Zone Conference and a Final Good-bye

We met with the zones here on Upolu. They are learning and growing right before our eyes. Missionaries who were shy and quiet have become powerful agents. They teach doctrine with their comments and testify of the Savior in ways that change lives.

Northeast and Northwest Zones

Central, Apia and Southwest Zone

We sadly announce that we have been given a medical release by the Church. President Tolman has struggled for many months with health issues and has developed a new condition that cannot be diagnosed or treated here. There are not words adequate to express the sadness we feel leaving these remarkable disciples. We love every single one of these missionaries. We know they have great things to do and to accomplish here in Samoa. They will continue to have our hearts and our prayers.

An interm mission president couple has been called. Elder and Sister Saunders have been serving for 15 months in American Samoa. They have run the mission office there and are extremely capable. They know most of our missionaries and already love them. These missionaries will be well-cared for and will continue to grow under their inspired and loving leadership.

A new mission president is being called. We do not know the timeline for their arrival, but I am sure they will bring wonderful things to the Samoa Apia Mission.

It is in times like these where nothing seems to make sense that the only thing we can do is to trust in God. I read a quote a few months ago. It went something like this, "When trials seem unbearable, do not trust your feelings. The only thing you can trust is the doctrine you know about God." Trying to find the whys in a situation like this only leads to unproductive places, so we have chosen to trust the doctrine we know about God. We know he loves us and is working in our lives to bring about change and growth. That doesn't mean that sometimes it won't hurt. One of our missionaries said this week at zone conference he believes God does His best work in times of darkness and despair. I think that says it all. We are deeply grateful to have spent time with your sons and daughters. We feel privileged to have cared for them and loved them!

If you wish to continue to follow the happenings of the mission, you can do that on the Saunders blog. It can be found at

President and Sister Saunders

Zone Conference

Over the past two weeks, we have met with five of the ten zones. The other five are scheduled for this coming week. It is always a good day when we get to spend it with missionaries! It is fun to watch them reconnect. They become attached to one another in the MTC and when they serve together; transfers can scatter them for many months. They are always excited to see one another and catch up.

I love what Elder Holland said in October Conference 2012, "The call is to come back, to stay true, to love God, and to lend a hand. I include in that call to fixed faithfulness every returned missionary who ever stood in a baptismal font and with arm to the square said, 'Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ.' That commission was to have changed your convert forever, but it was surely supposed to have changed you forever as well."

It is a privilege to watch that change occur in the lives of these missionaries. We see them develop the "fixed faithfulness" mentioned by Elder Holland. They set their faces towards God and allow this experience to sanctify them and prepare them.

Savaii Zones

Tutuila Zones


We just received seventeen new missionaries; nine of them are sisters. We are thrilled to have a growing number of sisters in our mission.

Sheri Dew, in 1999, after talking about her grandmother said this: "To the world, my grandma was ordinary. But to me, she represents the unsung heroines of this century who lived up to their pre-mortal promises and left a foundation of faith upon which we may build. Grandma wasn't perfect, but she was a woman of God. Now, it is for you and for me to carry forward the banner into the next century. We are not women of the world. We are women of God. And women of God will be among the greatest heroines of the 21st century."

I marvel as I watch these sisters come. I see women of great faith and devotion. I see women of God and disciples of the Savior. They serve with priesthood authority and great heavenly power. I am ever so grateful for them. They help me to be stronger and more committed. They stand as witnesses in all things and in all places. They are a force for all that is good and praiseworthy; 1600 of them enter the mission field every month. Watching these sisters serve is a remarkable blessing.

New Missionaries (More photos on Life with Missionaries page)

As exciting as it is to welcome new missionaries, it is always sad at the end of the week to say good-bye to those who are returning home. We will miss them. Along with our young missionaries, our office couple, the Jacksons also went home. They will be missed by all of us! It is our hope as our missionaries leave us that each of them will feel the approval of the Savior for their sacred consecrated work.

Departing Missionaries


The Missionary Handbook states: "Listen only to music that is consistent with the sacred spirit of your calling. Music should invite the Spirit, help you focus on the work, and direct your thoughts and feelings to the Savior. Do not listen to music that pulls your thoughts away from your work, merely entertains, has romantic lyrics or overtones, or dulls your spiritual sensitivity by its tempo, beat, loudness, lyrics or intensity. Listening to music must never interfere with your personal preparation or proselyting."

We seem to have some confusion about this in our mission. Some missionaries, no matter the music or the lyrics, will say it helps them feel the Spirit. Others will say that listening to the music of the world is what calms them and helps them focus. The handbook is fairly clear on what the music should be, but we discussed it as a Missionary Leadership Council this past week. It was obvious very quickly that there is misunderstanding. I love to watch this Council as we work through issues and come to a consensus on something that will benefit every missionary.

