Church starts ‘deliberate, cautious’ process in assigning missionaries beyond home countries

After the COVID-19 global pandemic resulted in most full-time missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being returned to their home countries, the Church is slowly starting to send a limited number of missionaries to assignments outside their home countries.

The latest statement on missionary integration was released Wednesday morning, Nov. 4, by Church spokesman Daniel Woodruff, who acknowledged the many missionaries who accepted reassignments to serve in their home countries. “We are grateful for their faith and optimism in these extraordinary circumstances,” he said.

The Church has begun sending a very limited number of these missionaries to assignments outside their home countries, said Woodruff, calling the process deliberate and cautious. Because of the ongoing pandemic, all missionary travel is dependent upon local conditions and air-travel restrictions, and some missionaries may not depart for several months, he added.

“We recognize conditions can change rapidly, and we will continue to closely monitor world events and make adjustments as needed,” Woodruff said. “The safety of our missionaries and those they serve is our top priority.”

Elder Mark A. Bragg dons a mask to speak with young missionaries on April 4, 2020, at the Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Elder Mark A. Bragg dons a mask to speak with young missionaries on April 4, 2020, at the Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Credit: Courtesy Elder Mark A. Bragg

Once travel arrangements have been scheduled, mission offices will notify missionaries, who in turn will share their itineraries with their families, Woodruff said. “We ask that missionaries and their families not contact the Church Travel Office, embassies or consuls about their travel plans or documents.”

Missionaries will be instructed to follow established public health guidelines as they travel to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, he said. “After they arrive in their new assignments, missionaries will quarantine for the required period and then take part in activities appropriate for local circumstances.”

From mid-March to the present, the pandemic has reshaped missionary work and missionary support, with Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf — the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who chairs the Church’s Missionary Executive Council — calling coronavirus-era missionaries “the pioneers of our day.”

In early February, prior to the global outbreak, almost 68,000 missionaries were serving full time. By late April, after pandemic-adjustment releases, the number dropped to about 42,000. By late summer, the total had increased to more than 52,000 missionaries.

When the Church returned missionaries to their home countries, nearly 32,000 were relocated in a relatively short timeframe, reported Elder Uchtdorf in an August 2020 virtual missionary devotional.

From late February and well into March, young full-time missionaries found themselves being released or reassigned to home countries due to the pandemic. Some were released earlier because of long tenures or service or health concerns, others temporarily released to wait at home for reassignment, and others immediately reassigned to missions in their home countries.

Missionaries listen to Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles prior to a missionary broadcast at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City. The devotional was released on June 4, 2020.
Missionaries listen to Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles prior to a missionary broadcast at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City. The devotional was released on June 4, 2020. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Those missionaries who returned home and still had opportunities to continue full-time service were given two options to choose by April 30: either accept a new assignment — at first likely to a new mission in one’s home country, with international assignments since resuming — or delay service for up to 12-18 months. Most chose to promptly return.

The first missionaries being sent to international assignments went out in late May to Taiwan. 

Also, the Church’s 10 missionary training centers worldwide were closed to in-person training of new missionaries. However, training went online via videoconference as virtual MTCs, as elders and sisters stay at home for their missionary and language training. New missionaries spend six hours a day online in teleconference sessions, complete with instructors, classes, companions and districts.

Missionaries remaining in service — primarily in their home countries, but with the Church’s Europe and Europe East areas still having nonnative elders and sisters in their missions — have been successful in using technology to contact, teach and reach out to members and nonmembers alike. Messages and lessons are transmitted via phone call, text, email, teleconference and social-media platforms ranging from Facebook to WhatsApp.