Newspaper article News Sentinel

Teaching -- and Learning: Teens Set Other Goals Aside for Two Years as Mormon Missionaries

Newspaper article News Sentinel

Teaching -- and Learning: Teens Set Other Goals Aside for Two Years as Mormon Missionaries

Article excerpt

For millions of high school seniors, a letter from their university of choice can be life-changing. But for an aspiring Mormon missionary, a letter from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is often life-defining.

Nineteen-year-old Barrett Burgin had been anticipating his letter since kindergarten. At age five, he pretended to be a missionary and knocked on his neighbors' doors. In high school, he often brought classmates to church services and evangelized once a week with missionaries out of his West Hills ward.

Burgin even made a music video with some of his friends called "Mission Man," featuring a dancing missionary and a gospel lesson with a gorilla.

So when the Bearden High School graduate finally received his call to mission work in September, his family gathered and captured it on video.

"I cried like a baby," he said. "I've just always wanted to be missionary. Something about teaching people about Jesus Christ, there's nothing like it, and I think that's why missionaries often say it's one of the happiest times in their lives."

Burgin was born into the Church but says he did not truly own his faith until his junior year of high school. Through prayer, Burgin believes he received confirmation from God about the truth of the Book of Mormon.

With his mission to Spanish speakers in Salt Lake City beginning this month, Burgin says he is excited to invite others to learn about Mormonism.

"A lot people think, 'Why do you want to go to Salt Lake?' because there are already so many Latter-day Saints there," he says. "But it's a great mission for teaching because so many people in Salt Lake are interested in learning about our religion."

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints traces its roots to what it calls the original teachings of Jesus, lost until the Second Great Awakening, when it says Joseph Smith received new revelation from God comparable to the Bible.

The Church has been sending out full-time missionaries since 1830 to share what it calls "the restored gospel" contained in the Book of Mormon and other Mormon Scriptures. As of 2011, the Church says it has 55,410 missionaries across the globe and 357 missions globally.

This year, that number is skyrocketing after the Church lowered the minimum age from 19 to 18 for men and from 21 to 19 for women.

"Because it opened up the opportunity for a younger group to serve, they were getting 700 applications per day," says Richard Irion, president of the Tennessee Knoxville mission. "So it increased their applications sevenfold."

Over 130 missionaries serve in the Tennessee Knoxville mission, and each pair of missionaries is responsible for a local area designated by the Church, known as either as a ward or branch (a branch is smaller than a ward). There are six wards and three branches in Knoxville.

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Farragut's ward supports only one pair of 19-year-old missionaries, known as Elders. Elder Andrew Bakker and Elder Mike Christensen, both from Utah, have served together since Bakker arrived fresh out of training in November. …

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