Called to serve in a pandemic: ‘I didn’t feel good about leaving’

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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.

Leer en español: Llamada a servir durante una pandemia: ‘No me sentí bien con salirla’

North Ogden resident Jeremy Chavez had served just under nine months in the Chile Concepcion Mission when he learned he would need to return home due to the spread of COVID-19.

Chavez said he received a text from the assistants to the president in his mission saying they had just been in a meeting with the Area Presidency, and they learned the missionaries would need to be sent home. The mission president then called each of the companionships to talk with them individually.

“I didn’t think we would be going home until they told us we would be, but there were some elders that were thinking that it was possible,” Chavez said. “I didn’t even think it was a possibility.”

Elder Jeremy Chavez, left, and his companion, Elder Hunter Shaw, served in the Chile Concepcion Mission and recently returned due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Jeremy Chavez)

Chile had just under 4,200 cases on April 5, according to data from the World Health Organization. Chavez said the city he was serving in only had one COVID-19 patient currently in the hospital, but he thought they would be fine to stay in the area and serve. “We did have to follow different rules than we normally had, so obviously we weren’t functioning as normal missionaries exactly,” Chavez said.

The missionaries in Chavez’s mission had previously followed unique rules when protests broke out across Chile. “Back then it wasn’t safe to go out in the streets, so we had to stay inside the house all day,” Chavez explained. The missionaries also weren’t allowed to wear name tags and normal missionary attire or talk to people on the streets.

Chavez said the mission implemented similar rules during the pandemic. They again couldn’t wear their name tags or missionary attire. The missionaries spent a lot of time in the chapels so they could have access to the internet, according to Chavez. “We were allowed to go outside because obviously if we’re not having contact with people, it’s not a dangerous thing,” Chavez said.

He said while it was nice to see his family when he came home, he wishes he was still serving. “I didn’t want to leave the mission. I didn’t feel good about leaving it,” Chavez said. “I would have liked to have stayed if it was possible, but seeing how I wasn’t, it was also nice to go home, obviously, because it’s a lot more comfortable than Chile.”

Jeremy Chavez poses in front of the Chile Concepción Temple where he served as a missionary until he returned home due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. (Jeremy Chavez)

Missionaries like Chavez who returned to the U.S. and Canada from international missions were released when they arrived home, and the Church gave them two options going forward. These missionaries could either return to missionary service in their original mission or in a new area as soon as possible and keep their original end date, or they could start their missions again within 12-18 months with a new end date.

“I think I would like to go out as soon as possible, especially because it says there is a chance to return to original location or to temporary assignment,” Chavez said. “I would love to go back to Chile, but if my time is done in that area, I wouldn’t complain going somewhere else on my mission at this point.”

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