Dain Broadbent · February 25, 2013
During a recent devotional, 13 Southern Virginia University students stood to the applause of fellow students, faculty and staff as President Paul K. Sybrowsky recognized them for receiving calls to serve as full-time missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Many of these 13 students, as well as a total of more than 40 students who have received mission calls since October, are able to serve because of President Thomas S. Monson’s announcement during the Church’s 182nd Semiannual General Conference, which lowered the age limit for full-time missionaries to 19 for women and 18 for men.
“Nothing in that room mattered [after the announcement],” said Shoushig Tenguerian, a family and child development major at Southern Virginia. “When [President Monson] said 19, my sister looked at me, because she knew how much I’ve wanted this, and I just started crying. I called my parents immediately and told them that I would start on my mission papers once I contacted my bishop, which was the next day.”
After completing and submitting her application for missionary service, Tenguerian received her mission call to the Armenia Yerevan Mission this month.
“These are my people,” Tenguerian said. “I am half Armenian and to be called to my [non-LDS] father’s homeland was a feeling I can’t describe. Even though I don’t currently have family in Armenia, I feel like I am going to serve family.”
According to the Church’s Newsroom, “young prospective missionaries have responded enthusiastically to the October 2012 announcement,” resulting in an increase in the number of missionaries worldwide. To accommodate the growing amount of new missionaries, the Church announced the formation of 58 additional missions last week.
Katie Swenson, a liberal arts major at Southern Virginia, was recently called to the Bulgaria Sophia Mission of the Church. She received her mission call at school and opened it in her residence hall, sharing the experience with her friends and family.
“I was freaking out,” Swenson said. “There were a bunch of friends and roommates and my teammates there, and I had my family on Skype and on the phone. Those were the people that had already been there to support me and would be there to support me; I wanted them to be a part of it. Opening my mission call was a big deal to me, so I wanted the people who really loved and cared about me to be there too.”
Serving a mission is encouraged for youth of the LDS faith who meet the age and health requirements. Men age 18 to 26 serve for two years and women age 19 and older serve for 18 months. During this time, missionaries have limited interaction with their friends and family, and are prohibited from most mainstream media, social media, and other activities that do not pertain to their missionary service.
Corey Garff, a sophomore recently called to serve a mission in Seoul, South Korea, said that he appreciates his ability to feel the Spirit on Southern Virginia’s campus, as well as the opportunity to take classes at the Buena Vista Institute of Religion. In addition to the institute’s classes on subjects including missionary preparation, Southern Virginia students regularly serve within the recently formed Buena Vista Young Single Adult Stake of the Church. The university emphasizes service through the required class “Becoming a Leader-Servant,” the leader-servant graduation distinction and student groups such as the Southern Virginia Service Council.
“Our community is small but we’re all connected through the Spirit,” said Garff. “You learn here about people and you learn how to serve other people: your roommate, housemate, or the person that lives down the street from you. Because service is such a big aspect of this school, I think that really enhances [campus life].”
Southern Virginia also has created missionary block programs for students who cannot attend a full semester of college because they depart for missions mid-semester. These programs provide an opportunity for students to attend college in a Latter-day Saint environment while preparing for their missions, and also aim to facilitate a smooth transition between missionary service and returning to college.
“I grew up in Utah, so I’m used to everyone around me being LDS,” said Swenson, “But I still think it’s a different environment here. Everyone that you’re around is trying to help build you up and everyone can relate to the gospel. I think it’s cool that in your classes you can talk about religion and you can talk about the church and how it applies to the different things you are learning about. It definitely helped build my testimony and helped me to be the person that I am now and the missionary that I’ll be when I get out [into the mission field].”