A good number of LDS fathers who have sent or are getting prepared to send sons or daughters on missions at the new younger ages were involved in a big, but short-lived change in LDS missions 30 years ago.
It was a change that did not even last three years. In April 1982, it was announced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that missions for men were to be shortened from the traditional two years. Missionaries who had served for a year or less were to go home after 18 months. Missionaries who had been out more than a year could opt for a range of 18 to 24 months, depending on individual needs.
In speaking for the First Presidency, then-counselor Gordon B. Hinckley said that "much consideration has been given to the term of service for young men in the mission field. Costs of maintaining missionaries have risen dramatically. Many of our families face extremely heavy economic pressures. The problem is aggravated by the fact that more and more young men are being called from lands outside the United States and Canada, many of them from lands where rates of inflation have been extremely high and have taken a serious toll in the real incomes of people."
He added that in a number of areas, men are subject to "regulations which preclude extended absence from school or apprenticeship programs"; likewise, military requirements in some countries prohibited two-year absences to fill missions.
"It is hoped," Hinckley said, "that improved training will better qualify (the missionaries) to work more productively when they arrive in the field. It is likewise anticipated that this shortened term will make it possible for many to go who cannot go under present circumstances. This will extend the opportunity for missionary service to an enlarged body of our young men."
The announcement was met with a wide range of emotions. Some missions had many go home at the chance to leave earlier than expected; others very few.
"I was excited," said Dave Vanbeekum, a manager for America First Credit Union branches at Hill Air Force Base, who was only four months into his mission when the change was announced. "I knew some were angry."
Vanbeekum served his mission in the Netherlands and is preparing his son, Jacob, for a mission to Kentucky.
Later during the period, male missionaries were called for 18 months.
Tim Semadeni, of Layton, remembered asking his mission president in Tempe, Ariz., if he could extend his mission past his scheduled release date in October 1984.
"He told me, 'No, you were called to 18 months. It is time for you to go home and continue on with your life.'" he said. "He must have known (things were about to change)."
Semadeni, who is now a physical therapist at McKay-Dee Hospital's Stewart Rehabilitation, said he vowed to work hard up to the end.
"When my mom and sister drove the seven hours from home (in Southern Utah) to get me," he said, "I was out tracting (going door to door) with the assistants to the president."
Change did happen a month after Semadeni returned home. In November 1984, it was announced all male missionaries after January 1995 would be called to two-year assignments.
"Missionaries currently serving, and those whose recommendation forms were received before January 1, have the option of being released after eighteen months or extending their missionary service in monthly increments of from one to six months, with the approval of their mission president, parents, and home priesthood leaders," the February 1985 edition of the Ensign magazine reported.
But what about the concerns of school regulations, family financial issues and military obligations mentioned less than two years earlier?
The First Presidency's announcement letter said those pressures were still a matter of concern. But because of the reduction in the length of missionary service, the letter said, "many missionaries have felt that at the conclusion of their missions they have had to go home at a time when they had developed the greatest capability to do the work.
"Particularly is this true of those who have learned a language.
"We feel this change will enhance our ability to proclaim the gospel to all the world, especially in areas where missionaries learn a second language. It will also give missionaries greater opportunity for increased spiritual growth and development."
Randy Steed, of Syracuse, served his 18-month mission to Japan. He agrees about the issue of not having to enough time learn a language
"The first year, you spend a lot of time just trying to learn a language," he said. "I spent the first part of my mission just learning how to communicate and not as focused on teaching. It is your last half or even last quarter of your mission that you really get good at it."