During the opening session of the 132nd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held in October 2012, President Thomas S. Monson made a landmark announcement to the members of the Church worldwide. He announced that young men may now enter the Missionary Training Center (MTC) after their 18th birthday, and young women may enter after their 19th birthday.
Following that monumental announcement, many young men and women made the decision to place college and careers on hold for 18 months (for the young women) to two years (for the young men) to be about their Heavenly Father’s business by serving a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ. While on the Lord’s errand, they put the cares of the world behind them as they devote all of their time and attention to strengthening their relationship with Heavenly Father, praying fervently, studying the scriptures, and serving and teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the people in their assigned areas.
However, there comes a day when the mission is over. There comes a time when they are released as full-time missionaries, and return home to their families and loved ones. As they return and report about their life changing experiences, the indelible question that perhaps weighs on their mind is, “What happens now that I am home from my mission?”
Transitioning from the Missionary Life to the “Normal” Life
A young returned missionary from Canada described his experience with returning home after serving a two year mission:
Coming home after serving my full-time mission was harder than leaving home had been,” said a young Canadian returned missionary. “I’m usually not an emotional person,” he added, “but during the first months after I returned home, I felt a great deal of emotion. Often I didn’t understand my mixed-up feelings. At times, I would go to bed at night and cry. I was embarrassed and put on a front for my family and friends because I didn’t want them to know.
Bruce L. Olsen, director of Public Affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1989 to 2008, stated in an address given in 1991, that it is not uncommon for returned missionaries to feel somewhat at a loss as they transition from a life where they had the opportunity to serve as full-time ambassadors for the Lord Jesus Christ back to a life at home, where they have to deal with day-to-day challenges. He encouraged those who had already returned home from their missions, as well as those who would soon be returning, to be patient with themselves, and in time they would make a successful transition.
Some returned missionaries, for a period of time as they strive to readjust to “normal” life, may feel as though they are on an incredible roller coaster ride. A mental health advisor with the Church Missionary Department described the experience of returning home as follows:
Returning from a faithfully served mission is a singular experience. You’re about as happy and satisfied as it’s possible to be. You’re also as tired as you’ve ever been, and there’s an amount of sorrow: it can be a lot harder to come home than it was to leave.
For many missionaries, this can be a bittersweet experience. It can be hard to leave behind the people and work you love dearly, a new understanding of who you are, and a structure to your days. RMs (Returned Missionaries) can quickly find themselves looking for something to give meaning to their lives again.
Young returnees can be caught off guard by the complexity of post-mission life. Your lifestyle literally changes overnight. While you served, you only had to worry about one thing. The work was not easy, but once you settled in, the daily schedule became a manageable, simplistic life. Then you go home and it’s not that way anymore. Your life suddenly has a number of dimensions: dating and finding a spouse, school, job, money, cars. It can create angst in the returned missionary who suddenly has a million decisions to make every day.
Senior missionaries face challenges, too. Seniors often develop rich, robust relationships and feel very valued as missionaries for the role they play. When they come home, it is hard for them to replicate that feeling of being valued by the ward or community.
Mormon Missionaries Who Return Home Early
Even missionaries of the most stalwart faith may experience some feelings of regret, especially as they begin to wonder if the service that they rendered was sufficient. There may even be feelings of deep remorse and guilt as they look back over their missionary experience and realize that they may not had accomplished all that they had hoped to do. Those feelings are perhaps felt more profoundly by those who are sent home early from their mission because of medical or other reasons. In addition to those feelings, there is also the fear of rejection or judgment by others. The reality is that many missionaries who return home early from their mission feel a sense of failure.
Zach Bullock experienced these feelings when he returned home in 2008 after serving seven months of a two-year mission call to Italy. Upon returning home, he never bothered to unpack his suitcase, and immediately found a job that required him to work on Sundays so that he could avoid church meetings and having to talk to people at Church about his mission. He eventually completed a degree in social work at Utah Valley University, but soon became obsessed with the idea that he needed to complete a Master’s degree to somehow prove that he could finish something important. Commenting on the experience, Bullock, now a BYU graduate, stated, “I didn’t feel normal. I feel like I failed.” Two years short of leaving for his mission his father passed away from stomach cancer. His father’s dying wish was that his son would serve a mission. In retrospect, Bullock commented, “I thought I had dealt with his death, but it turned out I hadn’t gotten over it.”
The late Church President Gordon B. Hinckley in a 2003 Worldwide Leadership Training broadcast commented on the importance of good physical and mental health:
Good physical and mental health is vital. There are parents who say, ‘If only we can get Johnny on a mission, then the Lord will bless him with health.’ It seems not to work out that way. Rather, whatever ailment or physical or mental shortcoming a missionary has when he comes into the field only becomes aggravated under the stress of the work.
