I have long advocated that more emphasis be placed on service as it relates to LDS missions. So I was encouraged when the Church decided to highlight service missions. According to QnAs in the Ensign (January 2019):
- Where do they live? At home.
- How long do they serve? 6 to 24 months.
- Who can serve? Worthy young men ages 18-25; worthy young women 19-25
- Can a young person choose to serve either a proselyting mission mission or a service mission? No. A young person simply applies for missionary service. Under divine inspiration and with the information provided in the application, an Apostle of the Lord determines the type of mission a person will service. All applicants are considered first for proselyting missions.
The last answer is particularly troubling. To quote the article in Ensign:
Previously, if a young person was unable to serve a full-time mission because of physical, mental, or emotional challenges, he or she was honorably excused from missionary service. Though some may still be honorably excused from service, the Church how offers a way for many more worthy you men and women to use their abilities in the Lord’s service.
While I applaud the idea, I have several issues with the application.
- Service missionaries should be able to serve wherever the Church has proselytizing missionaries. For example, volunteer activities abound in developing countries. And living in another culture can be an important part of a mission. My sons served missions in the Philippines and south Florida (with Haitians and Cubans), my son-in-law served in Colombia, and my daughter-in-law in south Florida. They learned important life and cultural lessons on their missions.
- The service (and proselytizing) ages should be identical for young men and women.
- A person should be able to choose a service mission, without prejudice. As Jana Riess has already pointed out, the current system sets up a caste system, with proselytizing missions on top, and service missions the consolation prize. But even more importantly, if a young person wants to choose a service mission, it should be his or her choice and not just that of his Stake President and an apostle in SLC. Going on a service mission should not be inferior to a proselytizing mission. If Church has concerns about a young persons ability to serve a proselytizing mission . . . fine. Then negotiate. But let the young person also have voice in the decision.
Let’s do service missions right.