“Swimming in a tsunami” is how Elder Marcus B. Nash, General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Church’s Missionary Department, described the way he felt while in the process of moving missionaries home and adapting missionary work during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. From March until the middle of April 2020, over 30,000 missionaries came out of their missions, returned home and were reassigned to other missions.
“It was miraculous what happened,” he said. “The Lord wanted them to get home, and doors opened, and flights became available, flights were chartered — it was just really an amazing journey.”
David N. Weidman, managing director of the Church’s Missionary Department, believes the greatest miracle during this period was the missionaries themselves. When given the choice to either return to the mission field in the midst of the pandemic or postpone their mission for some time, “the bulk of the missionaries raised their hand and said, ‘Put me back in, coach, I want to go out and serve.’”
Weidman continued, “They love the Lord, and through them, miracles did occur and continue to occur.”
Church News podcast episode 52: Reimagining missionary work with leaders of the Missionary Department, Elder Marcus B. Nash and David N. Weidman
Weidman recounted discussions with the Brethren, who “consistently turned to us and said, these are almost their exact words, ‘The Lord probably didn’t plan the pandemic, but it did not catch Him by surprise. So, find out what the Lord is trying to teach us about missionary work through this pandemic.’”
The changes to missionary work occurred at a rapid pace — in a matter of five days, new MTC training and curriculum were developed and launched for the at-home model of MTCs.
As missionary work adapts and transforms, Elder Nash has come to understand that “there's a lot of learning to do. He's wanting to teach us as quickly as we will receive it.”
One such lesson has been the distinct advantages of at-home MTC training and MTC training on-site. Now, a hybrid model is in place for most missionaries to begin their MTC experience at home. This facilitates real-life teaching experiences and an easier transition for the missionaries as they leave home, since they’ve already connected with their companion, district and branch president online before arriving at the MTC.
Digital tools also make it easier for members to participate in missionary work. “This is the season of miracles,” Elder Nash said. “We're watching members engage at a level and scope that I don't think we have ever seen, at least in the modern era of the Church.”
Utilizing digital tools also extends to missionary work in the field and “has made a tremendous difference and will continue to make a difference,” according to Elder Nash.
“We've learned that you can teach online by the power of the Spirit, and it is the same experience as it would be face-to-face.”
Mission presidents also employ technology to improve the work — through Zoom and other tools, mission presidents can have shorter and more frequent trainings with missionaries. “Missionaries hold things better when it's short and it's simple,” Weidman explained. “They also embed it into their heart when they go out and immediately apply it.”
As more resources and online media are available to missionaries, their purpose remains the same.
“I was talking with a sister in Morristown, New Jersey, and she was explaining to me the use of technology,” Weidman said. “She said, ‘When I go on Facebook, I'm entering sacred ground.’”
The sister explained that those who need the gospel of Jesus Christ are on Facebook, and those who are searching for answers to prayers are on social media. “My purpose is to find them and help them find the Savior, and that's why it's sacred ground to me,” she said.
When missionaries are grounded in their purpose, Elder Nash said, “Mountains move, and doors open, and miracles happen because our God is a God of miracles.”