Called to serve in a pandemic: ‘We knew it was just a matter of time’

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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.

Austin Pratte serving in the Japan Tokyo South mission. (Austin Pratte)

Elder Austin Pratte is a 19-year-old from Castle Pines, Colorado. He served in the Japan Tokyo South mission for close to nine months before he found out his time in Japan would be ending much earlier than expected.

On March 20, Pratte received a message from his mission president saying Japan was low on the Church’s list of at-risk areas and that they should continue to stay focused. Only 30 minutes later, Pratte received news that he would most likely be getting sent home sometime within the next week.

Just four days later on March 24, Pratte received another message from his mission president. “(He) tells everyone to get to the mission home as soon as possible with our bags,” Pratte said. “It was go time, and no amount of preparing could have helped us emotionally.”

Pratte and his companion took the quickest train to the mission home but didn’t make it in time. He had just missed his flight home.

Austin Pratte reunited with his family after unexpectedly coming home sooner than planned. (Austin Pratte)

When he finally got to the mission home later that day he had to get taken in a van by office missionaries to the Narita International Airport and caught a flight to Atlanta around 5:50 p.m. From Atlanta he got on a flight to Denver and arrived home around 11 p.m.

“By the time the news came, we were kind of expecting it,” Pratte said. “We knew it was just a matter of time, especially after having been in self-isolation for four weeks already.”

Austin Pratte in Japan. He is required to be in self-isolation for two more weeks at home and is expected to be separated from his family as much as possible. (Austin Pratte)

“This is really difficult,” Pratte said. “I spend a lot of my time in the basement studying and exercising.”

Pratte is choosing to be reinstated back to his original mission or a temporary assignment and to keep his original end date.

“I personally don’t know if after 12 to 18 months of not being a missionary and probably returning to school, that I would return to the field,” Pratte said. “Being in isolation and not in the mission field and not in a constant spiritual environment is already hard enough.”

Pratte says that although all missionaries are required to be released for the time being, he doesn’t think that those who are waiting to go back out will want to remove their missionary mentality.

Austin Pratte keeps up his missionary studies at home. (Austin Pratte)

“We will be surrounded by a lot of worldly things and situations we would never be exposed to as missionaries and it will require a lot of self-control to stay focused on when that day comes that we can be sent back to our mission areas,” he said.

Even though it’s been an adjustment for him, Pratte believes it all happened for a reason.

“I don’t believe too much that this whole coronavirus is a coincidence,” Pratte said. “I believe there is something God is preparing us for with this.”

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