By Chris Bavender
A change in the age requirement to be a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has led to an increase in young people choosing to go on mission trips.
The required age dropped from 19 to 18 for men and from 21 to 19 for women in April and went into effect in October.
“Over the last few months we have started to see a tsunami of new, younger missionaries as they started to come into the field,” said Marc Fisher, a spokesman for the church.
More than 80,000 missionaries serve missions at any one time, with most under the age of 25. That’s up from 58,500 in September 2012.
Missions fall into two categories, Fisher said.
“Most of the younger missionaries are proselytizing – knocking on doors and teaching friends and family,” he said. “The service trips usually fall more into experienced missionaries who are couples and retired.”
Fisher was 19 when he served his mission in Los Angeles.
“The process is really fascinating on deciding where they go. One of the apostles – there are 12 – is assigned to review applications. Based on several different factors such as where someone might be needed or need to go for their personal growth, the apostle makes the determination,” Fisher said. “(Missionaries) have no say in where they’ll go. They simply say ‘I am willing and ready.’ They must also demonstrate they’re financially ready as the church doesn’t pay for the missions – they do that on their own.”
The opportunity to go on a mission at a younger age is a blessing, Fisher said.
“There are a lot of other opportunities that come into life that might make a mission not as important at that time or feasible,” he said. “To have this chance earlier in life to grow and learn away from home, sometimes before they even go to college, is just a great experience for them to have before they fully go out into the world.”
Fisher’s daughter, Avanlee, 16, is a sophomore at Carmel High School. She said the age change provides a “greater opportunity to serve.”
“The wait until age 21 for young women was difficult because it made it hard to plan for the mission. I knew it was possible I would get married or want to finish college and not be able to go on a mission,” she said. “Now it is more sure, and I can get out right away and serve the Lord.”