Called to serve in a pandemic: Adapting to quarantine in New York City

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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 coronavirus became real for Elder Eli Stanford during a March ward activity in New York City when his ward mission leader started talking to him about how everything was shutting down.

“In my head it was like something that was happening in China and if you get it, you die,” Elder Stanford said. “And then all of the sudden it was here.”

A short time after, Elder Stanford was told the New York, New York City Mission was starting a mission-wide quarantine before New York officials announced the stay-at-home order for the whole state.

When the quarantine started, mission leaders told the missionaries that the quarantine would probably be one to two weeks. It’s now been months, and the stay-at-home order is still in place.

Elder Stanford and his companion, Elder Brooks Tullis, were serving in Manhattan and were disappointed when they realized that quarantine was going to become their new lives as missionaries.

“This is your new mission, tell yourselves that you’re never getting out of the quarantine, and you’ll be happier,” Elder Stanford’s mission president said in a mission-wide devotional.

Elder Stanford sai he and Elder Tullis had no idea what they were doing at first. Neither of them had ever used Facebook as missionaries, so it was new to them to try and figure out how to use it to do missionary work.

Elder Eli Stanford, left, and his companion Elder Brooks Tullis, right, pose for a selfie right before teaching a virtual lesson. (Eli Stanford)

They started contacting all their investigators and changing the appointments they set to virtual lessons instead of in-person. Elder Stanford and Elder Tullis are both Spanish speaking missionaries.

“With the Latino population, they are just super chill about video calls because that’s how they talk to their families,” Elder Stanford said. “It’s a little bit different in English pools, but in our pool, because it’s all just like recently immigrated people, they are all just fine with video calls.”

Elder Stanford said that the greatest thing about being a missionary right now is that a lot of people aren’t working, meaning investigators want to meet with them often. “I’ve never had such an easy time setting appointments in my life,” he said.

Even though investigators were willing to do video calls, shortly after quarantine started Elder Stanford said that they started dropping investigators and investigators started dropping them.

“It’s just hard, a little bit harder to teach because for one it’s harder to understand through a phone, and also connection is really bad sometimes if they don’t have Wi-Fi or if they have an old phone,” Elder Stanford said.

Mission-wide trainings on how to use Facebook for missionary work were helpful, but the elders have struggled to find new investigators since usually their main source of finding new people was by bus and train.

Besides teaching online, there has been other changes Elder Stanford and Elder Tullis have had to get used to.

“Anytime you’re outside of the house, you have to have a mask on you,” he said. The Elders got stopped by police while they were on a walk one day because they weren’t wearing their masks.

Even though there have been some difficult things that happened with the quarantine, Elder Stanford said that one of the best experiences of his mission happened during the quarantine.

The first week of quarantine, Elder Stanford and Elder Tullis received a referral from the Bronx, and they started teaching a new couple.

“They are just amazing,” Elder Stanford said. “They just love it; they read the Book of Mormon every single day. They are just the most solid people ever.”

One day the elders went to drop off copies of the Book of Mormon at their house, and right when they were dropping them off, the couple came out and the elders got to meet them. “It was the best,” Elder Stanford said. “Probably the best experience of my mission.”

The quarantine has been somewhat of a challenge for Elder Stanford, but he said he would much rather be on the mission than at home during this time.

“I’m here and I have a ton of stuff to do, rather than being home sitting on the couch with my mommy eating ice cream,” Elder Stanford said. “This is way better.”

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