SALT LAKE CITY — Jake Tibbitts is working two jobs to save money before he leaves sometime this year on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Deciding when to leave is complex, and getting it right is critical for the 20-year-old from East Lansing, Michigan. He must coordinate his departure with his employers, his desire to visit family and friends in Utah before he leaves, and his need to make money when he returns before he begins college.
Plenty of people have been telling him what he should do, but on Wednesday the church released new online tools to help young men and women plan the timing of their missions.
"It's been stressful trying to figure it out on my own," Tibbitts said. "I'm excited the church now has an electronic tool to help me determine when I should submit my papers to fit my future plans."
The new tools, published Wednesday at lds.org, include a submission planning tool that helps prospective missionaries understand when they should submit their application to increase the likelihood of starting their service at the right time.
A mission release date tool can help them determine which submission and availability dates will increase their chances of being released by a certain date so they are home in time for work or school.
"I've thought a lot about what I'd do when I get home," Tibbitts said.
His ideal time frame would be to leave this spring and complete his two years of service early enough in 2021 to work the entire summer and save money for his first semester of college that fall. He's interested in BYU-Idaho, BYU and Michigan State and would like to study to become a physical therapist, dietician, nutritionist or personal trainer.
Church officials said the tool also will help missionaries fully prepare themselves for the service itself.
"Prospective missionaries should be prayerful and thoughtful as they determine the best time to begin their missionary service," Elder Brent H. Nielson, executive director of the Missionary Department, said in a news release. "In some cases, they may leave as soon as they turn 18 or 19. In other cases, they may decide to spend a little extra time preparing. That decision is best left up to the missionary and their parents as they prayerfully consider their circumstances."
The website noted that better planning by prospective missionaries can do more than help them prepare themselves and avoid calendaring conflicts with school, work or family. It also can help the church balance the number of missionaries serving at a given time, easing overcrowding in missionary training centers in the late summer and helping mission presidents by smoothing out the fluctuating missionary force.
Missionaries who avoid starting their service in July, August and September would see less crowding at missionary training centers and receive more individual attention, the church said. Traditionally, fewer missionaries begin their service between November and May.
"This planning tool uses actual data updating continuously based on the church’s missionary needs worldwide," Elder Nielson said. "While it does not guarantee a missionary will leave on a certain date, it will help our young men and women be more deliberate and thoughtful as they decide when they will be best prepared to serve the Lord as a missionary."
The tools allow Tibbitts and other prospective missionaries to enter possible dates for submitting their applications and get direct feedback about how soon their call would arrive and when they might be scheduled to leave. A mission call includes the location of their mission and the date of entry to a missionary training center.4 comments on this story
For example, the tool would tell a missionary who needed to return by Aug. 23, 2021, that she would be very likely to be released by that date if she submitted her application by March 11 this year. Her release date would still be likely if she submitted her application by March 25, but it would become unlikely if she waited until June 3.
"I've just started to look at the website," Tibbitts said, "but it looks really helpful to have an estimated date for the MTC and to help me estimate when I'd get home."
More than 65,000 missionaries serve in the church's 407 missions around the world.