Young members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New Zealand are responding with enthusiasm to Church President Thomas S. Monson's announcement earlier this month that men can now serve as missionaries at age 18, and young women at age 19.
Formerly, male missionaries could serve from the age of 19, and young women from the age of 21.
Matt Murray, a Mormon bishop (similar to a pastor in other denominations) in Auckland, New Zealand, is seeing first-hand the effect lowering the age requirement for missionary service is having on young members in his congregation.
Last week as he was driving home after an evening spent meeting with members of his congregation, he had a feeling to drop in on one of the families in his flock.
"The family popped into my mind, so I turned the car around and went and knocked on the door,” he says. “The mother came to the door and said ‘Bishop, I had you on my list to call tonight because I really needed to talk to you about my son.’"
Bishop Murray continues: "I told her that I had an impression to come by and visit. Her son turns 18 in December and he had expressed a desire to serve as a missionary as soon as possible."
"So I met with him and while I was there I, along with his mother, were able to activate his online missionary application which he is now completing."
Bishop Murray says that he has five young members of his congregation who are now planning to serve as missionaries in the next few months.
"This has created a lot of excitement among our young people," he said.
Another New Zealand Mormon bishop, Paul Hutchison, reports that he has had one young woman and one young man approach him since the Church's general conference when the announcement was made, "both eager," he says, "to get their mission papers in right away."
"There is definitely a lot of enthusiasm out there about the announcement," he said.
Waikato University academic Dr Michael Walmsley, a Mormon, says his daughter Jenna was planning to go on a mission when she turns 21 in March 2013, but she is now submitting her missionary application papers as soon as possible.
"Certainly the age change has created a buzz among the young women," he says, "and I think many more will consider going on a mission as part of their overall education plan."
Dr Walmsley's son Ryan was planning to go at the end of 2013 after turning 19, but that could be moved forward depending on when his orthodontic work is completed.
"Long term this will strengthen Latter-day Saint youth, couples and families as more young people have the unique experiences of missionary service, earlier in their lives."
Michael Higgins, a Mormon stake president in Auckland's northern suburbs, says the announcement from President Monson concerning the reduced aged requirements for missionary service has generated more activity and interest than he had anticipated.
“When a Prophet speaks and issues an invitation, miracles large and small occur. The rising generation are in tune and the response is wonderful,” he said.
“There are over 55,000 missionaries currently serving throughout the world,” he adds. “Many young men and women come home from their missions saying that their lives have been enriched by their experiences serving in far-flung places, teaching people about Jesus Christ, and meeting people from many other countries.”
“And they themselves have often changed and grown in absolutely miraculous ways. They are more humble, more focused on helping others, more confident, more optimistic and ready to keep on making positive contributions in their city, town or village — and with their family and friends.”
“Those who serve in other countries often become unofficial ambassadors of those countries for the rest of their lives. Many learn another language on their mission, which often opens up opportunities for the future.”
“Their missions,” he says, “become a solid foundation for the rest of their lives.”
Paul Lekias, who supervises around 200 missionaries as President of the New Zealand Auckland Mission of the Church, says he "is excited about the prospect of thousands of additional young men and women joining an already exceptional 'army' of valiant servants, who leave behind education, family and friends to truly become disciples of Christ by Inviting all to come unto Him."
"This will not only influence the youth preparing to serve missions, the announcement will influence the entire membership of the Church," he said.
Read more about the new age requirements for missionary service.
Read more about the Latter-day Saints’ missionary program.