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Out of Africa: Visions of a 30% jump in Mormon missionaries

Published October 31, 2012 12:18 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Attention Mormon missionary candidates: Get ready to go to Africa.

West African LDS leaders are reporting that the number of missionaries assigned to their area "will increase by 30 percent within the coming months," says LDS blogger Matt Martinich, who charts Mormon growth figures.

This expected rise in West African missionaries is being triggered by the Oct. 6 announcement that the Utah-based faith was lowering the age of its proselytizing force to 18 for young men (down from 19) and 19 for young women (down from 21).

Since then, the LDS Church has received about 4,000 new applications for missionary service a week, making it nearly 12,000 since the change, Martinich says in an email. That's a 471 percent jump.

On the day of the historic announcement, LDS apostle Jeffrey R. Holland said the church did expect a flood of new applicants and would likely expand the number of missions, but wasn't sure where or by how much.

It now seems West Africa may be high on the list.

At the same time, Martinich has received "reports from missionaries and mission presidents that many, if not most, North American missions will increase their missionary complements to 250," he notes, up from an average of mission size of 150 to 200.

The change seems to be most exciting and pronounced for young LDS women, but may have a negative effect on young Mormon men seeking athletic scholarships to college, writes NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty.

Hagerty interviews 17-year-old Brendon Holland, a high school senior in Springfield, Mass., who was hoping to land a college rowing scholarship but now will leave for a Mormon mission instead.

"When I come back, my form would be off, and I wouldn't be in as good shape," he told Hagerty "And I probably wouldn't be able to be accepted into a Division I program."

The would-be missionary is trusting in God to provide, Hagerty reports.

"I know that if I go and do this thing, I will be blessed," he told NPR, "and that I'll be able to find a different way to pay for college."

Maybe he'll go to Africa and, during his limited downtime, be able to do some jogging or weight training there.

Peggy Fletcher Stack