We collectively decided to set a standard against which all music could be measured. We first talked about listening to only hymns, then only Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Someone brought up Especially for Youth Music. Others wanted to know what they could play on their ukuleles. After much discussion, we decided that as a mission we will listen to and play only songs that are appropriate for Sacrament Meeting. It seems a reasonable and measurable standard.

Sometimes the things God requires of us seem too specific. Can we not govern ourselves in all things? Of course we can; we have moral agency and can decide if what He is asking of us is important or necessary. Music may not seem like a big deal, but leaving the things of the world behind is a big deal. It made me reflect on a talk given several years ago in General Conference by Elder David A. Stone entitled "Zion in the Midst of Babylon."  He explained, "Babylon was, in the time of ancient Israel, a city which had become sensual, decadent, and corrupt." While the city of Babylon no longer exists, it provides a good metaphor for some of our choices and behaviors. He continues, "Too many people of the world have come to resemble the Babylon of old by walking in their own ways, and following a god "whose image is in the likeness of the world."

He suggested that we could develop a Zion in the midst of Babylon. Just as Babylon, the city of Zion no longer exists. It, too, stands as a metaphor for all that is good and right. A place filled with His light and His guidance. A place drenched in His love. A place where the pure in heart dwell. How do we achieve Zion in the midst of Babylon?

Elder Stone explains, "We can live as a Zion people, if we wish to. Will it be hard? Of course it will, for the waves of Babylonian culture crash incessantly against our shores. Will it take courage? Of course it will.

We have always been entranced by tales of courage of those who faced fearsome odds and overcame. Courage is the basis and foundation for all of our other virtues; the lack of courage diminishes every other virtue that we have. If we are to have Zion in the midst of Babylon, we will need courage.

The opportunities to stand for that which is right--when the pressures are subtle and when even our friends are encouraging us to give in to the idolatry of the times--those come along frequently. No photographer is there to record of heroism, no journalist will splash it across the newspaper's front page. Just in the quiet contemplation of our conscience, we will know that we faced the test of courage: Zion or Babylon?"

Missionaries have the opportunity to experience some of what Zion offers by living the standards of the Missionary Handbook. This mission experience is a refining process; each choice brings us closer to God or further from Him. Choosing to listen to music that invites the spirit and turns our thoughts to the Savior is one of those choices. For many who choose Zion, it will be required that they stand alone. "We will need courage" and strength beyond our own!

Elder Stone reminds us of the blessings that await, "Wherever we are, whatever city we may live in, we can build our own Zion by the principles of the celestial kingdom and ever seek to become the pure in heart. Zion is the beautiful, and the Lord holds it in His own hands. Our homes can be places which are a refuge and protection, as Zion is."

Mission Leadership Council 


Serendipity: The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. God enjoys serendipitous events; in fact, He makes them happen! I traveled home a few weeks ago for shoulder surgery and therapy. I did not want to leave the mission and make the long journey home, but it was necessary and needful. While many things occurred that could be defined as serendipitous, one of those sweet moments was being able to attend the homecoming report of one of our missionaries!

Elder Wengert is from Gilbert, Arizona, a neighboring city to our home town. He returned home about the same time as I returned to Arizona. I loved hearing him speak about his experiences in Samoa. What was most impressive to me was when he talked about his struggles. He shared that there was a time on his mission when he wondered what he was doing and why he was serving. He wondered why he was wasting his time and his family's time. He struggled with this burden for quite some time, and when he finally decided to completely and totally turn his will over to God's, his entire perspective and mission changed. As he allowed God to lead him, he found ways to serve and bless that were previously not available to him. In this process, he changed; he became who God wanted him to be. He became a fully converted disciple of the Savior; he learned how to represent Jesus Christ and offer His sweet Atonement to those he taught.

As I listened to him talk, I reflected back on what I had observed as we served together. I saw a good young man become a powerful, respected missionary and advocate of Jesus Christ. Elder Wenger left a legacy of growth and dedication in the mission field. It was an "event by chance in a happy way" that I was able to attend his home ward and celebrate his growth among those who know him and love him.

Elder Wengert and his parents

Listening to Elder Wenger and being home gave me a lot of time to think about what God expects of us and how He crafts experiences, which allow us to benefit if we choose to fully and completely embrace His will. I thought of the song "I Will Go Where You Want Me to Go."
"It may not be on the mountain height
Or over the stormy sea,
It may not be at the battle's front
My Lord will have need of me.
But if, by a still, small voice He calls
To paths that I do not know,
I'll answer, dear Lord, with my hand in thine:
I'll go where you want me to go."

The interesting thing is He may need us at the "mountain height, over the stormy sea, or the battle's front." It will always be to paths we do not know because it is only through these kinds of experiences that we come to know God and understand His love and His desire for us to return to His rest. The places we are needed can be scary and hard; they can be lonely and overwhelming; they can be places where we struggle to thrive.

