At 23 and 21 years old, Colby Denton and Davis Jones introduce themselves as Elder Denton and Elder Jones. Thats traditional for young men serving as missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Both are relentlessly cheerful. Both say they wouldnt trade their two years in the Boise Mission for anything.
But that wasnt how Jones saw his assignment at first. For young men who grow up Mormon, a mission is many things: a rite of passage, a sacred duty. But its also seen as the adventure of their life. Thats how it was for Jones growing up in a small town in central Utah.
Growing up in the Mormon community, you always want that sweet experience where youre going to a third-world country, youre eating all sorts of nasty stuff, you have a machete in the jungle somewhere, Jones says. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted all that stuff.
At 19 he sent in his application to be a missionary. Eventually, a big envelope arrived from church headquarters in Salt Lake City. This is known as the mission call. He gathered his friends and large family in the living room as he tore open the envelope.
I have the call in my hand, and I open it up. And my eyes go directly to Idaho Boise mission he says. And I dropped my call on the ground and said Boise, Idaho, and I stood up and walked out of the room. So, not the best initial reaction for someone thats pumped to go on a mission.
Now, Jones has just two months left before he returns home to Utah. And a lot more young Mormons will be spending their missions like him in Southwest Idaho about three times as many.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints divides the world up geographically. Everything has well-defined boundaries, from local congregations to its missionary program. Until last month, the Boise Mission stretched from La Grande, Ore., in the west to Rupert in the east and from McCall in the north to Jackpot, Nev., in the south.
Starting July 1, the church split the Boise Mission into three. The new Nampa and Twin Falls missions cover the west and east ends of the old mission. And the new Boise Mission is now just Boise, Meridian, Eagle and Star. That leads Denton to predict that people in the Boise area will soon be seeing a lot more missionaries on bikes.
Jones and Denton have spent the past few months in a special assignment called Assistants to the President. In addition to typical Mormon missionary duties, they assist the head of the mission with administration. They helped oversee the change from one mission to three. Denton says the 200-some missionaries in the old mission were split among the three new ones. Now each has about 70.
Towards December theyll have 200 missionaries in the Boise Mission. Denton says.
Between 200 and 250, Jones says. Twin Falls and Nampa will be right around the same numbers.
This is part of a church-wide trend. Last year, the church lowered its age limits for men and women going on missions. Since then it has seen a nearly 30 percent increase in missionaries. But the increase in Southwest Idaho is much bigger than that overall growth.
The church is not ramping up its missionary force evenly worldwide, says Matt Martinich, who analyzes membership and missionary numbers for the Cumorah Foundation, an independent but Mormon-friendly nonprofit. Africa, South America and Mexico are all getting a lot of the new missionaries. That's not surprising, since the church has seen rapid growth in those places for years. But Martinich says another area thats seeing a significant missionary increase might surprise people.
Were seeing a much greater allocation of resources to areas like the Western United States.
According to Martinichs calculations, the West is seeing the largest missionary buildup in the world. A church spokesperson disputes that, saying the increase in the Western United States is significant but not the largest.
The West, of course, is Mormon central. Martinich says there are good logistical reasons for the focus on the West. The influx of missionaries has been so fast its created challenges like housing, transportation and leadership. Logistically, these may be easier to solve close to home.
But Martinich also says it fits with the churchs long-time strategy to make member involvement central to missionary work. Denton knew about that long before his mission. He didnt grow up LDS. He joined the church in college with support from a network of Mormon friends. His parents arent Mormon. His mom did not want him to go on a mission.
You can get murdered, you can get thrown in jail, and youre thousands of miles away where your parents cant do anything about it, Denton recalls his mom saying. One of my best friends had served in the Boise, Idaho, mission years ago. And so I prayed and prayed for months before my mission call came that Id serve in the Idaho Boise Mission. I just knew that she would be OK with it if I was going to go somewhere safe. And its Idaho, you know, what could go wrong in Idaho?