Leading up to general conference this year, I’d heard plenty of rumors. There have been quite a few significant changes recently, so it’s no wonder people are buzzing with ideas about what else might change. This time around, I was hearing talk that the length of time young people serve on missions was going to change. Men were going to just serve 18 months. Or women were going to start serving 24 months. Or it was going to be up to the individual, regardless of gender, to serve 12, 18, or 24 months.
Or. Or. Or.
Conference came. Conference went. Mission lengths did not change, if you noticed.
However . . .
I learned through some research something older members might be well aware of, but which was new to me. The church DID make a big announcement in a leadership conference, shortening the length of missions for young men from 24 months to 18 months.
It’s just that they did it back in 1982.
In speaking for the First Presidency, President 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 young men are subject to “regulations which preclude extended absence from school or apprenticeship programs”; likewise, military requirements in some countries prohibit two-year absences to fill missions.
“It is hoped,” said President Hinckley, “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.”
But then, in a letter from the First Presidency in 1985, the change was changed back:
The First Presidency’s November 1984 letter emphasized that those pressures are still a matter of concern. But because of the earlier six-month reduction in the length of missionary service, the letter continued, “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.”
The First Presidency urged local priesthood leaders to “be sensitive to family resources,” and, where necessary, see that assistance is made available to families. “We hope no worthy young person will be overlooked for this most important Church service because of concern for financing a mission.”
Will the length change again? Who knows. Different times call for different approaches. If you read church history, you’ll find a lot of what ended up being cemented in stone around church practice started out as various people trying different approaches to solve problems.
If you’re familiar with Latter-day Saint doctrine, you’ll know the story of the Brother of Jared, who was tasked with coming up with a way to light ships for a long journey. Ships that had no windows. His idea ended up being to have God touch white rocks, which would then shine brightly for the journey.
I find the story inspirational. God, who was fully aware of everything from electricity, battery packs, nuclear fission or fusion, ended up going along with the “bright rocks” idea. Not because it was the best or perfect solution, but because it’s what His child had come up with, and He could make it work. How much of what happens in the church happens because God follows this same principle?
Food for thought,
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