Return with honor and a job

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The Academy for Creating Enterprise and Prepare to Serve have had calculable success and have provided opportunities for missionaries to better themselves.

Stephen Gibson, CEO and Founder of the Academy, and his wife moved to the Philippines in 1999 to provide a solution to the shortage of jobs. They noticed this issue was more common among returned missionaries who had been away from their communities for 18 to 24 months. Gibson wanted these returned missionaries to help themselves and find jobs so they could better themselves.

Alan Alaniz stands happily with a project that was started with the help of the Academy for Creating Enterprise. (Photo courtesy Alan Alaniz)

“I had sold my medical oxygen business five years early and had the time and funds to become involved in a noble cause to lift up the hands of the poor and needy among our Heavenly Father’s children,” Gibson said.

This helped springboard his nonprofit idea.

“We started the Academy to train Filipino returned missionaries to create their own jobs,” said Gibson. “They can then grow those jobs into small businesses, allowing them to hire members of their immediate family as well as members of their branches and wards.”

Gibson is able to fulfill his sense of duty to teach Latter-day Saints how to be healthy, wealthy and wise through the Academy.

According to the Academy’s website, 70 percent of the students from Mexico, Brazil and the Philippines come from impoverished homes and have never had a steady income. Countries labeled as third-world countries are the main focus of the Academy including Haiti, Bolivia, Ethiopia and the Congo.

The Academy provides students with the skills to make progress toward prospering, and this has been evident as 5,000 graduates have passed through the curriculum in 13 years, producing more than 500 businesses.

Eight projects are currently being overseen by Jeremi Brewer, Executive Director of the Academy. The Academy has 46 interns: 45 from BYU and one from UVU. These interns work with Brewer to teach the curriculum to returned missionaries.

Right now, many of the interns are being trained to teach Native American returned missionaries who are part of the American Indian Services (AIS). Brewer has seen “incredible improvement in leadership and communication skills” among the training interns. The curriculum for AIS returned missionaries starts Tuesday, Feb. 5, and is an eight-week program held Tuesdays and Thursdays on UVU campus.

Prepare to Serve is another organization that helps prospective missionaries. The organization is primarily run from its website. Alex Balinski, a communications major from Wisconsin, quit his job as an MTC custodian so he could start the site. The site launched in mid-November and since then has had about 5,000 visitors. The organization’s mission statement reads: “To help you to learn about people so you can better serve them.”

“When I received my mission call to serve in Neuquen Argentina back in 2008, I scoured for any videos I could find about Argentina. I realized I didn’t have much video I could watch about Argentina. So, I thought ‘hmm … maybe I can make a video resource for future missionaries,'” Balinski said.

Balinski developed a site for browsing hundreds of videos about a specific country or state. Prepare to Serve creates micro-interviews by video interviewing returned missionaries (and native converts) for 40 to 60 minutes about the country or state where they served. Then they edit the interview into segments addressing specific questions future missionaries might have.

Balinski spends anywhere from four to eight hours a day on the site and loves dedicating this time to the organization.

“Knowing that I am using the talents and opportunities God has given me to do something he wants me to do is the most beneficial part for me,” said Balinski. “I also find it extremely rewarding to be able to meet and interview so many returned missionaries and converts. It’s an amazing testimony builder to sit down each week and listen to returned missionaries and converts share their testimonies with me. There is no doubt God leads, blesses and guides missionaries in all the world.”

Balinski and his wife, who helps to run and manage the site, hope to eventually have 200 to 400 videos about each country and state, which is about 21,000 videos and interactive interviews. In the three months the site has been running, the Balinskis have covered 30 countries and two states. However, they can’t do it alone. Users can get involved in several ways. Over 200 BYU students and alumni have expressed interest in helping with the project.

These two organizations are examples of the effective and successful missionary programs throughout the world.

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