“The nurture and care of the dramatically increased number of sister missionaries is better done by other experienced sisters rather than by elders,” Elder Evans said, who added that the new calling, as well as the sister training leaders’ involvement in the new mission leadership council, is "one of the best received and most inspired things that has happened during this past year.”
Hillary Bowler, a recently returned missionary from the Pennsylvania Philadelphia Mission, agreed. She spent the last five months of her mission serving as a sister training leader, and she said having sisters as leaders and in the mission leadership council is already making a difference.
"We went from 18 sisters in the mission when I first came out to about 60 now," she said. "The elders who serve as district and zone leaders are great, but there are certain things that it is just difficult for sisters to talk to them about. I think it really makes a difference to a young sister to have an older, more experienced sister to talk to and receive training from."
Bowler said she is also excited about what this will mean for future ward and stake councils. "Fast forward 20 years," she said. "If I'm a Relief Society president, I'll know a lot better how to work with a bishop after serving in our mission leadership council."
Church leaders are also pleased with what they are seeing from the 18-year-old elders and 19-year-old sisters.
“If you go to the MTC cafeteria you’ll find that it’s a little noisier than it used to be,” Elder Evans said, chuckling. “Part of it is just more missionaries, but part of it is the exuberance of youth. What we are finding, in all honesty, is that the young missionaries are absolutely as capable. In many respects, as a group, they are maybe a little more worthy and a little more ready.”
When asked if there were issues related to the immaturity of the newer missionaries, he balked at the use of the word.
“I would not call it immaturity,” he said. “I would call it a well-thought-out, well-considered choice in which these young people are saying, ‘At this time in my life, this is what I choose. I choose to go on a mission. I choose to take this option that the Lord has made available to me.’
“And with that choice, I think, comes enhanced maturity.”
Looking back on the day of the announcement one year ago, Elder Evans remembers “there was just an overwhelming sense of joy” that he says was “palpable.”
“One could just feel the rush of joy and excitement and faith and testimony,” he said, “and one could observe by looking out into the audience the absolute joy of this generation in receiving something from the Lord that they could respond to.”
That sense of joy has continued through a year of responding to the physical, spiritual and logistical needs of so many new missionaries. And it undergirds future LDS missionary efforts, as church leaders search for ways to harness and empower what Elder Evans calls “this extraordinary resource.”
“I think the most immediate thing that we’re looking for in the future," he said, "will be a much broader implementation of our online proselyting efforts and the beginning of the use of digital devices that are programmed and suited for missionary use.”
The new technology, referenced by Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during the June mission presidents seminar and the Work of Salvation church-wide broadcast, will include mini tablet devices with Internet access and special software that will allow missionaries and ward mission leaders to interact digitally and to share schedules, appointments, goals and reports.
“We’re currently calling this an area book planner,” Elder Evans said. “It’s going to be a wonderful way in which missionaries not only communicate with non-members and investigators but also with local leaders and members so that they can more effectively work together.”
Elder Evans said the new technology will be launched in 30 missions between now and January, with worldwide implementation expected during the last half of 2014.
“This is a huge change in missionary work,” he said. “But we believe that missionaries need to communicate the way the world is communicating. Much of our proselyting model really hearkens back to the 1800s, and we need to be brought into the 21st century.
"We now have a generation of missionaries who are used to digital devices," Elder Evans continued, "so this kind of productive, wonderful use is just going to be a blessing as we joyfully move forward in the work of salvation.”
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