There is a lot of hype going on right now about Mormon missionaries. Why is this? Let me use an excerpt from a talk of President Thomas S. Monson’s (the Prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes mistakenly called the “Mormon Church”) that he gave to Church members in April 2013:
As you know, in the October general conference I announced changes in the ages at which young men and young women might serve as full-time missionaries, with the young men now being able to serve at age 18 and the young women at 19.
The response of our young people has been remarkable and inspiring. As of April 4—two days ago—we have 65,634 full-time missionaries serving, with over 20,000 more who have received their calls but who have not yet entered a missionary training center and over 6,000 more in the interview process with their bishops and stake presidents. It has been necessary for us to create 58 new missions to accommodate the increased numbers of missionaries (“Welcome to Conference,” Ensign, May 2013). Read more
A large influx of missionary applications followed an announcement by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often inadvertently called the “Mormon Church”) President Thomas S. Monson lowering the minimum missionary age requirement to 18 for young men and 19 for young women.
LDS missionaries usually spend 3–12 weeks at an MTC where they receive training in doctrine, conduct, proselytizing methods, and, when required, a foreign language. There are a total of 15 MTCs in nations throughout the world, in locations in addition to Provo, [Utah] including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Guatemala, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Spain, and the United Kingdom. 1
The largest of the Missionary Training Centers, the Provo facility housed 2,800 missionaries when President Monson made the announcement to lower age requirements. Church officials expect the number of Mormon missionaries at the Provo MTC to soar to 7,800 during the summer of 2013 and eventually stabilize at 6,000 by 2016. Read more
Mormon missionaries experience many miracles during their missionary service, and they often write home about them. Missionaries also write about their daily routine. We have excerpted some letters home from Mormon missionaries to show you what they do and experience.
From Richard & Fara (Elder and Sister Robbins) in the U.K.:
Two Sunday’s ago, while setting in church one of our great members leaned back to me and asked if I would give him a blessing after Sacrament meeting. (A blessing is a special gift of inspiration through the Holy Ghost, given to those in need, by one holding Christ’s original priesthood authority. A pretty stunning thing.) I told him I would. This man is a very faithful saint.
After the meeting I grabbed the Elders Quorum President (men are organized into quorums in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Savior’s re-established Church) and we went into a classroom with him. He told us he had a very sore tooth and it had abscessed and the doctor told him he would have to have it pulled but couldn’t do it for about a week and a half. I gave him a priesthood blessing and was directed to tell him the tooth would give him no more problems. This last Sunday I asked him how his tooth was and was told there was no pain at all and the doctor advised him against having it pulled. This was a simple occasion but let us know that the Lord is not going to forget his faithful servants.
We have also been given the job now to teach the Gospel Principles lessons on Sunday (Mormons invite those of all faiths to learn of Christ’s doctrine and the fulness of His gospel and plan of happiness. The class for those learning about the Gospel is known as Gospel Principles). We’re thankful for any way we can stay busy for the Lord.
It has become very evident in our lives that the true source of all of this spirit is the people we know. We simply know that all the joy we feel is not possible without loved ones to share it with. Love takes on a whole new meaning when you step away from it and observe from a distance its true significance.
We have become so close and reliant on the Lord that our relationship to him has become much closer which always results in an increase of love. Of course you cannot develop a love for the Savior without developing a great degree of esteem and admiration for Him. When we consider all that He has done for us this esteem become true adoration.
From Sister Shiri Stevens serving in the Boston Mission:
This week has been full of miracles and I am eternally grateful that I get to be a part of it! One thing that has really touched my heart this week is how our whole purpose here is to come to know God. In John 17:3 we read that Eternal life is knowing God. And God’s purpose is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. What a joyous fact that we are truly living eternal life right now as we strive to come to know Heavenly Father. I pray that we are all doing those things necessary to build a firm relationship with him so that we will know him when we see him again.
I was blessed to be close to Heavenly Father as we had the opportunity to got to the temple yesterday (because of the Holiday – our zone was invited again). I must say this might be one step above conference for me. I love being in the house of the Lord. It is a unique blessing to each of us as we keep ourselves worthy to be in the Lord’s presence. I am so grateful for the eternal blessings of salvation and exaltation found in the temple. It was particularly special to me because it was one year ago yesterday that I went through the temple for the first time myself. Many things were the same as they had been a year ago in the Mt. Timpanogos temple, which was a sweet reminder of that beautiful day. I am grateful for all those who surrounded me then and continue to do so in spirit as I am blessed with those surrounding me now. I pray we will all be able to sit down together in the presence of our Lord one day.
