I have never seen President Monson look more serious, nor earnest, than when he opened the 182nd Semiannual General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and made the following announcement:
“I am pleased to announce that, effective immediately, all worthy and able young men, who 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 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”.
In light of this I'm reflecting on what it will mean to each of us. There is no doubt that the decision to lower the age of serving missionaries – both male and female – will affect all of us in some way; some more than others. So I am keen to explore what it will mean to you.
The last 48 hours has seen many members of the church express how they feel about these changes. From where I sit, overwhelmingly the response has been positive. Facebook and Twitter are a buzz with the news and it is clear that the general consensus is good.
So I would like to highlight some of the ways in which this announcement will bless the lives of many families, young men, and young women:
- The clearest blessing, and one that was highlighted by Elder Nelson and Elder Holland, is that the gospel will now be spread further and wider. New missions will be opened, and greater numbers of missionaries will be added to the army of young men and young women already spreading the gospel message. Individuals and families who have never even heard the name of our church will now have the opportunity to accept the Saviors message.
- This announcement will have no greater effect in the lives of young men than it will within the South Pacific Area. Very often university (college) placement here require students to begin and complete courses without any kind of interruption. Not all, but many courses, including medicine, engineering, and law, make it almost impossible for the student to defer half way through. This is heightened by the fact that it is harder to gain entrance to these and other tertiary institutions above the age of 22.
- Most recently I have heard from our area leaders that statistically the church loses more young men between the ages of 18 and 19 than at any other age. Satan finds every way he can to take hold of our young people at the most critical times. For many young men this change will mean beginning their missionary service immediately, or soon, after their high school graduation. Allowing them to avoid that vacant transitional time between graduation and the start of college. As one mum stated, “Testifying of Jesus Christ for 18-24 months at such a young age? Nothing but great things will come from this”.
- Perhaps the most enduring effect this change will have is in the lives of the young women of the church. President Monson stressed that the churches longstanding view that young women are not expected to serve, but are encouraged to serve if they feel moved to do so remains in tact. However, it has clearly opened up those options to many more young women now than ever before. Social network sites across the globe are awash with comments from young women declaring it to be, “The best news ever!”. I predict that this announcement will initially have a greater impact on the numbers of young women serving than young men.
- As a more long term effect of #4 above, future families and generations of children will benefit greatly from the experience of these young women who have dedicated 18 months of their lives to teaching and testifying of the pure doctrines of Christ. There is no greater training ground for motherhood than missionary service.
- As has been explained to me, the athletics programs in US colleges make it very difficult for young men to take a two year break to serve a mission. This change means that young men can now fulfill the priesthood duty of missionary service before having to make a decision to take that break or not.
I'm sure there are many more benefits to be had, and I encourage the readers here to share them. But more than anything I am grateful for a living prophet who is able to lead and direct the Lords church on earth today. It is a time of change and hastening, and this is one way that we as members can help preserve righteousness as well as further the Lords work.