“One size fits all”—except when it does not. For years, young members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had only one option when it came to missionary service: a proselytizing mission. While that option works for many young people, for some it does not. Some young people have physical, mental or emotional limitations in which a proselytizing mission is simply not possible. Those who were unable to serve have done so through community and Church organizations. For those young people can experience feelings of inadequacy, particularly as we inadvertently prop up returned missionaries. While no one should ever feel “less than” if they did not serve a mission, the reality is the cultural pressure in the Church to serve a mission is very real, even if it’s something we’re working on.
The Church is aware of these limitations, and just as it shook up missionary work six years ago when it lowered the minimum age to serve a mission, on November 16, it announced sweeping new changes for to the recommendation process for young missionary candidates in the United States and Canada, allowing all prospective missionaries to serve either a “traditional” proselytizing mission, service mission, or no mission at all. Some of these changes were hinted at before General Conference, but no announcement was made at the time.
So what’s new about the process? Beginning in January 2019, all those interested in serving a mission will submit the same application, and during a screening (and prayer) process, will be called to either a proselytizing or service mission, depending on the circumstances of each individual. While the Church predicts that most missionary candidates will still continue to be called to proselytizing missions, this opens up new avenues of actual missionary service—nametag and all—for those seeking to serve.
Also, if missionary returns home early from a proselyting mission early due to any reason not associated with worthiness, that missionary can have the opportunity to be reassigned to a service mission. It’s a change that will greatly impact those who want to serve but have some limitations. I have seen that impact firsthand.
The area where I live took part in a pilot programs for this effort. A young man in my ward was unable to serve a proselytizing mission, but still wanted the opportunity to serve and receive the blessings of having served a full time mission. He was called to a service mission. He gave a still-officially-verboten farewell talk, even though he continued to live at home.
His first assignment was at the Church orchard during harvest season. Once harvest season was over, he was then assigned to building maintenance and worked with building engineers, learning valuable skills. He went to his assignment every day, and wore his missionary tag while on assignment or at any church meeting. He would even occasionally be a third companion to the pair of proselytizing missionaries serving in our ward. But more importantly, he grew in the gospel and the confidence he had in himself grew along with his testimony.
I watched during those two years, and he truly carried the mantle of a missionary. At the conclusion of two years he was released and gave a traditional “homecoming” talk. He is now using those skills he learned working with the building engineers to obtain schooling and establish a career. The opportunity for him to serve was life changing, as it is for most missionaries.
For decades, we’ve encouraged prospective missionaries to “Return with Honor.” That phrase has new meaning as of today as we explore new ways to let Christ’s children serve one another. And for that, we can be grateful.
More information can be found at lds.org/service-missionary.