So this week was a challenging week to say the least but at the same time it was such an awesome week! Obviously, being a fairly new missionary myself I am not all that great in Tagalog yet and having the new challenge of being a trainer of a brand new missionary is quite the challenge. Just a little bit about my “anak” or “kid” the missionary that I am training. He is really quiet and fairly shy so I have been doing basically all of the talking to individuals and almost all of the teaching… Last week this would have seemed like a impossible task because of my lack of ability to speak and understand Tagalog fluently, but over the last week it has been awesome to see the Lord working and communicating with His children through me and my brand new found ability to speak Tagalog. I can definitely see the Lord blessing me and my Tagalog so that this companionship of two new missionaries can work and be effective.
During the opening session of the 182nd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (more commonly referred to as the Mormon Church), President and Prophet of the Church, Thomas S. Monson made an important announcement regarding missionary service. The announcement was of particular interest to those young men and young women who desire to serve a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ, laboring in the Lord’s vineyard by teaching and preaching the precious truths of His gospel. To the surprise and delight of members worldwide, President Monson announced that effective immediately, men may now begin serving missions at age 18 and women at age 19. The previous age for beginning missionary service was 19 years of age for young men and 21 for young women.
“I am not suggesting that all young men will — or should — serve at this earlier age,” President Monson said. Rather, he said, the option is now available based on individual circumstances, as well as upon a determination by local Church leaders. (Read President Monson’s full remarks.) 
Following the announcement made during the Saturday morning session, a press conference was held concerning the new age requirements in which Elders Russell M. Nelson and Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder David F. Evans of the Seventy shared additional information about this change in policy.
Elder Holland revealed that very few people were aware this change would be announced. Nearly all of the General Authorities—except for the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—all mission presidents, university presidents and admissions officers, and all MTC administrators were unaware of the change until President Monson made the announcement. 
It is to be noted that over the past decade permission has been granted in 48 countries to allow young men at age 18 to serve full-time missions, and the experience has been very positive. With President Monson’s announcement, the Church will now have a single policy worldwide. Currently there are approximately 58,000 missionaries serving full-time. Church leaders are hoping that by lowering the age requirements more prospective missionaries will be able to answer the call to serve.
In directing his remarks to the young men and young women of The Church of Jesus Christ, Elder Holland further commented,
“God is hastening His work. And He needs more and more willing and worthy missionaries to spread the light and the truth and the hope and the salvation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to an often dark and fearful world. . . This isn’t about you. It is about the sweet and pure message you are being asked to bear.” 
Elder Nelson emphasized that the change in age requirements is an option, not an edict:
“These age adjustments are new options now available to bishops in evaluating what is best for each of their youth,” he said. He continued, “Young men and young women should not begin their service before they are ready spiritually and temporally.” 
Elder Nelson also reminded everyone that there still remains important considerations for the timing of missionary service such as schooling, family circumstances, health, and so forth.
Since President Monson’s appeal for more full-time and couple missionaries two years ago, during October 2010 Semiannual General Conference, the response by Church members has been great—the number of full-time Elders serving has increased by six percent; the number of Sisters by 12 percent, and the number of couples by 18 percent. 
Elder Holland also elaborated on some details and some changes that will have to be made in light of the new policy: 
- Prospective missionaries will be asked to enhance their pre-mission preparation, including total personal worthiness supplemented by gospel study (especially the Book of Mormon), seminary and Institute classes, and systematic study of Preach My Gospel.
- Time at each of the Church’s 15 Missionary Training Centers (MTCs) will be reduced by one-third for all missionaries.
- At the Church’s flagship MTC in Provo, Utah, new instructors and staff will have to be hired and the amount of housing will have to be increased almost immediately. The Church is considering comparable expansion at some other MTCs, but is not planning on building any new MTCs at this time.
- Missionaries will benefit from a recently implemented 12-week training course being administered in the mission field through mission presidents. The program is designed to improve every missionary’s teaching skills while in the field.
