Friday, January 17, 2014
The Lord's Timing
On that momentous occasion at the opening session of the October 2012 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when President Monson announced the changes in ages for young Elders and Sister missionaries, my husband and I were in St. George, Utah for the burial of my 90-year-old mother. We were in a florist’s shop next to the cemetery just as the announcement was made, and we viewed it on a TV in the shop:
For some time the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have allowed young men from certain countries to serve at the age of 18 when they are worthy, able, have graduated from high school, and have expressed a sincere desire to serve. This has been a country-specific policy and has allowed thousands of young men to serve honorable missions and also fulfill required military obligations and educational opportunities.
Our experience with these 18-year-old missionaries has been positive. Their mission presidents report that they are obedient, faithful, mature, and serve just as competently as do the older missionaries who serve in the same missions. Their faithfulness, obedience, and maturity have caused us to desire the same option of earlier missionary service for all young men, regardless of the country from which they come.
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. I am not suggesting that all young men will—or should—serve at this earlier age. Rather, based on individual circumstances as well as upon a determination by priesthood leaders, this option is now available.
As we have prayerfully pondered the age at which young men may begin their missionary service, 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.
We affirm that missionary work is a priesthood duty—and we encourage all young men who are worthy and who are physically able and mentally capable to respond to the call to serve. Many young women also serve, but they are not under the same mandate to serve as are the young men. We assure the young sisters of the Church, however, that they make a valuable contribution as missionaries, and we welcome their service.
Less than four months after President Monson’s announcement of the missionary age-change, on 29 January 2013, my husband was called to serve at the Provo MTC as a counselor in a branch presidency. The “tsunami” of new missionaries responding to the age-change was now beginning to arrive at the MTC, dramatically swelling the numbers. Additional branches, therefore, needed to be organized to accommodate their increasing numbers. Likewise, additional ecclesiastical leaders were needed to serve in those additional branches, and my husband was privileged to be among that number.
As a branch presidency wife, I was invited to participate in the branch in several ways. I would help in the orientation of new missionaries assigned to our branch; I would visit our Sister Missionaries in their residences periodically to encourage and assist them as needed; I would speak in sacrament meeting on a regular basis; I would attend district meetings and have an opportunity to bear testimony; I would attend the Tuesday night devotionals where the speakers were General Authorities; I would attend the MTC Relief Society meetings and New Sisters meetings. In short, I was to be a “missionary to the missionaries.”
Looking back, we are impressed with the Lord’s timing in our lives. We are grateful for the privilege we have been given to serve at the Provo MTC. The young Elders and Sisters are remarkable in their faith, their maturity, and in their desires to serve the Lord. We love them as we love our own children and grandchildren. We know the Lord is with them and will bless them and their families. ~PLH
THE FOLLOWING IS MY HUSBAND'S ACCOUNT OF HIS MTC CALLING:
The phone call asking us to come to the Provo Missionary Training Center for an interview was unexpected. We had no idea that we had been recommended to serve there by our Stake President. After my release as the Bishop of our Ward, I had been asked to return to the Stake High Council as the advisor to the Spanish Branch, together with the assignment to oversee the Spanish-speaking missionary work in the entire Stake. I had been serving in that capacity for three and one-half years when we were invited to become part of a Branch Presidency at the MTC. From the very beginning of our service, I have thought of our participation in this grand work as a capstone to all that had transpired in my life up to that point.
My first acquaintance with full-time missionaries had come while I was in Duluth, Minnesota, as a member of the Unites States Air Force. The young men who were anxiously engaged in preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ were all my age and I enjoyed their company on a regular basis as the work progressed in that part of the vineyard. I had not been there long before I determined that upon my discharge from the military that I, too, would serve in the same capacity somewhere in the world. I left for Southeast Mexico only a few days after my active duty came to an end. My two years and four months as a full-time missionary was a soul and life defining experience for me. I returned without regrets and a determination to press forward in faith through every challenge and adversity.
My academic studies clustered around my facility with Spanish and within three years after my return, I finished my course of study and began my life’s career as a Seminary and Institute teacher, a profession that would take me and my little family throughout the United States. Once again I was in continual contact with worthy young men and women who sought to do the Lord’s will to the best of their ability. This was particularly true at Purdue University and the University of New Mexico where I had direct contact with the Elders and Sisters who had been assigned to work with the students on campus. Throughout this time, my ecclesiastical callings centered on those who were preparing to enter into missionary service. I could not have asked for a more coordinated life.
During my time in the Church Educational System, I had infrequent opportunities to use my mission language. I have been counseled to keep my facility with Spanish fresh, but it had been difficult to do. There were occasional assignments in California and New Mexico in which I could use my gifts, but I was not immersed in the language. The same could be said of my direct experience with people who were investigating the truths of the restoration. I was acquainted with them, but not fully engaged in the conversion process.
In the fall of 2012, as part of a regular interview with my Stake President, I mentioned my concerns. I knew that I was as involved as anyone on the Stake level with speaking Spanish and directing missionary work, but it was an ancillary role. I said to him that if he were ever asked to recommend someone to serve in a more direct role in the missionary effort anywhere in the world, that I would like to be considered. I wanted to feel the spirit of missionary work; I wanted to be concerned with the salvation of those weltering in darkness and sin. Little did I know what was about to transpire in the Church and at the Provo Missionary Training Center. Within a few weeks of my interview with the President, the MTC Presidency issued a request to the surrounding Stakes in Utah County to make recommendations for ecclesiastical leaders who could serve with them there in light of the expanding number of new full-time missionaries.
The day that we received our call to serve in a Spanish Branch at the Provo MTC, we also had to make a visit to the Provo Temple. I had forgotten to take off my “Visitor’s Pass” that I had worn during our tour of the facility. When I paused at the front desk, the ordinance worker there said, “Oh, I see that you have been to the MTC. Did you receive an assignment?” I responded in the affirmative, that we have been called to serve there for the next four years. He smiled and said, “Well, after you are released, you might as well go ahead and die. You will have no greater calling in the Church afterwards.” I have thought about his remarks to me and I have concluded that the call to serve at the Provo MTC has not been the “greatest calling” that I have had in the Church, but it has certainly been a culmination of all that has been transpiring thus far in my life. It is the capstone. ~PNH