There must be health and strength, both physical and mental, for the work is demanding, the hours are long, and the stress can be heavy.
Help With the Transition Process
In reference to missionaries who return early from their missions because of health or other problems, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in his October 2013 General Conference address titled “Like a Broken Vessel” stated, “Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed. While God is at work making those repairs, the rest of us can help by being merciful, nonjudgmental and kind.” Therefore, members of the congregation need to be less judgmental, and more warm and accepting of returned missionaries, whether they were able to serve a full mission or not.
The returned missionary can also help lessen the stress and confusion they may feel after returning home by becoming actively involved in their wards and branches. They should also find good friends, and Church leaders who will take the time to listen, as well as close family members to share their feelings with.
Bruce L. Olsen in his address titled “Home from a Mission” counseled,
Establish a pattern of steadfastness in the gospel and serve well in whatever Church service to which you are called. Talk about your feelings with your parents, Bishop, Relief Society President, or home teachers. And remember, baptisms are not the only measure of a successful mission. Equally important are helping to fellowship new members of the Church, encouraging less-active members toward full activity in the Church, giving Christian service, planting for a future gospel harvest, helping companions, and deepening your own conversion.
Advice for Returned Missionaries
LDS psychologist, Wendy Ulrich, suggests that the first thing returned missionaries need is a vacation – a time to relax and unwind. They have basically gone non-stop during their time of missionary service and need a small break, but she also suggests that the break should not last longer than a couple of weeks. As soon as possible, they should begin to look for something concrete to do.
She also suggest that there needs to be a shift in spiritual thinking, “Instead of being in the middle of God’s work, you have to bring God into your work—the work of preparing for your future.” She continues, “Keep communicating with the Lord. Be patient: answers to prayers may not come as quickly or directly. But the Spirit isn’t going to leave you just because you’re not baptizing people.”
She encourages those who come home early from their mission to accept their release and keep pressing forward by faith. She further commented that coming home early “is not the defining experience of your life. It can be lonely. But the Lord will find ways to use every experience of our lives for our good.”
Don’t forsake everything in the spiritual dimension of your life. Maintain a high degree of spirituality in public and private religious practice. Strongly urge your Bishop to give you a calling—and then magnify it.
Dictionary.com defines the word “conversion” as, “a change of attitude, emotion, or viewpoint from one of indifference, disbelief, or antagonism to one of acceptance, faith, or enthusiastic support, especially such a change in a person’s religion.” Therefore, to be converted entails a transformation of character, or nature of a person. In the spiritual sense, it is a change from sinfulness to righteousness. “It is such a significant change that the Lord and His prophets refer to it as a rebirth, a change of heart, and a baptism of fire.” 
24 For, said he, I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit. Read more
A basic definition of the word “missionary” states, “A person sent on a religious mission, especially one sent to promote Christianity in a foreign country.” An even broader definition of the word “missionary” could state, “A person who is strongly in favor of a program or a set of principles who is sent on a mission by a church into an area for the purpose of attempting to persuade or convert others, or for other activities such as educational or hospital work.”
Following the announcement made by Thomas S. Monson, President and Prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently referred to as the Mormon Church), during the opening session of the 182nd Semiannual General Conference concerning the new age requirements for missionaries, eligible young men may begin serving a mission at age 18, and eligible young women may serve a mission starting at age 19. These young missionaries do not choose where they will serve, but humbly and willingly go on the Lord’s errand to work in whatever area of His vineyard they are needed. Young men serve for two years and young women serve for a period of 18 months. Some may serve their mission not far from home, while others may be called to serve in faraway distant lands, all with the same intent and purpose – to preach and teach the gospel, and to bring precious souls unto Christ. Read more
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
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
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), Thomas S. Monson, Prophet and President of the Church of Jesus Christ, announced that the age requirements for those wishing to serve full-time missions has been lowered to 18 years of age for young men and 19 years of age for young women. With that announcement came an influx of applications from young people who are willing and ready to answer the call to serve.
In order to accommodate the number of new missionaries that will be entering one of the 15 Missionary Training Centers (MTC) worldwide, of which the MTC in Provo, Utah is the largest, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced that it will close its church-owned Benemerito de las Americas high school in Mexico City this spring and reopen it as a new MTC starting in July. The new center, which LDS Church officials state will become the second-largest MTC in the world, will train between 1,200 and 2,000 new missionaries called to serve in Mexico and other Latin American countries every year. Students currently attending the high school will have to return to the Mexican public school system.
