Called to serve in a pandemic: Missionary returns home from Mexico MTC after 11 days

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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.

Jacob Hale thought that saying “see you in two” to his friends and family before embarking on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints would mean two years, not two weeks. 

However, after 11 days in the Church’s Mexico City MTC, Hale returned home on March 21 amid the mass missionary evacuation worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hale, a native of Henderson, Nevada, awoke the morning of March 20 as if it were any ordinary day of missionary preparation, ready for a packed day of Spanish classes for his assignment in the Uruguay Montevideo West Mission. Just 24 hours later, however, he’d be frantically packing his belongings and headed out of the country in a blindsiding sequence of events.

“We had no idea how bad the virus was getting outside of the MTC, so everything came so suddenly,” Hale said. “Emotionally, it was crazy.”

During class that day, Hale and the rest of his district were informed that their stay in the MTC — normally a six-week endeavor — would be accelerated and that they would be shipping off directly to their missions in just two weeks. 

“We were in shock. We were scared. We were determined to learn as much as we could in the upcoming weeks,” Hale said. “A lot was going through our minds, but most of it was positive.”

Jacob Hale prepares to leave the Mexico City missionary training center after just 11 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Jacob Hale)

Later that night, rumors started spreading that circumstances had changed and they would all be heading home in two weeks for a self-quarantine period rather than to their missions. Hale described the scene at the MTC as “shaken up” the next morning.

While Hale said that the idea of evacuation “never crossed his mind,” the unthinkable became reality during his district’s morning Spanish class after breakfast.

“We were in our online Spanish lessons and we saw (a missionary) getting into a van with all of their suitcases, so we were freaking out and then our teacher said that we needed to be prepared for someone to come into the room and tell us we were leaving right now,” Hale said. “Then a few minutes later, she told us we all needed to go back to our rooms and pack because we were leaving that day.”

In the blink of an eye, Hale found himself riding with other missionaries in a van headed to the airport, having had no time for proper goodbyes or to communicate with his family and with no flight itinerary.

“It was surreal and didn’t seem like any of it was real as it was all happening,” Hale said. “Too much was going through my head to feel sad. I still didn’t know what was happening, we didn’t know if we were going home or if we were reassigned.”

After touching down in Las Vegas, Hale admitted that it didn’t feel “right” to be seeing his family again. He felt as if it was “two years too early.”

“It went from being a normal day to leaving for our missions in two weeks, then leaving in two weeks to go home and then later to our missions, and then to leaving to go home right then,” Hale said. “It was a roller coaster of emotions, just a crazy day.”

Hale remembers that his first few days at home were spent “not knowing what was going on” before finally virtually reuniting with his district to finish their MTC training online. However, the online program would present further challenges.

“Our first meetings on Zoom were really tough because our teacher didn’t know how to use Zoom, and we didn’t know what we were getting into,” Hale said. “It was really tough at first and a lot of people in my district were really struggling.”

Hale and his district eventually overcame their struggles and finished a full load of MTC training on April 18.

“As time went on and we really understood how to make the most out of it, by the end (MTC) was the best part of my day,” Hale said.

Following his MTC completion, Hale was released as a missionary and set to wait for a temporary reassignment. =Hale remains unassigned with no idea of when he will be resuming his mission or if he will ever make it to Uruguay.

“I know I’ll eventually get a reassignment, I just hope it comes soon so I can have something to work toward,” Hale said. “Once I figure out when I’m leaving, I’ll be able to prepare mentally and have more of a purpose.”

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