120 Years Later: The Sister Missionaries from Central Iowa

April 2018 marks the 120th anniversary of the commissioning of the first official single proselyting sister missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To commemorate this anniversary, and to pay respect to the Church’s sister missionaries down through the decades and throughout the world, we present this look at the Latter-day Saint (Mormon) women from Central Iowa who are currently serving God and the human family through full-time volunteer missionary work.

None of these women knew where she would be called to serve, and each serves at her own expense for a period of 18 months. Each of them prepared to serve a mission by attending Sunday School and youth seminary classes, engaging in regular personal scripture study and prayer, serving others, and trying to live Christ’s teachings and develop His attributes. Each of them has put school, career, dating, and other pursuits on hold for 18 months.

Russell M. Nelson, now President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gave a memorable address on missionary service in a worldwide meeting of the Church in October 2012, when he was yet a member of the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “All missionaries,” he said in his address, “serve with the sole hope of making life better for other people.” In these Central Iowa missionaries’ expressions of love and testimony, President Nelson’s words are confirmed.

Madeline Cook

Sister Madeline Cook
Home congregation: Saylorville Young Single Adult Branch, Des Moines Iowa Stake

Mission: Alpine German-Speaking

Madeline is following in the footsteps of her great-grandmother, Elna West Clifford, who as a young adult served in the New England States Mission.

Deciding to serve a mission ended up being the best decision I have ever made! I have noticed in my studies of the Book of Mormon that when there is a hardship, there is also an amazing blessing. That is so true! Heavenly Father loves us so much and wants to bless us!
~ Sister Madeline Cook

Camilla Cox

Sister Camilla Cox
Home congregation: Rock Creek Ward, Des Moines Iowa Stake

Mission: Arizona Tempe

Camilla is following in the footsteps of her great-grandmother, who served a mission in Chicago, Illinois; her great-aunt, who served a mission in Canada; and her aunt, who served a mission in Mississippi.

“However many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.” —Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I have met person after person on my mission who has either forgotten or simply doesn’t know who they are to their Father in Heaven. We often acknowledge that He is our God and our Creator, someone to be treated with respect and awe, but we miss out on the fact that we are not simply God’s creations; we are His children! He loves us! He wants a relationship with us, so He can help us return back home! He loves us so much, He sacrificed His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, so He could lift us and break down all barriers (including the barriers we create for ourselves) that keep us from growing, improving, and becoming something better than we are! It doesn’t matter how undeserving we think we are of that love; we cannot change our divine identity nor the sacrifice that Christ made for us! We are loved beyond measure, and They can reach beyond circumstance to lift us and raise us to where They know we can be! It is not possible for any of us to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ shines! I love you!
~ Sister Camilla Cox

Ashtyn Fiala

Sister Ashtyn Fiala
Home congregation: Raccoon River Ward, Des Moines Mount Pisgah Stake

Mission: Brazil Recife

I am excited to serve the people of Brazil and bring them to Christ.  I know his atoning sacrifice can help every person change and improve to become the best version of themselves.  I love this scripture from the Book of Mormon: “Yea, and even all they who wrought miracles wrought them by faith, even those who were before Christ and also those who were after.” (Ether 12:16)
~ Sister Ashtyn Fiala

Emma Garrett

Sister Emma Garrett
Home congregation: Waukee Ward, Des Moines Mount Pisgah Stake

Mission: Mexico Aguascalientes

I have seen so many miracles this week. I am happier than ever. The work is hard but I love every second. I know that we can chose to be happy no matter the circumstance.  I love just being able to walk around and enjoy Mexico. I so love the people and the culture. I may not come home lol. I can’t wait to share the message of the restored gospel with them. I love them because God loves them. I am grateful every day that I got called to Mexico.
~ Sister Emma Garrett

Ashley Giles-2-cropped

Sister Ashley Giles
Home congregation: Walnut Hills Ward, Des Moines Mount Pisgah Stake

Mission: California San Fernando

My favorite thing about being a missionary is seeing all the miracles that God still does for His children. He’s still a God of miracles and He’s with us every step of the way as we do His work and His will. He’s so good to us. A chapter in the Book of Mormon that has really meant a lot to me recently is 2 Nephi 4. I know that Christ will make us into just the person we need to be if we let Him.
~ Sister Ashley Giles

Olivia Helton

Sister Olivia Helton
Home congregation: Des Moines Ward, Des Moines Iowa Stake

Mission: Spain Barcelona

Olivia is the first sister missionary in her direct line of ancestors, but was inspired by three aunts who served missions: her aunt Leslie Bachelder served in Hungary; her aunt Lara Bachelder served in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania; and her aunt Launa Helton served in France.

