SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, June 11, 2020 (Gephardt Daily) — Thousands of reassigned missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are heading out to new assignments in their home countries following disruptions due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Young missionaries across the world returned home from their international assignments in waves this spring, when church leaders became concerned for their health and safety when the pandemic hit, said a news release from the LDS Church.
“We have moved about 26,000 missionaries, all of them to their home countries,” said Elder Brent Nielson, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Church’s Missionary Department.
“This involved many weeks of very little sleep as we coordinated flights, whether those be commercial or charter flights, wherever the missionaries needed to go,” said Nanette Sorensen, global travel services manager for the church’s Materials Management Department.
Those missionaries who had just a few months left to serve were released. Those with more time on their missions were given two options: depart for new assignments as soon as possible or delay for 12 to 18 months. Most missionaries opted to leave right away.
“That was a great moment for me to see how many of them wanted to go back,” Nielson said. In the United States, reassigned missionaries are going to nearly every mission in the country, except “where the virus seems to be hot right now,” Nielson said, including locations such as New York and New Jersey.
“Every missionary who’s assigned either to their permanent assignment or to a temporary assignment is made by a member of the [Quorum of the] Twelve [Apostles], so they’ve been very busy lately as they reassigned missionaries,” Nielson added.
There are many opportunities to serve, but not enough apartments in some locations to house the influx of additional missionaries, the news release said. In high-demand areas such as the United States, church housing staff contacted hotel chains to help solve the apartment shortage. Many of the hotel properties had available rooms, as occupancy decreased when business and leisure travel dropped during the pandemic.
“We decided to reach out to hotels to see if they might be able to help us,” said Brent Elliott, a purchasing manager for MMD. “And since there aren’t a lot of people traveling, it was a good time to do that. And so hotels reached out and they’re helping us.”
When the Church’s 10 missionary training centers closed due to the pandemic, several thousand newly called missionaries found themselves online in a virtual classroom. The missionaries spend six hours a day online in a teleconference with a trainer and their class, including about 500 missionaries who are learning a new language.
“Despite the pandemic, full-time missionaries are still teaching thousands of lessons every week from their apartments using technology,” the news release said. “They are also allowed to leave their apartments at certain times and provide meaningful community service in ways that are safe, which includes wearing masks and social distancing around others.”