Alan and Ruth Anderson of Vail, Arizona, are just like many of their neighbors. They worked hard, raised their family, served in their church, and after years of preparation, finally retired. Looking back at their life-long efforts, they were ready for a new chapter in their lives. “We had this desire to give back, while we still had the physical capacity to serve our fellow men,” explained Ruth. “We have been very moved by the example of other people who have gone out to serve.”
So the Andersons, members of the Vail Ward, Rincon Stake, volunteered to be missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When they said they’d go anywhere, they were thinking maybe Texas, Mexico or maybe Australia—surely someplace with a Costco! “You can imagine our shock, opening up the letter and seeing that our assignment was to support humanitarian efforts in Kazakhstan for 18 months. We spent the next 18 months in countries with names we couldn’t even pronounce!”
They admit that several times they felt scared, second-guessed their decision, and even considered pulling out. After all, they would be leaving family and friends, trying to learn a new language, and adapting to zero-degree weather. But they decided they would serve and go where they were needed, recalling an old adage: “Service is seldom convenient.”
“We feel like our lives have been so blessed,” Alan said. “As Christians, we felt like we still had a lot to give and the energy to do it. It’s not that we had a lot of money, but if we waited until we had the money to do it, we might not have the health, so we decided to make the sacrifices now to help make a difference in the lives of others.”
The following is a summary of some of the projects with which they were involved, all of which are funded by donations to the Church’s humanitarian aid fund.
- Partnered with a local service service organization, a minister of health, and American specialists to obtain hundreds of wheelchairs to be customized for handicapped and aged people.
- Delivered hearing aids to hearing-impaired people.
- Provided an electroencephalogram machine to a children’s hospital.
- Provided materials and helped with midwife training in neonatal resuscitation training. Doctors and others trained in previous trainings were among the teachers this time.
- At the local hospital, where 30 babies are born every day, they had 12 delivery rooms and only one suction device to aid in birth. The Church was able to purchase and deliver 5 new machines.
- Provided musical toys for a school for handicapped children. The children had prepared a program before their guests arrived, which they performed…followed by a second, impromptu show using their new instruments.
- Placed magnification and other equipment to help vision-impaired patrons use a library.
- Helped people learn English. At one point they had 60 people attending their meetings.
- Provided winter boots and clothing for needy children.
- Provided clothing and support to children who have reached age 18 and must leave orphanages.
They were also involved in setting up many more projects that will be completed by other missionaries.
- Another wheelchair and prosthetic project.
- A hair salon for the handicapped.
- Embroidery and sewing machines for manufacturing businesses staffed by handicapped workers.
- A computer and printer for a school.
- Physical therapy equipment for the benefit of special needs people.
- A dryer for a facility that aids victims of human trafficking.
- Housing and an industry for those 18-year-old orphans.
- And of course, more wheelchairs.
The Andersons said, “We do this because we follow the example of the Savior. You don’t have to be a doctor…. There are so many things people can do to support these doctors and other specialized people, if they are just willing to serve.” And the bonus is that they learn to love the people and build lasting relationships.
They have much good to say about Kazakhstan. When they talked to the couple who will be replacing them., “we told [them]…that they have hit the jackpot. It will be a great experience for them.”
As for the Andersons, they are far from finished. They volunteered again. In June they will be reporting to Sendai, Japan to serve as member leadership missionaries.