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
When my son and I sat in the missionary training center in Provo, Utah, on his first day as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I suddenly didn’t want all the change his mission would bring to our relationship. I turned to him and whispered, “Daniel, you don’t have to go.”
“I want to go Mom,” he reassured me.
So he went. And I let him. Like every missionary mother, I looked forward to every letter and phone call I received in the two years he was away.
Young men and women who serve missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often inadvertently called the Mormon Church) are permitted to contact their families and friends through letters or emails written once a week. But missionaries are allowed only two phone calls home each year: on Christmas and Mother’s Day. These phone calls are the highlight of the year for many Mormon families, especially for the mothers of the missionaries.
Why do Mormons Serve Missions?
The ultimate goal of missionary work in The Church of Jesus Christ is to invite all the inhabitants of the earth to come unto Christ, gain a personal testimony of Him, and make and keep covenants to follow Him.
The Church of Jesus Christ began sending out missionaries immediately after the Church was organized in April 1830. The first missionary was Samuel Smith, a younger brother of Joseph Smith, who was the first prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ. He traveled through upstate New York bearing testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and selling copies of that book. Since that early beginning, the missionary force within the Church has grown to more than 65,000 missionaries serving throughout the world. Missionaries always serve with a missionary companion but they are assigned a new companion from time to time. Read more
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church, every member is a missionary. Thousands serve full-time and wear missionary tags, but most are missionaries in their everyday lives. For some, like me, this is a scary prospect. Clayton M. Christensen is a Mormon who takes this responsibility seriously. He is a Harvard business professor, a New York Times best-selling author and one of the world’s top management thinkers. But “first and foremost, he is a missionary,” according to a recent Meridian Magazine article by Andy Proctor titled “The #1 Business Innovator is a Missionary First.” He has had decades’ worth of missionary experiences and has written what he learned in his new book, “The Power of Everyday Missionaries,” according to the article.
Christensen, who has served in various Church responsibilities, has observed that Church members generally “struggle to magnify their callings because they simply don’t know how to do them. That realization led to another realization, which became his motivation for writing” the book, according to a Deseret News article, “Clayton Christensen hopes ‘The Power of Everyday Missionaries’ spurs discussion about member missionary work,” by Trent Toone. Read more
As missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints go forth on the Lord’s errand proclaiming the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ, they strive to emulate the Master by putting what they teach into action – or in other words, by “Walking the Walk.” During the week leading up the greatest charitable act the world has ever known – the Atonement of the Savior for the sins of the world – twelve full-time missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ rendered aid to victims of a massive fire which destroyed 678 homes in the Khayalitsha Township near Cape Town, South Africa, on New Year’s Day 2013. They assisted by building permanent houses for the victims.
Donning yellow “Mormon Helping Hands” vests, and equipped with shovels and picks, the young Elders dug through layers of trash and broken cement chunks to prepare 5m x 3m forms for permanent cement pads of twelve new houses. They dug 40 cm trenches in the former junk pile field which would soon be the new neighborhood for thousands of displaced families.
After the trenches were dug, the forms were built; foundations of sand were carefully laid and smoothed to receive the top layer of 10 – 15 cm of concrete. The preparing of the pad surfaces for the cement had been the object of long delays for homes being finished for displaced recipients who were living in the O.R. Tambo Community Hall, as well as other places in Khayalitsha. The volunteer effort of the missionaries helped dramatically in speeding up the effort to restore normalcy to the lives of the displaced families.
The missionaries are part of the South Africa Cape Town Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Cape Town Zone is lead by Elder Dallin Horen and Elder Michael Knight, who charitably volunteered to rally all missionaries in their zone to assist in the building of permanent houses for the victims. 
Sister Susan Roberts, a full-time Senior Missionary commented,
When I see the blisters on those willing young men’s hands, I truly see Christian acts and love at work. They are building firm foundations of homes for others they don’t even know, and are also building a firm foundation for their own lives simultaneously without realizing it is happening as they serve. 
Upon completion of the project on Thursday, 27 March 2013, the missionaries gathered in the O.R. Tambo Community Hall with the children, mothers, fathers, mamas and papas who were displaced to have a prayer of thankfulness to our Savior, Jesus Christ, and for a brighter future and hope through hard work and supporting each other through community service and neighborly love.