Sometimes, we believe when we are serving in the mission field that the Lord will take care of our problems, things will go smoothly at home because we are serving, or we will be protected from difficulty because we are missionaries. While our service always brings blessings, they usually are not the ones we think we deserve or want. This trip home taught me, once again, God knows exactly what is most important for us to learn and do, and if we will go with our hand in His, He will always lead us to places of growth and greater light. Going where He wants us to go takes courage and faith, but it mostly takes giving our entire will to Him. When we finally surrender is when we find Him, and in finding Him we discover that turning our will over wasn't hard after all.

Six Weeks

I am a little behind. We welcomed a new group of missionaries over a week ago. They, like all others, came excited and ready to work. We are finding that six weeks rolls by pretty quickly. It seems we just get one group settled and another comes. 

These new missionaries remind me of Mormon. Mormon, abridger of the plates and prophet, was described by those who knew him when he was young. It is noted in the record of the Book of Mormon he "was quick to observe." Elder David A. Bednar has taught that "when we are quick to observe, we promptly look or notice and obey. Both of these fundamental elements-looking and obeying-are essential to being quick to observe. Being quick to observe is a prerequisite to and a preparation for the gift of discernment. We can only hope to obtain that supernal gift of discernment and its light of protection and direction if we are quick to observe-if we both look and obey."

New missionaries can be described as Mormon. They are anxious to learn their place and to obey the rules of the mission. They serve as a reminder of what God expects of His missionaries. They are quick to observe. Mission life can be hard and discouraging. We can all learn from Mormon; he remained true to the end wading through a difficult life with unrighteous people surrounded by war. We all have things to learn from our new missionaries as well. They feel unsure of themselves as they begin their work, but if we look beyond their worry, we see great warriors and if we allow them to, they can change all of us making us better. Thank goodness we need only wait six weeks! (Check the Life with Missionaries page for more pictures.)

New Missionaries

We also sadly said goodbye to some powerful missionaries. Their presence and influence will be greatly missed. Saying goodbye is always bitter sweet. We try to help them understand they have come and served and now it is time for the next chapter in their lives. It always leaves us feeling a little unsteady as we carry on without them. For those who serve with no regret, their conversation and love of God is evident in their countenance. They can with clear eyes and a full heart answer Alma's question: "I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?" 

Departing Missionaries

A Shot In the Arm

Learning together in Zone Conferences is always a spiritual shot in the arm. Seeing the missionaries eagerly engaged in the learning process gives us hope for the future. We always have a question and answer session at the end of the conference. We learn a lot from the questions they ask. I often get surprised at the spiritual depth these young missionaries have. I always have said there are those among us who are "old souls." They are those who seem to have wisdom far beyond their years. I think it must have something to do with their experiences in the pre-mortal world. We have many of those in our mission; it is a blessing to be taught by them. 

Upolu Central, Apia and Southeast Zones

Upolu Northwest and Northeast Zones

Savaii West, North and Southeast Zones

Tutuila West and East Zones

The Beginning of the Good News

We met with our Mission Leadership Council this week. As always, it is my favorite day of the month. I love these leaders. We do a variety of things during our meeting. We council together about how to improve and how to better support the missionaries.

We developed a new Standard of Excellence this week. Our missionaries will be participating in five service experiences per week. The Samoan people are incredibly generous and do so much to care for our missionaries. They very seldom will allow the missionaries to perform service for them. We decided as a council to watch for spontaneous service opportunities--help someone pull weeds, help someone take their wash off of the line. These service moments don't have to be long. We decided together these kinds of service experiences will bring greater joy for the missionaries and build trust with those they serve.

In an effort to begin to spread the good news. I wrote down some comments from MLC so you can see what remarkable leaders are serving the Lord in Samoa. Each month, the zone leaders study their zone statistics, report on their strengths and weaknesses, and then choose a chapter in Preach My Gospel to focus on for the upcoming month. We asked if they thought these chapters and focusing on them for an entire month were making a difference. Their comments included:
  • "Focusing on a Preach My Gospel chapter helps our missionaries break down the work so it is manageable."
  • "We use Preach My Gospel to address a specific problem. Every missionary question is answered in Preach My Gospel. We need not turn to other sources." 
We talked about helping our missionaries who are struggling. The discussion was full of hope and help and love. Comments by our leaders included:
  • "You can look at leadership as a burden or as an opportunity to serve. When we look at it as an opportunity to serve, the Spirit helps us know exactly what our missionaries need."
  • "In order to give advice, you have to be living it!"
  • "One-hundered percent of the time we have to maintain a higher standard of love, patience and respect for our missionaries."
  • "I love how there is a chapter in Preach My Gospel just about how to become like the Savior. Studying that chapter will help us know how to help our struggling missionaries."
  • "A struggling missionary needs to know he is never alone."
  • "We have to provide the opportunity to change. We also need to allow others to change."
We also asked each zone leader companionship to talk about one missionary in their zone--what have they seen them do that they appreciate and admire? They said:
  • "We saw him and his companion riding their bikes in the rain one day. When we asked them why (because it had been raining all day), he said 'there are people to see!' He is never afraid to stand for what is right."
  • He has a great desire to be a great missionary. He is always trying to use Samoan although he is still learning."
  • "He inspires others by the way he fulfills his calling as district leader."
  • "She is very teachable."
  • "He never complains. He is always enthusiastic. He is getting a great start to his mission."
  • "He has embraced a difficult companion and is making a difference for him."
  • "We have been inspired by how prepared he was to serve a mission. He is quiet and humble, but powerful."
  • "He is positive in every situation and is eager to learn what it takes to become a good missionary."
  • "He is always asking, 'How can I help?' He takes charge as a leader."
  • "He is conscientious about his studies. His area is very hard, but he never complains."
So, you see the good news is everywhere. These leaders teach me and lift me. I am grateful for what they see and how they want to help. They love the missionaries they serve. They embody the statement made by President Uchtodorf recently, " God loves us deeply, perfectly and everlastingly." Because they see other missionaries through His eyes, they see the love that He has for them and, with that understanding, serve them the way He would serve.

