Called to serve in a pandemic: Utahn among first missionaries to receive reassignment

Sister Caroline Guilott knocks on a door in Brazil. Guilott returned from the Brazil Brasilia Mission on March 26 and will leave for the Arizona Tempe Mission on May 5. (Caroline Guilott).

Editor’s note: This story was updated on April 30 to include information released by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Thousands of missionaries across the world are facing upended plans during the pandemic. Some are returning home before completing their missions, others are serving in quarantine, and many are receiving new calls. The Daily Universe is looking at how these missionaries are grappling with challenges in a series of stories.

Thirteen days after Sister Caroline Guilott traveled from the MTC in São Paulo, Brazil to the Brazil Brasilia Mission she had a high fever, a bad cough and couldn’t breathe. A few days later she was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with pneumonia.

At the time she wasn’t able to get tested for COVID-19 because Brazil didn’t have any tests available. But looking back, Sister Guilott and her family wonder if she actually had the coronavirus.

When she was released from the hospital, Sister Guilott and her companion were told to quarantine in their apartment for two weeks. At the end of those two weeks, the whole mission was told to stay in their apartments for another two weeks because of the pandemic. When the two-week, mission-wide quarantine ended, Sister Guilott and the other missionaries not from Brazil were sent home.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encouraged all returning missionaries to quarantine or isolate for two weeks after returning home, so Sister Guilott spent another two weeks in quarantine at home, making six total weeks of quarantine.

Sister Guilott has been home since March 26 and received a new, temporary reassignment on April 28 to serve in the Arizona Tempe Mission. She leaves on May 5.

Sister Guilott’s trip from Brazil to her hometown of Pleasant Grove, Utah, took 50 hours. When she found out she would be headed home, she burst into tears. “I didn’t want to leave Brazil, but I knew it was God’s will and whatever happened needed to happen,” she said.

Her mom, Juliet Guilott, said she knew her daughter was coming home, but the family never received her travel itinerary. Sister Guilott sent her mom a message from a computer in the Apple Store in the São Paulo airport saying what her next flight was, but no one knew for sure where she was going or when she would be home.

Luckily, Juliet saw a picture of her daughter in a Facebook group for moms of missionaries and was able to connect the dots about her daughter’s location. Juliet said she knew her daughter would be flying to Utah from Los Angeles, but there were three flights coming in that day.

“We kind of went for the middle flight, and we pulled into the airport seriously four minutes before she came walking out,” Juliet said. “I’m so thankful for the network of moms online that were all working together to help.”

Sister Guilott said she was so excited to learn she was being reassigned because there were too many what-ifs in her mind surrounding the future of her mission. “Just finding out that you’re going back out and you’re going to go be a missionary again, I was just so overjoyed.”

Caroline Guilott, center left, received her new assignment to the Arizona Tempe Mission on April 28. Her mom Juliet, left, said she’s excited her daughter will returning to service in the States. Caroline’s sisters Emily, center right, and Nicole, right, are also pictured. (Caroline Guilott)

Caroline wanted to return to Brazil and said she hopes that because the Church said this was her temporary reassignment, she might have the opportunity to return to Brazil in the future. “I don’t want to say I want to pray to go back to Brazil — but I do — but I’m excited to go be a missionary in Arizona.”

According to a statement from Church spokesman Daniel Woodruff, missionaries might have the chance to return to their original assignment. “At this point, it is unknown how long missionaries will serve in their new assignments,” Woodruff said. “Any return to their original missions is dependent on conditions associated with the pandemic.”

Juliet said they were shocked to learn that her daughter had been reassigned because they hadn’t heard of anyone else receiving a temporary assignment at that time. “I immediately went and got on the crazy Facebook mom pages, and no one had posted anything, and I’m like, ‘What? We’re first?'”

Once they got over the shock of the call, Juliet said she was thrilled and excited for her daughter’s new assignment. “With all the uncertainty I was excited it was someplace here in the States, and I was surprised because, I mean, I can’t even go to the grocery store like normal.”

Woodruff said missionaries will continue to follow the COVID-19 guidelines from local and national officials. “Once in their new assignments, missionaries will take part in activities appropriate to the local communities where they will serve,” he said. “All missionaries will continue to strictly follow local and national public health guidelines relating to travel, personal interaction, and preventing any further spread of COVID-19.”

Sister Guilott and her mom have already done some research into her new assignment, and they learned the mission’s Facebook page does a fireside live video every Sunday that around 2,000 people watch.

Juliet said she has been impressed with the work missionaries have been doing online during the pandemic. “I know what these kids can do online,” she said. “For them to take that knowledge now and translate it into missionary work is so exciting to me.”

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