During the opening session of the 182nd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ( mistakenly referred to as the Mormon Church by the media and others) held in October 2012, President and Prophet Thomas S. Monson announced the lowering of age requirements for young men and young women desiring to serve a full-time mission. Young men may now begin their full-time missionary service following their graduation from high school, even if they are only 18 years of age at the time. Young women who have not been eligible for full-time missionary service until age 21, may now begin their service at age 19.
The Church of Jesus Christ currently has 64,373 missionaries serving worldwide, with an average of 1,400 missionaries per week being called to serve in the Lord’s vineyard since 1 January 2013. Of those called, 57% are elders, 36% are sisters, and 7% are seniors. Each person who is called is essentially commissioned of Jesus Christ to “Go [ye] into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15.) Further instructions are given in modern-day scripture used by The Church of Jesus Christ, as recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 18:28, “Therefore, go ye into all the world; and unto whatsoever place ye cannot go ye shall send, that the testimony may go from you into all the world unto every creature.”
“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 and the recommendation of their local church leaders.
“We reaffirm that missionary work is a priesthood duty,” President Monson said. “Young women are not under the same mandate to serve.” But, he added, the young women missionaries “make a valuable contribution as missionaries, and we welcome their service.” 
Plans are currently being reviewed for expansion of the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah. Options are being discussed with the city and neighbors that would approximately double the capacity of the Provo MTC, however, the plans are not yet finalized.
In the interim, to better accommodate the recent increase in new missionaries, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is expanding its missionary training operations by securing the use of additional buildings near the Provo MTC. Missionaries are temporarily occupying the Raintree Commons apartments at 1849 North 200 West and portions of the BYU-owned Wyview Park apartments at 146 West 1940 North in Provo, Utah.
“We are grateful for all those who have chosen missionary service,” said Elder David F. Evans, executive director of the Church’s Missionary Department. “Regardless of where they are trained, missionaries will have a rich and inspiring experience that prepares them for their labors in their assigned missions.” 
As early as May 2013, approximately 2,000 missionaries will be occupying the facilities. Both English-language missionaries and those learning foreign languages will be trained there. Those missionaries who are housed at the Raintree Commons and the Wyview Park apartments will eat, exercise and attend classes and worship services on-site. Additional temporary structures will also be installed nearby to provide services to missionaries. And, all missionaries being trained in Provo will still have opportunities to attend the Provo Temple.
A new ruling seems to be making it harder for colleges to recruit Mormon athletes who are headed for voluntary missionary service. The new ruling only allows a school 25 scholarships, and some are interpreting that to include Mormons who commit, but who leave for missions prior to attending school. Others believe it only refers to the students actually in school.
Mormon missions are voluntary, but strongly encouraged among young men. Young women may also serve, although they are not under the same sense of obligation to God to do so. Recently, the age of missionary service was lowered for both men and women. Men may now attend at age eighteen if they have finished high school and women at nineteen. This causes coaches to realize they don’t have a few years to convince an athlete not to serve a mission, and some are refusing to recruit Mormons planning on a mission—and some are refusing to recruit Mormons at all, which is, obviously, inappropriate, particularly if the school is a public college, which can’t discriminate.
Some coaches are engaging in unethical behavior, telling the parents what they want to hear, but privately trying to talk the teenager out of serving a mission. For many, this is backfiring, since the young athletes often quickly lose respect for these coaches and recognize that the essential aspects of their faith would not be respected if they were to attend the school. Many also report the conversations to their parents, since Mormon young people generally have strong relationships with their families.
One father noted that the new mission age should actually make it easier for schools because they now know for certain many of the Mormon students they are recruiting won’t start for two years. It makes planning much easier than it was when students left at nineteen.
The lowered missionary age is only an option. Missionaries may leave at any age. While many are choosing to leave straight from high school, others prefer to get some college behind them first. Most, however, have made that decision by the time colleges are recruiting them.