Mission Leadership Council May 2015

The Plan

In the Missionary Handbook it states that leaders are to "represent the mission president in carrying out his plans for the mission." As part of our leadership training, we asked our leaders if they know what our plan includes. We were pleased that they were able to quickly list much of our vision and plan. Their list included:

  • Create and support a culture of obedience because we love the Savior
  • Follow the Missionary Handbook
  • Share the good news
  • Develop a stronger testimony of the Book of Mormon
  • Live by the Mission Statement
  • Become a Preach My Gospel missionary
  • Be healthy-spiritually and physically
  • Improve temporal well-being 
  • Help others to find true conversion
  • Become master teachers and teach by the Spirit
  • Become dignified missionaries
  • Strive to achieve the Standards of Excellence every week
  • Listen to every opinion

The Missionary Handbook continues: "Opportunities to lead other missionaries should never be treated lightly. Missionary leaders should always remember that their loyalty is first to the Lord, then to their mission president, then to missionaries." 

It is a blessing to a mission to have strong leaders who understand that "their goal is not merely to supervise or motivate, but to lift, encourage, inspire, and bless." (Missionary Handbook)

"Jesus . . . said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." (Mathew 20:25-28)

We are grateful for leaders who minister to those they lead. They give their lives to this work through their goodness, steadiness and faithfulness. Many of them feel inadequate and yet rise to the sacred trust of leadership. They learn as they work and come to understand that the best way to lead is to serve. 

Tutuila Leaders 

Spread the Good News

I used to tell my own kids when they were at home that the "mother grapevine was alive and well." They knew it meant that I would eventually find out what they were up to through the mothers of their friends. It worked, and it worked well.

There is a healthy and hardy grapevine in this mission, although President Tolman and I don't seem very connected to it quite like when I was a mother. News travels from missionary to missionary faster than the speed of light when something happens. It seems to move faster when it is bad news. We started our leadership training this month. When we were in Savai'i, one of our zone leaders said that he felt it was vital that as leaders we support the righteous decisions of the missionaries we serve. It led to a discussion about looking for the good things that happen in the mission and talking about those instead of the negative.

We asked for examples of good experiences when we were in Savai'i and then again here in Upolu. (Tutuila leadership training is the end of this week.) It was incredibly strengthening to hear missionaries talking about other missionaries and the good that they see in them. One missionary talked about the courage of another as he stood alone in a setting in which he was asking everyone there to make a better choice. One talked about zone leaders who say "we love you" every time they talk on the phone. One talked about the strength that is shared through another's ability to bring happiness and positivity to every situation. There were others, but I think you get the idea. I am deeply grateful that they could find the positive and share it openly.

It got me thinking about our tendency as humans in this fallen world to look for the negative instead of the positive. Why is that? I am sure there are many reasons why we tend to see the negative, but I like this explanation: "The brain gives more attention to negative experiences over positive ones because negative events pose a chance of DANGER." That seems reasonable to me. What seems to be more important though is that we don't get stuck in the negative cycle. Somehow we must look for, find, and hold to the positive. After all, isn't that what the Savior wants and expects of us? The last part of the thirteenth Article of Faith states, "If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things." There it is; the commandment to see things that are virtuous, lovely, of good report and praiseworthy. Those things still exist in the world. Do we seek them?

We have worked hard to develop a culture of obedience in our mission. It is now time to also develop a culture of finding and talking about the good things that happen. I often like to ask the missionaries "what would happen in our mission if . . .." I neglected to ask them "what would happen if our grapevine is only full of the good news?" I like to think we will have happier missionaries. I like to think they will be more motivated to choose good and do good because it is what we all are talking about. I know they will be better representatives of the Savior because they will carry love in their hearts for their fellow missionaries. I know they will be blessed in their work because the joy of finding the good in others will be seen by those they teach and touch. I know the work will feel lighter because the Spirit will attend them as they make room for Him because they focus on the positive.

