Few high school students turn their backs on full scholarships to college, particularly if they are seen as championship-quality athletes. Alex Simms talked to coaches and gave it a lot of thought, but in the end, he chose to honor a promise he’d made to God since he was a young child. He decided to serve a voluntary, unpaid two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are often nicknamed Mormons.

ChurchillShoulderQuote mormonThis isn’t an easy decision and many Mormons choose college instead. However, Simms has a track record of putting God first. Despite the demands of high school and football, the Southe Point, South Carolina teenager got up early every morning to attend a before-school off-campus class about religion. The class, called Seminary, trains high school students in the scriptures canonized by Mormons. Two years are spent on the Bible, one on the Doctrine and Covenants, and one on the Book of Mormon. He has been preparing for this mission all his life by choosing to live a morally clean life despite the usual challenges of peer pressure and by studying his faith.

Initially, he intended to leave on his mission when he was nineteen, the minimum age for male missionary service. However, recently, Mormons lowered the ages of missionary service for both men and women. Men can now leave on their missions as soon as they are eighteen if they have graduated from high school. While they can also choose to leave later, Alex Simms decided to take advantage of the earlier date. His parents left the decision to him. Missionary service is encouraged, but not required. When he returns from his mission, he will choose a college and return to football.

Read about Alex Simms’ Mormon mission

Mormon missions are an important coming-of-age experience for young Mormons. At a time when most young people are focused on parties and dates, at an age when some are making choices that ruin or end their lives, young Mormons agree to spend a few years focused on nothing but serving Jesus Christ.  They live by very strict rules—no dating, no secular music or television, no internet except for church-approved online missionary work and weekly emails to their parents, and no video games. They rise early and work hard all day. They live on a tight budget and when not teaching the gospel or studying it, they are expected to serve others. They have one day a week off in which to do laundry, chores, and perhaps a game of basketball to stay in shape.

This time develops self-discipline, independence, and a sense of accomplishment that pays off in their adult lives. It helps to explain why Mormons do so well in business. (See Mormons in Business.) It also explains why young adult Mormons are more likely to remain active in their faith than are other young adults. They had the opportunity to spend a few years focused entirely on Jesus Christ and the teachings of their faith. Because they are never alone—they share an apartment with another missionary of the same gender and the two stay together at all times—and partnerships are rotated regularly, they learn to live with others who have different personalities and preferences. This enhances their relationship skills and prepares them for marriage, which requires the ability to share your life with someone who is not just like you. Mormons who marry in the Mormon temple have a lower rate of divorce than other segments of the American population. Living in a new country or state helps them to be more flexible and accepting of others.

However, the primary purpose of the mission is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Young Mormons are expected to learn about their faith and to pray to God for a testimony of it. Then they take that God-given testimony to the world and help others to discover what they know. It is a unique opportunity for young people to escape the self-centered life of young adulthood and focus on the greater good of the world.

Learn more about Mormon missionaries.

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