Editor’s Note: This story was part Universe Live’s October magazine show for The Daily Universe Magazine.
By Emily Jones
For many missionaries COVID-19 changed a period of their lives that they thought was set in stone. Speaking with four missionaries, a Daily Universe reporter found out what stayed the same and what needed creativity to solve during their time in the mission field during the pandemic.
“So we were actually in our classroom learning when a teacher ran in and said everybody pack up your bags you’re leaving in two hours and we don’t know where you’re going,” returned missionary Kaylei Lewis said.
“Until further notice, no one’s leaving the house and I was like ‘yo that’s kinda sketch,'” Elder Schaffner said.
What does a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints look like during a global pandemic?
“No one wants to serve in a pandemic. No one wants to go through the trials of coming home,” returned missionary Dakota Carl said.
These four missionaries tell their story of overcoming challenges, pioneering new gospel teaching techniques and finding purpose amid an unexpected worldwide event.
Many foreign missionaries found themselves bouncing between countries.
“I served the duration of my mission in the Utah Orem mission but I was originally called to the Argentina Mendoza mission,” Lewis said.
“My first assigned mission was to the Paraguay, Acuncion. I was home for about three months before getting reassigned out to Kansas, Wichita until mid-December when I actually got to return to South America,” Carl said.
“I actually started my mission in Columbia. I was there for about four months then I got reassigned to Utah,” Elder Schaffner said
There were no shortages of challenges for these missionaries.
“We could have our name tags but we couldn’t go and start anything with anyone. We had to let them come to us and ask questions. We’re in our apartments doing all our work through phone call or video call. We really did not have permission to leave except for a couple hours and we had to leave in normal clothing,” Carl said.
“We weren’t allowed to do random knocking for a good amount of time. We weren’t allowed to do a lot of the traditional missionary work we might have been used to,” Lewis said.
Each mission found its own way to continue the work the missionaries came to do. The most common method was the use of telecommunication and social media.
“We had a very successful missionary page, it’s called ‘The Road to Hope and Peace’ and it was a pretty big deal,” Lewis said.
“Technology is really nice when they only have a 20 minute window to have a lesson,” Elder Schaffner said.
As soon as many missionaries got the green light, they went back to the old-fashioned way with some modifications.
“We were still wearing masks for almost 99 percent of our interactions with people,” Lewis said.
“We had to wear a mask and in summer heat of 115 degrees and 100 percent humidity, we were dying,” Carl said.
“You didn’t have to get vaccinated it was a choice, but they really strongly advised you get vaccinated,” Elder de la Llana said. He decided to get the vaccine after speaking with his family, deciding it was safe and seeing President Russell M. Nelson get it.
Despite the fact that their missions weren’t what they were expecting, these missionaries still felt right about the way things worked out. And the end result was positive.
“seeing that I could affect lives even just the members lives at times, made me realize that what else could I be doing? What better thing could I be using my time on,” Elder de la Llana said.
“It wasn’t a setback, it was a step forward. There were so many people we would not have been able to reach without the circumstances we had been given during COVID,” Lewis said.
These missionaries came to understand the timing and purpose of their missions and left with a greater understanding of a greater plan.
“It was 100 percent my time to serve during COVID, definitely in God’s plan for me,” Lewis said. “Most sister missionaries are called when they are 19, I was 22 when I left to go on a mission.”
“I think it was right. My stake president said not to worry about the time that it’s taking for me to receive my call because the Lord knows exactly what I need when I need it,” Carl said.
The missionaries said despite the changes to their service, their missions were still the best two years of their life. For more information on the Church’s official statement on missionary work during the pandemic, visit ChurchofJesusChrist.org.