The Book of Mormon tells a story of a missionary, Ammon, who is overcome with joy in the work of God. "Behold, this is joy which none receiveth save it be the truly penitent and humble seeker of happiness." (Alma 27:18.) Humble seekers of happiness see God's hand in their lives. Humble seekers of happiness find happiness even when things look hard and dark. Humble seekers of happiness change the conversation from bad to good. Humble seekers of happiness know that through Christ all things are possible. Humble seekers of happiness find the good in everyone, celebrate others' goodness, and spread the good news!

Zone Leaders and District Leaders in Savai'i

Sister Training Leaders, Assistants, Zone Leaders, and District Leaders in Upolu

They Just Keep Coming

It is thrilling to continue to see missionaries commit to His work. We received a new group this week. They are excited! They will bless the mission and many in Samoa. Check the Life with Missionaries page for more pictures!

We also said good-bye to two incredible missionaries. These Elders stayed faithful during difficult times and challenges. It was hard to see them go. I am sure they will use this mission experience to bless the lives of their families and friends.

Fully Consecrated

Bishop Causse said of missionaries, "Consecrated missionaries are not content with just conforming to the mission rules. They are not servants who must be commanded in all things. They work with zeal and do 'many things of their own free will' to accomplish the Lord's work. They are not satisfied with a reasonable effort, but work to the very limits of their strength. They understand that success comes after the trial of their faith, often at the last minute, or at the last door, or at the end of a long and exhausting day. When missionaries are fully consecrated, they forget themselves. They do not look back to their former lives. They are not casual or frivolous because their hearts and spirits are entirely turned toward the glory of God and the well-being and salvation of others."

That is quite a statement about 18, 19 and 20 year old Elders and Sisters. Is it possible? Speaking from experience, I can say it is possible. It is an amazing process to watch. Each quarter, as we repeat our calendar of interviews, trainings and conferences, we see the change. We see them go from scared and worried to powerful and committed. We find them doing hard things with a smile and energy. We hear in their voices their earnest desire to live a life fully and completely committed to Him and His work.

I often wonder what they will think at the end of their missions. Will they look back with regret or with complete peace knowing that they have given everything possible to the Lord. I often wonder that about myself, too. This assignment truly is the hardest thing we have ever done. We all fight the "natural man" as we work to become consecrated missionaries. We all have challenges that sometimes feel too big and too hard. And yet, in the middle of it all, there is God standing shoulder to shoulder with all of us. How would we ever accomplish any of this work without Him? When missionaries learn to do His work in His way is when they become fully consecrated. And in the process, they come to really know Him.

Bishop Causse continued, "Any disciple of Christ can legitimately ponder the questions 'Am I obedient enough? Am I lacking anything?' Our belonging to the Church requires more from us than simply being obedient and faithful members. We must be ready to submit ourselves to even higher laws that will prepare us for exaltation." This growth towards consecration takes time and effort. It takes prayer and pleading. It takes humility and confidence in God. It takes letting go and holding tight to His will and His light. And if you ever wonder whether consecrating your life to God is worth it, just look into the eyes of a consecrated missionary!

Besides finishing interviews, we held Mission Leadership Council. Following are photos. I regret that I didn't get one group's picture; I was sick that day. We also had a change in assistants. Elder Hodges was very much needed in another area of the mission. We welcome Elder Smith.

Upolu Apia Zone

Upolu Nuumau District

Upolu North District

Upolu Apia District

Upolu Central Zone

Upolu Faleasiu and Malie Districts

Mission Leadership Council



Missionaries are interesting creatures. What they do is pretty remarkable, but they are, after all, still kids in a lot of ways.

The missionary handbook states: "Strive to fulfill what the President of the Church expects of you, as expressed in your call letter: 'You have been recommended as one worthy to represent the Lord as a minister of the restored gospel. You will be an official representative of the Church. As such, you will be expected to maintain the highest standards of conduct and appearance by keeping the commandments, living mission rules, and following the counsel of your mission president. You will also be expected to devote all of your time and attention to serving the Lord, leaving behind all other personal affairs. As you do these things, the Lord will bless you and you will become an effective advocate and messenger of the truth.'" That is a lot to expect of an 18/19 year old, but they do it day in and day out.

We have tried to help our missionaries understand that flashing signs in pictures is not maintaining the highest standards of conduct. That may seem like a little thing to some of you, but think about where those pictures go. I wonder how many missionary pictures are posted on social media in a day, and as Elder Bednar taught: "We should remember that the Internet never forgets. Anything you communicate through a social media channel indeed will live forever-even if the app or program may promise otherwise. Only say it or post it if you want the entire world to have access to your message or picture for all time." Signs mean different things in different places of the world. Just search the web; I think you will be shocked.

