SOUTH JORDAN, UTAH
It’s been a memorable spring for the Bingham High School’s boy’s soccer team. The Miners have enjoyed wins over their cross-town rivals, claimed a region championship and secured a top seed in the 2016 Utah state soccer tournament.
But for four of the team’s key players, the memories of the season reach beyond the soccer pitch. Senior teammates Daniel Blanchard, Connor Burnett, Zach Nielsen and Stantson Miles have spent much of the spring dividing their attention between their next game and their fast approaching missionary assignments to El Salvador, Chile, Mexico and Guatemala, respectively.
Daniel, Connor, Zach and Stantson’s situations are not unique. Since the Church amended its “mission age” policy in 2012 — allowing young men to begin missionary service at age 18 — thousands of young men in the United States and other countries are receiving their mission calls while still in high school. They are being fitted for suits and prayerfully studying the “Preach My Gospel” manual even as they cram for finals, compete in high school sports and perhaps enjoy one final prom date.
That’s a departure from just a few years ago when a young man’s mission call generally arrived after they’d stowed away graduation caps and gowns.
Young women, meanwhile, once reported to missions several years after high school. But with the updated policy, many mission-bound girls are organizing their own mission papers during their senior year.
“I’m so excited to get out on my mission,” said Daniel, who will begin labor in the El Salvador Santa Ana Mission shortly after graduation. “My mission is always at the front of my mind.”
The Bingham boys all admit that their minds often drift to their missions. They’re eager to learn Spanish. They wonder about the people they will serve and live among. And they agree their mission calls have forced them to grow up a bit faster — but in a good way.
“It’s really sped up my own maturing process,” said Stantson, who was called to the Guatemala Guatemala City Central Mission.
“And I’ve been a lot more focused in seminary since I got my call,” added Zach, who will leave shortly for the Mexico Torreon Mission.
All four of the Bingham boys grew up in the Church. Some say they always planned to go on a mission. Others decided to serve while in high school after much prayer and personal study.
They all say their lives were forever changed when they recently received calls to serve from a modern-day prophet.
“When I got my mission call I realized I needed to be more of an example,” said Connor, assigned to the Chile Santiago South Mission.
As future missionaries with calls in hand, the soccer players know they are being watched on and off the field. Several of their teammates are members. Others including their coach are not. But all have shared the excitement when mission calls arrive in the mail.
The Bingham teammates of all backgrounds join in the tradition to gather at one another’s homes to open new mission calls.
As in seminaries throughout the Church, the teachers at the Bingham High Seminary play key roles in preparing their students for missions.
Troy McDougal is a veteran seminary teacher who has taught thousands of students — both before and after the 2012 policy change. In recent years Brother McDougal has observed “an accelerated level of seriousness” of students who have received mission calls, along with their classmates.
“They participate in ways we did not see before,” observed fellow seminary teacher LeeAnn Loader.
Bingham High Seminary principal Lindsey McMullin said the Church’s “Come Follow Me” program — utilized in Sunday School, Aaronic Priesthood and Young Women classes — has also contributed to the maturity of high school-age boys and girls who will soon embark on full-time missionary service. Parents are also more involved in their children’s seminary experience because of the recently released mySeminary web page.
“They are all inspired programs,” he said.
Seminary teacher Andy Shepherd said the young men and young women in his classes are already comfortable teaching gospel principles to others, thanks to the youth-led “Come Follow Me” curriculums.
“I asked one of my students named Daniel to teach from the first chapter of Daniel — and he stood up and taught for 10 minutes.”
Such confidence among the students “has changed the ways we teach and prepare them,” added Sister Jessica McKenna.
While the teachers celebrate with the seminary students receiving mission calls, they remain sensitive and aware of those who are still making the decision to serve. They lovingly advise them to seek answers to their own questions through prayer, scripture study and in counsel with parents, bishops and advisors.
[email protected] @JNSwensen