David Archuleta, the pop star who became world famous after coming in second on American Idol, made a surprising announcement during a Christmas concert in Utah. He is putting his career on hold for two years to become a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Members of this church are sometimes nicknamed Mormons, and David is a Mormon.
The audience cheered for him as he made his announcement. He explained that no one had asked him to serve a mission. He had felt strongly that this is something he needed to do and he had learned to listen to these types of promptings when they happened. He did not announce where he was going but did say he’d be leaving after the first of the year.
Mormon missions are voluntary. They aren’t required, but many young adult men and women serve them. Men can serve for two years at age 19, and women serve for eighteen months when they are twenty-one. They pay their own way and serve wherever they are needed. Some serve in their own countries, but others go to foreign lands. During their time, they learn the language of their mission and live as the natives do, which means they sometimes live very primitively. They follow very strict rules, going to bed early, getting up early, and living on a tight budget. There is no dating and music and books are limited to a strict list of religious media. They spend nearly all their time teaching about religion, finding people to teach, studying their religion, or serving others in need. The men wear suits and the women wear dresses.
Why would any young adult want to live like this—and pay for the privilege—at a time most young people are dating, going to school, starting careers, or just having fun? They do it because they love Jesus Christ and want to share what they know about Him. They understand how God has blessed them and how being a Mormon has affected their lives and they want others to have those same blessings.
Although they aren’t paid for their work in money, there are other rewards for serving as a missionary. Missionaries develop a great deal of self-discipline because of the very strict rules they follow. Because they are assigned to a companion they room with and spend all their time with, and because those companions are regularly rotated, they learn to get along with all sorts of people and to adjust to being with another person all the time, a skill that is great preparation for marriage and parenthood. They learn to budget and to live inexpensively, as well as to take care of themselves and their homes. They develop leadership skills and learn to be comfortable meeting and talking to strangers. All these things make them valuable students, employees, and spouses when they return.
Spiritually, having a few years to focus exclusively on God and Jesus Christ is an amazing opportunity. Very few of them will ever again be able to give so much attention to their spiritual development. They learn the gospel extremely well, memorize scriptures, learn how to explain their beliefs, and strengthen their testimonies. They become comfortable talking about Jesus Christ.
How would it affect your life if you were to—at your own expense—spend two years teaching others about Jesus Christ or doing volunteer work under very strict rules. How would it make you different from your peers? David Archuleta is about to find out.