First wave of younger missionaries returning

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Mackynzie Parry (right) poses with her two companions outside of the Houston, Texas temple. The summer after the age change announcement, all sister missionaries in the Texas Houston Mission had to serve in trios to accommodate the growing number of new sisters. (Photo courtesy Mackynzie Parry)

Two years have passed since President Thomas S. Monson’s historic general conference announcement that the eligible ages for missionary service would lower to 18 for men and 19 for women. Now some of those 19-year-old sister missionaries are returning from 18 months of service, and look forward to hastening the work at home.

Mackynzie Parry, a sophomore from San Diego, California, studying exercise science, said her life was forever changed by the announcement. Parry recently returned from her mission in Houston, Texas, and was one of the first 19-year-old sisters to arrive in the area. She started filling out her mission papers within a week of the big news.

“Being one of the first 19-year-olds out there, I saw the work transform as more people were accepting calls at younger ages,” Parry said.

As of the April 2014 General Conference, missionary numbers have swelled to more than 83,000, an increase of more than 25,000 full-time missionaries since October of 2012. Next week’s Saturday afternoon session will reveal the official statistics two years after the historic announcement.

Harrison Wardle, a sophomore from Mendham, New Jersey, studying marketing, recently returned from his mission in Phoenix, Arizona. Wardle said he was excited to be a part of such a historic time.

“I immediately thought how cool it would be to tell my children and grandchildren I was on my mission when President Monson announced the age change,” Wardle said.

Taylor Stoker, a sophomore from Las Vegas, Nevada, studying public relations and Russian, was serving his mission in Donetsk, Ukraine, when the age requirement changed.

Wardle and Stoker agreed that effects of the age change weren’t noticeable in their missions until a few months later. Stoker noticed that although the number of missionaries, especially sisters, increased dramatically, baptisms and emotional effects did not appear until the sisters and young elders put in a few months of service.

Stoker also explained that while there was definitely a contrast in maturity levels, younger elders and sisters brought much-needed excitement and optimism to his mission. He said the young sisters were able to reach people no one else could connect with.

“These missionaries coming in were the elite,” he said. “They chose to come in earlier than expected and make a difference. It brought a refreshing energy to the whole mission.”

Parry agreed about the energy she felt from the younger missionaries. “I worked with a lot of new missionaries, and they really do bring something different. They have so much energy for their work. … They are pumped.”

By the time Stoker’s mission was complete, he said, lesson numbers jumped 400 percent. Parry said her mission saw amazing growth too.

LDS missions aren’t the only institutions affected by the age change. Universities and high schools populated by members of the Mormon faith are also feeling the impact.

Liz Olsen, a sophomore from Smithfield, Utah, studying elementary education, explained the excitement and curiosity that came with the age change her senior year in high school.

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Liz Olsen poses with her friends at her birthday party last year. Of the 29 friends pictured, 27 are now serving full-time missions. (Photo courtesy Liz Olsen)

“Everyone was curious as to who would be leaving when,” Olsen said. “All but one of my guy friends left the summer after we graduated.”

Olsen shared a picture from her last birthday party before her friends left on missions. Of 29 friends in the picture, 27 are now serving full-time missions.

“One of the hardest parts for me, personally, was the fact that all of my girl friends left as well,” Olsen said. “I always knew the boys would be going.”

Universities across the state, including BYU, also feel the consequences.

At BYU, female undergraduate enrollment has dropped by 2,000, and overall enrollment is down 12 percent, a drop of approximately 4,000 students since fall semester of 2012, according to Todd Hollingshead, information media relations manager at BYU. Hollingshead also said that as of Fall 2014, 56 percent of students at BYU have served missions, as opposed to 46 percent who had served as of Fall of 2012.

Morgan Holt, a freshman studying business management, said her girl friends who are currently living in BYU freshman housing are struggling to find a date.

“I am not in a freshman ward, but all of my friends from high school are, and they tell me that there is about one boy per 22 girls in their ward,” Holt said.”No freshman girls are getting married this year.”

While Holt said she thought the age change for young men was awesome, Stoker and Wardle felt they needed the extra year away from home to prepare to serve a mission.

“We need to avoid developing a culture of judging young men who don’t go out at 18,” Wardle said. “Some boys need that extra year to mature or be away from home, like I know I did.”

“I think for the young men it is helping them prepare at a much younger age,” Stoker said. “One negative effect, in my opinion, is the pressure it is putting on young women to go.”

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Brady Tengberg, Taylor Lythgoe, and Harrison Wardle gather for a photo at the Provo MTC. Tengberg, Lythgoe, and Wardle were all first-hand witnesses to the age change transition. (Photo courtesy Harrison Wardle)

Stoker expressed his concern for young women feeling they need to serve a mission. Stoker said he believes all girls should prepare for missions, but ultimately the decision to go should be between the young woman and her Heavenly Father.

Parry offered advice for young men and women: If they feel 100 percent certain, then girls should go, she said. She added that boys, on the other hand, should get into the field as fast as they can to help prepare for college and real life.

Stoker, Wardle, Parry, Olsen and Holt shared nothing but positivity when asked how they felt about the age change.

“I think the age change is amazing and can only get better as the youth are more prepared to serve,” Wardle said.

“I am so grateful for the age change,” Parry said. “Not only for me and my life, but for the lives of people all around the world.”

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