Favorite scripture: “And again, ye shall not have pain while ye shall dwell in the flesh, neither sorrow save it be for the sins of the world; and all this will I do because of the thing which ye have desired of me, for ye have desired that ye might bring the souls of men unto me, while the world shall stand. And for this cause ye shall have fulness of joy; and ye shall sit down in the kingdom of my Father; yea, your joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me fulness of joy; and ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father; and the Father and I are one.” (3 Nephi 28:9-10)

We met the woman of my dreams this week. We gave her a lesson on the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and gave her a Book of Mormon. As I held it out to her, offering it as a gift, she began to cry, saying this was the best gift I could’ve ever given her. It turns out, the day she met the missionaries on the street, she was feeling depressed and felt prompted just to stand in the middle of the street. The woman didn’t know why, but seconds later she met us, the sister missionaries. She told us that we were two angels sent by God. In that moment, I knew. I am on the Lord’s errand. I am his representative, finding the people he is preparing. I love this work. I love my God and my Savior, Jesus Christ. We become more than our physical frame through his love and grace.
~ Sister Olivia Helton

Swaesy Johnson

Sister Swaesy Johnson
Home congregation: Ames 1st Ward, Ames Iowa Stake

Mission: Arizona Tucson Spanish-Speaking

I absolutely adore being a missionary. There is no greater joy that I have ever experienced than the joy that I carry with me constantly as a missionary. That joy comes from watching people’s eyes light up when they hear and understand the restored gospel of Jesus Christ for the first time. There are so many people who are searching for what we have and when they find it, they are like little kids in a candy store with a limitless amount they can get. I have seen little changes and great changes in the lives of the people that I get to serve and it is all through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Nothing brings me more happiness than when someone I am teaching finally understands the impact the Atonement can have on their lives and, in turn, teaches me through what they have learned. The gospel is true and I am so grateful to be in this wonderful work.
~ Sister Swaesy Johnson

Celeste Manning

Sister Celeste Manning
Home congregation: Story City Branch, Ames Iowa Stake

Mission: California Bakersfield

I love being a missionary. It has brought me so much joy watching the gospel change lives. I feel so blessed to be an instrument in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ’s hands.
~ Sister Celeste Manning

Keilani Murdock

Sister Keilani Murdock
Home congregation: Beaver Creek Ward, Des Moines Iowa Stake

Mission: Nevada Reno

Keilani comes from a sister missionary family! Six of her eight aunts (her mom’s sisters and sisters-in-law) served missions, as did six of her female cousins on her mom’s side and two of her female cousins on her dad’s side.

Being a missionary is the greatest thing I have ever done. My relationship with Christ has grown so much and being able to help others have that relationship with him brings joy beyond measure! There is nothing I would rather be doing than serving the Lord by serving the people here in lovely northern Nevada. I especially like this quote: “It isn’t as bad as you sometimes think it is. It all works out. Don’t worry . . . If you do your best, it will all work out. Put your trust in God and move forward with faith.” —President Gordon B. Hinckley
~ Sister Keilani Murdock

Arwen Oakley-cropped

Sister Arwen Oakley
Home congregation: Rock Creek Ward, Des Moines Iowa Stake

Mission: Provo (Utah) Missionary Training Center – Referral Center

Arwen is the following in the footsteps of her great-great-great-grandmother Jean Clara Holbrook, who was the fourth official single proselyting sister missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jean Clara Holbrook served in the British Mission from May 1899 until June 1901. One of her missionary companions was Inez White, one of the Church’s first two sister missionaries. Arwen is the next woman in this direct line to serve a mission. Coincidentally, Arwen and her first missionary companion were only the third and fourth sister missionaries called directly to serve in the Provo MTC (Referral Center) Mission, where they get to chat with and teach people around the world using a variety of technologies.

Hello all! I serve as an online missionary, which is super cool since we can talk with anyone in the WHOLE WORLD, except those that are not allowed such as North Koreans. I think the best thing about my mission so far is talking with people from all walks of life. I love being able to talk with anyone in the world. Once we were teaching people from Canada, Scotland, and Louisiana. I also love talking with people on chats from Mormon.org. On Mormon.org we talk with so many people and get to help them understand Christ better.

I think one of the other things I have learned more is the love Jesus Christ has for all of us, even when we are not at our best. We as missionaries have developed this love for all, even for complete strangers. Once I was talking with a lady on Mormon.org who was was struggling with some things and was wondering what she should do. I did not know what to say, but the promise from God and Jesus Christ that They will provide words in the very hour we need them was proven to me once again (see Doctrine & Covenants 100:6). I was able to help her find the answer for herself. I also felt at the very end to tell her that even though I did not know her well, I loved her and knew God and Jesus Christ loved her even more. I knew what I said was true and I also knew that this woman was meant to talk with me over Mormon.org. I am sure that many missionaries have had this feeling before. We do not need to see people face to face to reach out a helping hand, nor do we need to be physically there to help people feel the Spirit and help them to come closer to Jesus Christ.

I am so thankful to all of you for being so supportive of all of us missionaries. I can not repay the lessons and the growth of testimony from this mission. Please be confident. You never know when something you say will help someone out. So I ask you, do you know someone who is having a hard time? Could they use an uplifting message? Could they be helped by hearing that they are not alone and that Jesus Christ is always there for them? If so, then write it down. Not somewhere where you will forget. Then give it to the missionaries, or even just text them now 🙂  As I have learned, any good thoughts are from God and Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost. If someone’s name pops into your head, it is not just a coincidence. God does not work by chance, but by miracles! Thank you for taking time to read this! 🙂
~ Sister Arwen Oakley

Lila Rice

Sister Lila Rice
Home congregation: Ames 1st Ward, Ames Iowa Stake

Mission: Adriatic South (Macedonian-speaking)

Lila is following in the footsteps of several members of her immediate family, including her mother, who served a mission in Indiana.

