Pop star David Archuleta surprised the world in December, 2011, by announcing that he had decided to serve a two year volunteer mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. David is a life-long Mormon, the nickname for members of this church.
In 2007, David Archuleta became famous for his appearance on American Idol, talent show for pop singers. He was one of the youngest finalists in the history of the show, just sixteen years old. Following his run on the program, he launched a solo career, with his first album debuting in the number two spot at Billboard.
It is uncommon for popular singers to put aside their work to take a two-year hiatus out of the public eye. It is, in fact, considered a risky decision to make. However David explained that no one had told him to do it; it was a choice he made for himself. He explained in his farewell video that he wanted to set aside this time to build his relationship with God, something he hadn’t taken enough time for in the past. He asked his fans to be respectful of his need to be out of the public eye for a while.
What will David Archuleta’s life be like now? He left home in March, 2012 for the Missionary Training Center. Here, since he will be serving in South America, it is likely he will begin learning to speak Spanish in an intensive immersion program. He will also receive the training needed to learn how to share his beliefs effectively with others.
While on his mission, David will be known as Elder Archuleta. Elder is a title referring to his level of priesthood, not his age or seniority. Mormons confer the priesthood on all worthy males who are twelve or older. There are several levels and Elder is the title given to most young men after they reach adulthood. However, it is not used as a formal title unless someone is serving a mission or has a high-level full-time church position.
As a missionary, David will receive no special treatment due to his celebrity. During this time, he is expected to put away all worldly interests and activities, so he will not be performing, making movies, answering fan mail, or participating in other career-based activities. Nor will he be dating, listening to popular music, going to movies or watching television. For two years, Mormon missionaries are expected to live a life of strict focus on God. It is a time to build their own religious testimony, learn to sacrifice and to put others first, to mature, and to grow. Mormon missionaries make sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ the sole focus of their lives. They develop self-discipline that carries into their future lives and helps them to be successful both professionally and personally. Their lives follow a strict schedule of sleep, meals, exercise, religious study, work, and service.
Because missionaries are assigned companions—another missionary of the same gender—and the two spend all their time together, they also learn to get along with others. These partnerships are changed regularly and missionaries must learn to have a good relationship with each companion, regardless of differences in culture and personality. This is excellent preparation for marriage and probably contributes to the unusually high success rate among Mormons.
Mormon missionaries live in the communities to which they are assigned and live as do those around him. David Archuleta’s life as a missionary may include living in primitive dwellings without running water should he find himself assigned to such an area. This helps them to develop compassion and understanding for those who are less fortunate, to release their dependence on material comforts, and to learn to sacrifice for God. He will be expected to eat whatever is served to him when he is a dinner guest. He will speak the language and learn the culture.
The need to interact daily with strangers and to discuss religion, which is considered a touchy subject, helps missionaries develop poise. Because they are taught to look for opportunities to serve, they become acutely aware of the needs of those around them and train themselves to see needs even when no one is asking for help. This builds empathy and trains them to a life of service and love for others. They experience the culture of their temporary country in a way no tourist can because they are right in the heart of the country, visiting homes, talking to the people, and sharing in the lifestyle.
This is what is ahead for David Archuleta. When he returns home in two years, fans are likely to see a matured young man who is more attuned with what is important in his life. It is an experience that will change him forever and most young men and women who serve missions remember it as a defining moment.
Men may serve missions beginning at age 19 for two years. Women may serve for eighteen months at age 21—most women complete college first. In addition, adults of any age can become part-time missionaries serving at home while continuing their normal careers or educations. Retired couples often serve missions as well, either full-time or part time. Older missionaries are not held to the same strict rules as the younger missionaries, since they have already achieved the maturity and self-discipline the rules teach.
Many famous Mormons who take time out for a mission value two years away from their fame and the public eye. They begin to remember what it was like to be an ordinary person and this helps to humble them. For many, it is a key to avoiding the types of problems many young celebrities face, because they return far more grounded and less interested in the parties and immorality that can plague a person who achieves fame at a young age.
David intends to resume his music career at the end of his two years in South America.