- The Church is considering adding new missions in the future. Until those new missions are created, the existing 347 missions will absorb any increase in the number of missionaries.
- Prospective missionaries may be recommended by their Bishop and Stake President for full-time service 120 days prior to their birthday or to their availability date (which takes into account high school graduation or its equivalent). Young men may enter the MTC after graduating and reaching 18 years of age. Women may enter after their 19th birthday. No adjustment has been made to the upper age limit (25 years for young men, no limit for young women).
The real preparation for a young man or young woman to serve a mission, however, begins in the home. Elder Holland emphasized that parents need to become actively involved in this preparation process as it is not the sole responsibility of the Mission Department, MTC, or local Church leaders to direct everything.
Regarding lowering the age requirement for women, Elder Holland explained that while it is not an obligation for young Latter-day Saint women to serve missions, “those who do serve are stunningly successful and we enthusiastically welcome your service.” He said, “Personally, I am absolutely delighted if this change in policy allows many, many more young women to serve.” 
It should also be carefully noted that missionaries receive their assignment from Church headquarters and are sent only to countries where governments allow the Church to operate. Missionaries do not request their area of assignment and do not know beforehand whether they will be required to learn a language. Missionary work is voluntary. Missionaries fund their own missions — except for their transportation to and from their assigned mission — and are not paid for their services. 
Mark Albright, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (more commonly referred to as the Mormon Church), has served as a Mission President, Temple Ordinance Worker, Stake President, Bishop, High Councilman, and Seminary Teacher. He recently published an article for Meridian Magazine titled Missionary Moment: A Miracle on Temple Square Brings Change in Rome.
The article is based on a letter that he received from someone who attended a fireside where former U.S. Senator Gordon H. Smith of Oregon who is currently serving as an Area Seventy and President of the National Association of Broadcasters located in Washington D.C. During the course of the fireside Elder Smith shared an experience regarding two Italian Sister missionaries serving in the Utah Temple Square Mission that helped influence an important governmental decision in Italy concerning the new LDS Temple in Rome, Italy.
Elder Smith recounts that while he was serving as a U.S. Senator he received a telephone call from Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf who was serving at that time as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The Church of Jesus Christ was interested in building a new temple in Italy (later annouced on 4 October 2008 by Prophet and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Thomas S. Monson, during the Semiannual General Conference), and needed to acquire formal governmental recognition for the church from the Italian government. Elder Uchtdorf inquired of Senator Smith if he would be able to assist in arranging a meeting with the appropriate government officials in Rome. Senator Smith not only agreed to help set up the meeting, but he also agreed to also fly to Rome to help with the presentation.
The Italian official supervising religious affairs in Italy was a gracious and knowledgeable woman who asked the Assistant Minister to join the meeting. Senator Smith introduced Elder Uchtdorf as an Apostle from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and then made mention of some references in the NATO treaty which included the United States and Italy. Elder Uchtdorf then talked about The Church of Jesus Christ and how its larger presence in Italy would both benefit and bless the people of Italy. He further explained the problems the members and missionaries were facing due to the fact that the LDS Church was not fully recognized as a religion, but rather as a charitable organization.
The government official referred to her assistant and asked for his opinion regarding the matter.
The Assistant Minister replied that he had recently been on a visit to the United States with his family, and had toured Temple Square in Salt Lake City during his trip. The assistant went on to explain that when they arrived at Temple Square their tour guides were two young Italian Sister missionaries. According to the assistant, the two Sister missionaries were very impressive and glowed with energy and enthusiasm. He then said in effect: “If the Mormon Church can raise such outstanding young people as I saw serving there in Utah, then by all means you should give the LDS church all the recognition they need to build their temple here in Italy! I hope they can raise up thousands of young people here in Italy like the ones I met in Utah!” 
That comment seemed to have the appropriate effect and the meeting concluded successfully. Italy President Giorgio Napolitano signed the Intesa con lo Stato, or legal agreement, on 30 July 2012. In contrast to the 1993 legislation that recognized the Church of Jesus Christ as only a charitable institution, the Church is now officially recognized as a religious denomination, along with the Catholic Church and a few others. The first meeting with President Uchtdorf (Elder Uchtdorf had become a member of the First Presidency on 3 February 2008) was the beginning of this important process that culminated in the final signed agreement. 