Many schools that have taken returned missionaries find that the new maturity and ability at teamwork more than makes up for the time required by the athlete to rebuild his skills. Missionaries are assigned a companion of the same gender with whom they share housing and spend all their time. These companionships are changed often and the missionaries learn to get along with all sorts of people as a result. Because they must work together for a higher goal and learn to put themselves last, they improve the teamwork athletes so desperately need. Missionaries must live by very strict rules and a tight schedule, giving them incredible self-discipline when they return home. In addition they have many leadership opportunities and many Mormon athletes are noted for their leadership ability.
In a time when many college athletes are making headlines for immoral behavior and even for arrests, returned Mormon missionaries are more likely to make headlines for service projects and high values. The self-discipline gained in missionary work and the understanding they achieve about how choices affect destiny prevent many from getting caught up in the fame and adulation that negatively impacts many young celebrities.
It is suspected that many schools just don’t yet understand the new rules and are avoiding Mormons due to a lack of education. As more schools take their chances and things work out, it is likely the other schools will decide not to pass up a brilliant opportunity simply because they don’t like that the student might value something even more than football. As one student said, football was very important to him and he couldn’t imagine living without it—but since God gave him football, the least he could do was to spend two years thanking God for it through service to others.
Read more about how rule changes affect Mormon athletes.
Read about the impact of the lower Mormon missionary age.
Three new buildings were expanded at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. The Center serves missionaries training to serve full-time voluntary missions. The new buildings are part of an ongoing process of renovation and upgrading. They were dedicated by Jeffrey R. Holland, a Mormon apostle, as part of an address he gave on the campus. The buildings are Matthew Cowley Instructional Building, the Addison Pratt Residence Building and the Dan Jones Residence Building and are named after famous Mormon missionaries.
Missionary training centers help new missionaries learn how to find people to teach, how to teach them, and how to succeed in their new location. Those learning a new language begin to learn it there. They become familiar with the rules and standards they are expected to uphold and begin to understand that being a missionary means to serve and to love others. The time spent in these centers has recently been shortened, in order to accommodate the influx of new missionaries that began when the minimum age for service was lowered. Additional training is provided in their assigned missions.
The missionaries for whom the buildings are named were offered by Elder Holland as examples of the kinds of missionaries the young men and women in the center should strive to become.
Addison Pratt became a Mormon when he was thirty-six and at age forty-one was sent by Joseph Smith to serve a mission in French Polynesia. He was the first known missionary to learn a new language for a mission, something that is very common today. One of the three men sent on that mission died at sea. Elder Pratt went to Tubuai while the remaining two men went to Tahiti.
He organized the first branch (small congregation) of the Church in the Pacific on July 29, 1844. The boundaries for the branch covered two villages and in time, half of the people in those villages would be converted.
In 1850, Elder Pratt’s wife Louisa and their four daughters would come to Tubuai. He and Louisa, along with several other married couples, would become the first missionary couples to serve a foreign country and foreign language mission and the first to be asked to serve in primitive areas. When she arrived however, he was under house arrest. The government had not understood that the missionaries were self-supporting. It took him until 1851 to be freed and to return to the island to join his family.
Besides teaching the gospel, they ran a school for their own children and the native children together. They tried to teach modern sanitation habits through example. They earned their own living by farming and through trade of their crops. When they finally had to leave due to changes in French laws, they were heartbroken, but they left behind many good friends, who brought so much food to their ship they had more than enough for the long journey home.
Although today’s missionaries do not serve until they are at least eighteen, there was a time when they could go at any age. Matthew Cowley served his first mission at age seventeen, and was sent to New Zealand in 1914. He taught the Maoris in Tauranga. He quickly came to love the Maori people, although he found the fleas a challenge and soon took to covering himself in flea powder at night. He faced a wide range of illnesses in this new culture, but said that knowing his family was praying for him at home helped.
He had vowed to learn twenty words of the native language each day, which he did. Unfortunately, he found himself unable to get them into proper sentences, despite studying long hours each day. He fasted and then went into a cornfield to pray privately one day, asking the Lord for help. However, he was not able to speak any better that night. He fasted a second time and again went into the cornfield to pray. That night he was somewhat more successful, but not enough to suit him, so he fasted once again. In his next prayer, he reminded God he had been called by authority from God to teach the gospel in this place, but that if it was the wrong place, he’d like to know. He wanted to serve where he could do the most good. The next morning, he was asked to offer a prayer in a Maori home. He tried to speak in English and found himself unable to do so. He switched to the native language and the words began to flow easily. He knew this was God’s answer that he was called to serve where he was. He was able to give a fifteen or twenty minute speech in fluent Maori at a missionary conference just two and a half months after his arrival.
