President Philip L. Collins and his wife, Sister Tricia Larson Collins began their duties at the Africa SE Area Missionary Training Centre last month. They replaced departing President Kenneth and Sister Janet Reber, who completed their two-year service and returned home mid-January.
President and Sister Collins both appear youthful and energetic, yet they come with a rich background of experience and service. They were both raised in Safford, Arizona, becoming friends and then sweethearts in high school. When Philip Collins received his first mission call to serve in the Philippines, Tricia Larson supported him in his call, wrote to him frequently, and waited for him faithfully while he served.
President Collins remembers that mission very well: “I loved the Philippines, loved the food, and loved the way it changed my life.” He emphasized that his mission actually changed him into a different being. From that time forward he could say, “The Church is true. I know it with every fiber of my soul.”
The couple good-naturedly corrects the report that they married just three weeks after his mission return: “It was actually three and a half weeks!” They both attended Brigham Young University where President Collins received a degree in accounting. They had three children when he graduated. He began working for Price-Waterhouse in Phoenix, AZ.
Their family grew to six: two sons, and four daughters, while they lived in Mesa, AZ and where President Collins worked for Pimalco, an aluminum extrusion company, as the Chief Financial Officer. Pimalco was acquired by ALCOA, and that was when the world-wide adventure began. With their two youngest children in tow, they moved to Massena, NY which is way north on the Canadian border. As a matter of fact, while living in NY, President Collins was called to be the Stake President of the Montreal Mt. Royal Stake.
Working for ALCOA , Sister Collins along with their youngest daughter, moved to Budapest, Hungary where President Collins was responsible for operations in Hungary and the Netherlands. Their almost seven-year stay in Hungary also included eight months of President Collins working in Russia. He also had the blessing of serving in the Budapest Mission Presidency with two different mission presidencies. He decided to retire and they moved from Budapest back to their home in Mesa, AZ.
They stayed retired for “almost a year,” but then the energetic couple turned in their papers to serve as senior missionaries. When the bishop asked Sister Collins to think of four places she would enjoy serving, she “mentioned some warm locations: Tahiti, Tonga, Kenya, and Hawaii.” They were called to serve as Mission President in the Russia Moscow Mission. The mission included the countries of Belarus and Kazakhstan—and included four time zones. They humbly accepted the call. As President Collins put it, “It’s amazing what you’ll do for the Lord that you wouldn’t do for an employer!” During their three-year service in Moscow, they added seven grandchildren to their growing family.
Sister Collins remembers that their service in the Moscow Mission began the “start of a love affair with missionaries.” Though not many senior couples served in the Moscow mission, Sister Collins valued “their wisdom and experience, their energy and willingness to serve. They made a huge difference!”
President and Sister Collins served for three years, and then returned home, assuming that their “mission-serving phase” was over. However, they heard President Monson’s plea for senior couples, and couldn’t resist. They heeded the call, and served as Perpetual Education Fund missionaries in Bogotá, Columbia for one year. At that time they were transferred to Ghana, and “fell in love with the African people.” The couple admired the way “African people know what matters most; and it isn’t material things.” The testimonies of African people impressed them and their prayers touched them. President Collins says, “When they pray, they talk to God like you’re supposed to talk to God.” It was while they were serving in Accra, Ghana they were called to serve at the MTC in Johannesburg.
The Africa Southeast Area MTC is the smallest of the fifteen MTCs in the world. President and Sister Collins have only twelve days to influence these young people, yet their message is clear and forceful: “The Lord loves all of His children. Our purpose is to invite others to come unto Him. Trust in the Lord. He knows and trusts in us to serve as He would have us do.”
When asked what kind of help or supplies they could use at the MTC, they said they are still gratefully accepting donated clothing, as many missionaries are in need. Sunday suits for 'shorter, slender elders' are especially welcome, as are sports clothes for both young men and young women to run and play in during their exercise periods. Missionaries are also expected to write in their journals daily, but the only journals provided have just cardboard covers. 'Real journals would be a treasure,' Sister Collins says. Both she and President Collins are treasures themselves.