“Conversation: Elder Carmack Speaks about the PEF,” Ensign, Sept. 2001, 76–77
During last April’s general conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley made a historic announcement: a new Church program called the Perpetual Education Fund (PEF) would soon be put into operation to help young Latter-day Saints in need, especially returned missionaries, gain an education. Shortly thereafter, Elder John K. Carmack of the Seventy was announced as managing director. Elder Carmack recently spoke with the Ensign about the program.
Question: What is the Church’s plan for the PEF?
Response: The Perpetual Education Fund is patterned after the Perpetual Emigration Fund, established by the Church in the mid-1800s to assist European converts immigrating to Zion. That program created a foundation of righteous families, Church leadership, and self-reliance that brought the Church great strength.
The Perpetual Education Fund is based on the same principles as the Perpetual Emigration Fund. It is a modern plan to strengthen Latter-day Saint individuals and families in their own countries.
Education and gainful employment will help bring stability to families worldwide. These families will then strengthen the Church through serving in leadership callings and through paying tithing. The program will also help assure young members throughout the world that the Church cares about them and will help them get out of the cycle of poverty described by President Gordon B. Hinckley.
The PEF comes as inspiration from a prophet of God; its reach extends in seemingly every direction. Thirty years from now, I think we’ll call it one of the most important things that has happened in the Church.
Q: How have members responded to the PEF?
R: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. It seems members of the Church received an instant testimony that it is a program inspired of God. So many who served missions in developing areas have come home with hearts yearning to help the members they served and the native companions they served with. The PEF now provides an immediate, effective way to do so.
Thousands of members have contributed, and the fund is growing rapidly, but we need much more. We’ve also had dozens of people call to ask if they could give all or part of their time to advancing the program. From these, two men have been chosen to serve as full-time volunteer assistant directors. Another one or two will likely be added soon. Other volunteers will serve on Church headquarters committees and on local PEF advisory committees worldwide.
The response from prospective participants has also been strong. We’ve had inquiries from many countries already: “How can I get a PEF loan?” Area Presidencies are saying, “We’re being bombarded with interest—when will the program be ready?” On our recent trip to Mexico, Chile, and Peru, young people eager to know more about the PEF filled the meetinghouses where we spoke about the program.
Q: How has the program been developed?
R: The general priesthood meeting talk in which President Hinckley announced the establishment of the PEF has become our charter or constitution for what we do. It contains the key concepts and doctrines and is the inspired pronouncement. We’ve taken this foundation and have worked toward creating the PEF Department and a practical program. We’ve felt the inspiration of the Lord in doing so, and we’re now ready to try it out.
We operate under a board of directors, which consists of the First Presidency, the chairman of the board being President Hinckley himself; two members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; the senior President of the Seventy; the Presiding Bishop; the general Relief Society president; and the administrator of Religious Education and Elementary and Secondary Education. President Hinckley has been closely involved in the program’s development. We feel his urgency. He is anxious for us to get the program in place quickly.
Q: How exactly will the PEF work?
R: The interest and income earned on the donations that make up the fund will be used for student loans. These loans will help pay education costs of those who need assistance. The fund itself will remain intact.
The primary group targeted is young returned missionaries, and others are welcome to apply as well. Applicants must be adults 35 years of age or younger. They must attend the local Latter-day Saint institute of religion and be endorsed as worthy and committed by their bishop or branch president.
But the PEF does more than just provide a loan. It is an inspired, complete program that helps people become self-reliant. Even before the PEF was announced, a Church career workshop was already being taught in developing areas to help members learn how to find local resources—grants, loans, and job opportunities.
The workshop also teaches how to make an educational and vocational plan. Individuals must complete this workshop before their application for a PEF loan is considered complete. Applicants must also show they have exhausted other financial resources before seeking PEF assistance.
Institute of religion leaders throughout the world will receive application forms and will guide applicants through the process. Applications will be reviewed for completeness by a local PEF committee of Church members before copies are sent to the Area Presidency and to the PEF Department at Church headquarters. Area Presidencies will contact us if they have any suggestions, ideas, or concerns.
Loan payments will be made from Church headquarters directly or through a bank to local educational and training institutions, not to the individuals. Participants will be required to report their progress regularly to their local PEF committee. The committee will mentor and supervise participants until they complete their education and obtain gainful employment.
After participants complete their training, they will be required to repay the loan at a very modest interest rate. As these individuals repay their loans, the fund will continually be increased so it can help more young people. We hope it will grow sufficiently to assist hundreds of thousands of young members of the Church.
Q: When and where will the program start?
R: President Hinckley has counseled us to try the program on a modest basis at first, perfecting it before we go full-scale. We are starting this summer with students in Mexico, Chile, and Peru, three countries that have large numbers of returned missionaries. Initially, most of the education will be vocational in nature, but that may broaden as the program grows.
In October, we hope to extend the program to other parts of the world.
Q: What about some developing areas of the world where there simply are no jobs available, even if a person has an education?
R: That’s a challenge. In these areas, self-employment is the key. Entrepreneurial training and education can help individuals learn how to start and operate their own small businesses and even employ others.
In all areas of the world, training and education will be chosen to suit needs and available opportunities.
Q: Will the program help only young people in developing countries?
R: That question has been posed to us by a number of stake presidents and other Church leaders. Certainly there are areas in the United States and other industrial nations that are like developing countries. There are people in these areas that have few opportunities. Surely in time they will be considered, but first we’ll start in the developing countries.
Q: Is there still an ongoing need for member support?
R: Yes. Our goal is to develop a fund large enough to handle the needs of every worthy, qualified applicant in the world, so it needs to be quite a large fund. Thankfully donations are continuing to come in.
Whether donations are small or large, all are needed. People may be surprised to learn how far their donations can go. In South America, for example, a year of technical education can be obtained for as little as $500, so even a small donation can help substantially.
Members should also know that 100 percent of their donations go to help the recipients because program administrators are all volunteers and the Church covers all costs of operation.
To make a donation, simply write “PEF” and the contribution amount in the “Other” box on a tithing and offerings slip, then give the donation to the bishop or branch president.
Q: What more can members do to support the program?
R: Some members will be called to volunteer on local advisory committees, of which there will be quite a few in the world. They will help direct, train, and mentor loan recipients and select and work with participating schools.
Members in general can pray for the program’s success. We know their prayers can be effective. We believe what the scriptures teach in this regard: the fervent prayer of the righteous “availeth much” (James 5:16). This inspired effort allows all of us to sacrifice, to “lift up the hands which hang down” (D&C 81:5), and to “be one” as we seek to build up Zion (see D&C 38:24–27). It allows us to make a difference for good in the Lord’s “own way” (see D&C 104:13–18).