The most widely recognized missionaries of the Mormon Church are the young Elders and Sisters who proselyte the faith. However, the Mormon Church also sends out thousands of older missionaries. These missionaries fulfill a wider variety of missions including everything from serving as tour guides at Mormon historical sites to filling humanitarian or leadership missions, where they train local leadership or act as leaders themselves in areas where the Mormon Church has only recently been established. They also frequently serve as married couples who have retired from their professions.
Like their younger counterparts, senior and couple missionaries are also called elders and sisters. and pay their own expenses, though they may receive some assistance from family. They have more choice in the placement and purpose of their mission, particularly if they have unique skills, such as medical expertise or knowledge of foreign languages. Many serve humanitarian missions in which they are sent to specific regions and help with agriculture, food procurement, medical missions, or clean water initiatives. Some senior missionary couples serve as leaders in areas of the world where there are few experienced Church leaders. Part of their responsibility includes training local members to be effective leaders.
Senior missionaries represent a small percentage of the total full-time missionary force of the Mormon Church. As of 2004, there were approximately 5,000 senior couple missionaries in the Church. However, senior missionaries form a large part of the Church’s part-time missionary force. Many seniors serve local missions for selected periods of time by doing valuable service for their Church and their community. Thousands of others continue to go abroad into every region of the world.
More recently Mormon leaders have stepped up the call for more senior missionaries. They have encouraged this both as a responsibility to help our fellow men and as a cure for loneliness and depression which often afflict the elderly. In 2002, President Gordon B. Hinckley said,
- Caring for the elderly has become one of the great social problems of our time. Of course they reach an age when they cannot do very much. I can testify of that. But there are years between retirement and that age when they can play around doing things that really lead nowhere or they can give their great talents, the fruits of many years of marvelous experience, to lift and help people. They become concerned with others less fortunate and work to meet their needs. And they say, “What a great time we are having!” I know of one couple now on their eighth such mission. (Discourses of President Gordon B. Hinckley, 2:520)
All retired couples and elderly members of the Mormon Church who are able both physically and financially are encouraged to go on missions. For those with health or financial limitations, many other opportunities of service in their home congregations are available. These faithful couples are fulfilling the Book of Mormon teaching which says “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17).
General Information about Mormon Missionaries
- Light Planet's page about Mormon missionary work.
- Answers.com on missionary work.
- About Mormonism page about Mormon missionaries
Stories about Mormon Missionaries
- PBS religion and ethics story on Mormon missionaries.