Van Jacobson, a senior at Fremont High School, received his call for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to serve in the Texas Fort Worth Mission about four weeks ago.
Jacobson turns 19 in July. If the missionary age for men hadn't been lowered, he might be the only one at school with a call, but with the missionary age for young men now at 18, he says, the discussion of missions is rampant and mission calls at the school are "commonplace."
"It's exciting," he said.
Courtney Flinn, of Harrisville, is waiting for her call. She turns 19 in June and said her patriarchal blessing led to her decision to serve and she was excited when the age for women missionaries was lowered from 21. She will be joining her brother, Kurtis, as a missionary. He is serving in Philadelphia.
"My patriarch blessing mentions I would be doing missionary work, but I thought it would be something I would do when I was older, after I was married," she said. "But I guess it is now."
When the announcement of lower missionary ages was made at October's General Conference, it caused an immediate stir in the Conference Center and likely in front of most televisions. But the leaders were quick to point out that departure at a younger age isn't required.
"We are not suggesting that all young men will -- or should -- serve at this earlier age," said Russell M. Nelson, of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles. "Many will still prefer to start at age 19 or older."
Preparation remains key.
"Whether you decide to go earlier or later, you may submit your papers up to 120 days before you wish to begin your mission service," a missionary page at LDS.org said. "Regardless of when you go, you should be ready to meet the spiritual and physical demands. Remember that the important thing is not how old you are, but how prepared you are."
The change in mission age has hit Utah in a variety of ways:
- Mission presidents and leaders have spent a lot of time looking for more housing and looking at other changes to accommodate their increased numbers. The church added 58 missions recently. Bishops and stake presidents have spent more time conducting an increased number of worthiness interviews and filling out the necessary papers.
- Colleges in the state have seen a reduction of incoming students with many young men leaving early and more young women serving.
- Families have had to adjust time frames. Instead of that one year of college before leaving or several months of work, the missions are coming soon after the caps and gowns of high school graduation.
- Clothing stores, such as Mr. Mac, have reported increased sales in merchandise of all kinds for men and women missionaries.
The Utah Ogden Mission has seen some definite changes in the six months since the announcement.
Tony Reyna, the second counselor in the mission presidency, said the number of full-time proselytizing missionaries has gone from less than 200 last fall to 212, a number that is subject to change almost weekly. The mission at times has temporary missionaries who are waiting for their visas to clear for the foreign countries they have been called to and could be here for a few weeks or as long as a couple of months.
Reyna said there has been an increase in the number of sister missionaries and missionaries who speak Spanish -- soon almost a quarter of the missionaries in the mission will be Spanish-speaking.
"There is a real excitement in the mission (after the age change)," he said. "Of all the missionaries I've talked to who have been out for awhile, every one of them responded they would have come out earlier if they could have. The younger ones who have come have been really prepared."
A 'potful' of new arrivals to Ogden Mission
Maurice Hiers, president of the Utah Ogden Mission, concurs with his counselor and expects bigger numbers in the future. He said he has a dozen or so of the younger missionaries now and expects "a potful more" soon. There were 27 sister missionaries last fall and there will be up to 47 by the end of April, and possibly more than 50 by the end of June.
The number of housing sites in the mission hasn't gone up "yet," but Reyna said there is more "doubling up. Where there were two missionaries in an apartment, there now are maybe four or five." He said senior missionaries in the office help with the housing.
Heirs has seen a lot of impact in the 112 stakes his mission serves, from South Ogden to southeast Idaho and southwest Wyoming.
"With the influx of new missionaries going out, the number of interviews is almost flooding the stake presidents," he said. "The surge is impacting the Missionary Training Center. We used to get new missionaries at (monthly) transfers. Now we are seeing them almost weekly."
Where did all the freshman go?
Many universities in the state are dealing with the immediate problem of a smaller freshman class. Enrollment numbers should correct themselves when the younger missionaries return home.
"Even as all of us note, and many share in, the celebratory nature of this change for so many in our community, and even as we anticipate some distinct benefits associated with young students coming back and starting their academic career on a more mature and disciplined plane, we note that this change is already presenting some very significant short-term challenges," said Utah Valley University President Matthew S. Holland in his State of the University Speech on Feb. 6.
Education experts say male enrollment should be easier to forecast because men are encouraged more to go on missions. With more females opting to leave at 19, enrollment forecasts are more difficult. Life goals for them may change.
"There is a parallel between a returned missionary and a veteran," said David Campbell, a political science professor at the University of Notre Dame and member of the LDS Church, in an article at insidehighered.com.
"In the same way that campuses have had to adjust to all these returning veterans, universities that serve a large number of Mormons in similar ways will have to think about ways to serve students who might want to re-enter college at odd times, students who might be fluent in a foreign language, who might be a little older and at a different life stage."
Families see miracles, answers to prayers
Families have also made adjustments. Missions that were potentially one year farther out for men or two years farther out for women were suddenly right on top of them.
Chloe Palmer, 19, a Syracuse High School graduate and former Snow College student, said she knew going on a mission was the right thing to do, even though her family worried about finances. She leaves on her mission to Australia in May.
"I got a second job. My mom got a second job. My dad got a raise and my younger brother got a job," Palmer said. She works at Zuppa's and is a swim instructor and lifeguard at the Clearfield Aquatic Center. "Everything fell into place."
Palmer was also worried about selling her apartment contract when she left Snow College earlier than expected but was able to do so. Another of what she calls "missionary miracles."
For the Kartchner family in Harrisville, the change was "an answer to prayers." Their daughter, Gentri, 19, talked about a mission during a family trip last summer in the Eastern United States, "but it seemed so far off until she was 21." She also didn't have a lot of money for college, and took Book of Mormon and Preach My Gospel classes at the Ogden LDS Institute last fall, which prepared her when the announcement came.
"Our family plans really didn't change other than I felt relieved and that God had let her know this was coming and prepared all of us for it," said her mother, Deniane Kartchner. "We have been blessed financially and spiritually."
Gentri, who turned 19 in November, is now serving in the Washington Tacoma Mission. Deniane Kartchner said the response to the question about the impact on her family took time to think about because it affects "thousands of missionaries, yet we feel it was designed for her (Gentri)."
A growing retail market
Finally, the change in missionary age has also altered retail marketing, especially with more young women on missions. Mr. Mac, long known for mission suits, now has what it calls a Sister Mac department.
"Our buyers have just returned from the Chicago market, and sister missionary clothes are arriving every week. All nine of our Utah locations are adding to their inventory each week," said a January blog at mrmac.com. "Items in stock: dresses, skirts, cap sleeve camisoles, sweaters, Hush Puppy shoes; accessories: scarves, umbrellas, 180 ear warmers, document pouches (neck and waist), luggage (colors), converter adapter, sewing kits, first aid kits, alarm clock, lint roller, laundry marking pen, microfiber towel and blanket, nylon mesh laundry bag ..."
Holmes Clothing, with stores in Ogden and Brigham City, has a Facebook page listing names of missionaries and a post from a missionary about the comfort of DryMax cold weather socks.