In January, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced assignments for 168 new mission presidents who will begin serving in July 2016 in missions around the world. Among those 168, six are from Arizona.
Michael Dean Pickerd, 57, of the Biltmore Ward, Phoenix Arizona East Stake, will serve with his wife Marian as president of the Italy Rome Mission. The Pickerds both served in Italy as young missionaries. They later got acquainted, dated and married while attending Brigham Young University, and they are thrilled to be returning to serve in Italy together.
“I am excited to be working with my wife to help build the kingdom,” says Brother Pickerd. He adds that while they would have been happy to serve anywhere, they look forward to being back among the Italian people.
“The people are so kind and loving. They’re wonderful people,” Sister Pickerd says.
When Brother Pickerd served there in 1977-79, there were four missions in the country and no stakes. “Today there are two missions, and four stakes in the Italy Rome Mission alone,” he says. “The Church, and especially the leadership, has really grown.”
Approximately 200 youth missionaries and 12 senior couples are currently serving in the Italy Rome Mission, which covers what was once the Italy Rome and Rome South missions and includes the islands of Sicily and Malta.
As a high councilor, stake president and bishop and, especially serving as an Area Seventy in Arizona from 2008 to 2013 and then as the local coordinator for the Phoenix Arizona Temple, Brother Pickerd has witnessed the blessings that come with the building of temples and recognizes construction of the Italy Rome Temple will increase opportunities to share the gospel.
Sister Pickerd, who has served as ward Relief Society president, stake Young Women president, a counselor in stake and ward Young Women presidencies and has taught seminary and Gospel Doctrine, says, regardless of how the opportunities come, “We absolutely love to see hearts and lives changed.”
Brother Pickerd agrees. “We’ve seen that in our own lives, and we want to share that with others.”
Like the Pickerds, Paul S. Rowley, 61, of Harris 2nd Ward, Mesa Arizona Central Stake, will also return to where he served as a young missionary to serve now with his wife Robin as president of the Indonesia Jakarta Mission.
“It’s exciting, overwhelming and humbling to get a call like that,” Brother Rowley says.
Indonesia is densely populated, poverty rates are high, and the climate is hot and humid, he says. The mission covers a large area, including 1,700 islands. More than 90 percent of Indonesia’s 250 million people are Muslim, meaning it has the largest Muslim population in the world. There were no LDS missionaries in Indonesia until 1970, and then the country was closed to all foreign missionaries between 1980 and 2000. Yet, Brother Rowley says, “The Church has come a long way. Indonesia is a wonderful country with great people, and the Church is looked upon favorably there.”
Today, there are more than 7,000 Church members in Indonesia, half of the 100 young missionaries currently serving there are from that country, and the Book of Mormon and most Church publications are available in Bahasa Indonesian, the country’s official language.
“I’m very happy to be able to serve with my husband,” says Sister Rowley, who has been a stake Primary presidency counselor, ward Young Women presidency counselor and ward Primary president and was serving as stake Relief Society secretary and a temple ordinance worker when their mission calls came.
“I understand the Indonesian people are warm, wonderful people and I’m excited to share the gospel with them,” she says.
Brother Rowley, currently a YSA stake presidency counselor, has served as a bishop, branch president, high councilor, ward executive secretary and ward Young Men president. He says, although their calls came as a bit of a surprise, they couldn’t be more excited.
“It’s a real blessing for us, and we’re going to give it 100 percent.”
Also assigned to serve in a large, mostly non-Christian area, Fred M. Mortensen, 62, of the Tempe Ward, Tempe Arizona Stake, will preside over the India Bangalore Mission, serving with his wife, Shauna.
“In India, 80 percent are of the Hindu religion and only 2 percent of the population are Christian,” says Sister Mortensen. She says serving there will be a challenge, as “the Church is in infant and frontier stages in many respects.”
One advantage is that the gospel is taught primarily in English, “which is the language they are educated in in India,” she says.
Brother Mortensen, who most recently served as a counselor in the stake presidency, was formerly a bishop, high councilor, Elders quorum president, ward Young Men president, counselor in a YSA stake presidency and seminary teacher. As a young missionary he served in the Taiwan Taipei Mission.
Sister Mortensen is ward music chairman and choir accompanist. In the past, she has had callings as stake Relief Society president, stake and ward Young Women president, stake music chairman and Relief Society instructor.
Like the Rowleys, Clint Smith, 58, of the Glenview Ward, Mesa Arizona Kimball Stake, says he and his wife Katherine were surprised when he was called to serve as mission president and assigned to the Florida Tallahassee Mission.
“We looked forward to serving a mission, but thought that would be five or six years down the road,” he says. “But, when the call comes, you answer, and we are really excited about serving.”
Their mission encompasses six stakes across an area that includes 250 miles of Gulf coastline, taking in “a corner of Mississippi, the coastal area of Alabama, the panhandle of Florida and into Georgia,” Brother Smith says.
Currently, 180 young missionaries and 13 couples are serving there. “We look forward to getting to know those missionaries and loving them to death,” he says.
Brother Smith has served as family history consultant, stake president, bishop, high councilor, temple ordinance worker and Scoutmaster. As a young missionary, he served in the Germany Hamburg Mission.
Sister Smith is a ward Relief Society teacher and is a former stake Young Women and Primary presidency counselor, and ward Relief Society and Primary presidency counselor.
The two others from Arizona called as mission presidents are Paul D. Sorensen, of the Arrowhead Ranch Ward, Glendale Arizona North Stake, who will serve with his wife, Julienne, as president of the Idaho Nampa Mission and Todd Polley, of the Tucson Arizona North Stake, who will serve with his wife, Doralea, as president of the Texas San Antonio Mission.
As these couples look forward to the Mission Presidents’ Training in late June and to reporting to their missions in July, they are already immersed in intense study and preparation.
“We have a lot of video training from the Church,” Brother Smith says. “We spend anywhere from 12 to 20 hours a week or more in video sessions, chats and other training.”
As they look ahead, each expresses a desire to work with the missionaries and to help them succeed.
“It is clear to me that a mission president’s role is not just to see more missionary work go forth. We are there to help these missionaries become builders of the kingdom, now and for the future as well,” says Brother Smith.