Elder Smith concluded his remarks by commenting that those two unnamed Italian Sister missionaries serving on Temple Square may never know of their important contribution or what they accomplished by just having the spirit with them and being such marvelous examples during the brief tour of the museum and Temple grounds with the Assistant Minister. The two missionaries had no knowledge that they were giving a tour to an important Italian government official, or that an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ would fly to Rome to meet with the official, and that the missionary experience that the official had while in visiting Temple Square in Utah would have such a tremendous impact on the outcome of that meeting. Had the missionaries acted inappropriately during that encounter with the Italian government official, the outcome could have been much different.
Construction of the Rome, Italy Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began on 23 October 2010 with a groundbreaking ceremony. The Temple will likely serve church members in Greece, Cyprus, Albania, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia, as well as the 23,430 church members who live in Italy.
In the October 2012 Mormon General Conference, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes mistakenly called the “Mormon Church”) listened in silence, with mouths opened wide, to hear prophet and president Thomas S. Monson, announce that young men can now serve their volunteer missions for the LDS Church beginning at age eighteen (formerly nineteen), and young women can now serve at age nineteen (formerly twenty-one). This momentous announcement has caused a major influx of missionary applications. In fact prior to this announcement, the LDS Church would get, on average, 600 missionary applications each week. But the two weeks following the announcement they received, an approximately 4,000 applications (each week) an increase of 471 percent (see Deseret News). Why? These young people know this is the work of God, that the work is hastening, and they want to be a part of sharing this message with the world!
Are Mormons required to serve missions? Nope! This is a choice, and the fact that so many young people want to serve missions rather than engaging in the normal young-adult activities shows that they are true followers of Jesus Christ—ready to “lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better” (Doctrine and Covenants 25:12). Many of those who have recently been called, or are in the midst of their applications, were not even planning on serving—at least not in the near future. In a way, they were now just ready to walk out the door without a second thought—because they believe in this work!
One great story that shows the excitement of these missionaries is found on Kathryn Skaggs’ blog post titled, “Newly Called Sister Missionaries Unite and Create EPIC Video:”
One of these incredibly valiant women is Ali Nicole Vincent, of Pleasant Grove, Utah, newly called to serve in the Argentina Bahia Blanca Mission. (pictured above) Ali will report to the MTC on February 13, 2013. Ali recently joined a brand new Facebook group: Many Are Called… But Few Are Sisters. (Don’t you just love that!) The group description: “For those sisters about to submit papers or those who have already received calls, so we can share our experiences and help each other prepare”. Well, I’ll let Ali tell you what happened next…
In a period of about 4 days over 1900 future sister missionaries joined the group from all over the world. We shared our mission calls with each other and some advice on where to shop, what to study, etc. One girl, Anna Finneran, had the fantastic idea that we should all meet up together at Temple Square to send a picture to the First Presidency to show how excited we are to serve. About 50 other sisters gathered at the Rexburg Temple at the same time in Idaho as well. As we gathered we sang hymns, took the picture, and found other girls going to our same missions. It really was such a spiritual experience to be surrounded by so many worthy young sisters who are so enthusiastic about serving the Lord in their designated area. The world is changing and the work is hastening. We are all needed in God’s army whether we’re going on missions or not. I honestly am so excited about my call that I received to Bahia Blanca Argentina. I can’t wait to get out and serve the people there and I’m sure all the other sisters feel the same way!
This is indeed an exciting time for Mormon missionaries! And as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “This announcement isn’t about you [the future missionaries]. It’s about the sweet and pure message you are called to bear” (see Deseret News).
I know and believe that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ’s Church. He is at the head of it. His mouthpiece is His prophet, President Thomas S. Monson. I have prayed, studied, fasted, and lived the teachings of the gospel to find out if it is true—and I testify that it is. The Holy Spirit has testified to me time and time again that this is the work of God. I invite you to find out for yourself if it is true. Meet with Mormon missionaries, read the Book of Mormon, and prove to God that you want to know by working hard (praying, reading, serving, living as Christ would live) and I promise that you will receive an answer too—for God always answers prayers!
