Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Sister missionaries react to the news that new sisters can enter the mission field at the age of 19.

The last two months of my mission, I was transferred to a small town in Texas where only elders had served for more than a decade.

Moving into what was once their apartment wasn’t our only shock. Our immediate success surprised us most.

We hadn’t unpacked nor scrubbed the criss-crossed bike tire marks off the bottom third of the living room walls when we got a phone call from a member family. They heard the “Hermanas” had arrived and had someone for us to teach.

Eighteen-year-old Christina knocked on our door later that day. She was one of the most beautiful people I had ever met and had been attending church for years, proving to her parents that her conversion was real and long-lasting. Her father’s last request was that young elders not teach her, and she had obeyed his wishes.

Transferring sister missionaries to her town had been an answer to her prayers. We taught six lessons in about as many days and she answered every question with real understanding and spiritual depth. Her baptism was beautiful. The whole process was amazing training for my companion, who was fresh to the field.

I know similar situations exist in every mission in the world and I couldn’t be happier that more young women are answering the call to serve and teach those who need a sister’s touch.

The LDS Church’s Public Affairs Department announced this week that more than 4,000 missionaries have requested to begin the process of preparing for missionary service and more than half are female. In the past, the ratio had been closer to 17 percent female. I have no doubt I would have served at 19 if given the chance and so would many of my friends and college roommates who chose paths that made it complicated or impossible to serve at age 21.

Since President Thomas S. Monson’s general conference announcement earlier this month, I have conducted my own personal survey of teenage girls and 20-year-olds I know. At this point, most of their “life plans” haven’t changed dramatically, but they are grateful to have more options.

I’m sure some might normally feel they are not spiritually prepared, not financially prepared or haven’t caught the spirit of how exciting missionary work can be despite the simultaneous difficulties.

For those facing the decision of whether to serve a mission, I offer the following advice:

• Be brave

From facing hateful people to having to live 24/7 with a companion who is very different from you, being a missionary requires unparalleled bravery. One of my companions, with no family support, left her country and her culture to serve with me. The bravery she developed strengthened her character and mine. For me, walking uninvited onto the stage during an anti-Mormon seminar to stop the presenter from spreading more lies was one of the bravest things I’ve ever done and changed me from that day forward. We all need to be braver than we are and a church mission positions us on the fast-track to developing that vital character trait.

• Be converted

Real faith must be developed though personal experience and sacrifice. What better time to be converted than during the critical stage of entering adulthood. Making important life decisions about education, career, marriage and motherhood go a lot smoother with a faith-filled foundation. Full-time missions give women the spiritual and character-building experiences that enhance efforts to be productive mothers, wives, teachers, employees and leaders in the home and in the world.

• Be adventurous

Years ago, my daughter was enamoured with a combination of new things she was learning that included Egyptian archeology, the Peace Corps and anything that related to tropical climates. She painted palm trees constantly, dreamed of exotic travel and wanted to end third-world hunger. I’ll always remember one conversation as we sat on her bed and I described the idea that missionary service could give her all the adventure she craved as well as intimate exposure to new cultures, food and educational experiences with the added protection and purpose of a black name tag. I found South Texas to be a surprising cultural adventure for me. Leaving home — wherever it is — was the key.

• Be selfless

Jesus Christ’s ministry and gospel teaching often disrupts conventional wisdom or narrow-minded thinking. Those who look to his example, as well as that of his disciples, learn the basic truth that losing ourselves to service is the perfect way to “find ourselves.” So it shouldn’t be a surprise that missionary opportunities fall smack-dab in the middle of focused self-improvement for young adults. Selflessly sacrificing to serve others is the perfect way to unleash one's potential.

Many are jumping at the chance to serve a full-time mission sooner rather than later, an opportunity and blessing to serve in the world bravely and selflessly for a brighter future for everyone.

Stacie Lloyd Duce is a columnist and magazine editor featured regularly in several Montana and Utah publications. Her columns appear Thursdays on Email: [email protected]