A Unique Mission
April 2006

“A Unique Mission,” Ensign, Apr. 2006, 24–29

A Unique Mission

An army of missionaries serve in the Family and Church History Mission, and each missionary has a story of service and sacrifice.

Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, is home to a one-of-a-kind mission that specializes in helping further the work of family history and Church history. Currently, it is made up of 325 full-time missionaries and 850 Church service missionaries, whose average age is 70-plus years. They come from around the world, and no matter what their skills, they receive one-on-one training geared to their individual needs.

“Our missionaries feel that this is the most spiritual work they have ever done,” says Elder Cree-L Kofford, president of this mission. “It is a place of warm friendship, spiritual experiences, and a feeling that you are making a difference. That is why one missionary, widowed just a few months before coming on her mission, said at her exit interview: ‘I came to heal and to learn, and I did.’”

Following are the stories of a few of these missionaries.

Photography by Christina Smith, except as noted

Below foreground, left to right: The Family and Church History Mission presidency—Noal T. Greenwood, first counselor, and his wife, Claudine; President Cree-L Kofford and his wife, Ila; Priscilla Crockett with her husband, second counselor Richard C. Crockett—with some of the 1,100 missionaries.

Photography of clouds by Craig Dimond

Above: Sister Grace Chan (right) and Wendy Jyang Shamo look through a rare history handwritten in Chinese. Sister Chan has helped many patrons find their Chinese ancestors. She remembers when she was able to help an elderly Chinese gentleman from California because she had become aware of a book on the Zhao family while helping a young lady from New York four months earlier. She says of the experience: “I loaded the microfilm and turned on the reader in the late afternoon. Regardless of how busy my day has been, a calm settles on me when I am going through those names. I felt like crying when I found the ancestor of the elderly Chinese gentleman—Zhao Yufang of the Fushi village.”

Sister Chan wants older Chinese patrons to know that the library has technology that allows them to enter Chinese characters into a computer by writing the characters on a tablet. The library also has phones that allow deaf patrons to call in and receive help over a videophone.

Right: Antonia de la Cruz (in flowered dress) of Nuevo León, Mexico, and her niece Lydia (pointing) help Jenny Suñiga Muñoz with family history. Dedicated to family history since she was a young woman, Antonia has volunteered at the Family History Library for nearly 30 years. In addition, she and her husband have researched and submitted names and helped perform temple ordinances for more than 100,000 of their ancestors.

Above: Sister Yukiko Sakuno serves in the Family History Library and helps Japanese Americans with their research. She also translates Japanese records into English because the old koseki (family registry) and the old Chinese characters are complicated. “I love this work,” she says, “because it makes me feel like I am in the Elijah spirit.”

A widow, Sister Sakuno says of her husband, “Before he died he said, ‘Whether I live or not, we are going to go on a mission together.’ We felt then as if we were together in a rainstorm of love. He showed me how to live, how to die, and how to love. Now, I feel we are serving as missionaries together.”

Right: Sister Nellie Leighton is often the first person you see when you enter the Family History Library, since she sits just inside the door to help direct visitors. On April 15, 1998, a mentally unstable man came into the library and began shooting. He shot Sister Leighton in the jaw at point blank range. She survived severe wounds, which healed without a scar. Once healed, she showed great courage by returning to her seat at the entrance of the library, where she has served ever since.

“I really feel Heavenly Father saved me so I could help encourage retired Latter-day Saints to serve missions,” she says. “Serving a senior mission is like being dipped in a big pot of love. You love those you serve with and those you work with. There is no better way to set an example for our children and grandchildren.”

Left: Dressed as Mary Jane Dilworth, Salt Lake City’s first schoolteacher, Wilna Holt serves as a docent at the Museum of Church History and Art. Standing in front of the first log cabin built in the Salt Lake Valley, Sister Holt tells children how Mary Jane Dilworth taught school in a tent in the fort built when the pioneers first arrived. Sister Holt has been volunteering for 20 years.

Below far left: Though Elder Mitchell Curtis has limited use of his fingers, he is skilled and accurate at data entry using a computer mouse. He is part of a team of missionaries that help process names for the temple. Elder Curtis contracted muscular dystrophy as a child and feared he would not be able to serve a mission, since missionaries need to be self-reliant. However, his parents have provided the needed support. Grateful for his opportunity to serve, Elder Curtis says, “No matter what your challenges are, if you have a desire to serve, the Lord will find a place for you. He will bless you to be able to do what is needed.”

Above left: Missionaries provide invaluable service at the Church’s family history archives located in the Granite Mountain Record vault in Little Cottonwood Canyon. (Photograph of Granite Mountain Record Vault by Eldon Linschoten)

Left: Sister Claudia Shelton, who has a terminal illness, feels that her life has been prolonged so she can continue to serve as a docent in the Museum of Church History and Art.

Right: Missionaries Gerald and Peggy Gudmundson work behind the scenes tracking art and artifacts in the archives of the Museum of Church History and Art, but their influence is far-reaching. “Seeing the artifacts of the Church teaches Church history and builds testimonies,” says Brother Gudmundson. “It overlaps into missionary work.” When the Gudmundsons started six years ago, they called their blended family of 27 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren together for a family home evening and visited the museum. “This work keeps me mentally and physically active,” says Brother Gudmundson, who is also an artist. “And it’s fun.”

Right, below: Sister Jo Clark’s missionary service includes careful repair and conservation of historical fabric items, such as shawls, silk dresses, and lace. She is shown here repairing the taffeta in a pioneer child’s dress. “I have always loved to sew,” she says. “I like to see how a dress was made, inside and out, and the beauty of the needlework. It gives me a glimpse into the past, and I can imagine how people used to live.”

Far right: Whether it was repairing old cars or restoring furniture, Harold Mackelprang has worked with his hands his entire life, so he is well placed working in the conservation lab of the Museum of Church History and Art. “It’s a special place,” he says. “Handling the artifacts that belonged to Joseph Smith and other early prophets gives me respect and admiration for them. It has made me more aware of what they and the early pioneers faced.”