There was an audible gasp when Thomas S. Monson, prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced that the age that full-time missionaries can begin serving had changed. Speaking at the opening session of the 182nd semi-annual General Conference of the Church, President Monson stated:
I am pleased to announce that effective immediately, all worthy and able young men who have graduated from high school or its equivalent, regardless of where they live, will have the option of being recommended for missionary service beginning at the age of 18, instead of age 19. I am not suggesting that all young men will—or should—serve at this earlier age. Rather, based on individual circumstances, as well as upon a determination by priesthood leaders, this option is now available.
As we have prayerfully pondered the age at which young men may begin their missionary service, we have also given consideration to the age at which a young woman might serve. Today I am pleased to announce that able, worthy young women who have the desire to serve may be recommended for missionary service beginning at age 19, instead of age 21.
Just two weeks after the announcement, the number of applications had jumped from 700 per week to 4000, with more than half coming from women, according to an article in the Deseret News. Before the announcement, 14% of the missionary force was women.
“We are thrilled by this morning’s exciting announcement by President Thomas S. Monson,” Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said at a press conference following the announcement.
“This mural behind us reminds us of a mandate the Savior extended to His followers to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. With President Monson’s announcement this morning, we are accelerating our efforts to fulfill that mandate and give more young men and young women the opportunity to participate in that divine commission,” he said.
Missionary service is based on the New Testament pattern of missionaries serving in pairs, teaching the gospel and baptizing believers in the name of Jesus Christ. Most are young people under the age of 25 serving in nearly 350 missions throughout the world although there are a growing number of older missionary couples.
During a mission, worthy members generally serve full-time as they proselyte, provide humanitarian assistance or offer other types of service for a period between six and twenty-four months. Missionaries do not request where to go or know whether they will be required to learn a language, but receive their assignment from church headquarters. Missionaries fund their own missions — except for their transportation to and from their assigned mission — and are not paid for their services.
Elder Nelson said that the change does not suggest that all missionaries should or will serve at an earlier age but it provides an option.
“No young man or woman should begin his or her service as a missionary before they are ready,” Elder Nelson said. “Over the past decade permission has been given for young men from 48 countries to serve at age 18. This experience has been very positive. … We’ve found that these missionaries are capable and qualified to serve.”
The age change came as a surprise to almost everyone in the Church. Elder Holland disclosed the decision process. “This has been studied and prayed over and we have experienced the revelatory power.” He continued:
President Monson felt strongly that this should be kept confidential until he personally could announce it at a General Conference and you felt the emotion and strength of that as he did that so wonderfully this morning…
We anticipate some ashen faces out there. The list of those who had no idea this was coming is long… So we welcome you all to a worldwide church of people who did not know that this was coming.
He said that only the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles knew of the change.
Elder Holland said that he expected that most people were asking, “What is this going to do to us? How big is it going to be?” He said, “We have a very simple answer. We don’t know.”
He explained that it will take time to understand the full impact but indicated that many current missions are capable of handling more missionaries, and as the need arises, new missions will be created. The current missionary force is just over 58,000.
Because of the likely increase, the Church of Jesus Christ anticipates reducing the amount of time spent in the Mission Training Center (MTC) by one third. Fortunately, a 12-week training course for missionaries just arriving in the mission field and a language immersion program for those called to non-English-speaking missions have already proven to benefit the new missionaries.
Elder Holland said that for missionaries to be ready to serve at a younger age will require greater effort. He suggested an increase in gospel study, including scriptures and the missionary manual, “Preach My Gospel.”
He further instructed the missionaries and their parents:
Improved preparation of the missionary before entering the MTC will allow us to accommodate a larger number of missionaries going into the future,” Elder Holland said.
You must prepare with personal worthiness and gospel knowledge. We want you teaching effectively from the first day onward.
We ask parents to take a strong hand in this preparation. Don’t expect that it is the responsibility of the church and the MTC and the seminary program to prepare your children for missionary service. You are a critical part of this process.
God is hastening his work and he needs more – and more willing and worthy – missionaries to spread the light and the truth and the hope and the salvation of gospel truth to a darkened world.
The change for the worldwide Church took place immediately after the announcement. Men may enter the MTC after their 18th birthday (which must follow high school graduation or equivalent) and women after their 19th birthday. Both can be recommended for missionary service 120 days prior to those respective birth dates.