He served three years as a missionary and then was asked to remain to translate the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price, two Mormon books of scripture used in addition to the Bible and the Book of Mormon, into the native language. He would later return to serve as president of the New Zealand Mission and presiding General Authority over the Pacific area. He was able to speak fluent Maori all his life and his missionary efforts there were legendary.
Dan Jones is considered by many to be the greatest missionary in church history. The very last revelation given by Joseph Smith, the first Mormon prophet, was to Brother Jones. Dan Jones was with Joseph just before he was murdered in Carthage Jail. Joseph assured him he would survive the murder attempt and serve a mission in Wales that would bring many people into the church. His two missions would bring 5300 people into the church. Not all were his own work, but he was a part of the missionary effort for those people.
Mormons have a long history of missionary work going back to the earliest days of the Church. They have spent untold hours sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world, following the Savior’s command to do just that.
Read more about the expansion of the Mormon missionary training center.
Read about temporary locations used for training missionaries in Provo, Utah.
When Mormon prophet Thomas S. Monson announced that the ages for Mormon missionaries was being lowered, the response was instantaneous. Some young adults began texting their church leaders for pre-missionary interviews before President Monson was finished speaking. Young Mormons were excited to get out into the world to share their faith—the earlier the better. The excitement was particularly intense for young women.
Effective immediately, young men could leave at age eighteen if they had finished high school and young women at age nineteen. In a post-conference announcement, it was noted that experience had shown it best to provide a little age difference in the missionaries, many of whom are living away from home for the first time. Missionaries follow very strict rules. They are not allowed to date, enjoy secular media of any kind, or be alone. They are with a companion at all times in order to reduce temptations and prevent problems. They are to focus their missionary time on serving Jesus Christ and building their own knowledge and testimony of the gospel. Seldom will they ever—until they are older and able to serve another mission—be able to set aside so much time for these spiritual goals. It is a time to learn to focus outside themselves, giving them a certain advantage over their peers, who are often living a very self-focused life at that age.
Nearly half the applications began to be from women, who previously made up only about eighteen percent of all missionary applications. When women, who are not under the same expectation to serve as men are, had to wait until they were twenty-one, many were married or launching careers by the time they were old enough and therefore, did not serve. With the new lower age, more women who have hoped to serve have an opportunity. Missionary applications are currently up about 500 percent.
The Church anticipated an increase and made plans to accommodate it. Time spent in missionary training centers was to be reduced, with additional training instead provided in their actual mission assignments. This allows the training to be more personalized to the area and allows the missionaries to learn in context of their work. A new missionary training center is opening in Mexico, at the site of what was a private school.
In addition, to accommodate so many new young missionaries, fifty-eight new missions are being created. These do not open new areas for missionary work. Rather, they divide the existing missions into smaller regions to manage the number of young people who must be supervised in each area. Many areas will have more missionaries to cover smaller territories, allowing them to teach more people.
It is anticipated that it will be several years before the numbers of new applications level out. Once all those in the new age ranges, or approaching it shortly, have left on missions, prospective missionaries will reach a level number. This new number is still likely to be higher as fewer young adults find themselves involved in other aspects of life by the time missionary age arrives. It is expected that the numbers of women serving missions will remain far higher than in the past.
Missionary service provides young people with opportunities that are fairly unique in their age range. Young men serve at age eighteen, with an upper age limit of twenty-six. Young women serve beginning at age nineteen but there is no upper age limit for them. They may serve at any age. Older married couples who are retired or can take time away from work sometimes choose to serve as well and couples also supervise missionaries in the field.
Because of the strict schedule and rules, they learn self-discipline (in much the same way a military school teaches discipline through unusually strict rules). Because they are with a companion around the clock, they learn to live with another person, making the adjustments needed to live harmoniously with another person who may have a very different personality or come from another culture. This helps prepare them for the challenges of marriage, and may be a contributing factor to the fact that Mormons experience fewer divorces.
