Elder Matthew Meaker doesn’t have a companion. Instead of serving in a foreign land, he lives with his parents in Providence, and he doesn’t go tracting or teach discussions. Instead, Meaker has spent his two missions stocking shelves at the Bishop’s Storehouse and being a teacher’s aide at the Logan High School seminary.
Meaker is a young church-service missionary, or YCSM. Elder M. Russell Ballard has said that “it may not be wise for some of our young men and young women to face the rigors and challenges of a full-time mission.” Because Meaker has Down syndrome, he falls into this category — but he has found joy in serving missions that cater to his abilities and address his special needs.
Elder Scotty Salinas also serves as a YCSM during special needs seminary classes at Logan High School. Salinas and Meaker help their teacher, Wendy Parker, by passing out class materials, cleaning the dry erase boards, reading scriptures and quotes from the General Authorities, and sharing their testimony.
Salinas particularly loves to choose the music, and loves to sing his favorite song, “Praise to the Man.” Meaker’s favorite part of being a missionary is sharing his testimony. He also serves as an example of proper classroom conduct.
“He’ll tip his head,” Parker said, “and say, ‘That is not appropriate behavior. Watch me.’”
Missions and what they entail are matched with potential YCSMs based on their abilities, Parker said. Missionaries with special needs can serve in many different capacities, including at various institute and seminary programs, at Deseret Industries, and at the Bishop’s Storehouse. The tasks Parker has her YCSMs complete also vary from general classroom maintenance to electronic repair, for YCSMs on the autism spectrum that have a knack for it.
Nora Meaker, Elder Meaker’s mother, said her son takes his mission assignments very seriously and that he has an amazing understanding of the gospel.
When asked why he serves missions, Meaker said it best himself: “It is a calling from God.”
Nora Meaker and Karen Salinas, Scotty’s mother, both said missionary service has helped their sons develop and grow in the gospel. Additionally, Meaker and Salinas, 32 and 24, respectively, are too old for post high school programs and have limited abilities to enter the workforce — so being a YCSM gives them something meaningful to do with their time.
“He feels needed,” Nora Meaker said. “It makes him feel really good about himself.”
Parker said that in addition to the benefits Meaker and Salinas get from their service, they have a profound impact on the students in the seminary class.
“When they bear testimony, it goes to the core of your heart. Everything is so simple to them, as far as what’s right and wrong and what’s important and precious, and it reminds us constantly that, you know what, our lives are really good, and we need to appreciate what we have.”
Those interested in serving as a YCSM can learn more by going to lds.org and browsing the part-time service opportunities under resources. Talking to the bishop about appropriate mission opportunities in your area is a great first start, Parker said, as they can work with the stake presidency to find a good match.