PROVO The early success of the Perpetual Education Fund led its managing director to suggest Monday that future general conferences of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could be held outside the United States.
"The international church may yet become stronger than in the United States," said Elder John K. Carmack, an emeritus general authority of the LDS Church. "I'm not a prophet, seer or revelator, but I believe this will happen.
"I can envision general conference being held in Sao Paulo or Mexico City or Manila."
Carmack made the statement at the 18th annual conference of the LDS International Society, which was held at Brigham Young University one day after general conference concluded in Salt Lake City, where it has been held for 160 years since early church leader Brigham Young made Utah the headquarters of the church.
Carmack said that in six years the church's Perpetual Education Fund has made loans to 27,000 LDS students in 39 countries.
"The biggest problem is to have the machinery in place to be in contact with 27,000 people," he said. "That's about the size of BYU."
The fund is named and patterned after and already has nearly outgrown the Perpetual Emigration Fund, which helped 30,000 poor converts migrate from Europe to Utah in the 1850s and '60s.
The Perpetual Education Fund was created in 2001 to help church members ages 18-30 in select countries obtain education or skills training they otherwise couldn't afford and thereby get jobs that would help them "rise out of poverty and gain self-reliance," Carmack said.
The goal, he added, was to "raise up a generation of leaders with the time, energy and resources to build the church. They would marry, raise families and support them and in time, their tithing and resources would make these areas of the church self-sufficient."
Now, six years later, Carmack said, "We can see the dim outlines of the benefits that surely will come to the international church. Already, a not insignificant number of our leaders in areas with the program are coming from the ranks of PEF recipients."
Carmack said the church's area president for northern South America recently reported that more than 10 percent of the region's stake presidents and bishops are PEF graduates.
Brazil is the clear hot spot for the fund, followed by Mexico, Chile and Peru.
Five hundred loans have been given in South Africa and a handful in Ghana as the church begins to establish the infrastructure it needs to roll out the program in Africa. Nigeria is next on the list, Carmack said.
The fund's goal is to raise $250 million, according to the church's Web site, (www.lds.org), then use only the interest to make loans.
Carmack would not reveal how much has been raised but said the amount is large and has been enough so far.
"We've earned more from the fund than we've spent, and it's growing," he said. "If you give us a few more years, we're going to be self-sufficient with that fund. We won't need more."
The recipients pay back the loans at 3 percent interest, and then the money is loaned again to others.
Carmack told the Deseret Morning News that the cumulative payback rate over six years is 66 percent and rising.
"Every year it's getting better," he said. "Last year, it was 90 percent. The year before, 80 percent. The year before that, 70 percent. They're doing a good job of repaying their loans."
Several speakers, including BYU President Cecil Samuelson, who introduced speaker University of Utah President Michael Young, noted that the five men called during the weekend general conference as full-time general authorities of the church are all from other countries Germany, the Philippines, Argentina, Guatemala and Mexico.
The church is at a stage, Carmack said, where it is time to trim the parts that are peculiar to the United States and not relevant to the international church.