By Cecily Markland
An historic announcement, made by President Thomas S. Monson in the October 2012 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, set up a ripple effect that has quickly turned into a swell, and now, a massive wave of Church-wide effort to “hasten the work of salvation.”
Latter-day Saints across Arizona are feeling the effects. What began with the announcement of lowering the missionary age from 19 to 18 years of age for young men and 21 to 19 years of age for women, resulted in hundredsyoung people across the state heeding that call. In fact, the worldwide response was almost immediate, raising the total fulltime missionary force more than 70.000.
Within months, another announcement came. Fifty-eight new missions were to be created, two of them in Arizona.
Prior to those missions opening on July 1, another historic event occurred as a worldwide broadcast on Sunday, June 23, introduced a new missionary website and extended a charge to all members to join in the missionary efforts.
The website states, “Increasing numbers of youth have responded to a prophet’s call, hastening the growth of missionary work. As members and leaders, we have the same opportunity to find ourselves in the Savior’s work of salvation.”
Indeed, says Area Seventy David E. LeSueur, two new missions in Arizona along with increased numbers of total missionaries assigned to the state is a reflection of already-strong missionary efforts and on the faith and testimonies of individual members.
“The Brethren stay close to what is happening,” he says, noting that in making changes, “they look at the number of members, mission production, number of companionships, the Church infrastructure; they weigh a host of factors.
Elder LeSueur adds, “I think the Brethren are convinced and have great confidence that the Saints in Arizona will step up and move missionary work forward.”
The new missions are the Arizona Scottsdale Mission and the Arizona Gilbert Mission and, as of July 1, new mission presidents are serving in the Arizona Mesa Mission and Arizona Tempe Mission. The Arizona Phoenix Mission and Arizona Tucson Mission bring the state’s total to six, all part of the North America Southwest Area.
In the Phoenix Mission, President Scott Taylor and his wife, Cheryl, have one year remaining in their three-year assignment. However, says Sister Taylor, they, too, will feel the effects of the growth as their mission boundaries have changed.
“We will lose the Phoenix Stake. Thirty-five of our missionaries will go to the Tempe Mission; but we’re gaining Flagstaff Stake,” Sister Taylor says.
“The work is really hastening here. It’s a great place to be serving a mission,” she says.
President R. Spence Ellsworth agrees. Recently released and replaced as Mesa Mission President by President Kirk L. Jenkins, President Ellsworth says, “The Lord truly is moving missionary work forward, and it’s exciting to be part of it.”
Before the recent changes, the Mesa Mission included 25 stakes, now there are 17; and, President Ellsworth explains, “My complement (or the number of missionaries you can have in a mission) was 200. The complement for the new Mesa Mission is 250 and the Scottsdale Mission is 200; so there will be 450 missionaries in an area where there used to be 200.”
The Mesa Mission home has moved to 2525 N 32nd St., in Mesa, while the Scottsdale Mission will be housed in the former Mesa Mission home at 6265 N 82nd St. in Scottsdale.
“This is a real growth area, a stronghold of the Church,” President Ellsworth says. He notes another factor that is significant in that growth, saying, “When we came to Arizona three years ago, there were two operating temples. Now there are three, soon to be five, and they’ve announced a temple in Tucson. There will be six operating temples in Arizona. This draws a lot of attention to the Church. “
President Dean L. Howes has been released as the Arizona Tempe Mission President, where President James L. Toone now presides.
In the new Arizona Gilbert Mission, K. Brett Nattress will serve as President and the mission home will be located in Whitewing Estates on Higley Road between Pecos and Germann.
“I’m thrilled about that,” says Elder LeSueur. “To have a new mission center right here in Gilbert, just months before the Gilbert Temple will open is thrilling,”
The Gilbert Mission will include 16 stakes, with all of the Gilbert and Queen stakes and two Mesa stakes, the Boulder Creek and Desert Ridge stakes.
The second new mission, the Arizona Scottsdale Mission, which will include 16 stakes—part of Mesa, Scottsdale, Phoenix and into Payson and the White Mountains—will be led by President Karl R. Sweeney.
He says, “We are delighted to have a nucleus of strong Saints in that area. The Arizona Saints are representative of the best in the world for loving their neighbors and being influential and on the forefront in the community.”
President Sweeney, who served as a stake president in Lakeland, Florida, from 2001 to 2011, shared his testimony as he was quoted in the Polk County, Florida, newspaper, “The Ledger,” as saying, “My parents joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when I was two years old. Being born into any church doesn’t mean you will live its teachings, but ever since I was a young man and found out for myself that Jesus Christ was my Savior and the Book of Mormon was a second witness of Christ, I’ve felt a strong desire to share the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ with others.
President Sweeney is particularly interested in working with members and stake presidents.
“It’s as simple as this: the increase in missionaries, especially among sister missionaries is not temporary, it’s permanent. If we have the same amount of member participation, missionaries won’t continue to succeed. They need us as members to reach out in love to our neighbors,” he says.
“We’re going to go to stake presidents and ask them, ‘How can we help you?’” he continues noting that the missionary efforts need to be led “not by me, but by the stake presidents who have the keys.”
“We are just the jet engines.”
The worldwide broadcast on June 23 invited all members to similarly be “jet engines” in furthering the work and joining in a “united effort in conversion, retention and activation.”
As mentioned in the broadcast, missionaries will use new means to share the gospel message, including using the Internet and electronic devices to set up Facebook pages, send emails and track progress.
“Our missionaries will be using a lot more of the nontraditional ways, spending one hour a day, maybe even two, getting online and contacting people by email or Facebook. With gated communities, and with the busy lives everyone leads, we can’t expect to reach some people with the old methods,” Elder Sweeney says.
As announced, meeting houses will also be open to guided tours.
“Members must also change the way they think about missionary work,” said Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve, speaking during the broadcast. Quoting Joseph Smith, Elder Perry said, “The most important duty is to preach the gospel.”
To view “The Work of Salvation” broadcast and to see the additional tools available on the new website, visit http://www.lds.org/training/wwlt/2013/hastening/special-broadcast?lang=eng