The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints currently has more than 400 missions throughout the world. Many of the missionaries serving are young people who spend their days knocking doors and teaching people about their beliefs.
However, some of the missionaries are not young — at least not in physical years.
Senior missionaries do not knock doors as frequently as their younger counterparts, but they are just as crucial to the Lord's work and still have opportunities to share their beliefs.
While young missionaries often leave their boyfriends or girlfriends behind, senior missionaries leave children and grandchildren, as well as their homes and the lives they've built, in order to be instruments in the hands of God. They fill a number of capacities and use unique skills to keep the work moving forward throughout the world.
Missionaries share a laugh during a group photo.
Greater life experience does not always equate to complete confidence in one's abilities to serve. Nerves often set in for those preparing to serve. The good news is there are many things prospective senior missionaries can begin doing now in preparation to serve.
Here are seven tips that will help you know how to prepare and put your fears to rest:
1. Have an I'll go where you want me to go attitude
Be prepared to serve in any capacity and to fill whatever role the Lord calls you fill.
Senior missionaries are often called upon to assist mission presidents in meeting the needs of missionaries throughout the mission whether it be serving in a mission office, managing housing, working with public affairs or assisting in family history centers or with the Church Educational System.
While senior missionaries can express interest in a specific assignment and can even choose the length of time they would like to serve, ultimately a senior couple's call still comes from a prophet of God. It may not be exactly what the couple is expecting. Regardless of the assignment, be ready to jump in and give your all.
Senior missionaries prepare for car inspections.
2. Start saving now
One of the most frequently mentioned pieces of advice from former senior missionaries is the importance of preparing financially for a mission.
Missions cost money regardless of your age. Senior missionaries pay for their food and personal expenses. They also pay up to $1,400 per month in housing costs. If the housing costs are greater than $1,400, the church will pay the additional costs.
Many couples say they would like to serve but, when their kids are grown and they finally have the opportunity to serve, they realize that they have not prepared for the financial strains of missionary service.
"Start saving early," said Nola Cockerham, who has served multiple missions along with her husband, Gary. "Just like young people usually do."
Dave Larsen, President of MainStreet Tax and Accounting, offers a few additional financial suggestions for couples preparing to serve a mission:
First, create a mission budget now. This will ensure that you are financially prepared to cover the costs. Second, thoughtfully consider who will care for your home. There are both pros and cons to renting out your home from a tax perspective. Decide in advance what would be best for you and your family. Third, understand which expenses from your mission will be deductible and which will not.
When you feel your mission funds are sufficient, trust that you will be blessed for your service and that the Lord will provide for your needs.
3. Be prepared physically
Health concerns often delay the departure of senior missionaries or prevent those with the desire to serve from having the opportunity. Do everything that you can now to prepare physically.
Still, for those who do suffer from illness, serving from home is an option. This allows couples to be close to their doctors but also gives them an opportunity to serve.
Senior missionaries prepare for their missions in the Missionary Training Center.
4. Learn useful skills
You may not have thought when you took a sewing class in high school that the skills you acquired would eventually help you sew curtains for missionaries' apartments, but a senior mission is a time to bring all of your talents to the table. The Lord needs all you have to offer.
Your faithful service in church callings may be mission preparation in disguise.
"Learning skills in the years throughout life makes you more useful," Cockerham said. "This can be done by accepting callings. I recall how things I learned during my callings...helped me in the mission office."
Professional experiences can also be taken into consideration when making special assignments for senior couples. Listings for specific mission needs throughout the world are posted online on the "Senior Missionary Opportunitities Bulletin." Current needs range from Military Relations to Water Resource Specialists.
5. Trust that the Lord will take care of your family
Leaving family is often one of the hardest challenges facing senior couples who are contemplating service. Grandchildren only get older and fear of missing crucial life moments can be heartbreaking. Other times, it is a concern for children or grandchildren who are struggling with trials or inactivity in the church.
It is important to remember that rules for senior missionaries are much more flexible than rules for young missionaries. Senior couples are often permitted the opportunity to return home for important events in the lives of their loved ones, although trip costs are the responsibility of the missionaries.
The opportunity to Skype and FaceTime with family members has also made this separation much more bearable.
Skyping your family and sharing your experiences with them makes it possible, in a sense, to take your family on your mission with you. Your family will be strengthened as they pray for their grandparents in the mission field.
To leave your family, regardless of life situation and even with developments in technology, requires a great deal of trust in the Lord.
6. Gain a testimony and keep a testimony
Regardless of the type of mission you will serve, young or old, medical mission or proselytizing mission, you will need a testimony. It will be your testimony that gets you out the door every day dressed in your Sunday best.
It will be your testimony that will keep you going when you want to wring a missionary's neck for getting a speeding ticket in a construction zone. It will be your testimony that drives you to talk to everyone you meet. It will be your testimony that will help you scrub living room furniture until it shines before it is placed in a missionary apartment. It will be your testimony that sustains each decision made by your mission president, and it will be your testimony that makes leaving to go home so painful.
One senior couple out to lunch with the young missionaries serving in their district.
7. If you have a desire to serve, go
The biggest piece of advice from senior missionaries is to go. There will never be a perfect time when the stars align and everything is perfectly set for you to go on a mission, but Heavenly Father has prepared the perfect experience for you.
"They were the best 27 months," said Gerene Bodmer, who served with her husband Paul in the Washington Kennewick Mission while living in their home. "We learned to trust in the Lord and each other. All couples can find ways to serve missions. The church has made it so easy for senior couples with so many different ways to serve. Our mission was one of the highlights of our lives."