By Delon Shurtz
Alta Newspaper Group – Lethbridge
Canadian Emma Runquist is happy to be serving a proselytizing mission for her church in the United States. If she had been sent to some other country, she would have been sent home because of the COVID-19 virus sweeping the world.
But the 20-year-old from Raymond is just where she wants to be and doing what she wants to be doing, says her mother.
“She loves it,” Cathy Runquist says. “She would not want to come home early.”
Many of the 65,000 missionaries with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been sent home, however, because of the pandemic.
According to the church’s website, most missionaries have returned to their home nations, with the exception of missionaries from the U.S. serving in Canada who are allowed to remain in Canada, and Canadian missionaries serving in the U.S. who get to stay in the U.S.
Church leaders from Salt Lake City have been busy adjusting missionary assignments for several weeks, and must regularly make changes as the virus spreads and governments introduce directives regulating how their citizens must respond to the crisis. As the process of reassigning missionaries has become more limited by changing conditions, the church recently offered several options for missionary service.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has required many adjustments to missionary service, including the need for large numbers of missionaries to return to the United States and Canada from around the world,” the church’s leadership announced March 31 in a letter to its membership. “The ability to reassign these missionaries, even on a temporary basis, has now become more limited by changing conditions. This has created a measure of uncertainty for many missionaries and their families.”
Missionaries returning to Canada and the U.S. from international assignments were temporarily released and had until April 30 to choose whether to return to their original assignment or receive a temporary assignment as soon as conditions allow, with their original end date, or to return to service within 12-18 months with a new end date.
Missionaries from outside of Canada and the U.S. who returned to their home countries will be re-assigned to a mission in their home country and return to service as soon as conditions allow.
The process of reassigning these missionaries to missions in their home countries has begun, and they have started receiving their new assignments. Many missionaries throughout the world have already begun their new assignments, and some missionaries in the United States and Canada will soon depart for their new assignments.
Missionary travel to missions will continue on a staggered basis throughout the next several months, based on local circumstances. Once in their new assignments, missionaries will take part in activities appropriate to the local communities where they will serve. All missionaries will continue to strictly follow local and national public health guidelines relating to travel, personal interaction and preventing any further spread of COVID-19. It’s unknown how long missionaries will serve in their new assignments, and any return to their original missions is dependent on conditions associated with the pandemic.
Changes have also been implemented for missionaries currently receiving online training, as well as missionaries who have been assigned to a mission but not yet begun training, and prospective missionaries who have not yet applied for missionary service.
David Jensen, the church’s communications director in southern Alberta, points out the church’s reaction to the pandemic in relation to its missionaries is “fluid” and will continue to change as conditions change. But whatever changes occur, families can be assured the welfare of their sons and daughters who are serving missions is a priority.
“I have confidence the church leadership locally and in Salt Lake will use the most modern sources and inspired direction to lead us through this event,” Jensen said.
Cathy Runquist isn’t worried about her daughter, even though she’s not sure where her daughter will end up serving between now and August when her 19-month mission ends.
Most of Emma’s service has been at the church’s temple site in Salt Lake City, but in February she was transferred to Columbus, Ohio, for a few months of proselytizing. Normally she would return to Salt Lake to complete her mission on the temple grounds, but that’s uncertain given recent conditions.
Emma, like most other missionaries wherever they are serving, is adhering to the rules of social distancing and is no longer allowed to knock on doors or talk to people on the street. Instead missionaries are using technology and teaching people by phone or online, only going outside for fresh air and exercise.
Like other aspects of life these days, that’s simply the new normal.