Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Oct. 6, 2012, was the day Tanner Poulton’s life changed.
He was sitting with his family in their home in American Fork, Utah, watching the opening session of the 182nd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To be honest, he said, he was only “casually listening” as President Thomas S. Monson stepped to the Conference Center podium to open the conference and began to review some of the events of the previous six months. But his ears perked up when he heard the man he considers to be God’s prophet on earth say, “I now turn to another matter — namely, missionary service.”
Tanner was looking forward to his turn to serve as a full-time missionary for the church. From the time he was a little boy he knew it wasn’t if he was going on a mission, but when. For him, he was still at least 18 months away, since he wouldn’t turn 19 — the minimum age for young Mormon men to serve as missionaries — until January 2014.
Meanwhile, there was plenty of time to enjoy his senior year of high school and maybe a little college before he had to start thinking about filling out his missionary application.
Then everything changed in an instant.
“I am pleased to announce that effective immediately all worthy and able young men, who have 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,” President Monson said. “I am not suggesting that all young men will — or should — serve at this earlier age. Rather, based on individual circumstances as well as upon a determination by priesthood leaders, this option is now available.”
Tanner sort of missed the next part — the minimum age for service was also being lowered for young LDS women from 21 to 19 — because of the flood of feelings he was experiencing.
“It made my stomach knot up,” he said. “I was only three months away from being 18, and six months away from graduating from high school. My mission had always been somewhere down the road. But suddenly, the road got a lot shorter.”
Today, with the 183rd Semiannual General Conference of the church set to open this weekend, exactly one year after President Monson’s historic announcement, Tanner is an 18-year-old serving in the Philippines as Elder Poulton, one of thousands of younger-than-ever missionaries, both male and female, who have flooded the mission fields in response to what they felt was a prophet’s call.
More than 80,000
“I have never seen a generation respond to a prophet of God the way this generation has,” said Elder David F. Evans of the First Quorum of the Seventy, who also serves as executive director of the LDS Church Missionary Department. “Nothing generationally has ever happened, that I’m aware of, like what happened as this generation heard and then responded to the words and invitation of President Monson.”
The numbers, Elder Evans said during an exclusive Deseret News interview, bear that out.
“We had 58,000 missionaries at the time of the announcement,” he said. “We have just over 80,000 missionaries in the field now.”
Those numbers have grown across the board.
“Right now, as compared to a year ago, there are about 11,000 more sisters serving, and about 10,000 more elders serving and hundreds of additional couples who are serving,” Elder Evans said. “That’s the net growth. We’ve gone from 58,000 to 80,000 in just one year.”
Which is about what LDS Missionary Department officials expected.
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