Back in the 60s and 70s girls that went on missions were considered misfits. Surely something was wrong with them, or they would have been married by the time they were twenty-one. Young women were encouraged to put marriage first, knowing that it was their highest priority. The few of us who did go on missions were cautious about telling people that we were returned missionaries because it might be a black mark on our resume.
But lots and lots of women who married young wanted to serve missions, and they and their husbands committed to serving together later in life. Then, about twenty years ago, the General Authorities began encouraging couples to consider senior missions. In 2010, President Monson pleaded, “We need many, many more senior couples,” and in 2011, Elder Holland exclaimed, “We need thousands of more couples serving in the missions of the Church.”
So all of those wonderful, faithful sisters who had put marriage first began to prepare for their long- awaited missions. But they didn’t know exactly what to expect. It was my own senior missions that led me to consider how I might be able to support senior missionary couples.
When, out of the blue, our bishop asked us to serve a senior couple mission, neither of us was retired yet. We had never been wealthy, and early retirement would likely make us poor for the rest of our lives. But in a leap of faith, we told the bishop we would submit our papers and trust in the Lord to watch out for our welfare.
Then, two weeks later, a friend called to tell me someone wanted to buy stock in a company we had both helped establish several years before. She thought I might have some stock to sell. Well, we never had stock in anything, so I said I doubted we had any. Then she reminded me that the company had given us stock in lieu of a salary for the first year of our work. And my husband remembered seeing a stock certificate in an old file cabinet out in our barn.
Sure enough, I had a significant number of shares in our company. I sold the stock for enough to pay off our mortgage and be able to afford a mission. I still cry when I think of that miracle, but it came after our leap of faith.
In Portugal, we served as the office couple for half of our mission. Then the two Portuguese missions were combined, and we served the rest of our mission as member leadership support missionaries on the southern coast of Portugal. We ran a youth center, taught piano lessons and dance classes, searched for lost members, walked together along the beach, and experienced life like we never dreamed would be possible.
In Africa, my husband served in the area legal office, and I worked on the area website. Both of us felt that we came to the mission with a few loaves and fishes to offer the Lord and He turned our offering into a feast that blessed many lives. We used our meager talents in unexpected and incredibly rewarding ways. And when the electricity frequently went out at night, we made sweet memories playing dominoes by candlelight.
However, in Portugal and then again in Africa, I often found myself sitting with other senior sister missionaries, listening to them cry as they tried to cope with the realities of mission life. Somehow, they had come on their missions with stars in their eyes and faith in their hearts, never realizing that a mission was down and dirty, nitty-gritty hard work.
Now as mature LDS women, they were accustomed to hard work, and they were willing to give the Lord their best effort. It’s just that these sisters were unprepared for the isolation of not speaking or understanding their husband’s mission language. They didn’t realize that they would have down time, and they felt guilty filling that time with reading non-church books or listening to non-church music. They worried about spending time on the internet with their children and grandchildren. They were sure their husbands were slackers, and they let them know that. Basically, they made themselves miserable, and when they were miserable, they felt like failures.
So while I was serving on our missions, I began outlining a book for senior sister missionaries, telling them in detail what to expect on a mission and how to prepare for their missions. Then, when we returned home from Africa, I was given the opportunity to write that book, called Senior Missions: What to Expect and How to Prepare.
In reality, most senior missionary sisters figured out how to ignore their fears and doubts and just do the best they could with the unique talents they had. But it would have been less stressful for them to know what to expect ahead of time.
Senior missions are filled with a deep sense of purpose, an amazing closeness to the Spirit, and an unbelievable outpouring of love for the Saints throughout the world. Just like junior missionaries, senior missionaries will never be the same after their missions. Who would have guessed that anyone could grow so much when they’re so old.
Marnae Brown Wilson loves an adventure, whether it’s climbing inside a Mayan pyramid in Mexico or checking out the feasibility of international study programs in Mozambique, Africa. She’s experienced the adventure of starting and running a private junior high. She’s served LDS missions on three continents, two of them as a senior sister. But the greatest adventure of them all was marrying her nonconformist best friend and raising seven very independent children.
Marnae graduated from Brigham Young University with majors in International Relations and English. While raising her family, she created and operated a private junior high school. When she was almost 50, she attended Utah State University and received a Masters degree in Instructional Technology. Since then, she has designed educational software for young migrant students with Waterford Institute and Imagine Learning. While serving a mission in Africa, she compiled and edited Everyday Saints in Africa, a book of faith-promoting stories from Latter-day Saints in the Africa Southeast Area of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She lives in Lehi, Utah.
For more information, visit MarnaeWilson.com.