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Beckoned to bless: Serving at any age

Mary Alice Hansen had ample reason to find a comfortable rocking chair and curl up with a good book 24 years ago. At age 78 she suffered her share of aches and pains and had a storehouse of memories of a life well lived.
Yet the restless urge to bless others beckoned until she found herself serving as a host in the Church Office Building as well as a worker in the Latter-day Saint Humanitarian Center.
Photo by Jason Olson/Deseret Morning NewsStanding beside the tractor on the Church Welfare Farm in Nephi Utah are Clark Green left Maurice Memmott and Heber C. Taylor. Despite years of service age and health each returns come planting and harvest season.
She served in both capacities many times during the week for several decades until one day when she was 99 years old she fell and broke her hip and wrist.
We thought this was it said Barbara Despain who oversees hosting in the Church Office Building and Relief Society Building on the Church complex.
But Sister Hansen returned less than three months later — walking without a cane. Sister Hansen continued to serve until she was released May 18 at age 102.
She just loves to serve said Sister Despain.
Serving a full-time mission wasnt an option for Sister Hansen at that age. But she was someone who like President Gordon B. Hinckley has said still had lots of tread left. So she chose a Church service mission.
Even though there are approximately 12000 serving around the world when compared with the number who are eligible to serve the Church Service Mission may be one of the better kept secrets in the Church.
There are so many opportunities said Elder Blaine P. Jensen who directs the Church Service Missionary program with the administrative assistance of his wife Clarice.
It gives people from age 19 and older an opportunity to serve who cannot serve full-time missions. It blesses with activity in the Church. What makes it a particular blessing is that they live at home while serving part-time from eight to 32 hours a week.
Missionaries are required to be temple worthy physically and emotionally able to perform their duties and able to support themselves financially. Minimum age is 19 years but there is no upper age limit.
Church service missions do not require the same level of health as full-time missions and can often accommodate poorer health including those who use wheelchairs and those somewhat emotionally impaired.
Missionaries donated 9.1 million hours of service in 2005 which would tally $635 million in the business world. Opportunities around the world are increasing. Where once most Church service mission opportunities would be centered close to the headquarters of the Church many national and international opportunities now exist.
Sister Shirley McAffee greets a visitor from one of the many tour groups to visit the Family History Library.
A weekly listing is posted on the Church web site: lds.org. Applicants chose a position with the bishops assistance. The bishop then contacts the listed department to determine availability. Applicants will be interviewed by their bishop stake president and a representative from the Church department.
When approval is granted the missionary will receive the calling from the stake president who will assign the bishop to set apart the individual.
While serving a full-time mission is encouraged as the first option Im amazed at how many opportunities there are continued Elder Jensen. I didnt have an appreciation of the magnitude and the greatness of the opportunities to serve he said.
The challenge facing many he said is that people dont always see the opportunities around them to serve.
Some opportunities might require specific skills and background others more spiritual qualities.
Elder Jensen told of a need that the Church recently had to conduct an environmental study. Such studies require specific knowledge and skills not found in the general populace. About that time a member from Idaho who had spent his life working in the forestry industry conducting ecological studies walked through the door asking if there were any needs for his skills. He is now conducting a survey for the Church while his wife uses her skills as a teacher.
It was a perfect fit said Elder Jensen. It happens just like that over and over again.
A couple in the Provo Missionary Training Center attends to the needs of the newly called couples who come prior to serving humanitarian missions. Many couples have a number of details to take care of when they arrive said Elder Jensen. Humanitarian missions can be demanding requiring specific training and often a calming voice of reassurance.
This couple attends to those details so these couples can apply themselves to learning their duties. They also help the new couples grow in their confidence to serve.
The landscaping around Temple Square and the Church complex are Eden-like said Elder Jensen. Several times a year as the seasons change there is a flurry of activity by Church Service Missionaries who serve as gardeners.
Nobody understands how hard we work in the sun one missionary told Sister Jensen.
Its these missionaries — such as one sister from the southern United States who came here several years ago to serve after her husband died and now works bent over on arthritic knees — that allow people to bask in such beauty said Elder Jensen.
There is J. Melvin Bitter who at near 90 arises at 4 oclock each morning to prepare for his assignment of testing food quality at the Churchs Welfare Square. He works to assure that products are pure tasty and wholesome.
I just want to finish the race well he said.
Photo courtesy Church Service MissionArising early Melvin Bitter spends his day testing food quality at the Churchs Welfare Square.
Jayne Hartman retired from serving as secretary to then-President of the Quorum of the Twelve Spencer W. Kimball when she was 65. I could have stayed home and become a couch potato she mused but felt there was good she could still do.
In June 1983 she volunteered at Welfare Square Employment Resource Center. She has since endured three cornea transplants and suffers from macular degeneration.
Those who dont get involved in serving others are missing some of the best experiences of life she said. Theyre missing getting to know people making friends doing things that help others and experiences that make their lives fuller and happier.
Perhaps some of the greatest unsung work being accomplished is performed by inner city missionaries and those conducting addiction recovery programs said Elder Jensen.
Both programs are expanding to meet the proliferating troubles in society breaking cycles of dependency and ignorance giving new generations a better start in life.
Church Service Missionaries are easily detected Elder Jensen said not because of their attire but because of their countenance. Those living consecrated lives exude a joy that comes no other way.
Church service missionaries assist the many patrons in the Family History Library. For those unable to fill full-time missions a Church service mission offers opportunities to serve while living at home.
Photo by Shaun StahleMary Alice Hansen 102 years old is honored by Barbara Despain and other Church hostesses.
E-mail to: shaun@desnews.com

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