Missionaries agree to serve wherever the Lord wants them to serve. They are frequently placed in a culture very different from their own—another country or a very different part of their own country. For instance, a small town Utah person living in a largely Mormon, upper-middle class environment might find himself in an eastern inner-city. His companion might be from another country. This enlarges his understanding of the world and exposes him to other ways of life, the realistic challenges of the world, and to other cultures.
Because missionaries are expected to place serving others before serving themselves, they learn to recognize and meet the needs of others. Because they are to put God’s work before their own desires, they learn to prioritize with eternal priorities.
These experiences help make Mormons what many studies have shown them to be—people who live and believe their faith, who serve others, and who are good citizens in their nations.
At the beginning of the 132nd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (mistakenly referred to as the Mormon Church by people of other faiths) held in October 2012, Prophet and President Thomas S. Monson announced the lowering of age requirements for both young men and young women desiring to serve full-time missions.
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. 
Following that church-wide announcement there has been an enthusiastic response from thousands of young perspective missionaries who are willing to answer the call to serve. In order to accomodate the influx of new missionaries The Church of Jesus Christ has put several new plans in place to include:
- Changes will be made in the amount of time that is spent in the Missionary Training Center (MTC).
- The LDS Church-owned high school in Mexico City will be converted to an MTC starting in July. The new center will train between 1,200 and 2,000 new missionaries called to serve in Mexico and other Latin American countries every year.
- Some of the 347 existing missions will be divided to form an additional 58 missions. The new missions will function in the same areas covered by existing missions.
New Mission Presidents have already been called to open the new missions. A Mission President is a High Priest called to watch over a specific region and its missionaries, called a Mission.A Mission President and his wife will typically serve in this capacity for a period of 3 years, managing the affairs of the missionaries in their assigned area. It should be noted that no new countries or territories are opening to missionary work. The creation of the additional 58 missions will bring the total number of Church missions to 405.
The new missions that will be created are as follows:
- Arizona Gilbert
- Arizona Scottsdale
- California Bakersfield
- California Irvine
- California Rancho Cucamonga
- Colorado Fort Collins
- Idaho Nampa
- Idaho Twin Falls
- Georgia Macon
- Illinois Chicago West
- Kansas Wichita
- Ohio Cincinnati
- Oregon Salem
- Utah Salt Lake City East
- Virginia Chesapeake
- Washington Federal Way
- Washington Vancouver
- Ecuador Guayaquil West
- Ecuador Quito North
- El Salvador San Salvador East
- Guatemala Cobán
- Honduras San Pedro Sula West
- México Cancún
- México Ciudad Juarez
- México Ciudad Obregón
- México México City Chalco
- México Pachuca
- México Queretaro
- México Reynosa
- México Saltillo
- Angola Luanda
- Argentina Comodoro Rivadavia
- Argentina Posadas
- Bolivia Santa Cruz North
- Botswana Gaborone
- Brazil Curitiba South
- Brazil Fortaleza East
- Brazil Juiz de Fora
- Brazil Natal
- Brazil Piracicaba
- Brazil Santos
- Brazil São Paulo West
- Chile Santiago South
- Perú Huancayo
- Perú Iquitos
- Ghana Accra West
- Liberia Monrovia
- Nigeria Benin City
- Japan Tokyo South
- Korea Seoul South
- Ukraine L’viv
- Australia Sydney North
- New Zealand Hamilton
- Papua New Guinea Lae
- Philippines Cavite
- Philippines Cebu East
- Philippines Legaspi
- Philippines Urdaneta
“The enthusiastic response to the change in missionary age requirements has given thousands of young people more options to serve and they have responded with incredible faith,” said Elder Russell M. Nelson, Chairman of the Missionary Executive Council. 
The missionary program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of its most recognized characteristics. Missionaries can be seen on major city streets, as well as in small communities throughout the world. The missionary effort is based on the New Testament pattern of Christ’s disciples being sent out two-by-two teaching the gospel, and baptizing believers in the His name. The program is fulfilling the Great Commission which our Great Exemplar gave His disciples as recorded in Matthew 28:19-20:
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
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