Saturday’s announcement that young men can serve missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 18 and young women at 19 set off a flurry of excited emails in our family. Within minutes, messages were going back and forth:
“Do you realize that Max will be able to go in two-and-a-half years?”
“Wow, that changes everything, including college plans and timing!”
“Do you think there will be as many sisters serving as elders in a few years?”
It went on for the rest of the day.
We have a bit of a history with this. During the entire time we presided over the London South Mission, we were writing to Salt Lake City requesting more sisters. Generally, sisters got into more homes, taught more families and brought more people to membership than elders did. It was easier for people to trust sisters and to share their troubles with them.
All four of our daughters served full-time missions, but waiting until they were 21 made their decisions and the logistics difficult. They had to decide whether to finish college first or go after their junior years. Our four daughters-in-law also had strong missionary experiences.
So many young women in the church have felt the desire to serve as full-time missionaries. But would they miss marriage or family opportunities by serving?
We always felt just the contrary. We wanted our daughters to be returned missionaries who would marry returned missionaries and increase their chances of a mutually respectful partnership.
That is what will now happen with so many more young couples coming together and bringing the experiences and testimonies of both of their missions and forging a powerful partnership. (Not that this can’t happen if one or both don’t serve, but how wonderful it is when it can be the union of two returned missionaries.)
Critics may predict that the change will cause more problems for mission presidents, who will have to deal with attractions between their elders and sisters. We never found this to be the case. A mix of a strong cadre of sisters and of elders makes a mission culture stronger and more vibrant.
And what a wonderful thing to have young men able to go at 18. Some will worry that elders that young are not mature enough to serve with maximum efficiency and dignity. But we worried about that with 19-year-olds, too. Being able to leave right after high school and before college will increase the number who will serve. And, coming home, they will be much better prepared to do well in their university studies or whatever they elect to do. Most college freshmen have very little idea what to major in or focus on. A returned missionary freshman will be far more prepared and qualified to formulate these kinds of decisions and directions.
Having said that, we did find a substantial maturity advantage in most elders who had a year of college before their missions. Parents and local church leaders will have to be careful in deciding who is ready to go right out of high school and who is not.
But the bottom line is that we, like so many other parents and grandparents in the church, are thrilled! Speaking personally, we feel this may allow more of our granddaughters to serve and thus increase their commitments and testimonies and the breadth and insight of their worldviews.
The combination of more young men being able to choose to go due to the younger age and the increasing number of young women who will serve will cause our missionary force to grow. This will have a positive impact on the church and on families in so many ways.
It will open up more and better kinds of approaches in missionary service. Missions will likely focus more effectively on finding and teaching families and on helping people in whatever ways they need help — physically as well as spiritually.
Increasingly, the church will be known as the sponsor of wonderful young people who exemplify the qualities that all parents want their children to have.
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times #1 Bestselling authors who are in demand throughout the world as speakers on Parenting and LifeBalance. You can visit them anytime at www.TheEyres.com or at www.ValuesParenting.com