Called to serve in a pandemic: Mission president couple in South Korea adjust to ‘new normal’

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Editor’s note: 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.

The Korea Seoul Mission saw its numbers shrink dramatically in the blink of an eye. President Brad Taylor and Sister Ann Taylor were left heartbroken when about two-thirds of their missionaries left all at once.

The Korea Seoul Mission started taking precautions such as wearing masks back in January when the coronavirus first started to spread throughout the world. But just a few months later, the spread became uncontrollable.

“The big event occurred in mid-February when a church in the city of Taegu, South Korea, had a large scale viral spread amongst their congregation,” President Taylor said. “That became the epicenter of a much larger spread throughout Korea, and that also became the catalyst for early quarantine and evacuation from Korea.”

Sister Ann Taylor and President Brad Taylor pose for a photo in South Korea. The Taylors are originally from Minnesota. (Brad and Ann Taylor)

The Korea Seoul Mission went into quarantine on February 21. Two weeks later on March 7, all of the non-native missionaries were sent back to their home countries.

“It was a heartbreaking day,” President Taylor said. “It’s hard enough when we say goodbye to six or eight missionaries during normal times as they finish and return home on schedule, but to say goodbye to 101 all of a sudden, and all at once, was one of the hardest things we’ve ever done.”

“Most of our companionships were comprised of a Korean and a foreigner,” Sister Taylor said. “Watching them say goodbye to each other, not knowing when they might ever meet again, was heartbreaking.”

Sister Choi Jeongyun says goodbye to her companion, Sister Mia Millward, left. Sister Millward had to return to her native country of Canada. (Brad and Ann Taylor)

Sister Taylor said despite the tears and sorrows, the young missionaries’ faith never wavered. “They never questioned why this was happening to them, but rather asked the question, what does the Lord want me to learn?”

After more than half of their missionaries were sent home, the Taylors decided to make adjustments and move all the remaining missionaries closer to the mission home, with two companionships in each apartment instead of just one.

“Their physical location doesn’t matter anymore because all the work is being done online,” President Taylor said. “This helped missionaries to feel the camaraderie of more people in their home. It got them closer together and closer to us in the office so that we can better help them with anything that comes up.”

The Taylors have been using Zoom to stay close to the missionaries. They do nightly devotionals where they end the day in prayer together as a mission, as well as a virtual Monday night family home evening.

“Everyone participates by cell phone in a Kahoot game answering questions about anything from fun facts about their fellow missionaries to general conference trivia and Church history,” Sister Taylor said.

Although the pandemic has created hardships for their mission, the Taylors have also had many experiences that they felt were sacred.

“One that will stay with me forever was the experience we had sitting in a circle on the floor with our Korean sister missionaries partaking of the sacrament together after having gone several weeks without it,” Sister Taylor said. She said the importance of that ordinance took on a new meaning that day. “The testimonies shared in that humble room sunk deep into my soul — it is a day I will never forget.”

The missionaries that remain in the Korea Seoul Mission are now entering their thirteenth week of quarantining in their apartments and have had to take a different approach to missionary work.

Sister Lee Chaeeun, Sister Ann Taylor and Sister Park Sion, bottom right, teach Jeong Junyoung, left, a recent convert. Evacuated missionary Isaure Guidi, top right, helps teach from her home in New Caledonia. (Brad and Ann Taylor)

President Taylor said that two of the mission’s largest finding methods — approaching people on the street and teaching English — completely disappeared overnight.

Rather than viewing this event as a negative, President Taylor said it can be viewed as a huge positive in several ways.

“Where we used to struggle sometimes to talk to even two or three people per day on the street, we are now sharing meaningful testimonies and gospel messages to thousands of people per day through the internet,” President Taylor said.

Sister Park Sion, left, and Sister Lee Chaeeun, of the Korea Seoul Mission teach a lesson using their smartphone. (Brad and Ann Taylor)

Sister Taylor said many companionships in the mission are now teaching two to three lessons per day, whereas before the pandemic hit, they were only teaching two to three lessons in an entire week. “While nothing can take the place of a face-to-face lesson, it is a miracle how many people can be reached using technology,” she said.

Another positive thing they’ve seen because of the effects of the pandemic is how the fulness of the gospel is taught in the missionaries’ native tongue.

President Taylor said before the virus, his greatest concern was for the non-native missionaries who felt like they would never be able to learn the difficult Korean language. He said it was difficult to conduct gospel discussions in a deep and meaningful way when 80% of the missionaries were teaching in a language that was new to them.

“Now it is such a joy to see the native Korean elders and sisters teaching fluently in their native tongue,” President Taylor said.

“We have had to trust the Lord and let Him guide our actions,” Sister Taylor said. “As we have done that, we have witnessed that He is truly in charge. As Joseph Smith said ‘no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing’ — not even the coronavirus!”

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