“Couple Missionaries: Going the Second Mile,” Ensign, Sept. 2004, 20–23
When John and Pat Bevan from Salt Lake City, Utah, decided to serve another mission, they never dreamed they would be called to serve in such places as Ghana, Nigeria, and Ivory Coast as Africa West Area family history advisers. They were surprised—Pat because it was Africa and John because it was family history—but they willingly accepted the call from the Lord.
Like other missionaries, they soon found opportunities to use their unique blend of talents. Sister Bevan was well versed in family history, but Elder Bevan started at the beginning and as a result became an understanding teacher. They helped establish or strengthen 27 family history centers and trained hundreds of members to input their oral family history on the stake computer. As a result, many names were gathered for the Aba Nigeria Temple. Now, 18 months after finishing their family history mission, the Bevans have returned to Africa to serve again—this time as temple workers.
Such is the experience of many senior missionary couples. They may feel hesitant in the beginning, but once in the mission field, they soon feel comfortable and enthusiastic. Why? Because they quickly see how much they and their talents are needed.
Following are stories of couple missionaries who discovered ways to use their talents to bless the lives of others.
Lamont and Janet Andersen of Calgary, Canada, served as proselyting missionaries in the Ghana Accra Mission. “We began our mission in the small village of Kissi near Cape Coast, where there were 20 members,” says Elder Andersen. “Three months later there were 80.” There was no need for the Andersens to tract; the people came to them. They taught outdoors under the trees, sitting on a wooden bench and using a new member as their translator.
Like the Andersens, most senior missionary couples in Africa say they wouldn’t have missed this experience for anything in the world. In fact, the Andersens have returned to Nigeria as humanitarian missionaries.
Keith Merrill, a retired physician from Tennessee, and his wife, Diane, served as medical advisers in West Africa. Their teaching and consultation skills proved invaluable as they traveled the area checking hospitals and clinics to recommend for the treatment of missionaries. They loved Africa. Their positive attitude and great sense of humor proved to be contagious to others.
“We had touching experiences at the Buduburam Liberian Refugee Camp,” says Elder Merrill. “Here we taught the people hygiene skills and how to take care of themselves with simple remedies for common ailments.”
Today the Merrills are serving another mission in Africa, where Elder Merrill is the area medical adviser.
Grant and Marilyn Barton of Provo, Utah, served as the Africa West Area humanitarian directors. Theirs was a massive task of overseeing multiple LDS Charities projects such as the digging of wells and the shipments of food, clothing, books, hygiene and newborn kits, and medical supplies. They also organized and scheduled medical clinics, employment resources training, and educational projects.
“The people in Africa have physical challenges, but they have learned to cope and find joy and peace without all the material things of life,” says Sister Barton. “We have grown and gained more insight into the real beauty of life than we could ever give.”
Everett H. and Verna Belcher of Park City, Utah, certainly didn’t realize that they would leave a legacy when they were called to serve in Nauvoo, Illinois, in April 1978. Once in Nauvoo, however, they discovered a need. As guides at the Lucy Mack Smith brick home, the Belchers were frequently asked how there could be so many brick buildings in a frontier town. The Belchers learned that the Saints had made the bricks by hand.
“Eventually I approached the mission president and suggested that we create a brick-making demonstration,” says Elder Belcher. “The mission president authorized me to go ahead. This led us to an in-depth research effort. With the help of the librarians at the Library of Congress and a source in England, I learned all that I could about the lost art of making bricks by hand and the technical requirements of molding clay. After six months, I showed the mission president my research, and he said to proceed.
“At first I just demonstrated how the clay was thrown into the mold and formed, but visitors wanted a full-size brick for a souvenir. Through many prayers we asked for guidance and through many experiments we learned how to create souvenir bricks with the word Nauvoo stamped on each one. These bricks led to gospel discussions, and many visitors accepted copies of the Book of Mormon.”
The Belchers extended their 18-month mission another year. The design they created in 1980 is still in use today in the Nauvoo brickyard.
The lives of these missionary couples have been forever changed because of their decision to serve a mission—and so have the lives of those they served. In the beginning, they all felt tentative about serving a mission, but they soon discovered that their talents were needed. In the end, each couple made a difference. The words of Elder Belcher, now 89 years old, apply: “Unless you go, you will never know what you and your talents might do to leave a lasting influence on others.”
“Retired couples have talents and abilities that are often not used after they retire. People with special skills in the health field, such as doctors and dentists, are always needed. Teachers and farmers provide invaluable services.
“Serving a mission gives retired people a chance to use their talents and gifts again. They discover that they are truly needed, and as a consequence they find a powerful new sense of direction in life.”
Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Couple Missionaries—‘A Wonderful Resource,’” Ensign, Feb. 1996, 7.