Latter-day Saint children sing of their hopes to be called on a mission to “teach and preach and work as missionaries do.”
And those hopes may be realized for even more members now that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is changing the recommendation process for young people seeking to go on missions.
Starting Jan. 2, 2019, all young men and women in the United States and Canada will use the same online process. After undergoing the required spiritual interviews and medical evaluations, the candidates will be called by the church president to either a proselytizing or service mission.
Before this, those assigned to service missions were called and supervised by their own stake president (regional leader), providing help in their own area.
Now their assignments will come from church headquarters in Salt Lake City, which has access to more national and international opportunities.
Most missionaries certainly will be teaching and preaching, but others may be planting flowers, pulling weeds, sprucing up parks, providing tech support, teaching languages, feeding the homeless or performing other charitable acts.
“Preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ will always be the primary purpose of missionary service,” apostle Dale G. Renlund said in a Friday news release, “so the Lord, through his leaders, will call most young people to find, teach and baptize converts. They will be assigned to one of the 407 missions all over the world.”
Others will be pegged as service missionaries. They will live at home, serve in church operations, or help nonprofits and community charities.
“They make a huge difference,” Renlund said of service missionaries. “They’re dependable, they show up, they do the work. They’re cheerful, they’re positive, they’re enthusiastic. They bring life and energy.”
During the recommendation process, all candidates will be considered first for spreading the word in proselytizing missions, the release states. Members unable for “physical, mental or emotional reasons” to do that work may be assigned as service missionaries.
Service missions also will become an option for proselytizing missionaries who come home early after falling ill or getting injured.
Gavin Zierden did just that.
“I came home on a Thursday, and then that Sunday I was a missionary again,” he said in the release. “I went from proselyting missionary to service missionary in a matter of days.”
Zierden now labors with California State Parks in San Diego.
“We are grateful for their service,” the faith’s governing First Presidency said in a Nov. 16 letter to church leaders, “and are pleased to announce increased opportunities for young missionaries who have health challenges.”
Right now, the church reports, there are more than 66,000 full-time proselytizing missionaries in the world and some 25,000 service missionaries. Of that latter group, about 800 are young people.
One of them is South Jordan resident Emily Watson, who serves at the Latter-day Saint Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake City.
“I’ve grown to love this mission as much as I would have loved a proselyting mission,” the 22-year-old said in the release. “You’re still a missionary. You wear the badge. You are called elder or sister, and the Lord loves what you’re doing. I feel that every day.”
Reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack contributed to this story.