This article was written by Jan Mayer, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Every several years, finances available, my parents loaded up the family station wagon just outside of Starkville Mississippi and drove to the tiny northern Utah town of Tremonton, near the Idaho border. It was home to my paternal grandparents, who looked forward to those special visits. We planned our trips to coincide with the annual spring General Cconference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. We enjoyed touring the exhibits in the Salt Lake Mormon Temple visitor’s center and seeing the spring plantings. I was very young then, and I wanted to meet “a real prophet of God.”
With all of the zeal of a young child, I wanted to be as close as I could get to the podium in the tabernacle. It was always crowded, but that day, I had permission to sit wherever the ushers could fit me, and then meet up with my family at a designated place after conference. Wouldn’t you know it? The only place they could fit me was between two fat ladies. I endured the conference— quite a feat for a young guy like me, squashed between two fat ladies. As soon as the closing prayer was over, I was on my feet, diving between the legs of taller people to “meet a real prophet, David O’McKay.”(September 8, 1873 – January 18, 1970) who was the ninth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).
I tugged on his trouser and asked to shake his hand, because as I announced, “I want to meet you, because you are a real prophet.” He smiled and knelt down on one knee and asked if I was going to go on a mission? “Of course I would,” and with that, he gave me the carnation on his lapel with the admonition not to forget. I was so impressed and now I had his carnation as proof! When I met up with my family afterwards, they were stunned I had been so bold and had actually met the prophet. For several years afterwards, I somehow managed to preserve my little treasure in the freezer, and whenever the home teachers, Mormon missionaries, other branch members or visitors came, I would show it to them, telling my story and how I would go on a mission someday.
My intentions were still good when I graduated from high school, but then my family fell apart, creating emotional and financial burdens I never thought were possible. It took much prayer to come to the realization that I should, indeed, go, and then other problems presented themselves—visa problems, companionship problems, you name it. It was difficult getting on my mission, and then serving in Argentina presented both spiritual and physical challenges. Some missionaries say their mission was the best two years of their life, but a mission is the best two years for your life. Time and again, I relied on that childhood experience with Prophet David O. McKay. Keeping my promise to him was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Article was written by Mel Borup Chandler
Mel Borup Chandler lives in California. He writes about science-related topics, technological breakthroughs and medicine. Mel is a former member of the Los Angeles Press Club. Additionally, he served an LDS Mission in Argentina during Argentina’s “Dirty War.” He has written for several Spanish language newspapers in the Los Angeles area including La Opinion and El Universal. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
In October 2012 the number of Mormon missionaries serving for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was about 58,000. Young men were counseled to qualify themselves to serve by living high moral standards, learning the scriptures, developing work and study skills, and preparing financially to serve for two years in the “mission field.” Young women were counseled to pray and receive guidance from the Holy Spirit as to whether it was the right personal decision for them to serve eighteen months in the mission field.
In the first session of Mormon General Conference on Saturday, October 6, 2012, Prophet and President Thomas S. Monson announced an unexpected change in missionary service qualifications that surprised even mission presidents and some general authorities.
President Monson announced that that the age requirement for missionary service would be lowered to 18 for men who have graduated from high school (down from age 19) and 19 for women (down from age 21).
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said the following:
“It means that God is hastening his work, and he needs more and more willing and worthy missionaries to spread the light and the truth and the hope and the salvation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to an increasingly dark and fearful world.
“We are having requests from around the globe for new missions,” said Elder Holland. “It seems providential and wise to try and get the gospel to more people in more distance places than we’ve ever gone before.”
He called the rising generation of Mormon youth “sweeter, purer, and smarter.” He commented that “sister missionaries” are often “stunningly successful” at missionary work, and that this new option will enable many more to serve. Elder Holland said that it is obvious that the Lord loves and trusts the youth of the Church to entrust them with the spreading the gospel to the world at this time of their lives.
Sending out young missionaries at a younger age may cause less of an interruption to their futures. As it is, young men graduate from high school, and most have turned 18 by that time. They may be able to get in some months of work or a semester or two of college before they depart at age 19, but for many, that time is filler. As far as the girls are concerned, some are getting married or putting off marriage for missionary service at age 21. If they can go at age 19, then they have a block of years for education and marriage ahead of them.
