"Let's Lengthen Our Shuffle!"
- Jeffrey R. Holland, “Witnesses unto Me,” Ensign, May 2001, 14
Senior missionaries, who are generally retired couples, pay their own expenses, though they may receive some assistance from family. They have more choice in the placement, duration, 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 where they help with agriculture, food procurement, medical missions, or clean water initiatives. These missions are managed through the Humanitarian Services arm of LDS Philanthropies, first begun in 1955. The Mormon Church has recently begun immunization projects and a wheelchair initiative with much of the volunteer work being performed by senior missionaries. 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 performing valuable service for their Church and their community. Thousands of others continue to go abroad into every region of the world.
In the last couple of decades, the Mormon Church has stepped up its call for senior couple missionaries. Leaders have encouraged this both as a universal responsibility to help our fellow men and as a cure to loneliness and depression, which often afflicts 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).