President Thomas S. Monson's historic announcement that the missionary age for both young men and young women had been lowered cast a surge of anxious excitement across the globe.
Nineteen-year-old Alba Lucia Fonseca was watching the opening session of general conference in her apartment when the announcement was made. The college student had long planned on serving a mission but believed she would have to wait another couple of years to answer the call.
"When President Monson began talking about the changes in age for sister missionaries I just started crying. I was so happy," she said. Between conference sessions, Alba Lucia called her ward executive secretary and scheduled an appointment with her bishop from the BYU-YSA 227th Ward, BYU 16th Stake. Weeks later she received a call to serve in the Chile Concepcion South Mission. She begins her mission in February.
"Before general conference I had so many questions about my life," she added. "President Monson's announcement was an answer to prayers."
Missionary-minded youth such as Alba Lucia were thrilled to learn that their opportunity to serve full-time in the field would occur sooner than expected. During general conference, the Church president announced the missionary age for young men who are high school graduates is reduced to 18 and the age for young women to serve is now 19.
The change prompted a massive spike in the number of missionary applications. Just weeks after the announcement, missionary applications jumped 471 percent, the Deseret News reported.
Elder W. Craig Zwick of the Seventy and assistant executive director of the Missionary Department, said the change in the missionary ages — and the dramatic response to that change — is evidence the Lord is "hastening His work."
"The Lord is in charge and [the missionaries] are the people He is going to use to hasten His work. It is gratifying to see these well-prepared young men and young women respond favorably to a prophet's clarion call," he said.
The policy change has also prompted prospective missionaries to take stock of their own personal preparedness. Many wonder if they are truly ready to answer the call to labor in the vineyard and invite others to come unto Christ.
The new youth curriculum "Come, Follow Me" is an answer to countless earnest prayers. If utilized correctly, the principles and lessons found in the updated learning resources for youth can help transform youth classrooms into miniature missionary training centers. "Come, Follow Me" will help prepare young men and young women — many who are just a year or two away from full-time gospel labor — to fulfill the missionary's sacred charge: to teach the gospel in the Savior's way.
Youth are already finding comfort and inspiration through "Come, Follow Me." Their leaders, meanwhile, are thrilled to possess a new teaching method that will help them build stronger relationships with the young people they serve. The material and activities found in the curriculum are designed to help future missionaries such as Alba Lucia best prepare to share the gospel in all corners of the world.
Brother David L. Beck, the Church's Young Men general president, was recently asked how the new curriculum would help prospective missionaries.
"The learning resources follow the Savior's pattern of assisting individuals in the conversion process," he responded. "They encourage active participation [in the classroom] and to act upon what they have learned. [Youth] will have many opportunities to teach the fundamental doctrines of the gospel and share spiritual experiences and testimony in these settings."
Effective, savvy missionaries are able to spiritually connect with the people the teach. "Come, Follow Me" will offer young men and young women countless opportunities to study the teaching methods of some of history's greatest missionaries.
In the Aaronic Priesthood curriculum, for example, young men are asked to study and ponder the missionary accounts of Peter, Paul and Alma. What did these great missionaries do to invite others to come unto Christ? The answers are revealed through the scriptures — and understood through classroom discussion under the prayerful direction of the quorum advisor.
Other lessons will provide young men and young women with opportunities to discover, develop and demonstrate teaching skills that will serve them well during full time missions. A lesson on home teaching, for example, challenges the young priesthood holders to invite those they visit each month "to come unto Christ."
Another lesson on inviting less-active friends to return to Church encourages future missionaries to share their testimonies with friends from school and with other people they love. As they do so, they will learn to see others as they may become.
President Monson alluded to such spiritual insight during the recent general conference when he spoke of a young missionary who enjoyed tremendous success while knocking on doors. Sometimes the person on the other side of the door appeared uninterested in religion. But in his mind's eye, the missionary pictured the person at the door dressed in white and ready to walk into the waters of baptism.
"When I look at someone that way," the missionary said, "I have the capacity to bear my testimony to him in a way that can touch his heart."