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More missionary couples are urgently needed to strengthen the Church in developing areas in the United States and other countries, according to the Missionary Department.

Although the number of couples has generally remained constant, the Church has entered additional countries in recent years, and more couples are now required than previously. Also, in countries where the Church is well established, the membership is growing and experienced leadership is often not available.According to department spokesmen, some 350 couples are needed to fill vacancies now existing in many areas.

Elder L. Aldin Porter of the Presidency of the Seventy and executive director of the Missionary Department, said:

"Marvelous spiritual blessings come to those who labor in the work of the Lord. This is particularly true for couples, who willingly sacrifice the familiar surroundings of home to accept a call from the prophet and assignment made by one of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve to serve in the mission field, where they are desperately needed.

"Countless missionaries, old and young, have borne testimony of the life-changing experience of missionary service. We hope that all retired couples whose circumstances might permit them to serve will prayerfully seek the Lord for a confirmation that they are needed to assist in His work throughout the world."

Sherman M. Crump, managing director of the Missionary Department, said the number of couples serving has remained about 1,600-1,700, but the Church really needs many more because "the growth of the Church has multiplied the need for couples."

"We know that one of the great concerns of couples is that they fear they will have to go door-to-door tracting. But seldom, and only by personal preference, do they participate in door-to-door tracting. Instead, it is very possible that they will work in basic leadership/proselyting assignments."

Pres. Paul R. Sampson of the Canada Toronto West Mission is representative of mission leaders facing a shortage of couples. He said his mission is authorized to have eight couples but could use a dozen. He now has five couples serving.

"We find tremendous success with these couples in several areas," he said. "In some cases we use them as friendshippers with the investigators of the young missionaries. They help strengthen the testimonies of investigators. Another area where they have been very successful is working with less-active members. Some of these people need almost the same spirit as investigators.

"Couples teach the missionary lessons and the new member lessons. These couples are mindful of referrals and they have some success teaching non-member friends and relatives of the less-active members."

Couples in the Toronto West mission are assigned to help branches where members may have strong testimonies but not always a depth of leadership, continued Pres. Sampson.

He said the sisters in the Relief Society are strengthened as they learn principles of that organization from the wife of the missionary couple. Men in the priesthood quorums gain more understanding of their callings from the husband.

"We find that couples, in a very special way, are able to support and add depth to our young missionaries. Just having the couples there to attend the district and zone meetings brings the influence of the Spirit.

"We just love having these couples, for these and many other reasons."

And couples enjoy their missions, said Elder Kent L. and Ann R. Johansen of the Salt Lake Holladay 26th Ward, serving in the proselyting and leadership area in the Florida Ft. Lauderdale Mission.

"We have so many blessings we felt it was time to try to pay the Lord back," said Sister Johansen.

Missionary work isn't easy, she said. "You have to leave your comfort zone . . . but it is rewarding."

She and her husband serve in Belle Glade, Fla., on the south banks of Lake Okeechobee, where they are assigned to a branch with a membership of more than 200 and an average attendance of 40. The Johansens are working to improve home teaching and reactivation. They also handle referrals obtained through the media.

"We just visit and visit and visit, trying to show that the love of the gospel can bring peace in their lives," said Sister Johansen.

"It is rewarding to see a few of these people coming out," Elder Johansen said. They also find meaningful rewards as they help in community service by volunteering at an adult public education center.

A neighboring missionary couple, Elder Ken and Sister Carol Scott of Cameron Park Ward, El Dorado California Stake, serve on the north side of the lake. The Scotts also work in reactivation efforts. Before each missionary lesson, they often sing "I Am a Child of God." "After we sing the song, one of the less-active members is sometimes willing to pray. As we start the lesson, the Spirit is so strong some of them have tears in their eyes," he said.

Elder Fred and Sister Jean Smith of the Alpine (Utah) 7th Ward, are serving their second mission, this one in Palm Desert, part of the California Riverside Mission. Elder Smith is a former bishop, and his wife served three times as Relief Society president.

"We concentrate on less-active and part-member families," said Elder Smith. He said the closest thing to tracting they do is searching for members in the ward directory. "When we get into the home of a less-active family, we start teaching and start bringing them back into activity. We've had a lot of baptisms in this area; we do nearly as well as the elders do."

He and Sister Smith said they hoped more couples would serve.

"If only couples would realize that there is so much couples can do on a mission," said Sister Smith.