LDS church work­ing to keep mis­sion­ar­ies safe dur­ing COVID-19

Prairie Post (West Edition) - - Alberta - BY DELON SHURTZ AL­BERTA NEWS­PA­PER GROUP

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 re­as­signed 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.

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