Saturday, my son passes the 18 month mark of his mission–and he will then also pass me, having served longer on his mission than I did on mine.
I confess, I’m a little jealous.
I served my mission in the early 1980s, and about 6 months into my mission the rules were changed. The length of missionary service was shortened to 18 months from 2 years. Those who had been in the field for less than a year were told they would serve for just 18 months. Those who had been out more than a year had their choice–they could serve just 18 months, or for a full two years, if they wished.
Looking at this change from a historical perspective, it might have even been predicted, although the timing wasn’t obvious. In the early 1900s missions lasted for three years. By mid-century mission length had been shortened to 2-1/2 years, and then to 2 years. I have heard that each time this change was made, the number of missionaries increased. It could also be that, knowing they had less time, missionaries worked harder. But this time, (according to what I’ve heard–no actual evidence available) that did not happen. And just a few years after I returned, missions were moved back to two years.
For someone, somewhere, this change was probably a great thing. Perhaps for others it was actually bad in some way. I was very disappointed, and would have served another six months if I had been allowed to. But, except for my disappointment (a very minor thing, really), there was really little or no effect on my life. I might have gone back to school 4 months later than I did, and had less money to do so, and those things could have delayed my life a little. But I have no reason to think this would have been better or worse for me. As far as I can tell, it also had no efect on my Church life–I can’t imagine that I would be more faithful somehow. I do think I’ll eventually give that six months of service (and more), but that is at least 12 years away.
As a result, more than 25 years after I returned from my mission, I still don’t know what this all means to me, let alone to the Church. The Lord must have his reasons for why this happened. But I can’t figure out what they might be.