Elder Daniel L. Johnson, president of the Church’s Mexico Area, announced the change at a meeting at the facility in Mexico City on Tuesday, 29 January 2013. Elder Russell M. Nelson presided at the meeting and was accompanied by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and other Church leaders.
“The future lies before us,” Elder Nelson said. “Now, instead of hundreds being educated at Benemerito, thousands will be educated here at the MTC. Many of them will come from other nations.”
In regards to the announcement, The Church of Jesus Christ issued the following statement on Tuesday, 29 January 2013, to the news media:
Church leaders announced today that the Church-owned high school Benemerito de las Americas near Mexico City will become a training center for missionaries who will serve in Mexico and North, Central and South America.
Church leaders made the decision after considering every immediate alternative that could alleviate the demand at the Church’s other missionary training centers around the world, including the MTC in Provo, Utah. 
Elder Nelson gratefully acknowledged the cooperation of Church leaders and members in Mexico.
“We extend praise and gratitude to students, staff, faculty, families and graduates. You have made of this place a sacred and special location,” Elder Nelson said.
“This hallowed ground where we stand today will become more sacred with each passing year,” Elder Nelson said. “Better, higher and holier purposes will be served in the future than we’ve ever known before.” 
Elder Holland noted the sadness expressed by both students and families at the announcement of the closure of an important educational and cultural resource for the Latter-day Saints of Mexico. Benemerito was established in 1964, and has experienced the blessing of having 23,000 graduates during its 49 year history.
“I see tears in your eyes,” Elder Holland observed. “Tears are the price we pay for sacrifice and love.”
“Instead of a few hundred educated here each year, many thousands will be trained each year,” he said. “Many will come from other countries. They will receive training, but they will also learn to love Mexico, its language and its people.
“This hallowed ground where we sit tonight will become more and more sacred with each passing year,” Elder Holland continued. “Better, higher and holier purposes will be fulfilled here that will bless the lives of generations yet unborn and help them become what God intends that we become.”
In that way, Elder Holland said, this transition for the facility “will be a blessing to the entire world.” 
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.
A Mormon (the nickname sometimes given to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) has created a new website to help prospective missionaries prepare to serve in locations unfamiliar to them. This is not an official site for the Church, but the project of an individual.
Mormons who decide to serve a mission agree to go wherever they are needed. This means they are usually sent someplace very different from where they grew up, since one purpose of a mission is to broaden the young person’s horizons. A Utah young adult will get sent to the very diverse Philadelphia. A Philadelphian will find himself in Utah. A rich missionary will find himself in a developing nation.
The site’s founder, Brigham Young University student Alex Balinski, was sent to Argentina. He wished he could find a resource that would help him understand the culture before he went. Even two years in Argentina mingling with the native people and speaking the language caused him to realize there was still much he did not understand about the country. While preparing projects for his broadcast journalism classes after his mission, he began conceiving the idea of a website that would help prospective missionaries learn about the cultures of the places they will be serving in and where former missionaries could provide first-hand information on how to best prepare for a mission.
The recent lowered ages for both male and female missionaries made the project even more essential. Missionaries will be serving at younger ages and will need to be better prepared to leave home and spend two demanding and maturing years serving God.
He recruited other students at BYU to help him search YouTube for ready-made videos that could be placed on the site to get it started quickly. Eventually he hopes to have country-specific information, a forum where prospective missionaries can ask questions of returned missionaries or collect information from people with experience and knowledge about a location or an aspect of missionary service. The site will also link to missionary blogs and to other resources.
The website, Prepare to Serve, is volunteer-run and accepts donations to cover the costs. People can also volunteer to help provide location information or missionary advice.
Mormon men may serve a two-year mission at age eighteen if they have completed high school or the equivalent. Missionary work is primarily a priesthood responsibility and young men are expected (but not required) to serve. (Mormons have a lay priesthood for all worthy men) but women are welcome in the mission field and are often welcomed into homes that turn away men. Women serve for eighteen months beginning at age nineteen. Since the lowering of the ages, the percentage of applications from women has risen dramatically to just less than half of all applications. Unmarried Mormon men can serve only until age 26, but unmarried women may serve at any age. Retired couples may also serve missions together.
Mormons serve missions at their own expense and most save money from childhood for the experience. The strict discipline, the exposure to new cultures, and the intense focus on serving God helps missionaries mature more quickly than many of their peers and also prepares them for successful careers and family life. They often develop a firm testimony of the gospel during that time of service and establish a habit of lifelong service to others.
Visit the website:
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.