Perhaps the challenges of missionary work have never been as complex as they are today with 255 missions in the ever-changing circumstances that encircle the globe.
However, the new mission presidents who will begin service July 1 in the United States and 42 other countries approach their task with a wealth of Church experience. Many will come to the task with an international background.The new leaders will attend the annual Mission Presidents Seminar June 19-22 at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. There, rubbing shoulders with missionaries who are also new, they will be instructed by General Authorities in their new responsibilities.
The single charge of missionaries and mission presidents is to invite all to "come unto Christ." It is an invitation extended to people in a variety of circumstances - from those with advanced technologies to those who live in third world countries. The invitation may be uttered in an obscure native dialect or an international language of diplomacy, along a dusty road in Africa or at a castle in Europe. Regardless of the circumstances, the missionaries' goal is to make it spiritual and effective.
Faced with the challenge of administering this work is a group of 124 mission leaders, the largest ever called and assembled, who will lead nearly half of the Church's 255 missions.
Twenty-nine new missions were created this year, including nine in the changing face of continental Europe. Nine others were created in Latin American countries, where 24 of the new presidents are from.
A glimpse of this year's mission presidents shows that a typical mission president from the United States is an educator in his 60s who has served in a stake presidency.
A typical leader from another country is employed by the Church, has served as a regional representative, and is in his mid- to late-40s.
The presidents represent a remarkably high education level. About half - some 59 - have either masters degrees or doctorates while another 49 have either bachelor's degrees or received schooling at the university level.
They also have broad experience in Church leadership. Seventeen have served as regional representatives, and 70 have served as stake presidents or stake presidents' counselors, while others have served on high councils, or as stake mission leaders. Many have been bishops.
Others, however, list `home teacher" as one of their most important callings.
The oldest is 68 and the youngest is half that age at 34. Family size ranges from no children to 11 children. Regardless of their differences, they each have severed ties with home for three years to reside within the boundaries of a distant mission.
This glimpse of presidents also gives evidence of the developing leadership in other countries. A number of these countries have become nearly self-sufficient in mission presidents. This year, Mexico provided seven mission leaders and required presidents for eight missions. Brazil provided six new presidents, and required seven. Uruguay, which had no requirements for a mission president this year, provided four.
Among the new presidents from the Asia area is Makoto Fukuda, 54, a convert since 1952 who has served as stake president twice. A businessman, he is president of a life insurance company in Tokyo.
He will return to Sendai, where he was baptized in 1952 with his brother, Atsushi. The two young men were stalwarts in the tiny Sendai Branch, said Richard M. Austin, a missionary at the time. Later, Brother Fukuda became counselor to then-Pres. Yoshihiko Kikuchi of the Japan Tokyo North Stake, and succeeded him as president when Elder Kikuchi became a General Authority.
Now he, like the other presidents, will supervise a work built on the foundations provided by the faith of leaders before them.