By Todd Michaelis, ‘90
WHEN Mary Ellen Edmunds was a child she liked to burn ants with a magnifying glass and wound grasshoppers by throwing them on concrete. These pastimes don’t seem fitting for someone who would later graduate in nursing from BYU, complete four full-time missions, and serve on the Relief Society general board. However, the young Edmunds did provide a hospital with very small beds for the grasshoppers.
Somewhere along the way, Edmunds, ’62, changed from a rough little girl into someone whose guiding principle is “do good and be good.” Serving missions is one way Edmunds found to both do and be good.
Edmunds received her first mission call to the Southern Far East mission, which then included Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. She and her companion were the first sister missionaries in the Philippines. After returning home, Edmunds worked as a supervisor at a hospital and taught at the mission home in Salt Lake City. But in 1972, she was called back to the Philippines, this time as a health missionary.
During this second mission her love for the Church’s welfare principles and for the people she served grew. It was in the Philippines that Edmunds met Sally Pilobello. Sally and her husband had lost their first daughter when she was five months old. Sally, who was pregnant with a second child, asked, “What can I do to have a healthy Mormon baby?” Edmunds saw the courage and faith of this sister as she implemented new health habits in her life and home and gave birth to a beautiful “Mormon baby.” Edmunds’ experiences continued through a third mission and then a fourth, this one to Jakarta, Indonesia. “Here I learned much more about the meaning of relief, compassion, and service,” she says.
One experience involved the Relief Society in Central Java. The sisters in the branch would set aside a spoonful of rice each morning before they began their cooking. They kept the rice in plastic bags, which they brought to Relief Society each week. After the meeting they would gather and prayerfully consider who needed a visit. Together, they would visit someone in need, taking a few of the bags with them. “I learned so much about sacrifice, wondering what my equivalent of a spoonful of rice would be,” Edmunds says.
Even after serving four missions Edmunds continued her missionary work. “I was invited to work at the Language Training Mission to coordinate the training of welfare missionaries,” she says. She eventually became one of the directors of training at the Missionary Training Center (MTC). In that position, her responsibilities included overseeing the training of all Asian-language and welfare missionaries. “There is no place like the MTC on earth. It was an incredible journey working there,” Edmunds says. As director, she also had the opportunity to teach many missionaries. “I wanted to give them a taste of my philosophy of missionary work, which is about teaching the fullness not the part-ness of the gospel,” Edmunds says.
Edmunds has since retired from the MTC. Besides serving several missions, Edmunds has also helped with a child health project in Nigeria. Today, she keeps busy writing books, teaching, and delivering speeches, but continues to perform missionary work. “It’s wonderful to help people understand how to live the gospel,” Edmunds says. “It is our duty to respond to people who are hungry, sick, naked, and imprisoned.”