As representatives of the Lord, we need to be mindful of what we are saying when we flash a sign. What the world thinks of the Church, and surely the Church's missionaries, is driven by what they see missionaries doing in pictures posted online. I am so proud of our missionaries; they have caught the vision of this. I never have to remind them anymore. I still see pictures posted that were taken by someone else's camera and there are signs, but for the most part we are getting there. I am thrilled when I see a picture that I have not taken and our missionaries are portrayed as effective advocates and messengers of truth.

I have wondered about what this means in a global sense. What would happen if all of us who claim we are disciples of Christ appeared as His disciple in every post and every picture? Can you imagine the goodness that would flood the earth if we were mindful of Him just in pictures? It reminds me of Alma and his series of questions in Alma 5 of the Book of Mormon. One of the questions he asks teaches volumes about how we represent the Savior. He asks, "I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?" I see that image over and over again as I look into the faces of earnest missionaries who are staving to represent Him and His truth.

April is interview month. We have been to Tutuila and Savai'i. President Tolman spends all day for ten days doing interviews. It is a joy to listen to him talk about how our missionaries are growing and changing and becoming true disciples of Jesus Christ. It is a blessing to witness!

Aren't they magnificent representatives?


I love the new Easter video by the Church. In case you missed it, you can view it here. I have seen our missionaries cry out, call out, reach out for the Savior. I have witnessed as they have found Him. I have seen them understand that it does not matter who they are or who they were, He is here. I see His influence reflected in the faces of His missionaries in the good, the bad, and the in-between. They see in their work He is here no matter who you are or who you were. They know there are no exceptions, no lost causes. He is here in all times and in all places. It is required of us is to find Him.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie offered this sobering counsel, "Now, the atonement of Christ is the most basic and fundamental doctrine of the the gospel, and it is the least understood of all our revealed truth. Many of us have a superficial knowledge and rely upon the Lord and his goodness to see us through the trials and perils of life. But if we are to have faith like Enoch and Elijah, we must believe what they believed, know what they knew, and live as they lived. May I invite you to join with me in gaining a sound and sure knowledge of the Atonement."

I do not understand how, but I know that Christ atoned for each of us individually. We have much evidence in scripture that He touched and healed individually. He invited the remnant of the people in the Book of Mormon to feel His wounds one-by-one. He washed the disciples feet one-by-one. He healed infirmities one-by-one. Somehow in the Garden of Gethsemane, He suffered for our sins and felt our burdens one-by-one. And one-by-one he will redeem us, perfect us, and resurrect us.

We invited the mission leaders at our most recent Mission Leadership Council to find a way to guide the missionaries they serve to a greater and expanded view of the atonement and resurrection of the Savior. It seems to be the least we can do because He lives.

As we study, ponder and pray about the atonement, we will more fully appreciate Him and His life and magnificent sacrifice. President Howard W. Hunter gave this promise, "As we come to understand His mission and the atonement which He wrought, we will desire to live more like Him." There is nothing more important for our missionaries and those they teach to understand because in this understanding we open our hearts to His grace to truly change who we are.

Because He lives, He forgives and saves and succors. What do we have to give because He lives? How will we find Him? He rose the third day! Because He lives, we also will live. What a glorious miracle it is!

Mission Leadership Council-April 2, 2015

18 In; 16 Out

It is hard to believe another six weeks has come and gone. I neglected to get a group picture of the new group, but you can see their individual pictures on the Life with Missionaries page. It is such a incredibly busy week; I am surprised I remember to do much of anything. We are grateful they have chosen to serve. We look forward to great things and many blessings for them and because of them.

We said good-bye to sixteen missionaries who will now go back and bless lives by their growth and conversion to the gospel. I know for many of them the transition home will be harder than the transition into the mission field. Adjusting to the world, while "holding the ground" (Jeffrey R. Holland) they have won, can be challenging. Families and friends, you can help them by allowing them to be different than before they left. You can help them by not inviting them to do things that are now not in accordance with who they want to be. You can help them by allowing them to lead and following their examples. For those who have made great changes, they may not be recognizable to some of you. Celebrate their goodness, their conversion, and the light they bring with them. When they leave, I am always reminded of the line from Star Wars, "I have felt a great disturbance in the force . . .." It is hard to lose their strength, their leadership and their determination to do good and be good.

Departing Missionaries

We also said good-bye to one of our assistants, Elder Moe. It is with heavy hearts that we send him home. He has been a warrior for all that is right and good in a missionary's life. His legacy of great love and leadership will be felt for a long time in the lives of the missionaries he touched and taught.

Elder Reid, Elder Wengert, Elder Moe, Elder Hodges, Elder Suiaounoa on a very humid day!

We welcome Elder Reid! He will bring strength and insight into our efforts to help our missionaries understand who they are and why they are here. Our assistants will be rotating in and out of the office. Two will always be in the field on exchanges blessing the companionships and work of the missionaries. We love having them in the field helping, supporting, counseling and lifting. These young men will be the catalyst for change and growth in the lives of many. We are ever so grateful for them.

