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Mormon missions expanding with more women
PROVO, Utah (AP) — Mikaela Merrill was in the middle of her fall semester at Brigham Young University when she abruptly altered her college plans and signed up for a Mormon mission.
Now, she's studying around the clock to learn the proper intonation of Mandarin and is just weeks away of fulfilling her dream of serving as an overseas missionary.
Merrill is among thousands who have taken advantage of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' decision to lower the minimum age for missionaries: from 21 to 19 for women; and from 19 to 18 for men.
For many Mormons, these missions are considered rites of passage, broadening their perspective on the world, strengthening their faith and helping prepare some of them for future leadership roles within the church. There are expected to be about 90,000 missionaries around the world by end of 2013, up from 58,600 currently
Young Mormon men are expected, but not required to serve missions. Historically, women have faced far less pressure to serve. Men serve two years while women go for 18 months.
Rather than having to leave at age 21 — when many women are about to start careers or perhaps are contemplating marriage and starting families — Mormon women can now serve missions shortly after high school.
Applications for new missions are up two-fold since the surprise Oct. 6 announcement, and the reaction from women has been overwhelming. About half of all new applications to go on missions have been from women, the church says; previously, only 15 percent of missionaries were women.
"It's a great blessing for a woman to be able to go a little earlier," said Merrill, a 19-year-old from Castle Rock, Colo., who completed her application within two weeks of the church's announcement. "It gives us a lot more the options to go with schooling and stuff. I'm really grateful for the change."