Couple describe the missionary tradition of their church
Elders and sisters—known as missionaries—of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints share their love of Jesus Christ by being his hands in serving, teaching and loving, said President Chris and Sister Becky LeBaron.
Called 18 months ago to serve as mission leaders in Spokane, Chris and Becky guide more than 200 elders and sisters serving in North Idaho south to Lewiston, Eastern Washington west to Ritzville and north to Grand Forks, B.C.
Their story gives insight into that program.
Both grew up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—Chris in Sacramento and Salt Lake City, and Becky in Fort Collins, Colo. In the mid-1990s, they met as students at Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho—now Brigham Young University-Idaho.
In 1996, after Becky earned an associate degree in cosmetology, they married and moved to Provo, Utah, where Chris earned a degree in management information systems in the business school at Brigham Young University in 1998.
Chris worked in technology for more than 20 years, including at IBM and Oracle. He was an executive with Salesforce at the time of their call.
The first of their six sons served as a missionary in Argentina, the second in Côte d'Ivoire, the third in Cameroon and New Jersey—returning to the U.S. because of COVID. Their fourth son served in Fort Worth, Texas, before going to South Korea.
An hour after they took him to the airport to go to South Korea, the LeBarons received a call from the church headquarters in Salt Lake City, asking them to meet with the leaders.
"We did not apply. The leaders came to us and asked if we could leave what we were doing to be mission leaders for three years, not saying where we would serve," he said. "The call came from our prophet and Senior Apostle Russell Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints."
Chris explained the church's senior leadership of 15 men in the First Presidency and 12 Apostles is modeled after Christ and his followers.
Becky said elders are men 18 to 24 who serve 24 months, and sisters are women 19 to 23 who serve 18 months.
Their region has 13 areas that align with what the church calls a "Stake." Each stake has six to nine congregations, said Becky, with missionaries serving congregations, along with young, single adults attending area and universities.
Sometimes missionaries are older senior couples or sisters, who serve in the mission office, teach religion classes at a university or help congregations.
Chris said missionaries and sisters, who live in apartments the church rents or members' homes, arise at 6:30 a.m. Until 10 a.m., they study scripture, exercise for 30 minutes, eat breakfast, get ready and plan their day.
Sunday is Sabbath and Monday is a preparation day. From 10 a.m. to noon, Tuesdays to Saturdays, they do service, like serving food at soup kitchens, raking leaves or shoveling snow for elderly people, or helping in a homeless shelter.
At noon, they come home for lunch and an hour of companionship study of Spanish, Marshallese or Swahili to communicate with refugees in Spokane.
After that, they study and read scriptures before they go out to share and teach spiritual messages to invite people to come to Christ, Chris said.
They meet members and friends of the church interested in learning more, people referred by social media or people previously interested in the church. They do less knocking on doors and more meeting and talking with people on the street or in stores, restaurants and parks.
"They meet with anyone who wants to learn more," said Chris.
He then summarized the church's origins when Jesus appeared in North America to the indigenous people.
"Joseph Smith at 14 was confused by the different teachings of many religions. He read in James 1:5 that God answers sincere prayers, so he asked God which church was true," Chris said. "At a grove of trees near his home in Palmyra, N.Y., he prayed. God, the Father, and Jesus Christ appeared.
"This experience and others were his call to be a prophet and gave him the power to translate writings on the gold plates that he found. The contents of these are now in the Book of Mormon. We believe both the Bible and the Book of Mormon to be the Word of God, testifying that Jesus is the Christ," Chris explained.
"Missionaries leave their families for months to dedicate their lives to Jesus Christ," said Chris, recalling his two years in the Netherlands, in contrast to his sons who went to impoverished countries. "The mission builds a foundation in our lives, preparing us to face the world's challenges."
Becky said the experiences were life-changing for their sons.
As an example of how the missionaries work, the LeBarons told of a pre-Christmas project to build beds for homeless people.
Trent shelter after metal beds are set up.
Spokane's mayor told Jennifer Hicks, the church's regional communications director, of the need to build beds for people being moved from Camp Hope to the Trent Resource and Assistance Center, run by the Salvation Army.
The shelter had been given wood-frame beds, but shelter operators realized bedbugs are more likely to infest wood than metal.
"We deployed 116 missionaries to go to the Interstate Fairgrounds to assemble metal bed frames the city and county provided," Chris said. "It shows what we can do as the hands of Christ to bless the lives of the downtrodden.
"They built 350 metal beds—designed with two beds side-by-side with a metal divider between them," he said.
"They assembled the beds in a few hours, but it took the team four days to move the wood beds out and the new ones in, timing their work so as not to displace anyone in the shelter," said Becky.
"What better time to do it than the week before Christmas, when the Savior, Mary and Joseph found no place in the inn," Chris added.
He listed some other projects missionaries have done on their own or with other churches, faiths or groups.
• Before Christmas, they sang at Meals on Wheels Silver Cafes.
• Last spring, they helped Hoopfest with tasks.
• At community events, they help vendors set up booths.
• Last Lent and Easter, they helped Seventh-day Adventists set up and enact "The Journey to the Cross."
• They helped with Red Cross blood drives and cleaned up branches or uprooted trees after storms.
• They ushered for the Coeur d'Alene multi-faith presentation, "Messiah."
• Through English Connect, they offer English classes for refugees from Ukraine, Russia, Latin America and Africa.
Becky said people needing services can sign up at justserve.org.
Chris said elders' and sisters' efforts drew 355 new members last year. There are now 290,000 members in 554 congregations in Washington, which has seven missions, four temples and 97 family history centers.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints arrived in the area in 1854. By 1930, there were 1,900 members. The Spokane Stake started in 1947. The Spokane Temple was built in 1999.
"We want friends in other faiths to understand we are disciples of Jesus Christ, sharing his love in actions every day," Chris said. "We serve anyone who needs helping hands."
In addition to meeting people, they share their message on Facebook @followersofChristPNW and the national website is comeuntochrist.org.
For information, call 294-6804 or email email@example.com.