Prospective Missionaries Encouraged to Prepare Early

Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer

  • 30 January 2015

Students participate in a missionary preparation class in Mission Viejo, California.  Photo by Alan Gibby.

Article Highlights

  • Young men and young women are serving their missions earlier, so it is essential they prepare earlier.
  • As many prospective missionaries feel the urgency of mission preparation, they are beginning to make preparation a priority.

“The most repeated phrase I hear from [high school] seniors is ‘I wish had prepared myself earlier when I was a freshman and a sophomore.’” —David Low, seminary instructor at Logan High School in Utah 

There was a time, not long ago, when prospective missionaries could bank some post-high school “life experiences” before reporting to the mission field.

Most young men had at least six months or so after graduation before they celebrated their 19th birthday. During that time, many future missionaries began focusing on their gospel studies while attending college or maybe working a full-time job.

Young women who planned to serve a mission had even longer to prepare. It was not unusual for a 21-year-old sister missionary to answer the call following several years of college or time in the workplace.

That’s all changed. Now, of course, young men are beginning their missions at 18—in many cases, just days or weeks after high school graduation. Meanwhile, thousands of young women today are reporting to missions across the globe immediately after turning 19.

Young men and young women are serving their missions earlier, so it’s essential to prepare earlier. Gone are the days when a teenage boy or girl can begin prepping for missionary service after earning their high school diploma.

Robert Norman is among the many veteran youth leaders who welcomed the historic change to the missionary age policy. For decades he worked as a seminary and institute instructor. He also presided over the New Hampshire Manchester Mission (1992–1995). His professional and ecclesiastical assignments offered plenty of opportunities to observe young people in that sometimes volatile period between high school graduation and full-time missionary service.

The traditional year or so between graduation and the mission “was sometimes a year for a young man to get lost,” he said.

But now young men are beginning their missions within days or weeks after finishing high school. Sister missionaries don’t wait much longer. Brother Norman agrees there is more urgency than ever before to prepare—but, he adds, many are doing just that.

Elder Jonathan Gates of Herriman, Utah, is just a month or two removed from his 18th birthday. The ink on his high school diploma may still be a little wet; he graduated in the summer of 2014. But on January 21, Elder Gates reported to the missionary training center in Provo to learn the Tagalog language. In a few weeks he’ll begin serving in the Philippines Urdanete Mission.

The scriptures and the Preach My Gospel manual are the ideal “study guides” for missionary preparation.

As many young men and young women are leaving for missions right after high school, it is encouraged they begin preparing early.

The young elder admits the change to the age policy prompted him to make missionary prep a priority even as he kept up on his high school homework and enjoyed a memorable senior year.

“I really concentrated on reading the scriptures and studying Preach My Gospel and the other missionary books,” he told the Church News just hours before reporting to the MTC.

Brother Norman, who teaches the missionary preparation class in the South Jordan Utah Highland Stake, said it is essential that Elder Gates and all future missionaries begin their preparation by building a relationship with the Lord.

“When I was a mission president, I would ask newly-arrived missionaries in our first interviews when they started having daily personal prayers,” he said. “Personal and daily family prayers are huge for future missionaries.”

Brother Norman added that well-prepared missionaries have also supplemented their high school studies with regular study of the scriptures and Preach My Gospel. Even the newest missionary can be empowered with a testimony and the power to teach others if they have already incorporated such materials into their daily lives.

Brother Norman also teaches his high school age students about personal responsibility. They can start by keeping their rooms clean.

“If, for example, all missionaries kept their apartments in good shape we would never lose an apartment deposit—and that money could be used for missionary work,” he said. “Good missionaries take responsibility for themselves and respect others.”

Future missionaries cannot study in a formal missionary training center prior to their calls, but they can prepare in a “pre-missionary training center”: seminary.

“Ideally, the seminary experience flows right into the missionary experience,” said David Low, a seminary instructor at Utah’s Logan High School.

The second half of the school year is an exciting time for Brother Low and his fellow teachers. That’s when dozens of high school seniors begin receiving their mission calls. Each call is met with joy—and a dose of humility.

“The most repeated phrase I hear from seniors is ‘I wish had prepared myself earlier when I was a freshman and a sophomore,’” he said.

More than ever before, the younger students in seminary are realizing their own missionary service is fast approaching. There’s no time to waste.

“If every young man and young woman uses their four years of seminary to read and study sacred texts each day, they will be well prepared for their missions,” he said.

Elder Gates said the temple also became his personal missionary training center. After receiving his call, his bishop assigned him to serve as an ordinance worker at the Oquirrh Mountain Utah Temple.

“The temple has helped me prepare and better understand the Spirit,” he said. “Going to the temple helped push me to the finish line before starting my mission.”