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Age Change Leads To Flood Of Female Mormon Missionaries
For many young Mormons, going on a mission is a rite of passage, but most missionaries have traditionally been men. Now, that is changing. Last October, the church lowered its minimum age for female missionaries from 21 years old to 19 years old. The response was instant and enthusiastic.
The response was instant and enthusiastic, and it came from women like Tara Carpenter, who is about to spend 18 months proselytizing in and around Nashville. Carpenter is smiley, outgoing and young.
Just 19. A year ago, she was thinking about going on a mission, but only thinking about it. Then, she heard about the age change.
“You know, I called my mom up, and was, like hey, ‘I’m going on a mission,’” Carpenter said, before doing an impression of her surprised mother. “She’s like okay..."
So Carpenter has been working at her family’s machine shop in Mesa to save up money. Waiting an extra two years would not have worked out this well, she said. She would have been out of Brigham Young University’s Idaho campus for more than a year, and perhaps like many young Mormon women in their 20s, on the cusp of getting married.
“But now, it’s like, I’ve got my associate's and I can go,” she said. “Everything’s cleared up. Everything’s perfect. All the pieces fell into place.”
A year ago, about 15 percent the church’s nearly 75,000 missionaries were female, but immediately after the age change, more than half of new applications were from women, and the shift has not just invigorated teenagers.
Amelia Belshior has been packing for days for her mission in Boston. She has been packing warm things, tons of scarves and long skirts. Most everything is bright but modest.
Belshior is 21, so she could have gone even without this change, but she was not sure she would. At times, she admitted, college life seemed more exciting than the gospel. Then she heard about the new age requirements and something clicked.
“It was just like an answer to my prayer. ‘Amelia, wake up, like what are you doing? Wake up. Come,’” she said, snapping her fingers. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, I think you are right. I need to go.’”
Belshior was born in Mozambique and was adopted five years ago by a Mormon family in Gilbert. Both her parents died of AIDS. So did her older brother. He is the one who brought her to Mormonism.
“It helped me come to term with my parents’ passing and my sibling’s passing and actually being happy and knowing that I have a purpose and I can do this,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here if they, if God, didn’t have a plan for me.”
That’s the kind of passion Cindy Packard hopes this surge of female missionaries will bring to their work. She is a spokeswoman for the Mormon Church.
“There’s something about these young, vibrant, loving women that I think can touch hearts in a different way than sometimes the young men can do,” Packard said. “And I think that the world will only be so much better because these young women are now able to serve at a younger age, and so many more of them are able to go have that experience.”
Packard did not go on a mission as a young woman, but of one her five daughters did, before the age was lowered. Packard said aspects of the trip were hard for her daughter, maybe harder than it would have been for a young man, but that too might be in flux.
Andrea Jackson is serving her mission in the Valley and shares a small apartment with another young sister, as female missionaries are known.They are both 19. Jackson said she always wanted to do this, so when the age was lowered, she jumped at the chance. In her three months of mission work, she has gotten all kinds of responses from the public.
“Some people are like, ‘Oh, you’re only 19? Like, you’re a youngin’,” Jackson said, laughing a bit. “Others, they’re just, they respect that we’re out here so young.”
And the church treats young these women almost identically to their male counterparts. Women are typically sent to safer parts of the world than men, and their missions are shorter, but all missionaries spend their days the same way, studying, volunteering and teaching from 7 a.m. until 10:30 p.m.