News Story

Canadian Couple to Oversee Latter-day Saint Mission in Barbados

Kent and Gabriella (Gaby) Burnham of Vernon, British Columbia, are one of 144 couples worldwide who have been called as new mission leaders for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Burnhams will serve for three years over the Barbados Bridgetown Mission. They will oversee approximately 100 missionaries aged 18 to 25 on eight English- and French-speaking islands in five countries in the Caribbean. The couple also will serve as the ecclesiastical leaders for the Church in that area.

In November 2023, the Church announced the opening of 36 new missions, which will increase the total number of Latter-day Saint missions to 450 worldwide — the most in the Church’s history. More than 1 million missionaries have served missions since the Church was organized in 1830.

What Is the Role of Mission Leaders?

Newly called mission leaders come from all backgrounds, many geographic locations, varied experiences in Church leadership and diverse family compositions. During their three years of service as mission leaders, they will work with approximately 600 young missionaries, supervising and training an average of 170 to 180 at a given time. (Missionaries typically serve 18 months to two years.)

Mission leaders share a variety of responsibilities. Their focus is to support and instruct missionaries to effectively teach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Mission leaders also encourage missionaries to make a difference in the communities in which they live, for example, through service activities. The mission president additionally assumes responsibility for the baptism of new converts and their initial development as new members of the Church.

On a day-to-day basis, mission leaders are responsible for the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health of the missionaries they supervise. Individual missionaries arrive and depart at approximately six-week intervals as they begin or conclude their 18-month to two-year period of service. Each missionary is personally attended to, oriented to the mission environment and then assigned to a companion by their mission president.

Receiving the Assignment to Serve

The Burnhams note that their assignment came by surprise. They were first contacted by Church leaders in the fall of 2023 and had a series of interviews about their availability, willingness and capacity for service. In their final interview with President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency of the Church, they were asked if they would serve as mission leaders anywhere in the world. They accepted the assignment and found out two weeks later that they had been assigned to the Barbados Bridgetown Mission. 

When asked how they were able to drop everything in their lives for three years of full-time Church service, Gaby explained, “For us, it’s a covenant.” The Burnhams made a commitment to serve God and do His work years ago, so they accept each new assignment to serve with faith that God will strengthen them.

To prepare themselves for this service, Kent, 59, is retiring from his work as an attorney, and the couple is packing up their house, putting their health care and finances in order, learning to speak French and getting necessary visas. Their two university-aged children will visit them in Barbados from time to time.

Everyone Can Benefit From the Gospel of Jesus Christ

When asked about the work they hope to accomplish as mission leaders, the Burnhams explained that they are deeply committed to inclusion. Some people think they do not belong in a church because of their appearance, lifestyle or past. But the Burnhams believe everyone can benefit from the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon teaches that Jesus Christ “inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33).

Jean A. Stevens, former member of the Primary General Presidency, emphasized the power of the gospel to transform us when she said, “The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a checklist of things to do; rather, it lives in our hearts. The gospel ‘is not weight; it is wings.’ It carries us” (“Fear Not; I Am With Thee,” April 2014 general conference).

Let People Be Themselves, Help Them Learn at Their Own Pace and Love Them as They Learn

The Burnhams’ guiding philosophy in their previous Church service, especially in leadership roles with youth and young adults, has been to “let people be themselves, help them learn at their own pace and love them as they learn.” They have repeatedly witnessed the joy and transformation that comes into people’s lives as they develop a relationship with Jesus Christ and come to feel His love.

As mission leaders, the Burnhams hope to focus on the doctrine of Jesus Christ in their interactions with missionaries, Church members and people who are learning about the gospel, to bring that joy to more people. Kent explained, “The world’s healing hinges on Jesus Christ’s atonement.”

Contributed by Becky Doig

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.