Most full-time missionaries in the Europe and Europe East areas were among the few across the globe who stayed sheltered in place during the COVID-19 pandemic rather than return to home countries.
The Church News recently asked nearly 20 missionaries currently in the Germany Berlin, Italy Milan and Hungary/Romania missions about serving during several months of the pandemic — what they’ve learned, how they’ve overcome anxieties and highlights of serving during isolation.
Below are selected responses, which have been edited for clarity and length.
What is a key learning or new perspective you’ve gained while serving during the pandemic?
“We are pioneering new ways of sharing our message with the world that we have never even thought to try in the past. We have discovered what works by also discovering just about everything that doesn’t work.” — Elder Devin Sheehan, Kaysville, Utah, serving in Bremen, Germany
“I’ve discovered true ministering means meaningful, one-on-one, loving interactions. Ministering becomes powerful when we simplify, follow quiet promptings from the Spirit, and focus on quality over quantity.” — Sister Sabrina Ceraso, Cedar Hills, Utah, serving in Vicenza, Ital
‘Survive, strive and thrive’: How missions in Europe are working — and succeeding — during the COVID-19 pandemic
“This pandemic has widened my definition of missionary; I’ve been called to serve as a missionary of Jesus Christ, not just a ‘streeter.’ I love how it has taught me how to be a missionary without the street contacting and tracting, because that’s the kind of missionary I’m going to be when I go home.” — Sister Alison Miller, Orem, Utah, serving in Kispest, Hungary
How have early worries or anxieties at the start of the pandemic been resolved?
“Anxious feelings were resolved when I realized that I could be a missionary of the Lord inside just as much as I could outside. My purpose was still the same, and as I focused on bringing others to the goodness of Christ, the strange situation I found myself in didn’t seem to matter as much.” — Sister Raquel Wilson, Provo, Utah, serving in Kispest, Hungary
“As time passed, we realized that we were here to stay and that the work would move forward. Not only has the work progressed here in Germany, but we have been able to bless so many other nations of the world through our online work.” — Elder Ezra Johnson, Champaign, Illinois, serving in Hanover, Germany
“April general conference was truly unforgettable, and the feeling of calm and joy that came over me during the first session is hard to describe. I knew it was all in God’s hands, and I felt my trust in my Heavenly Father increase.” — Sister Rachel Plumb, San Diego, California, serving in Vicenza, Italy
What has been the hardest part of daily life and missionary service during the past several months?
“The hardest part for me is to stay creative and to always think of different ways to share the gospel. But with the help of my companions and others around me we have been more creative than we ever have been. In our companionship we have all seen the Lord bless us and open our minds to help us understand and have an idea of what we need to do and share with everyone here.” — Elder Jared Conrad, Henderson, Nevada, serving in Florence, Italy
”I have faced the challenge of being a missionary who has been out for 18 months and then having to rethink missionary work as I knew it and adapt it to my current standings. It has been wonderful. I feel as if I have served two missions. As I have prayed for inspiration and guidance, I have felt the whispering of the Spirit guide me in helping me know what to do.” — Elder Gage Palmer, Moses Lake, Washington, serving in Bremen, Germany
“The hardest part has definitely been not being able to have much human interaction with others, and all the uncertainty about the future. We spent 52 days in complete isolation, only being able to go outside to buy food and for emergencies. The sudden change from being outside almost all day long talking to people, to suddenly only being able to speak over the phone, has been a big adjustment.” — Sister Lindsey Schmidt, Lehi, Utah, serving in Bologna, Italy
What has been the most rewarding part of missionary work during the past several months?
“I’ve seen the people we are teaching put forth a greater effort to strengthen their relationship with Christ, and it has forced me to learn new ways to do missionary work. This in turn pushes all of us to really turn to the Lord and creates a dream team of sorts for pushing the work forward at an ‘unprecedented rate’ like President Russell M. Nelson said one year ago.” — Sister Elise Winger, Highland, Utah, serving in Bologna, Italy
“This has brought far more lessons than we would’ve been capable of teaching had we been running around the city. With shorter, more frequent lessons, I’ve seen our friends’ growth and progression increase dramatically.” — Sister Alison Miller, Orem, Utah, serving in Kispest, Hungary
“The most rewarding part of missionary work over the past couple of months has been an increase in people who are willing to learn about our message. People in this pandemic are looking for a source of hope and joy. Technology has allowed us to share that with them more often and more easily.” — Elder Andrew Chandler, Holladay, Utah, serving in Bucharest, Romania
How would you describe what missionary work in isolation is like?
“Being creative, adaptable and patient were keys for our joy and success as missionaries during the quarantine. Whether it be through a video call object lesson, or a small video made with objects around the house, the light of Christ was still able to be shared with others.” — Elder Andrew Taylor, Pima, Arizona, serving in Florence, Italy
“We are still helping people to come unto Christ and make covenants; however, all of our work has gone online. We search for people to teach using social media sites like Instagram and Facebook and then use WhatsApp or Facebook messenger to do a video-call lesson and help these people to progress.” — Elder Jayson Call, South Riding, Virginia, serving in La Spezia, Italy
“Putting missionaries in isolation is like putting an artist in a room with a paint brush and a canvas. The possibilities are endless and the result is incredible. Isolation has not brought limitations to missionary work but rather opened the door for new possibilities.” — Elder Devin Sheehan, Kaysville, Utah, serving in Bremen, Germany
Share a brief anecdote that’s representative of your serving during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Nicola — the husband of a lady who is just recently coming back [to Church activity] during this pandemic — says, ‘I have an announcement … I’d like to get baptized.’ We nearly lost it. We had only done a video lesson with him once and three with his wife, and this was all of a sudden. He has completely changed by the power of the Holy Ghost and is a new man.” — Elder Jakob Dobson, from Cheyenne, Wyoming, serving in La Spezia, Italy
“On Easter, my companion and I had both secretly bought candy for each other, and we hid it in our one-room apartment for the other to find. Every five-minute break we had from Facebook finding, we spent it searching. It took almost all day for us to find it, but eventually we did. We would do little things like that to try and make every moment enjoyable in quarantine.” — Sister Gabrielle Usevitch, Gilbert, Arizona, serving in Kispest, Hungary
“Before quarantine, we met and started teaching a young man from China named David. Previously, he was difficult to teach due to time constraints and a language barrier. But thanks to technology during quarantine, we taught him with the help of a recently baptized convert living in Hungary. She helped us relay our message to David’s native Chinese. David was recently baptized, and thanks to technology, he says he ’feels closer than ever to God.′ ” — Elder Felix Firth, Midway, Utah, serving in Bucharest, Romania
“I assumed it would be difficult to retain people to whom we had just given the Book of Mormon. However, somebody texted us a picture of their copy and said, ‘I’ve read your book, and I want to join the Church.’ Another random contact began researching Church content, expressing his interest in our values. As we sat at home, God worked in the lives of those in whom we had planted seeds.” — Sister Halsey Curry, Cedar City, Utah, serving in Hanover, Germany