Called to Serve
The collective intake of breath in the conference centre, and at many venues around the world, was an indication of the momentous announcement when President Thomas S. Monson began his opening remarks in the October 2012 General Conference. The age for missionaries serving was lowered to 18 years for young men, and 19 years for young women. It was one of those moments when many members of the Church will remember where they were when they heard the news, as they recount the effect it had on them and their families.
In the surprising announcement, the Prophet said, “I am pleased to announce that effective immediately all worthy and able young men …. will have the opportunity of being recommended for missionary service beginning at the age of 18, instead of the age of 19. As we prayerfully pondered the age at which young men may begin their missionary service we have also given consideration to the age at which young women might serve. I’m 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.”
Already, the policy change has seen a vast increase in missionary applications from throughout the Pacific Area being submitted, and many young men and women are enthusiastically taking advantage of the option to serve a mission now, rather than later.
Auckland New Zealand Henderson Stake President, Glenn Burgess, commented, “On the morning of the announcement our Stake High Council was meeting. We were able to watch the press conference release live, which brought a “WOW” response to those watching. It was exciting news to hear such change, especially for the young women. There has been much talk amongst the youth, YSA, parents and leaders, as to what it will actually mean and how preparations will need to be made that much earlier. Previously, when young women left the youth programme, their planning did not necessarily include missionary service, as it was still 3 years away. Now that it is only a year, it certainly brings it into consideration. In the first four weeks since the announcement our stake had three young men and three young women register their online applications. Of those registered, one young man was 18 and all three young women were 19.”
One of the young women is Cheyenne Joseph, a law student at Auckland University. She said, “I have always wanted to serve a mission. When the mission age was lowered I immediately went to see my Bishop. I had my papers in within three weeks. The whole experience has strengthened my testimony tenfold, especially in regards to faith. In 3 Nephi 24: 10 it speaks about the Lord opening the windows of heaven and pouring out a blessing that there will be no room to receive, I have never fully understood that scripture until now. The Lord has blessed me so much, and they continue to come. I searched for a job all last year, I applied everywhere and couldn’t get work. The day after I submitted my mission papers, I was offered a full time job. The Lord will always provide a way that we may accomplish what he has asked of us. As I reflect back I realised that the Lord was preparing me for this time, I am so thankful to be a part of this gospel.”
President Anthony Poutu from the Whangarei Stake is enthusiastic about the announcement. He said, “The change in missionary age came as a great source of joy and excitement in our Stake, and many of our older youth and younger YSA are very excited about the inspired change. I also felt it was in part an answer to many prayers around the world in regards to concerns we have had for our YSA. In the first few weeks after the announcement we had nine potential missionaries begin preparations to serve in the near future, most of whom are sisters. This is an increase of over 100% of missionaries serving from our Stake.”
President Poutu shared the examples of YSA student Brooklyn Holtz, who was recently made dux of her school and received a scholarship for her education next year. She now desires to serve a mission and is hoping to defer the scholarship until after her mission. If it can’t be deferred, she still wants to serve anyway, and is willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to serve.
Te Waipounamu Stone went to see President Poutu the day after the announcement, and has now started on his mission papers. He has been attending the Mission Preparation class since then, and is preparing well.
Closer to home, President Poutu’s own daughter Tempest had always planned to serve a mission when she turned 21, which is still 18 months away. When the announcement came the family was excited because she could now submit her papers. However, initially Tempest was not as excited, as she was relying on the extra time to prepare. She prayed for direction and received a powerful witness to submit her papers in January. She is now preparing for her mission with full purpose of heart.
Bishop Grant Stone, from Aeroview Ward, in Auckland commented, “The announcement was one of surprise and excitement, also one of prophetic vision from President Monson. I immediately thought that this would possibly double the existing missionary force, and that there must be something big looming on the horizon! It also confirmed that the second coming grows closer, and that we need to be doing all we can to hasten the work along.”
Bishop Stone continues, “There was a buzz and energy in the air on hearing the announcement which was discussed at length by members and in particular, our young men and women. It seemed that it opened up an amazing opportunity, and bridged the gap between leaving school and serving a mission. Youth could see the possibilities of service open up to them immediately. For some, it was ‘wow, I can go now and don’t have to wait’.”
Sunset Ward’s Bishop Matt Murray is also seeing the effect first-hand. Shortly after the announcement, he was driving home after a meeting.“A family popped into my mind, so I turned the car around and went and knocked on their door,” he says. “The mother said ‘Bishop, I had you on my list to call tonight because I really needed to talk to you about my son.’ I told her that I had an impression to come by and visit. Her son expressed a desire to serve as a missionary as soon as possible. So I met with him and while I was there we were able to activate his online missionary application.”
