There is a renewed energy in his focus on seminary and in getting prepared to listen to general conference. —David Smith, Bishop of the Willow Creek 6th Ward
Near the end of October, less than one month after the announcement had been made lowering the age of missionary eligibility for Latter-day Saints, mission applications increased by 471 percent for a two-week period. The change lowered the mission age from 19 to 18 for men and from 21 to 19 for women.
The change affects a sizable number of Latter-day Saint young men who will turn 18 before they graduate later this spring. Many are submitting their mission applications in anticipation of receiving their high school diplomas while almost literally on their way to the Missionary Training Center.
These young men have buckled down and become more disciplined, and many are taking missionary preparation classes, proselytizing with local missionaries and spending more time in scripture study. Even their approach to this weekend's general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is being affected by their recently received or pending mission calls.
David Smith is bishop of the Willow Creek 6th Ward in the Willow Creek Utah Stake and oversees Kaleb Shoell, a senior at Brighton High School who reports for his mission to Málaga Spain on June 12. There has been a noticeable surge in Kaleb’s spiritual preparation, Bishop Smith said.
“There is a renewed energy in his focus on seminary and in getting prepared to listen to general conference,” Bishop Smith said.
Kaleb is the only young man in his age group in his ward and is paving the way for three boys who will be high school seniors next year.
Successful preparation for general conference will help Kaleb increase his testimony of modern prophets, which he can then share with investigators. The context from general conference will also add depth to the lessons he teaches in the mission field.
Kaleb said general conference used to be something that rolled around every six months and gave him an opportunity to sleep in a little later than usual on a Sunday.
Last October, he began listening more intently after the announcement of the age change.
“Everything made sense because I was trying to learn everything I could,” Kaleb said.
Going into this general conference, Kaleb will be looking for specific ways in which he can be a better missionary and a better person.
“I think I’ll pay more attention than I ever have,” Kaleb said.
To prepare, he has been reading scriptures and has been listening to conference addresses from previous years. He also plans to follow advice he received from a seminary teacher who told him to come up with a question before general conference and look for answers to that question during the addresses.
Levi Fackrell, also a senior at Brighton High, will report for his mission to San Jose, Calif., on June 12, just one week after he graduates.
In preparation for his mission, he has been reading books and going on visits, or “splits,” with the full-time missionaries serving locally. During one visit, the elders asked him to teach the lesson. He felt like that opened up a whole new perspective on how to teach others and how much work goes into a mission.
He said he needs to make this general conference especially meaningful.
His mission call changed his perspective going into general conference because he is looking for guidance from current general authorities to help him prepare to teach others.
“(General conference) last year was just kind of normal, listening for what can pertain to my life. After hearing the new age, I kind of had a new mindset — kind of: ‘What can I take to the mission field? What can I share with others in my mission field?' ”
He asked his bishop for tickets to general conference on the slim chance they might be available. To his surprise, his bishop came back with tickets others had sacrificed so Levi could attend one final conference before his mission.
During his shifts working at Village Cleaners, he reads his scriptures and tries to get in three chapters a day, whereas before he read only when he had spare time.
In preparation for general conference, Levi has worked on taking better notes. His note-taking was not very structured in the past, but he has a newfound motivation to gain knowledge so he can more successfully teach people who are investigating the church.
Next to notes that relate to him — areas he feels he needs to work on or that tie into his patriarchal blessing — he puts a "P" for "personal." Other notes will have an "O" for "others" marked next to them.
Brandon Clark, a senior at Bingham High School, said he will listen more intently to the messages in general conference so he can receive spiritual guidance before he reports for mission service in the Tampa Bay Florida Mission in July. For him, the mission age change announcement “totally was an awakening.”
He will prepare specific, detailed questions before conference, especially those he has not yet been able to answer up to this point in his mission preparation. He expects he will receive answers as he listens to the addresses.
The spiritual discipline acquired by Levi, Brandon and Kaleb is not unusual among the high school young men with mission calls. Carly Barton, a senior at Brighton High, said she has noticed a distinct shift in how open people are about religion. The young men who have their mission calls have been more interested and willing to participate in seminary. The young men have been more friendly and excited, which has caused greater unity throughout the school.