SALT LAKE CITY — In response to the enthusiastic reaction of young Latter-day Saints to last October’s announcement lowering the eligible age for full-time missionary service for both men and women, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is establishing 58 new missions of the church around the world.
An exclusive article in Saturday’s LDS Church News, available online, indicates that the "immediate and unprecedented" response to LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson's October announcement lowering the age of full-time missionary service to 18 for young men who are high school graduates and 19 for young women has pushed the total number of LDS missionaries currently serving around the world to more than 60,000 for the first time in more than a decade.
The number of young men and women applying to serve missions jumped nearly 500 percent after the change.
"We are thrilled with the response," Elder Russell M. Nelson of the church's Quorum of the Twelve told Church News reporter R. Scott Lloyd. "Our first feeling is one of deep gratitude for the commitment and the consecration of these missionary families."
The church is opening the 58 new missions in July, bringing the total number of LDS Church missions in the world to 405, to accommodate all of the new missionaries — including the surge expected following high school graduation this spring. Seventeen of the new missions are in the United States, including three in California and two each in Arizona, Idaho and Washington. Other locations around the world receiving multiple new missions are Mexico (eight), Brazil (seven), the Philippines (four) and western Africa (three).
All of the new missions are being created through boundary adjustments within existing missions — no new missions are being created where missionaries haven't previously been working.
For example, President William John Monahan of the Philippines Baguio Mission recently wrote to his missionaries to explain that the mission will be divided and a new mission, the Philippines Urdaneta Mission, will be formed. President Monahan will be the first president of the new Urdaneta Mission, and Anthony John Balledos has been called to take over as the Baguio Mission president.
"The First Presidency has asked me to determine which missionaries will be assigned to the two missions on July 1, 2013," President Monahan wrote. "That determination will be made under the direction of heaven during the June 19th transfer. At that transfer, those missionaries serving in the areas within the new Urdaneta Mission boundaries will be permanently assigned to the new Urdaneta Mission. At that same June 19th transfer, those missionaries serving in the new Baguio Mission boundaries will be permanently assigned to the Baguio Mission and under the jurisdiction of the new mission president on July 1, 2013."
The Baguio Mission is one of four new missions created in the Philippines. Douglas C. Tye of Murray, Utah, will be headed there in July. Accompanied by his wife, Dana, Tye will be president of the new Philippines Cavite Mission.
"I'm kind of overwhelmed," Tye said Thursday. "We're creating a new mission. But what does that mean?"
Thankfully, Tye noted that creating new missions is something "the church has done many times before."
"Under the direction of the Lord, they know what they are doing," he said. "It's nervous and scary for us right now, but I'm sure we'll be fine."
Church officials say that while the current surge in missionary applications is expected to last "for about three years," the new missions will be sustainable beyond that.
The church has already moved to add more training capacity for the new missionaries by announcing a new large Missionary Training Center in Mexico City that will be ready in the summer. It has also moved to shorten the length of time missionaries stay in the various MTCs around the world and introduced a 12-week training course for missionaries after they arrive in the mission field.
The surge in the number of LDS young people — primarily young women — leaving to serve full-time missions has impacted Utah businesses and colleges and universities. It has even had an impact on intercollegiate athletics, especially for schools that tend to recruit heavily among Mormon high school students.
But the greatest impact is being felt among young people whose lives have been forever changed by President Monson's announcement last October.
"I just kind of sat there — I didn't know what to do," said Amanda Johansen, who was a 19-year-old student at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, last October. "I have been planning on going on a mission since I was 9 years old. But it was always off in the future. But suddenly last October, I could go instantly."
Johansen said she thought and prayed about the decision for a week after the change. "We had a family fast," she said. "And then I knew what to do. I went to talk to my bishop that Sunday about starting the paper work for my mission."
Johansen enters the Provo MTC next Wednesday prior to her departure for the Argentina Resistencia Mission. She marvels at the fact that by the time the next general conference rolls around in April she may be on the ground in Argentina serving as a full-time missionary.
"I always thought I had years to prepare to be a missionary," she said. "I think President Monson's message to all of us was we need to be prepared to serve the Lord right now. It was like the Lord was saying, 'OK, I need you. Are you ready?’ ”
Unlike Johansen, Victoria Jorgensen of Riverton, Utah, wasn't planning on a mission last October. As a 19-year-old freshman at Southern Utah University, she always figured that by the time she turned 21 — formerly the minimum age for young women to serve as full-time missionaries — she would be involved in her career and wouldn't be able to go.
But as soon as she heard the announcement, she says, "I thought, 'I can go on a mission now!’ ” She says she will be submitting her missionary application to her church leaders this weekend.
"It's a huge difference," she said. "I've talked to a lot of girls my age, and they all agree. Being able to go at 19 is a lot different than having to wait until you're 21. I've had a year of school. I can go for 18 months and then come back and finish my education and then begin my career or whatever. It's a lot more convenient."
Not only that, says 19-year-old Aubrianna Schaefermeyer of Kaysville, Utah, but it's also an opportunity for young women to establish a firm gospel foundation earlier in their lives.
"For my friends and I, we've all gone from, 'Yeah, maybe someday' to 'Yeah, we're going,’ ” said Schaefermeyer, who is in the missionary application process. "I'm so grateful I get to go now. I feel like this is going to be a foundation for the rest of my life."
Lauren Beck of Highland, Utah, will be leaving for the Germany Frankfurt Mission on March 20. Her perspective is a little different than many of the new sister missionaries entering the MTC this year because she will be 21 when she starts her mission.
"At first I was kind of bitter," she said, chuckling, when asked about last October's announcement. "I had been fasting and praying about the decision to serve a mission for a year, and now all of a sudden all of these 19-year-old girls are going on missions at the drop of a hat?"
But, she says, "I humbled myself," and now she thinks it is thrilling to be part of this sudden surge in missionary service.
"Years from now," she says, "I'm going to be able to say I was a part of this huge army of missionaries who are responding to a call from our prophet. How exciting is that?"
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