A number of months ago they were invited to the Thatcher Institute at Eastern Arizona College, to speak with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, via a video conference. A week later they visited with President Dieter F. Ucthdorf, of the Presidency of the Church in another video conference, where Danny Merrill was called to serve as a mission president for three years with the location to be determined.
After being told that they would preside over a Portuguese speaking mission for the Church, Danny and Pennie envisioned being called to serve in Portugal or Brazil where Danny had served a mission as a young man. When the letter with their assignment arrived, they were initially surprised to see that they were assigned to labor in Angola, an African country approximately twice the size of Texas, whose official language is Portuguese. That surprise has since turned to excitement as they prepare to start their new responsibilities to lead one of the 58 brand new missions created just a few months ago by the Church. Pennie says, “We look forward to loving and serving with the wonderful Saints in Angola.”We look forward to loving and serving with the wonderful Saints in Angola.
As mission president in the large South African nation, soon to be President Merrill will serve as the presiding authority of The Church of Jesus Christ in a country where the church is still fairly new and relatively small. Currently there are approximately 40 missionaries serving in the Angola Luanda Mission, although more are anticipated. The increased numbers of missionaries are expected because of the recent age change for young missionaries to 18 for men and to 19 for women. President Merrill will teach and train missionaries, counsel local church leaders, and manage the housing and transportation for all the missionaries in Angola. Pennie Merrill will watch over the medical needs for all the missionaries, teach and train missionaries, and fulfill the role of mom away from home for all the missionaries in their care.
One of the challenges they said they will face is learning the language. Although Danny learned Portuguese when he served as a young missionary in Sao Paulo, the dialect used in Angola varies greatly from the Portuguese spoken in Brazil. For Pennie the language is completely new. To prepare, they have been participating in individualized 50 minute SKYPE tutor sessions three times per week to get them ready for their upcoming service.
Missions require sacrifice. In addition to leaving their business they will be a long way from their friends and family. All of their six children, 4 girls and 2 boys, attended school in Clifton and Morenci. Their children and their families have lived nearby them adding to a very close relationship that they have with each of them and their 22 grandchildren, ages 7 months to 14 years. Bidding farewell to them, especially the 4 grand babies born just last year, will be difficult although their children and grandchildren are excited about grandma and grandpa serving a mission. The Merrills are grateful for modern day technology and the ability that they will have to SKYPE with their children and grandchildren while they are in Angola.
Throughout their lives they have devoted much of their time as volunteers serving in the church. Brother Merrill, an assistant ward clerk, temple ordinance worker and ward mission leader, is a former stake president, bishop, ward Young Men president, seminary teacher and missionary in the Brazil Sao Paulo North Mission. Sister Merrill, a ward Relief Society president and temple ordinance worker, is a former family history center director, counselor in stake and ward Young Women presidencies, ward Primary president and Sunday School teacher. “But,” Pennie said, “of all the experiences, jobs and callings I have had; I love most just being a Mom and a Grandma.”
The Merrills will receive training in Utah at the end of June and will start their three year tenure in July as a Mission President and “Mission Mom” in a country they may never have thought of visiting, if it wasn’t for their firm belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ and their enthusiastic desire to serve the good people of Angola.
Assistant Director of Public Affairs
Southern Arizona Public Affairs Council
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints