“I am pleased to announce that effective immediately, all worthy and able young men who have graduated from high school . . . will have the option of being recommended for missionary service beginning at the age of 18, instead of age 19. . . . I am pleased to announce that able, worthy young women who have the desire to serve may be recommended for missionary service beginning at the age of 19, instead of age 21. . . .” (Thomas S. Monson, General Conference, Oct. 2012)
A New Era of Missionary Service
With those few prophetic words, President Monson seemed to open up a whole new era of enthusiastic missionary service for both young men and young women in the church. Even listening at home it took our breath away! And the startled looks on the faces of those in attendance was replayed on newscasts the rest of the day and beyond. I seriously doubt that anyone who was affected by this pronouncement was able to fully concentrate on the conference addresses that followed.
We live next door to the MTC and have a sort of front-row seat in watching all that has been happening since that memorable day. Occasionally we provide a program for missionaries there and have been able to feel their renewed enthusiasm for the work. It is a grand plan: President Monson speaks, and the whole church scrambles to make it happen! No doubt those in charge of missionary training went into something akin to panic mode calculating what would be needed to accommodate the new wave of younger missionaries. Young people themselves began altering life plans, juggling scholarships, changing work plans—maybe even marriage plans. Coaches began to recalculate the comings and goings of the athletes on their missionary charts.
To accommodate the change, the length of time at the MTC has been shortened for some, a grander plan than before for MTC expansion was begun, and temporary solutions for housing and training missionaries are being implemented. It is difficult to imagine the logistics of creating 58 new missions around the world to accommodate the growing number of missionaries!
The Provo MTC has a current capacity of 4,000 missionaries at any given time, but it is estimated that the capacity requirements this summer will exceed 7,000. It is estimated that more than 85,000 missionaries will be serving by fall 2013 (compared to the 58,000 who were serving in October 2012). This will shatter the old record by 20,000! A seminary principal in Saratoga Springs, Utah said, “Both the students and the teachers feel we are on the front lines of a remarkable moment in church history.”
A New Excitement Among the Sisters
While President Monson affirmed in his historic announcement that “missionary work is a priesthood duty,” he also stated that, “We assure the young sisters of the Church that they make a valuable contribution as missionaries, and we welcome their service.” The prophet’s announcement seemed to come as an affirmation to the women of their worth in missionary work, a feeling that the Lord needs them and the prophet is encouraging them to serve.
On Mother’s Day (2013) I was invited to speak to all of the sister missionaries at the Provo Missionary Training Center in their Relief Society meeting, and I was amazed to see that they nearly filled the auditorium where both elders and sisters used to meet together! I could feel such a strong spirit and enthusiasm the minute I walked into the hall, and the feeling increased as I heard them stand and sing “As Sisters in Zion” at the beginning of their meeting. When I had them sing along with me on a medley of Primary songs a bit later, I could feel the energy of the group in a powerful way and felt very blessed to be with them on that Sunday morning.
In the early 1980’s the church asked me to set to music three verses written by a pioneer woman who was born more than a century before me—Emily Hill Woodmansee. The hymn, “As Sisters in Zion,” is in our current hymnbook and is sung quite often by the sisters of the church, just as it was that morning at the MTC. Emily’s words are meaningful for our day just as they were for her day.
A few months ago, sensing the renewed excitement of the sisters for missionary work, my son John suggested we put together a compilation of songs especially for sister missionaries, and include in it several new pieces pertinent to our day. One of his ideas was that I should write new verses to the hymn “As Sisters in Zion” to inspire sister missionaries regarding their important place in the missionary work force! I loved his idea and got to work on it, hoping Emily Woodmansee wouldn’t mind if we wrote some stirring new missionary words to her song. We called our new hymn “The Sisters of Zion” and had an orchestral recording made of it complete with modulations and percussion. I told the MTC sisters we were going to play the soundtrack and they would be the first ones to ever sing it! It’s hard to describe the depth of my feelings about what happened next, as they spontaneously rose to their feet and sang “The Sisters of Zion” with great fervor. The spirit was electric—a moment none of us will ever forget.
[Click here to listen to “The Sisters of Zion”]
Words and Music by Janice Kapp Perry
The sisters of Zion are called to God’s labor
We willingly serve Him with spirit and might
We go to the nations with truth everlasting
We teach of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ
We thank thee, O God, for a prophet to guide us
We trust in His words and our purpose is clear
The angels of heaven are walking beside us
We’ll share our glad tidings with all who will hear
We go forth enlisted with Helaman’s Army
In numbers much greater than ever before
With power and spirit we’ll faithfully witness
The heavens have spoken, and truth is restored
Preach My Gospel
A beautiful new “Guide to Missionary Service” entitled Preach My Gospel was introduced in the church in 2004, just after my husband and I returned from serving a mission to Chile. This scripture is imprinted on the front cover: “Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost.” (3 Nephi 27:20) I love reading from this book which often emphasizes that our role as missionaries is to prepare ourselves to create a teaching environment where the Holy Ghost can testify that what is being taught is truth.
As I have listened to conversion stories through the years I’ve often heard that someone was first attracted to the church by the exemplary life of a member, by the love they showed to others, and by sincerity of their testimony.