior missionaries

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 14 2011 11:00 p.m. MDT

In some of the historic sites, during the Christmas Walk, senior missionaries related Christmas stories from old Nauvoo. Here, in the Stoddar Tin Shop, Elder Gary Saville entertains his visitors.

Dean Hughes

SALT LAKE CITY — For the first time in 40 years, former University of Utah sports information director Bruce Woodbury has no idea what is going on with the Ute football team.

And he's just fine with that.

"I hope they do well," he said. "But I wouldn't trade what I'm doing now for anything in the world."

What he's doing now is working with his wife, Nancy, as full-time missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the church's Mormon Battalion Visitor's Center in San Diego.

"There isn't anything better than this," Woodbury said, relaxing for a moment between shifts at the visitor's center. "I'm here with my wife, doing work that is important and meaningful. And the best thing is, you know you're exactly where the Lord wants you to be, doing exactly what he wants you to be doing. What could be better than that?"

Woodbury's bouyant attitude toward his service as a senior missionary comes as no surprise in a church that values and honors missionary service as much as the LDS Church does. The first full-time LDS missionaries were called in 1830, the same year the church was organized. Since that time more than 1 million members have devoted months and years of their lives to full-time missionary service, with more than 52,000 missionaries currently serving in 340 missions around the world. For most of the past decade the number of full-time missionaries called each year has hovered right around 30,000. Although the church does not release statistical information based on the age or gender of full-time missionaries, the vast majority of the million-plus members who have served as missionaries are young men and women between 19 and 25 years of age.

And that's something church leaders are anxious to change— dramatically. Currently, there are an estimated 4,244 senior missionaries serving around the world.

"We have made a few adjustments in policy recently because, frankly, we want it to be easier for our more mature members to go on missions," said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a member of the church's missionary executive council. "We are aware that it interrupts family life for a few months. We are aware that it is a sacrifice. It is, after all, missionary work. But we want to make it as easy as we possibly can because these senior missionaries are so needed — because they make such a difference."

The policy adjustments to which Elder Holland refers were announced in May and took effect earlier this month. They include latitude in the time of service, ranging from six months to 23 months, and a cap of $1,400 (US) per month for housing costs. (Please see accompanying box for a more detailed view of the changes.)

"The single biggest obstacle for most couples who are considering a mission is financial," Elder Holland said, sitting at a small table in his Salt Lake City office. "Although the missionary lifestyle is simple, the cost of housing in a particular area is something over which we have no control. In many places of the world the cost is just astronomical.

"So the (church leadership) have said, 'Let's cap that.' We won't ask anyone to pay more than $1,400 per month for housing. In many geographical areas it will be less than that. We don't want financial considerations to trump everything else in the decision to serve a mission."

The same philosophy led to the decision to allow some flexibility in the time of service.

"We have generally asked our senior missionaries who serve internationally to serve for 18 months, but to some people that seemed like a long time," Elder Holland said. "So we have carved out a policy that says, 'You can go for six months or you can go for a year, if that is best for you, as long as you are willing to pay your own way to and from the field.' We are doing everything we can to remove the obstacles to missionary service for these wonderful couples who mean so much to our missionary efforts."

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