We got sad news from home today. Our oldest grandson, Daxton, broke his collar bone. While we yet do not know the extent of the injury and whether he will need surgery or not, it is difficult to be 6000 miles from home when there is crisis. While this is not the first crisis we have faced since being here, and certainly it won't be the last, these prove to be the most challenging pieces of serving a mission. I am learning to wait on the Lord and seek comfort in knowing that He can take better care of them than I can. I wonder if I will ever get better at this, though. I struggle to be still and let Him do His work in my life and the lives of those I hold most dear. This most recent event was caused by the careless actions of another and prevents Daxton from playing on his school volleyball team and yet, he is not angry. His father said of him, "You wouldn't believe how incredible this young man of ours is. He is not mad; he just seems to be letting it all roll of off his back. What did I do to get such an amazing kid? He is naturally good to the core." And he is. Lessons on faith and patience from an injured boy reach and teach his grandmother 6000 miles away. He seems to understand so clearly counsel given by many and spoken so eloquently by Elder Neal A. Maxwell: "The acceptance of the reality that we are in the Lord's loving hands is only a recognition that we have never really been anywhere else."

Join Us!

What would happen to our mission if we all read the Book of Mormon together over the next six months? What would happen if we read the Book of Mormon looking for an answer to a personal question? The missionaries responded in our zone conferences this month with answers like increased faith, unity, greater confidence before God, peace, knowledge, greater capacity to do His work and His will.

I asked the missionaries to share their questions. Here is a sampling:

"What do I need to do to have a happy life?"

"What do I need to do to be an instrument in His hands?"

"What profession should I pursue?"

"Am I ready to do all of the hard things required of me as a missionary?"

"How can the Atonement help me trust God?"

"How can I stay grounded and faith-filled during times of stress?"

"How can I help my family be fully converted?"

"How can I learn to stand alone?'

"How can I keep my spirituality, even in difficult circumstances?"

"How did Jesus Christ fulfill all righteousness? And how can my life change with this understanding?"

"How can the Atonement heal the damage done to the brain caused by addictions?"

"How can I be bold and open my mouth to invite others to come unto Christ?"

The Book of Mormon can answer all of these questions and the 170+ of the other missionaries. The missionaries received a notebook to record their answers. I am looking forward to hearing what they find. I absolutely believe they are correct that all the things they listed will happen in our mission because reading the Book of Mormon changes lives; it is God's direction for all who will listen.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said of the Book of Mormon, "For 179 years this book has been examined and attacked, denied and deconstructed, targeted and torn apart like perhaps no other book in modern religious history--perhaps like no other book in any religious history. And still it stands. Failed theories about its origins have been born and parroted and have died. None of these frankly pathetic answers for this book has ever withstood examination because there is no other answer than the one Joseph gave as its young unlearned translator. In this I stand with my own great-grandfather, who said simply enough, "No wicked man could write such a book as this; and no good man would write it, unless it were true and he were commanded of God to do so."

The Book of Mormon has blessed my life in countless ways. It testifies of the Savior; it brings peace and hope. I have learned for myself that it is the word of God. What an remarkable blessing it is to the world. We heard the sweet witness of one of our missionaries who has read the Book of Mormon four times while serving a mission. It has changed his relationship with God and has given him strength beyond his own.

Please join us; nothing else you do will bless your life more. If you are not a member of our Church and would like to join us in this pursuit, find a missionary and ask for a copy of the Book of Mormon or get a copy here. I would love to hear from you. What is your question?

We love your sons and daughters; they bring life and joy into this mighty work. Thank you for sending them, and for trusting us with them. It is a privilege to watch them grow in confidence and faith.

Savai'i Zone Conference

Savai'i Leadership Training

Tutuila Leadership Training

Tutuila Zone Conference

Upolu Leadership Training

Upolu Zone Conference

Upolu Zone Conference


Heroes are interesting, aren't they? My favorite definition is "a warrior of special strength, courage or ability." We rub shoulders with these warriors all day every day. We spent the last week in leadership training meetings and zone conferences. Spending time learning with missionaries is an experience I will treasure forever. Watching them discover truth and committing to live the life of a disciple gives me a glimpse of how God sees them.

President said to a group of them last week that he would go into any battle with them. We are in a battle for the souls of men. We, like the stripling warriors, are a band of missionaries seeking the fallen and binding their wounds.

These heroes come in every shape, size, nationality and personality. Their heroic acts are as different as they are. For some it was overcoming the challenges of coming on a mission initially. For others it is battling illness while still continuing to seek those who search for truth. For some it is recognizing change that needs to occur in their own lives. For all of them it is acting in faith to follow the path God desires for them and helping others to find His path.

