Missionaries struggle with choosing whether to delay their service

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Read more about how these changes are affecting missionaries in the Universe’s series “Called to Serve in a Pandemic.”

Dallin McRae hugs his mom in the airport after returning from his mission in the Dominican Republic. (Dallin McRae)

The First Presidency released new guidelines regarding the future of missionary service after the COVID-19 pandemic in a letter to the Church March 31. Missionaries must decide when to continue their service by April 30.

The First Presidency explained in the letter that they are “making available two opportunities for missionary service for those who have returned and are awaiting reassignment.”

Some missionaries who had to return home to the U.S. or Canada as well as missionaries currently undergoing MTC training have the choice to either return to their original assignment or be reassigned as soon as circumstances allow, retaining their original release date; or to delay their return to service for another 12 to 18 months.

Missionary Dallin McRae recently returned home after seven months of service in the Dominican Republic Santiago Mission. It was hard for him, he said, to have his mission experience not match the expectations he’d had since receiving his call.

“It was just so sudden,” he said about being sent home. “It was incomprehensible.”

McRae said he will most likely delay returning to his mission for a year because he doesn’t want to get reassigned before the coronavirus problem has been contained and have to fulfill most of his missionary service remotely.

“I’m kind of readjusting my life plans a lot. I think I have to maybe do a year of school before I go back out,” he said. “It’s hard to make a solid schedule when there’s just all this uncertainty right now.”

A banner made by Dallin McRae’s family reads, “Welcome to your intermission.” (Dallin McRae)

Bryant Israelsen only had three months left of his mission in Kobe, Japan, when he found out he would have to return home without the option to be reassigned. He said he was devastated to learn about the early end to his service.

“The news that I didn’t have that much time left in the country I learned to love so much was hard. But learning that within a week I wouldn’t even be a missionary anymore felt crushing,” he said. “It felt so sudden and so different from what I had planned or expected.”

Israelsen said knowing many other missionaries in his mission and around the world are going through the same thing created a helpful sense of unity.

Missionaries who have received an assignment but not reported yet may also choose to complete their MTC training online as scheduled and report to their missions as soon as circumstances allow or to delay their service for 12 to 18 months.

BYU student Sarah Rogers received her mission call in February. She was assigned to the Washington D.C. South Mission and was supposed to report to the Missionary Training Center on May 20. She has chosen to delay her mission, and she said the sudden change in plans is causing her a lot of stress.

Sarah Rogers displays the Washington D.C. flag. Rogers has chosen to delay her mission for a year. (Sarah Rogers)

“It’s hard to move on with life not knowing when I’ll get to go out,” she said. “I’ve been slowly going out of a school mindset while preparing to serve the Lord starting May 20, and now I have to shift back into school mode indefinitely. My feet have definitely been swept out from under me, and I’m feeling very anxious and insecure about what comes next.”

Matthew Whitaker, who was assigned to the Japan Tokyo North Mission and scheduled to report May 13, said he intends to complete his training as scheduled and begin his mission as soon as conditions allow. He agreed that the uncertainty is unsettling, especially since he doesn’t know what the world situation will be after he completes his ten weeks of online training.

“All of a sudden, my house is the MTC — and I have no clue what I’ll be doing,” he said. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go through the temple before they all closed, so there’s a lot of uncertainty as to what that means for my missionary service.”

Bryant Israelsen’s sister, Abby Israelsen, was supposed to report May 27 to the Denmark Copenhagen Mission but has chosen to delay for a year before reporting. She said she felt an immediate love for the Danish people upon receiving her call, and the circumstances delaying her mission have been “the source of so much heartache” for her.

“Though it’s not easy, I have found peace in the situation now,” she said. “I’ve learned a little bit more what it truly means to say ‘Thy will be done.’ If God needed me to feel a little heartache to come closer to Him, it was worth every bit.”

Missionaries from places other than the U.S. or Canada will be reassigned to missions in their home countries to continue service as soon as conditions allow.

Read more about how these changes are affecting missionaries in the Universe’s series “Called to Serve in a Pandemic.”

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