In January 1991, six Mormon boys from Las Vegas, friends from close neighborhoods and congregations, entered the Missionary Training Center for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I was one of them.

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We were typical boys trying to find ourselves — and our Heavenly Father — as residents of an atypical city.

When the six of us began our missions in 1991, there were 43,000 Mormon missionaries serving throughout the world. When we returned home there were 48,000. Until 2012, those perpetual missionary numbers fluctuated between 43,000 and 61,000.

In 2012, the eligibility age of missionary candidates dropped to 18 for men and 19 for women. Since that change, more than 80,000 missionaries a year have offered their time and efforts.

Everyone in the picture is married and between the six of us we have 28 children. There is a good chance many of those children will serve missions.

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And continuity may remain for a long time. For example, everyone in the picture is married and between the six of us we have 28 children. There is a good chance many of those children will serve missions.

The Associated Press recently reported that a record increase in Mormon missionaries doesn’t lead to equal spike in converts. A 44-percent increase in missionaries yielded only a 9-percent increase in converts.

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But missionary labors are much more than converts joining the faith. People of all faiths might be too easily excited about numbers and the growth of church demographics, but show less excitement about those individuals who sincerely illustrate a change of heart and behavior.

Missionary Training Center, Provo Utah, February 1991. From left to right: Ryan Jenkins, Karl Ross, Chad Small, Stephen Close, Lane Barlow, and Denny Egbert (kneeling). Service was rendered in Washington D.C., Salt Lake City, England, Minneapolis, Florida, Haiti, and Trinidad.

I have learned that developing a relationship with the Heavenly Father and Jesus is not a one-time event, nor does it happen at the same time for everyone.

My LDS mission provided more than 730 days of scripture study, which helped us understand both the author of righteousness and the author of sin. It was a time for consistent personal prayer, companionship prayers and prayers with countless others in untold circumstances.

It was a season in life where we sought to subdue selfishness and more earnestly think of others, lend a helping hand and perhaps share a few inspired words with people bearing difficult burdens. It also gave us time to bring our thoughts more in alignment with virtue and our actions in alignment with the teachings of Jesus Christ.

But eventually we would come home and face strong headwinds of life.

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Re-entry into a competitive secular world challenged the best parts of us. The words of John Adams resonate: “There could be no cleanliness without discipline.” As do the words of the late University of California, Los Angeles basketball coach John Wooden: “Discipline yourselves so others don’t have to.” Discipline doesn’t come easy, and it can fade quickly with the slightest carelessness.

Discipline doesn’t come easy, and it can fade quickly with the slightest carelessness.

Returning home from a mission requires us to look beyond converts and consider our own conversion. Are we spiritually reborn? Do we have a greater measure of the Holy Ghost? Do we live according to light and truth, and do our deeds manifest the divine attributes of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ?

Marriage provides the best environment where we can practice self-restraint, gain experiences for spiritual growth and where we can further manifest the attributes of heavenly parents. Bringing children into the world amplifies theses experiences. A more intimate relationship with my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ comes as my intimate relationship with my wife and children flourishes.

The Latin word for religion denotes binding. Most religions provide institutional experiences, like a mission, and encourage marriage to help us bind ourselves back to God. A fallen world needs a redemptive work — and that is where Christ comes in. He helps us along the way.

Worshipping God shows devotion and love for God. It is a personal responsibility that must be taken seriously every day.

Worshipping among fellow believers on a regular basis is essential. Latter-day Saints feel strongly about providing institutional experiences and sacred ordinances to help an individual bind themselves back to the God who gave them life. But the real evidence of walking back into the presence of the God is an extremely private matter that requires sincere diligence. Worshipping God shows devotion and love for God. It is a personal responsibility that must be taken seriously every day.

To help each of us take this responsibility seriously, we must always remember and always believe that faith counts, and religion matters — across America and all over the world.

Ryan Jenkins is the author of “The Assassination of Joseph Smith: Innocent Blood on the Banner of Liberty.” 
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