Bishop Murray says that immediately following conference he had five young members of his ward apply to serve as missionaries.“This has created a lot of excitement among our young people,” he said.
Across all wards and stakes, it is the young women who are celebrating the age change the most. Bishop David Clarke from Albany Ward said, “Immediately after the change we had three young women aged 19 – 20 years come to see me about specific impressions they had felt during the announcement by President Monson. All three registered on-line and began preparing for their missions. It seems that their excitement is having an impact on others who are on the verge of thinking about serving a full-time mission.
Waikato University academic Dr Michael Walmsley, a member of the Church, says “Certainly the age change has created a buzz among the young women,” he says, “and I think many more will consider going on a mission as part of their overall education plan. Long term this will strengthen Latter-day Saint youth, couples and families, as more young people have the unique experiences of missionary service, earlier in their lives.” Dr. Walmsley’s daughter Jenna, and son Ryan are both preparing to serve missions.
Libby Rapata from Torbay Ward also activated her mission papers as soon as the age change was announced. “I’m very excited for the age change as I know it prompted a large number of young women to serve, who might not have chosen to go on a mission at the later age. I’m also eager to see what the large influx of missionaries will do for the church. I felt a sense of urgency to share the gospel and serve a mission, when I learnt of the age change,” she said.
Michael Higgins, Harbour Stake president, says the announcement from President Monson has generated more activity and interest than he had anticipated. “When a Prophet speaks and issues an invitation, miracles large and small occur. The rising generation are in tune, and the response is wonderful,” he said. “At the time of the announcement we had 22 missionaries from our stake serving, with a further six who had received calls and were waiting to enter the field. In the two weeks following the announcement we had a further 14 individuals start their application process on line, and more coming in every week. There is a new found excitement across the stake. I can see that the numbers of missionaries serving from the stake will soon double. It is marvellous.’
President Higgins continued, “There are over 58,000 missionaries currently serving throughout the world,” he adds. “Many young men and women come home from their missions saying that their lives have been enriched by their experiences serving in far-flung places, teaching people about Jesus Christ, and meeting people from many other countries. And they themselves have often changed and grown in absolutely miraculous ways. They are more humble, more focused on helping others, more confident, more optimistic and ready to keep on making positive contributions in their city, town or village — and with their family and friends. Their missions,” he says, “become a solid foundation for the rest of their lives.”
New Zealand Auckland Mission President, Paul Lekias, says he is excited about the prospect of thousands of additional young men and women joining an already exceptional 'army' of valiant servants, who leave behind education, family and friends to truly become disciples of Christ by inviting all to come unto Him.“This will not only influence the youth preparing to serve missions, the announcement will influence the entire membership of the Church,” he said.
A few months ago Chris Vaughan and Rachael Bennallack were planning their temple marriage. Then came the Prophet’s announcement of the age change.
19 year old Rachael said “As long as I can remember I have always had a strong desire to serve a full-time mission. Following President Monson’s announcement, I was prompted to visit my past desire to serve a mission. This came as a shock to me, as although it was now a possibility for me age wise, I was engaged to be married very soon, to a wonderful returned missionary. After much prayer, fasting, studying and pondering, I received the answer and confirmation that I should serve a mission before getting married. This decision has brought to pass wonderful feelings of peace and comfort, as I know this is part of the Lord’s plan for me. From past experience, I have a strong testimony of the importance of following the promptings of the Spirit, even when I can’t understand or comprehend its full purposes at this present time. My desire to serve has been strengthened by the way Chris fondly speaks of his mission, and the great love he has for the people he served. Dedicating eighteen months of my life to sharing the wonderful blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ, is an important way I feel that I can express my love and gratitude for all the Saviour has done for me.”
Chris knows the benefits and blessings of serving a mission. He returned home from the England Leeds Mission in early 2011. He adds, “My mission developed me spiritually more than anything else I could possibly do, so I wanted Rachael to feel the things that I felt, and experience what I experienced during my 24 months. It was only after Rachael made this decision that I told her I always dreamed about marrying a returned sister missionary. As for marriage, if something is worth doing for eternity, then it is worth waiting for.”
At a press conference in October last year following the announcement, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve and chairman of the Church's Missionary Executive Council, said the matter had been prayerfully studied for many months. “This is an option that will allow more young men and women to enjoy the blessings of missionary service,” he said.
“It will also be a great blessing to their families now and in the future. We hope that many will seize this opportunity. We hope that it will also allow our youth greater flexibility in planning for their schooling, careers, marriage and military obligations, when and if needed.”
Since the earliest days of the Church, more than 1 million missionaries have served worldwide, and with this change, many more missionaries will heed the call to serve the Lord.