New Tool Helps Prospective Missionaries Plan Best Time for Them to Serve
Contributed By Camille West, ChurchofJesusChrist.org Church News
“[The online mission planning tool] will help our young men and women be more deliberate and thoughtful as they decide when they will be best prepared to serve the Lord as a missionary.” —Elder Brent H. Nielson of the Seventy
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a new tool to help prospective missionaries consider the best time frame for their missionary service.
The online mission planning tool, which includes a Mission Release Date Planning Tool and a Submission Planning Tool, helps prospective missionaries understand:
- How the mission availability date they list in their application influences their desired mission start and release dates.
- When their stake president submits their online recommendation influences their desired mission start and release dates.
According to the website, the tool is also “designed to help reduce the likelihood of a missionary asking to return home a few weeks early for school, work opportunities, or family events.”
“This planning tool uses actual data updating continuously based on the Church’s missionary needs worldwide,” said Elder Brent H. Nielson, Executive Director of the Missionary Department. “While it does not guarantee a missionary will leave on a certain date, it will help our young men and women be more deliberate and thoughtful as they decide when they will be best prepared to serve the Lord as a missionary.”
“Using the new tool has been really helpful as far as planning when I can go because it really allows you to look at your options,” said Abby Child, a senior in high school from Bountiful, Utah, who plans to serve a mission after she graduates. She said the tool will help her feel less stressed about her return date and when to submit her papers, plus, “It was really simple to use. It was very visual, and I’m a visual learner. It was nice to see my options laid out.”
Submission Planning Tool.
According to the Church’s Missionary Department, since 2012, when President Thomas S. Monson announced that young men could begin serving at age 18 and women at 19, the number of missionaries entering the field between July and September has increased significantly, at times significantly influencing the effectiveness of mission and missionary training center resources such as housing, teaching staff, and trainers.
In the months of August, September, and October, the MTC in Provo, Utah, has as much as three times as many missionaries as other months, like April, for example. In fact, the influx of missionaries entering the field in the same months can lead to crowded MTCs and a missionary force that keeps fluctuating throughout the year.
In addition, an oversized group of missionaries may limit leadership opportunities, and when a large number of experienced missionaries is all at once replaced with a large number of new missionaries all at once, missionary work may suffer.
As a result, the Church takes great care to balance a prospective missionary’s availability date with the needs and capacities of the mission and MTC to which he or she is called, while also dealing with possible visa or other such considerations.
If a prospective missionary's circumstances allow, selecting a non-peak availability date may be something he or she might consider.
Considerations about when to serve
In a video released on mormonnewsroom.org January 30, Elder Nielson said, “Prospective missionaries should be prayerful and thoughtful as they determine the best time to begin their missionary service.”
“In some cases, they may leave as soon as they turn 18 or 19. In other cases, they may decide to spend a little extra time preparing. That decision is best left up to the missionary and their parents as they prayerfully consider their circumstances.”
Jose Franco, who served in the Oklahoma City Mission (2011–2013) agreed that choosing when to serve a mission “is a very personal choice” between the individual and the Lord. “Everyone has a different timeline,” he said. “Some people wait, like myself, and others go right away.”
In the video, Elder Nielson said that any perceived social expectation that prospective missionaries are supposed to turn in their papers as soon as they turn 18 or 19 is not the case.
When President Monson made the announcement, he said, “I am not suggesting that all young men will—or should—serve at this earlier age” (“Welcome to Conference,” Oct. 2012 general conference).
Franco said despite feeling an almost immediate pressure to serve a mission after his baptism at age 18, beginning his service when he was almost 21 was “truly my own decision” and was not made to please others.
Max Taylor Olivier, who served in the Uruguay Montevideo Mission (2014–2016), said, “If you feel like [serving a mission] is for you, then only you can know when you’re ready to go. It’s entirely an individual, personal matter. Unfortunately, this decision is fraught with social pressure and tension, but do your best to ignore that.”
School scheduling is an important factor for prospective missionaries to consider when setting their availability dates. For some, their preferred service is based on the school year, often leaving during the summer months. Others choose to defer scholarships and grants, which some colleges will hold for up to 2 ½ years.
Other considerations include worthiness, family needs, finances, and health.
“Missionaries who spend a semester at college or working can gain useful life experiences that will prepare them for service,” Elder Nielson said. “They can have more individual attention in the missionary training center and be assigned to a more experienced first companion as they arrive in the field when they leave at a non-peak time.”
“As an almost 21-year-old on the mission, I was more matured,” Franco said. I had completed my associate’s degree before starting my mission. I had more life experience that helped me relate to investigators. I served near three universities, so I was able to relate to the students who we often talked to. I also had earned money to pay for my mission. This made me appreciate my service even more.”
Olivier said that when President Monson announced the age change, he “knew it wasn’t the right time for me.” He had already planned on doing a year of college, he said, and with his parents’ support, he moved out of the house.
The year of school gave Olivier “both time to prepare myself spiritually and also time to become a more independent, well-developed individual. … I found that this year of preparation served me very well. I was happy at college, and I had a clear goal in mind for myself. I had a testimony and a desire to share the light that Christ had brought into my life. I worked hard and I achieved my goal and served a mission.”
Lucille Lynne Stevenson, who served in the Illinois Chicago Mission (2015–2017) said, “I knew by my sophomore year in high school that I would serve, so my plan had always been to go as soon as I could. I felt that Heavenly Father needed me out there sooner.” Serving soon after her 19th birthday “doesn’t mean I didn’t prepare for it,” she said. “I had honestly been preparing temporally and spiritually to be able to go for years.”
Stevenson is grateful for her mission experiences. “I came home with a new sense of confidence and understanding of who I really was. I also had a greater perspective of the world and the challenges individuals face that are different from mine. This helped me a lot as I started college again and began to navigate more unknowns of my young adult years.”
Advice for while you wait to serve
Stevenson’s advice to prospective missionaries is don’t wait to prepare. “If going on a mission is something you already know is right for you, be serious about preparing now.”
“Trust the Lord’s timing,” she said. “If He needs you to go sooner [or later] than you planned or expected, trust Him. He’ll provide a way for it to work out.”
Franco encourages prospective missionaries planning on serving at a later date to “be involved in something good: school, work, service, or working on a personal goal,” and to save as much money as possible. “Also, surround yourselves with good, wholesome people: family, friends, ward family, and institute,” he added.
Mission Release Date Planning Tool.