Being a missionary is such an incredible calling! I’ve gained a lot of perspective as I’ve really begun to see that everyone is a precious child of God who can benefit from the gospel. I have seen the light in people’s eyes grow as they come closer to Jesus Christ, and it is so fulfilling! I love Macedonia and all the people here, but most of all I just love Jesus Christ and His gospel!
~ Sister Lila Rice

Emily Rundall-cropped

Sister Emily Rundall
Home congregation: Walnut Hills Ward, Des Moines Mount Pisgah Stake

Mission: Korea Seoul South

Serving a mission brings out the best and the worst in people. It brings to light all the bad, and makes me exercise every last bit of good in myself, and then some. The level of reliance on the Lord is unfathomable, because whenever I think I have it, I am reminded of another flaw. With this reminder, though, comes those testimony building whispers from the Holy Ghost reminding me that I can be made more through Christ. He is ALWAYS with me, and thank goodness for that because I could not do this alone. I am, simply, not enough on my own. But He never leaves me on my own. He is with us all wherever we may be in life! I know that He lives and He loves us all no matter what we are doing or have done or will do. He loves us because He knows us!!
~ Sister Emily Rundall

Sydney Sheffield-cropped

Sister Sydney Sheffield
Home congregation: Walnut Hills Ward, Des Moines Mount Pisgah Stake

Mission: Romania Moldova

“Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.” (Doctrine & Covenants 123:17) Romanians are a tough, honest, “tell it like it is” kind of people. And I love them SO much! All I want is to cheerfully do all in my power to serve them every day and bring them unto Christ for the remainder of my mission.
~ Sister Sydney Sheffield

Molly Skouson

Sister Molly Skouson
Home congregation: Newton Branch, Des Moines Iowa Stake

Mission: France Paris

Molly is following in the footsteps of her mother, who served in the Philippines Baguio Mission; her maternal grandmother, who is currently serving a mission in Indonesia; and her paternal grandmother, served a mission in Berlin, Germany in 1960-61 and witnessed the building of the Berlin Wall. Molly also has great-grandmothers who served in Salt Lake City, the Philippines, and the Navaho Nation.

I read part of Romans 8 a few days ago during my personal study. Verse 28 has been one of my favorite scriptures for years and has helped me get through a lot, but today I want to share verses 35, 38-39“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Most things in this world change, and often that’s a good thing. I’m certainly grateful that I’m not the same person I was a few years ago, or even a month ago. But one thing that doesn’t change is God’s love for you. Nothing we can do or say or think or be can make Him love us any less or any differently. 
~ Sister Molly Skouson

Hannah Stovie

Sister Hannah Stovie
Home congregation: Walnut Hills Ward, Des Moines Mount Pisgah Stake

Mission: Georgia Macon

I am Sister Hannah Stovie and I am serving in the Georgia Macon Mission. I have been out for about 11 months. My favorite thing about being a missionary is being able to share my testimony of the Savior with everyone that I come in contact with! It is an incredible experience to be set apart for 18 months as a full-time servant of the Lord. A simple scripture that always comes to mind is Doctrine & Covenants 4:3: “Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work . . .” This teaches us that all we need is a desire to share the gospel and Heavenly Father will provide a way for that to happen if we are willing to follow Him. I am so grateful for my mission thus far. I have learned much more than I thought I could in 11 months. I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, that Jesus Christ is our Savior, and that He leads this church by apostles and prophets. 
~ Sister Hannah Stovie

Kelsey White

Sister Kelsey White
Home congregation: Kelsey left for her mission from her home in Florida, but her mother has since moved to Iowa, where she is a member of the Ankeny Ward, Des Moines Iowa Stake

Mission: Japan Nagoya

Kelsey is the first sister missionary among her family members, who are converts to the Church. She won’t be the last, though. Her mother would like to serve a mission, having been motivated by Kelsey and her brother, who served in the California Los Angeles Mission.

Just wanted to share a little something that I have been learning more about since I have been in Japan. Every day, I meet people who don’t know who Christ is. They seem happy and content, but once we really start talking, it’s clear something is missing from their lives. They are uncertain and don’t know what to do. It’s like they’re trying to drink out of a cup without water in it, and they don’t know there is supposed to be water. But there is something they can have. And it will fill their lives and make them happy and satisfied. Christ really is an amazing person. He has the power to help us and make our lives whole. We just need to trust Him, and hand Him the cup. Let Him take away the bad, and follow Him down a good path. The best path. The path to eternal happiness.
~ Sister Kelsey White

Special thanks to all the missionaries and missionary parents who contributed to this article.

One thought on “120 Years Later: The Sister Missionaries from Central Iowa

  1. Can’t stop tears of joy and Thanksgiving for these sisters. And gratitude for the examples of their ancestors And the great women who taught them the gospel in primary and YWs.


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