Called to serve in a pandemic: ‘I love my family, but I wasn’t ready to see them’

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Editor’s note: Thousands of missionaries across the world are returning home before completing their missions at the direction of top Church leaders. Upon arrival, they must quarantine themselves for 14 days to prevent any spread of COVID-19. Church leaders have directed that those with a significant time left to serve be temporarily released as missionaries while they await reassignment. Each must choose by April 30, 2020, whether to opt for immediate reassignment once the Church announces it is ready to send them out again, or to wait between 12 and 18 months before returning to the field. The Daily Universe is looking at the impact of the pandemic on missionary service in a series of stories.

Damon MacLeod had been serving in the Philippines Antipolo Mission for almost eight and a half months before his time in the country he had grown to love came to an abrupt end.

MacLeod had just arrived in his third area and was assigned to be the new district leader. “I was excited,” he said. “We had a lot of potentials in our ward, lots of referrals and an upcoming baptism. I could feel lots of success and a great transfer coming.”

On March 17, MacLeod and his companion got a text from their zone leaders saying because of the spread of the coronavirus, they would be locked in their apartments that day and possibly the next few days.

Just a few hours later, they received another text from the zone leaders. This one said, “This is an urgent message from the missionary department and President Alder. All foreign missionaries will be returning to their homeland. Pack your bags and be ready to go at a moment’s notice.”

Damon MacLeod serving in the Phillippines Antipolo mission. (Damon MacLeod)

MacLeod thought it might have been a joke, so he called the zone leaders after reading the text hoping to find out it wasn’t true. To his dismay, the zone leaders told him their flights had already been purchased. They told him to pack his bags and be ready to go.

“Confusion swept over me and my eyes filled with tears,” MacLeod said. “I love my family, but I wasn’t ready to see them or to even leave the Philippines.”

The next morning MacLeod and his companion, along with the rest of the non-native Philippines missionaries met at the Missionary Training Center in Manila. A few days later on March 22, MacLeod was on his way home to Phoenix.

“I was dreading going home, to be perfectly honest,” MacLeod said. “Throughout the flight, I just decided to accept it and continue to trust in God and His plan.”

When MacLeod arrived at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, he saw his parents and other missionaries’ entire families crowded together in big groups, which he said they had been asked not to do by the Church.

“I felt out of place and I cried a bit when I saw my parents,” MacLeod said. “I felt so confused.”

Upon arriving home, he was required to be in self-quarantine in his bedroom for two weeks. “My parents come and talk to me through a cracked door every so often and give me food,” MacLeod said. “I have had friends come and talk to me through the window.”

While spending every day in his room alone, MacLeod has been reading “Saints,” studying Tagalog, watching the Book of Mormon and Bible videos and playing his guitar. He said he has already seen blessings in his time in quarantine.

MacLeod said he saw two options; he could use his free time to waste away or utilize it to draw closer to his Father in Heaven. “I see it as a time to show my love for my Father and Savior,” he said.

“I am grateful for the chance to show and grow my love for my Father and Savior,” MacLeod said. He said he has felt the ability to feel more confident, trusting and hopeful in chaotic times. “I better understand what it means to find peace in Christ.”

When MacLeod first got home he was just waiting for reassignment within a two-week period, but after the Church’s announcement on March 31, he realized it would be longer.

“I will now return to a ‘normal life’ for the time being even though life is not ‘normal’ right now,” MacLeod said.

MacLeod is feeling a lot of emotions; he’s excited for a new adventure but he also feels confused about the unknown as his life is unexpectedly changing. Despite all the changes he’s trying to have a positive outlook on the situation. “There are so many possibilities as to what could happen and I trust they will be good things,” he said.

With as much confusion as he’s feeling, MacLeod said he still feels at peace with the whole thing.

“I am doing my best to just trust in the Lord and what His servants have directed, trusting that it will all go together for my good.”

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