Robert and Patricia Preston had always planned to serve a senior mission, but then in 2010 Sister Preston returned home one evening when her husband told her that a video conference call with Elder Richard G Scott had been requested for them on the following Friday. That call from out of the blue, along with a subsequent Skype call from President Uchtdorf, changed their lives. They were to be called as mission president and wife.
A further shock was in store. When they received notification of where they were to serve, it was to the England Manchester Mission - the mission in which they already lived! This has been the first time in the UK that a mission president has served in his own mission.
When President Preston took over the mission in June 2011 he felt he had the best of both worlds. He felt he already had a first-hand knowledge of the area, the people and what was required. He understood that no mission would reach its full potential without the help of the members and so worked with the maxim ‘every member a missionary’ and also ‘every missionary a member’. He recognised that there needed to be an even greater unity between the missionaries and members and so set about to create this.
On reflection, the Prestons feel very blessed to have worked so closely with the missionaries and witnessed great miracles. One such miracle was when an Indian couple were baptised in Liverpool in 2011. Due to problems with visas, Yogesh and Priyanka Talwar had to return to their roots in the Punjab region. The missionaries teaching them realised the situation and felt inspired to teach them as much as possible about the gospel. Upon their return to India, they re-connected with a Christian friend and together they have been preaching the gospel to others. They have 150-200 people in their congregation whom they continue to teach and are now building a church to house the large number of people!
President Preston has sent over many copies of The Book of Mormon, Church manuals, pamphlets, Church books and DVDs, all in the Hindi language, to aid the hastening of their ‘work’. Yogesh returned to the UK to complete his Master’s degree and participated in a fireside to a congregation of over 250 people.
President and Sister Preston both feel that their challenge will be to go home and not feel part of their missionaries lives so much - their mission family, especially when they are still so close. They comment, “We feel that we’ve had the best of both worlds in other ways as well. Our six children and (now) seventeen grandchildren haven’t been too far away and they’ve been able to see them when not on assignments.”
The missionary who baptised Sister Preston back in 1965 is now serving with his wife in the mission and so previous connections have been re-established.
The hastening of the work has meant an increase in their missionary family. In 2011 there were 140 missionaries serving in the Manchester Mission and to date there are 212 wonderful missionaries who have dedicated their lives to the Lord for a season.
The complement of twenty-two sisters has now increased to over sixty, with new roles created for ‘sister training leaders’.
As President and Sister Preston leave the mission in July this year, their replacements will be President and Sister Ulrich from Sandy, Utah. Brother Ulrich was serving as bishop of the Willow Creek First Ward.
The Prestons plan to serve another mission in the future. The members in the Manchester Mission are greatly appreciative of the wonderful service they have rendered, the difference they have made and wish them both well for the future.