After working for 13 years with the Church's Information and Communication Services (ICS) department, Ralph Howes was looking forward to turning the free time of retirement into full-time service. It wasn’t long before he began filling out papers for a full-time mission. At the same time the Africa Southeast Area Office in Johannesburg was asking for a replacement for their ICS technology specialist missionary. Because his skills were just what Johannesburg needed, a match was made. The Howes entered the MTC in August and were welcomed in Johannesburg by the beginning of September.
Elder Howes found himself in the middle of many ongoing projects including Internet connectivity in meetinghouses, rolling out opportunities to use webcasting, and identifying and supporting Stake Technology Specialists. But in Africa many areas are still too remote to connect to the Internet, and some members were too economically challenged to travel to a central location. Finding solutions to these needs required both high- and low-tech components and ingenuity.
First, media players were installed in remote locations. General conference sessions and other broadcasts were then recorded, downloaded onto thumb drives, copied, and distributed to meetinghouses on foot via “sneaker net” to the entire stake, allowing everyone to hear the voice of prophets and leaders.
Elder Howes helped in a pilot project to make computers more accessible to members in South Africa, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. With training, members are now able to prepare lessons, do schoolwork, perform research, do temple and family history work, and search out employment. These computers also help overcome the challenge faced by many African families who have a missionary in the field. With no reliable postal service, weekly letters home are unheard of, but with meetinghouse computers and a few lessons on email, families are staying connected!
After eighteen months in Africa, Elder Howes is currently serving as a Church-service missionary in the Church’s Temple Department. Does he enjoy using his technical training in the service of the Lord? Yes. He is in the process of filling out papers looking for another full-time missionary opportunity.
For Africa to request an ICS missionary replacement at the exact same time that a 13-year information technology veteran is filling out mission papers can only testify of matches being made in heaven. To ensure that this process can happen again and again, Anna Butler, Field Communications Analyst in the ICS department, is willing to be another hand in the Lord’s work.
“Full-time senior missionaries serving technical missions is fairly new,” Sister Butler said. On the same day that Elder Howes was filling out paperwork for a new mission, Sister Butler was participating in a bi-monthly phone conference with the 14 worldwide area offices, requesting each office to define which ICS needs could be fulfilled by senior missionaries. These area offices are located in Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Ghana, South Africa, Russia, Germany, Hong Kong, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Japan.
Clarifying the role of full-time senior technical missionaries, Sister Butler said, “These missionaries will focus on serving as technology specialists. Just as any area in need uses welfare or family history missionaries, these areas will utilize the technology experience of retired professionals.”
It is one thing to have Church-wide technology needs identified and defined, and a totally separate thing to find qualified professionals to fill those needs as full-time missionaries. Brother Gary and Sister Marilyn Peterson are committed to fulfilling this effort. Having already served full-time missions in Denmark and Nauvoo, the Petersons were excited by the unique opportunity to be pioneers in the technology world of the Church.
One of the first obstacles they addressed was a training program specific to each worldwide area office. Their solution involves a technical training that lasts between three and five days in addition to the traditional training the missionaries receive at the MTC in Provo. “We hope this specific training will help them feel confident as they do the work the Lord needs them to do,” Sister Peterson explained.
The Petersons will be instrumental in helping recruit missionaries. One effort to get the word out was during this summer’s Education Week on the BYU Provo Campus. As attendees discovered what full-time opportunities are available, Elder and Sister Peterson answered questions. Dozens of potential missionaries passed their contact information to the Petersons, and now the process begins for matching the right missionaries to the right corner of the vineyard!
The worldwide technology needs of the Church are varied and suggest exciting opportunities for couple missionaries. While Sister Butler gathers information on the "where" and "what" that needs to be done, and as the Petersons search out "who" is willing to do it, it is hundreds of "Elder Howes" that the Lord needs now.
Stay tuned for more information about these technical opportunities and more for senior missionaries.
LDSTech Missionary Form