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 announcement, 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, and many young men and women are enthusiastically taking advantage of the option to serve a mission now, rather than later.
President Mark Pemberton from the Perth Australia Southern River Stake said, “It certainly is an exciting announcement that will reverberate through the church for some time. There is significant excitement amongst the young people in our stake. Bishops have had many young women ask to visit with them to discuss a mission. Our youth are exceptionally excited, and many young men and young women have indicated that they are keen to go as soon as they are of age. It is difficult to give a percentage of those who have indicated they will go earlier, but I would say amongst the women we will have about five times the number serving missions by the end of the year. This is a significant increase for us, and will have a huge impact on our stake as the blessings flow while they prepare, while they serve, and when they come home.”
President Pemberton concludes, “I am so excited to be a stake president at this time, and I am thrilled to see the Lord working through a vibrant prophet, who is truly the Lord’s mouthpiece on the Earth.”
Brisbane Australia: Stake President, Dale Maurer, has seen the same result within his stake, since the announcement last year. He said, “President Monson's announcement regarding the lowering of the minimum age for missionary service has been a great inspiration and motivation for the youth, and YSA in our Stake. The numbers attending mission preparation class lifted from 10-15 attending each week, to 40-50 in the weeks following the announcement. Soon after the announcement I had a number of 19 and 20 year old sisters advise me that they would be putting in their missionary application papers. We have 18 year old brethren who, upon hearing the announcement, had a strong feeling to defer their second year of university so they could submit their mission papers straight away. In the initial few weeks after October conference I met with two sisters who are both under 21 years of age, who immediately submitted their applications.”
President Maurer continues, “When the announcement was made and since that time, I have seen the wisdom of the Lord and the trust that he places in young people. He is certainly hastening His work and calling upon parents, leaders and especially our youth to prepare early, and prepare well.”
Miracles are occurring around the world as the missionary age announcement is affecting the lives of future missionaries and their families, in unexpected ways.
Senior missionary couple Elder and Sister Jordan, serving in the Apia Samoa Mission, saw this occur in the life of their 17 year old grandson, Andrew Jordan, who had a deep desire to serve in the United States Army. From the age of 11 Andrew set his sights on entering the United States Military Academy (or West Point, as it is more commonly known.) The acceptance process was extremely brutal and time consuming. It required him to go through four or five different committees in order to be accepted. After this excruciating process he received an acceptance letter, with instructions to commence his training at the academy a few months later. To accommodate young LDS recruits who may want to enlist, the academy has a policy that once recruits have completed a full year of training, they can take two years time out to serve a mission. Andrew fully intended to serve his mission after his first year at West Point, and take advantage of that, once he was 19.
Then unexpectedly, he received a letter from the Department of Defence informing him that he had been disqualified on medical grounds. He appealed vigorously and his family enlisted the help of a Senator, a Congressman, and the Army General in charge of West Point, to apply for a special waiver. All efforts failed and the congressman involved told them the reason it was just not meant to be, was because God had a different plan for him.
Confused, Andrew started searching for what it was that he needed to be doing. He realized that he wanted to be on his mission, but he still had more than a year to wait. For several months he asked the Lord frequently for something to happen that would allow him to leave early.
Having turned 18 just two weeks before the October General Conference, Andrew sat listening as President Monson began the announcement, and had a sense of what was about to be said. He unashamedly began to dance around the TV cheering with excitement. He immediately called his parents, and his bishop, and started his mission application.
“As I sat and pondered the glory of the Lord and his gospel, I was struck by the realization that, had I been accepted at West Point, I would not have been allowed to leave for my mission for another year,” he said. “I am not naive enough to think the Lord made this announcement just for me, but I do firmly believe the Saviour has molded my life in such a way that I would be prepared for this point in time. Someone out there in the world needs me to be a tool of the Lord, and allow Him to use me to bring the Gospel to them.”Andrew has since been called to serve in the Russia Moscow Mission.
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.