The missionary age change announcement in 2012 by President Thomas S. Monson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came as a surprise to many. Thousands of young men and women applied for younger service, and the number of LDS missionaries throughout the world exploded.
The number of Mormon missionaries just prior to the announcement was around 58,500. Today, there are more than 80,000 missionaries serving worldwide, according to the church newsroom website.
“As soon as I heard the announcement, it was like a light bulb went on. I knew that I was supposed to go on a mission,” said Aylea Stephens, a missionary who served in the Charleston, West Virginia mission, but returned home early after experiencing medical compliations.
Stephens said she had thought about serving a mission before the announcement, but that it was overwhelming because she had not planned on going on such short notice. She eventually dropped everything because she knew she should serve immediately. Stephens’ younger sister was also one of the younger sisters to submit mission papers, and is now serving in the Atlanta, Georgia mission.
“I felt like my whole world turned upside down and not in a good way,” Jenessa Hutchins, a missionary serving in Jacksonville, Fla, recalled about the age change. “It suddenly felt like there were big decisions to make that I wasn’t necessarily prepared to handle.”
But Hutchins said after four months of praying and pondering, she made the decision to serve a mission. She said her mission is the best decision she has ever made.
Logan Neerings, a missionary in Portland, Ore., said the age change announcement did not impact him much at first.
“I was not planning on serving a mission, but later on, I read the Book of Mormon and gained a testimony,” Neerings said.
To accommodate the influx of missionaries, the number of LDS missions throughout the world has risen from 347 to 405 since February 2013. Subsequently, a number of areas have experienced an increased number of missionaries in wards and branches.
For example, the 30 wards in the Portland, Ore. mission are now covered by two or more missionary companionships, according to mission president C. Jeffery Morby. Morby said 50 new areas within the mission were created, and the number of sister missionaries jumped from 12 to 72 since he first came to the mission in 2011.
“Last year at this time, our mission had 150 missionaries. Now we have 260,” Hutchins said.
Stephens said another major change is the amount of emphasis that is going toward member missionary work.
“The missionaries are working with members more so they can find people to teach who are more likely to receive the gospel,” Stephens said.
Missionaries now spend time online sharing the gospel and reaching out to people through social media platforms. iPad minis are also being used by some of the missionaries to blog and teach through Facebook and FaceTime.
Hutchins said miracles occur on the Internet through sharing the gospel with many people at a time as opposed to just one person at a time.
“Through my blog, I’ve been able to find people to teach from places as far as Kenya to as close as my very own proselyting area,” she said.