It’s been four years since President Thomas S. Monson welcomed LDS Church members to General Conference with an announcement about missionary work: 18-year-old men and 19-year-old women became eligible to serve, and many of them immediately began working on their mission papers.
From December 2012 to December 2013, the number of full-time missionaries increased from 58,990 to 83,035. The number of missionaries has dipped since then but remains higher than pre-2012 levels, and the number of missions grew from 347 in 2012 to 418 in 2015.
The announcement had a huge impact on campus as many students suddenly decided to defer school and join the ranks of full-time missionaries. This fall is the first time since the age change that BYU’s undergraduate enrollment has matched 2012 enrollment figures, according to BYU spokesperson Todd Hollingshead.
Four years ago, The Daily Universe interviewed several BYU freshmen about their thoughts on the age change. Students who served in wake of the 2012 age change now comment on the effects of the announcement.
Kelly Matthews, who served in Jackson, Mississippi, and Sao Paulo, Brazil, lived in Helaman Halls at the time of the announcement. She said the age change affected many freshmen in the dorms.
“I would say a large majority of us served at that time,” Matthews said. “A lot of us also wrote each other and shared ideas, which was really great.”
Matthews said her mission helped her grow in ways she had not anticipated.
“I don’t think that a mission is for everyone, but for me it’s made all the difference,” Matthews said. “It helped me become the person I needed to be after my mission.”
BYU student Josh Prince served in Ukraine and said his mission helped him find his career path.
“I was in Ukraine when I decided to be a lawyer,” Prince said. “I saw a lot of people that the law wasn’t helping when it should have been, so as a result I decided I wanted to provide help for people like that.”
McKenna Williamson, a BYU junior who served in Taiwan, also had job opportunities open up because of her mission. She currently teaches Mandarin to about 15 students at Wasatch Elementary, but Williamson said this advantage was not the only thing she got out of her service.
“I think I’ve understood my role in life and my role in this gospel a lot better,” Williamson said. “It’s affected a lot of the decisions I’ve made since then, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
Williamson said she recalls older missionaries talking about what a big impact the age change was going to have on the mission field. She noticed that time in the MTC was reduced for many missionaries, Williamson said, and elders and sisters were asked to train new missionaries much sooner.
D.j. Dalley, BYU sophomore who served in Peru, said people already in the mission field wondered if the 18-year-olds would do as well as the older missionaries. However, according to Dalley, it didn’t end up being a problem.
“They were able to handle a mission just as easily as the older people did,” Dalley said.
Dalley said he also noticed blessings for sisters who no longer had to wait until age 21 to serve. He knows many sisters who were blessed, he said, by being able to serve earlier in their lives.
Dalley said his mission was critically important to his personal growth.
“It changes your perspective and your ability to deal with hard things in life,” he said.
Russell Fitzpatrick, a BYU student who served in Villahermosa, Mexico, said his mission is always on his mind.
“I think about it every day,” Fitzpatrick said. “It completely changed my life.”
Fitzpatrick said every part of his mission affected him in some aspect of his life, from the spiritual aspects to learning a new language.
“I grew immensely,” Fitzpatrick said. “My character, who I am, everything. I am constantly remembering experiences from my mission.”
Fitzpatrick said even though he believes the age change was a wonderful inspiration, young men and women shouldn’t feel like they need to leave right away when they turn 18 or 19.
“I recommend doing a year of school or whatever you feel like you should do first to prepare,” Fitzpatrick said.
Church leaders have also said that young men and women should begin their service when they are spiritually prepared, not necessarily as soon as they are allowed to leave.
But Matthews said it’s never too early to prepare.
“Start being a missionary now,” Matthews said. “Learn how to be an instrument in the Lord’s hands before entering the mission field. Learn how to open your mouth and how to exercise faith and you’ll be much more prepared to serve.”