Oh, General Conference weekends. For LDS teens like me, this means you get to watch church on TV while wearing pajamas. It doesn’t get much better than that. Unfortunately, last weekend, I had to listen to the Saturday session on the radio while I was driving to a friend’s marching band competition in Herriman.
LDS Church President Thomas Monson was the first one to talk. He welcomed everyone and thanked the choir for the opening hymn. President Monson told a cute story about his mother that had a cute punch line, making every one laugh. I’m pretty sure President Monson is one of the cutest people in the whole world. Did you know he can wiggle his ears like Alfalfa from “Little Rascals?”
Monson also has a lot of authority in the LDS church. After telling the story about his mother, his voice became serious. He changed to another topic — namely missionary service.
Last December, one of my really good friends left on his mission at the age of 19. Patrick Bevan is serving in the San Bernardino Mission in California. Since Elder Bevan’s farewell, I’ve had quite a few friends leave for two years of missionary service. I remember sitting through his farewell speech and thinking how crazy it is that I was old enough to have friends old enough to leave for missions. Even though Patrick and I are close in age, thinking of him as a missionary made him seem so much older.
As Monson went on, he made a huge announcement that has changed the way LDS teens think about their quickly approaching futures.
“I am pleased to announce that effective immediately, all worthy and able young men who have graduated from high school or its equivalent, regardless of where they live, will have the option of being recommended for missionary service beginning at the age of 18, instead of age 19,” said Monson.
He announced this as I was trying not to end up in Wendover, so I was a bit preoccupied. Before I could really register what that meant, he continued, “We have also given consideration to the age at which a young woman might serve. Today I am pleased to announce that able, worthy young women who have the desire to serve may be recommended for missionary service beginning at age 19, instead of age 21.”
At the time, I think I was more focused on not getting lost, so it didn’t really sink in what that entailed. I remember thinking that it was cool, but I didn’t think about the effect it would have on a majority of my classmates, including myself.
It wasn’t until I returned home from the competition and logged on to Facebook that I saw nearly every single status update was about the new missionary age requirement. Girls were posting about how now a mission was a real possibility for them, and guys were talking about how they could be on missions in a little more than a year.
As I read more status updates, it was clear that before the change serving a mission wasn’t a high priority for a lot of girls, but now they were saying that it was a possibility. At the age of 21, often, girls are just a year away from graduating college and starting a career. It would be hard to take a break and leave everything behind for 18 months. But now, at the age of 19, girls won’t have to leave right as they are about to finish up schooling and start their lives.
Yesterday, in my seminary class, Chase Woods was sitting next to me. Chase told the class that he turns 18 this Friday. Our teacher pointed out that if Chase wanted to serve a mission soon after graduation, he could and next year at this time he would have already been gone nearly three months. That’s crazy.
It’s also crazy that I could be leaving on a LDS mission in just two years at the age of 19 — an age that doesn’t seem that old anymore.