Mormon missionaries teach a woman in Ghana.
Over the weekend, President Thomas S. Monson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that more than 80,000 Mormon missionaries are now serving around the world — an increase of nearly 22,000 (half of whom are young women) from a year ago, when age requirements for missionaries were lowered.
In a commentary this week at the Washington Post’s “On Faith” forum, Michael R. Otterson, the Church’s managing director of Public Affairs, notes that this excitement for missionary service may seem strange to those unfamiliar with Mormonism or religion in general. “Why would 18- and 19-year-olds be willing to put their lives on hold for up to two years,” he asks, “at a time when their peers are working through college or starting careers?”
The answer, Otterson says, is that Mormons learn from their youngest years to follow Jesus Christ by serving all people everywhere. Across the globe, such service brings missionaries in contact with people in “every conceivable kind of trial and circumstance,” Otterson says. “From opulence and selfishness to chronic, spirit-numbing poverty. From the effects of drugs and alcohol to the invidious addictions of pornography and gambling. From broken homes and battered wives to neglected children and debilitating illness. Missionaries encounter it all. But along with the bad,” Otterson continues, “missionaries also see the redemptive power of the gospel of Jesus Christ as it transforms lives.”
The result is often a “marrow-deep transformation” that leaves missionaries “stronger, more mature, more ready to bring their learned experience to their own families, congregations, communities, and even to the broader world.”