For two families in Highlands Ranch, their summer travel plans do not come with a week or two return date, nor a promise of rest and poolside relaxation. For both Mike & Debbie Rush and Chris & Sheryn Thomas, on Saturday, June 22 they reported for a 3-year volunteer mission trip. Mike and Chris have been called to serve as mission presidents for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with their wives serving as their companions. Both couples will be serving in separate parts of Mexico City.
On a day-to-day basis the supervising couples oversee not only the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of their own families, but also assume responsibility for each of the missionaries assigned to their area, which is usually about 160 at a time. For example, individual missionaries arrive and depart at approximately six-week intervals, as they begin or conclude their two-year period of service. Each missionary is personally attended to, oriented to the mission environment, and then assigned to a companion. By the end of their missions, each couple will have served with 500-600 missionaries.
Both the Thomases and Rushes are grateful for this opportunity to serve. “This is not a position for which we applied or which we otherwise pursued,” Sheryn explains. Nevertheless, after the leadership of the Church approached them about the possibility, she reports that they “felt strongly that this was a journey [they] would like to pursue.”
Mission presidents typically begin service July 1, after being given about 6-9 months’ notice to prepare. This is their time to train, study, and take care of all arrangements at home. Rush leaves a job as Head of Global Health Policy & Advocacy for Zebra/Temptime – a biomedical device and technology company in the greater NYC area. Thomas is a partner at Ogletree Deakins. Both must also decide what to do with their home and possessions while they’re gone.
What about their families?
“We love and will miss our kids, their spouses, our grandkids, our extended families, and our friends terribly. But we will also love caring for, encouraging, and serving the 500-600 young missionaries from throughout the Americas and the good people of Mexico who we will have stewardship for,” said Debbie.
The Rushes have 3 grandchildren under the age of 4, and four grown children. Their youngest is currently serving an 18-month mission in Barcelona, Spain, and the oldest 3 are married and living throughout the US. Notably, one of the Rush’s sons is married to one of the Thomas’s daughters.
“All of our children have been incredibly supportive of our decision to accept this assignment” Chris and Sheryn Thomas report. They continued, “Our older daughters, Mara and Brenna, have served missions in Chile and Mozambique, respectively, and our third daughter, Jessica, is currently serving a Spanish speaking mission in San Jose, CA.” For the youngest child who is still in high school, the situation is a bit different. “For Justin, this mission experience will lead to uncharted territory. He is making a big sacrifice,” Chris and Sheryn acknowledge, “and he will be skipping his senior year at Thunderridge High School.” The combination of leaving his friends in Highlands Ranch and moving into an unknown environment has proven to be somewhat overwhelming. And yet, they add, “Despite those concerns, Justin has decided to trust that God is interested in the details of his life, and that He has prepared something wonderful for him in Mexico.”
Though they might feel underqualified to take on such a task in so many respects, all newly called Mission Presidents and their wives are being fully trained to do their best. Chris and Mike, who both served Spanish speaking missions as young adults, start off on a strong foundation, having the language requirement met. Debbie and Sheryn, however, have been taking Spanish classes weekly with a tutor from the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, UT. The couples also participate in weekly discussions with a tutor based out of the MTC around the book Preach My Gospel, the manual for all missionaries for the restored Church of Jesus Christ. An intensive, four-day seminar is held near the end of June, which marks the end of the couples’ formal training.
Why do they do it? Their answers are simply focused on their faith in Jesus Christ and belief in His restored gospel.
Mike asserts, “We take seriously the charge that the Savior gave to Peter and His other disciples when He said: “Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s…But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time…and in the world to come eternal life.” Mark 10:29-30
He continues, “Some people who we truly admire here in Highlands Ranch, the Ludwigs, served in this same capacity a number of years ago. They shared that they learned that “a sacrifice is not a sacrifice unless it’s a sacrifice.” And while leaving career and family and friends and home for 3 years is, indeed, a sacrifice, we love the Savior and are grateful for His sacrifice for all of mankind. So we would ultimately do whatever He and His servants ask us to do.”
“We love our Savior, Jesus Christ,” Chris and Sheryn explain, “and look forward to serving Him and His children in Mexico City.” While all have had moments of feeling inadequate for this type of position, they have also asserted that “with the support of our Redeemer, we can accomplish the work before us.”