Missionary service is way of life for Utah family

Published: Friday, Oct. 15 2010 6:00 a.m. MDT

One week after he retired as an optometrist, Ted Christensen and his wife, Nola, set out on a life of missionary service that has paid huge dividends in keeping his family focused on missionary work.

A large wall map hangs in the foyer of their home — with pictures of 37 missionaries having served 43 missions throughout the world.

"I went into the military service right out of high school," Christensen said, "and didn't get the chance to go on a mission." Consequently, he and his wife set a goal to go on a mission immediately after he retired.

In 1989, their first mission call sent them to Liberia and Sierra Leone, where they embarked on a proselyting mission converting 62 souls.

The Christensens were just getting started.

But after observing the poverty in Sierra Leone, Christensen knew he could contribute in other ways, too. He next signed up to go to Zimbabwe, where he set up a corneal transplant program.

After seeing more poverty there, he went to church headquarters and requested an assignment in the welfare program.

"We were the first foreign welfare agents for the church," Christensen said about his next mission in Hong Kong. "Our area in Asia covered about half the world's population."

While setting up projects on the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, the Christensens were honored with a special dinner, which included a special delicacy for dessert — barbecued baby birds taken right from the egg shell.

"We do not want to make light of this," Christensen said. "This was very special to them." His wife declined the offer, but Christensen did try one.

"Because of the look of it, I can't remember the taste," Christensen said.

Such are the experiences of all missionaries — whether old or young — but the rewards are worth the trials. Just ask any missionary.

The Christensens' seven sons all served missions, and their one daughter married a returned missionary. The grandchildren have kept the tradition going, and several have married wives who have served missions.

Their oldest son, Blake, who currently serves as a stake president in Texas, says, "We have established a legacy of missionary service."

And the Christensens' story is only half finished.

The Christensens served 18 months at church headquarters in Salt Lake City as international humanitarian missionary coordinators.

Their next mission assignment — Cove Fort — was also a little closer to home than Africa or the Far East. Aren't all the tourists who visit Cove Fort already Mormons? Just about, the Christensens said, but that was no deterrent.

According to Nola Christensen, here is how the process worked at Cove Fort: "After the tour, we asked them if they would like to leave a message for their nonmember friends. Then we would call (over the entire country) and read the message to their friends. We would get reactions like, 'They thought that about me?' And then we would ask if they wanted a video delivered to their home."

Nola Christensen reported that in their six-month mission at Cove Fort about 200 people accepted the missionaries after being contacted by phone. Amazingly, 27 couples serve at that post during the summer.

The next stop for the Christensens was Kirtland, Ohio. Serving at the John Johnson farm in nearby Hiram, Nola Christensen said the highlight in that area was taking church members to "the Revelation Room" — the 76th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants is one of the revelations received there.

Sacrifice is certainly necessary to serve a senior couples mission.

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