Changes will have to be made in the Mormon missionary system to accommodate the expected increase in the number of youth serving. There are 15 missionary training centers around the world, and they will have to be expanded, with the time new missionaries spend there being shortened, possibly by 30%. New missionaries will need to focus on their maturity and worthiness in order to be prepared at a younger age. This is a wake-up call for Mormon parents to do what they can to get their youth standing on their own feet at a time when young people are generally taking longer to mature.
An historic visit to Buenos Aires, Argentina, was made in 1978, by then prophet, seer, and revelator Spencer W. Kimball. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only Christian sect which claims to be led by a prophet. I had received a personal witness from the Lord that this holy man was who he claimed to be. I was on my Mormon mission, a two year voluntary obligation for many young men in the LDS Church. President Kimball’s visit was part of the preparation for building a Mormon temple in Argentina. Word went out in the mission that we would all make the journey to Buenos Aires to hear him dedicate the country to missionary work and address the members of the LDS Church at Luna Park, a football stadium in Buenos Aires.
Argentina is a country roughly 1/3 the size of the United States. It is so long, that if it were in the northern hemisphere, it would stretch from Canada to the Yucatan. It is located in the southern hemisphere, however, in South America. My journey northward to Buenos Aires was roughly a four day journey. We traveled by bus, and it was an arduous journey. We readied our travel plans, bought our tickets, and juggled our missionary obligations, finances, and travel so we could arrive on time for the special conference at the stadium.
It seemed every church member in the capital was housing at least one out-of-town visitor or family. We were concerned that many of us would end up sleeping in the chapel or members’ living rooms or gardens. Because of this concern, many of us planned our trips so we would either arrive just in the nick of time, or then depart soon afterwards. It was a challenge coordinating bus, train, and air schedules, and this helped make the planning harrowing and challenging.
My companion, a native Argentine, was given rare permission by the mission president to stay at his home in San Fernando, a suburb of Buenos Aires. Notwithstanding, we arrived in the capital a short time before the event and needed to get to the stadium via public transportation. We arrived just minutes before President Kimball’s scheduled arrival.
Elder Kimball was actually my first cousin, but I had never met him. We requested permission that we would be allowed to meet with him to at least to shake his hand. (This experience is similar to being granted an audience by the Pope. The term brother or Elder is a correct way to address church members or priesthood holders.)
Permission was granted, but with the caveat that nearly every minute of his visit was scheduled. He was to meet with church leaders and public officials, including Argentine President Jorge Videla. Any delay on our part could undo our meeting him. His security detail included numerous bodyguards. He could certainly greet anyone, but those accompanying him were keeping him on track and a very close eye on him, not only for security, but also possible medical problems, since he was an elderly man.
As we were taking the taxi to Luna Park, I noticed that my personal hygiene was unpleasant because of our trip. Having arrived just moments before, and with three days in transit, sleeping on the bus and train, I looked at my hands and observed that, underneath my fingernails, there was visible dirt. What was I going to do? If we made it in time to meet the prophet, and there was certainly some doubt we would arrive in time, we would certainly be in an unpleasant state. From my perspective, we were on the cusp of meeting God’s personal representative on earth, and I had dirty fingernails. In addition, we were unshowered and unpleasant. It was distressing to us both.
I learned an important lesson that day, and yes, I did meet the prophet. Technically, I doubt it would have made any difference to the Lord whether we had been clean and showered. After all, we were engaged in the work of His kingdom, but I imagined that if this physical dirt had been sin, well then, that would have been a completely different matter. I was hugely embarrassed with that physical dirt. I thought to myself, this is why we need to live the gospel, obey the commandments, and follow the prophets. Since that time, I have striven to not only have faith, but to live my faith.
My hope is that when I arrive at the judgment bar of God, I have kept the faith, have finished my course, and that there is a crown laid up for me in heaven, which the Lord, the Righteous Judge, will give me. (See New Testament, Second Timothy 4: 7-8.)
Article was written by Mel Borup Chandler
Mel Borup Chandler lives in California. He writes about science-related topics, technological breakthroughs and medicine. Mel is a former member of the Los Angeles Press Club. Additionally, he served an LDS Mission in Argentina during Argentina’s “Dirty War.” He has written for several Spanish language newspapers in the Los Angeles area including La Opinion and El Universal. His email address is email@example.com.
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