I had some heroes come to my rescue this week. President was on another island overnight and I locked myself out of the house. Our assistants came to my rescue. We couldn't find another key so we had to wiggle a hanger in-between the two doors, hook the handle and pull. That all might sound easy; it was anything but easy. They were persistent and, after many tries, successful! Elder Wengert pulled the handle and then celebrated like he had just won the lottery. We all celebrated! It was a victory over something insignificant; the celebration was fitting to the effort and their tender concern for me.

Last week our assistants showed up at our planning meeting looking like this:

I thought is was pretty clever. They all just happened to have supermen shirts. Little did I know that they would come to my rescue within just a few days. These four missionaries are heroes is the most important ways. They support and guide through their example and love. I am always grateful for their strength and courage. They do hard things and they do it with cheerfulness and "unwearied diligence."

The events of this past week have made me ponder the strength that is impossible to articulate when surrounded by missionaries. Yes, they are young. Yes, some of them do stupid things. Yes, some of them stumble. But there is a palpable feeling of tremendous strength in a group of God's warriors. There is a real sense of their purpose and their bond with each other. And it is extremely interesting to me that their strength is in direct correlation to their obedience. They truly are a reflection of the stripling warriors. "They were exceedingly valiant for courage, and also for strength and activity; but behold, this was not all--they were men who were true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted. Yea, they were men of truth and soberness, for they had been taught to keep the commandments of God and to walk uprightly before him." (Alma 53:20-21)

Sometimes, I struggle when I know they struggle. I worry when they are ill. I fret when they stumble. But, as I watch the Lord work in their lives, I am reminded very clearly that "His ways are not my ways." He is busy in the lives of these missionaries. As they align themselves with His will, He makes heroes out of them!

P.S.  Be sure to check the Life with Missionary Page for pictures from our conferences in Savai'i and Tutuila. Upolu conferences are this week.


We met with our mission leadership this week. It is always a joy to be with them. We truly are grateful for what they do and who they are. 

The Mission Leadership Council

One of the things we discussed this week was our Standards of Excellence. Each mission president has the opportunity to develop and set standards specific to his mission. Several months ago, with the help of the mission leaders, we developed four Standards of Excellence. We call them our BLPP. The missionaries report on their BLPP each week in their letters to the President. 

Samoa Apia Mission BLLP:

B-2 Baptisms per month
L-20 Lessons taught per week
P-7 Planning sessions per week
P-5 Perfect mornings per week

Elder Pearson shared with our missionaries several months ago that it is easy to tell what kind of a missionary someone is by looking at his/her planner. With a good plan, comes a great day. Lessons taught include lessons to members as well as investigators. A perfect morning includes getting up at 6:30, praying, exercising, eating, showering, dressing like a missionary, personal study and companionship study. The standard is five because Sundays and P-days follow a different schedule. The missionaries can still achieve a perfect morning on those days; they just look different for each companionship. 

It has been exciting to see the missionaries responding to these Standards. Many, many of our missionaries exceed these standards every single week. We have witnessed a direct correlation in their success and their happiness when they achieve the Standards. I think most of it comes from knowing that the effort is what really counts. We can't always be perfect in performance, but we can always be perfect in effort. Even those who may fall short on lessons or baptisms can look to their planning and their perfect mornings and know they are doing all that they can. It is in those times when we work hard and fall short that our faith is stretched and we turn more sincerely to the Lord. 

We found these BLPP missionaries at a Stake Conference today!

I often wonder if we as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints forget the constant nature of the help we receive from our Heavenly Father. We learn in 2 Nephi 25:23 (Book of Mormon), "For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." I fear that we focus too intensely on the "after all we can do" part, believing that His grace and help will finish off what we have so earnestly tried to accomplish. Is it possible that we are reading it wrong? Do we miss the true meaning? Could the meaning be that "after all," you can never do enough and without Him we will never be enough? Elder Todd D. Christofferson explained, "After here does not refer to a sequence or chronology. It means beyond or above. The Lord will provide all that is needed beyond our capacity to accomplish in repenting and becoming reconciled to God. His aid is not reserved or delayed until the end, but is constantly with us in the journey." I am blessed to witness His aid in the lives of our missionaries even and most often when they struggle. 

Elder Christofferson continues, "I am under no illusion that this can be achieved by our own efforts alone without His very substantial and constant help. We do not need to achieve some minimum level of capacity or goodness before God will help-divine aid can be ours every hour of every day, no matter where we are in the path of obedience. But I know that beyond desiring His help, we must exert ourselves, repent, and choose God for Him to be able to act in our lives consistent with justice and moral agency. My plea is simply to take responsibility and go to work so there is something for God to help us with."

As missionaries go to work and take responsibility in achieving the Standards of Excellence, God makes up what they lack. I see it every single day here without exception. Nephi had it right when he said, "I will go and do as the Lord has commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, SAVE HE SHALL PREPARE A WAY FOR THEM that they may accomplish the thing which he commanded them." Is that not the most amazing thing? God asks us to do something and then prepares a way through his grace to achieve what He has asked! We simply must be willing.