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Not many Latter-day Saint missionaries begin their service by evacuating the Missionary Training Center because of a pandemic and then end it early by evacuating Ukraine under threat of a military invasion by Russia.
First, to be perfectly clear, Matthew Landon, 21, of Provo, Utah, felt safe throughout his mission. Caution was the point of its abrupt end late last month, when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reassigned all non-Ukrainian missionaries to other countries. Some went home early if they were near the end of their assignment, like Landon.
Here’s what his nearly two years looked like:
He entered the MTC on Feb. 5, 2020, to learn Russian. He left early, on March 26, 2020, and went to Montana, where he remained for 14 months speaking English. Finally, last June, he arrived in Ukraine.
“I felt like I had to start all over because I couldn’t speak Russian,” he said.
By then, though, he had developed a valuable new skill. He was adaptable. He’d encountered some frustration in the MTC before the pandemic hit. Since then, he said he saw the big picture no matter how often the unexpected arrived.
That came in handy when the president of the Ukraine Dnipro Mission asked all 58 of the missionaries to leave the cities where they were serving on Christmas Eve and Christmas and gather at the Kyiv Ukraine Temple in the nation’s capital. It helped again when he told them the church had reassigned them either to go home or to leave Ukraine for other missions.
From Christmas until late January, the missionaries lived in housing on the Kyiv temple grounds and successfully continued the missionary work they had been doing in their previous areas over Facebook and video. Finally, word came that only Ukrainian missionaries would remain in the country.
“I kind of was shocked, but at the same time I wasn’t,” Landon said. “I was prepared already.”
Today, missionaries from the two Ukraine missions are serving in Germany, Croatia, Poland, Sweden, Spain, Canada and in several U.S. states, including Alaska, Illinois, Washington and at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“When everyone was finding out that they were leaving, it was hard for some missionaries. Some of them hadn’t even experienced a reassignment before,” Landon said. “I had a little bit of experience with that already. I naturally knew, and this is a gift that I was given by Spirit, that everything was fine, everything’s working out the way it should be happening. It’s God’s plan. It just worked out that way.”
Landon said he was impressed with the resilience of Ukrainian Latter-day Saints.
“This is their normal life. They always seem to have someone knocking on their doors,” he said. “They’re always living in fear. There’s no security for them in multiple areas of life, financially and emotionally. With their families, there’s not a lot of security there. It was really hard for us as missionaries to really comprehend.”
He said most don’t have the resources or a place to go if an invasion happens. Church members have worked together to prepare 72-hour kits in case services are interrupted.
“It was very inspiring to watch the light of Christ in their spirit of service, the way they stepped up and had charity to one another,” he said. “People on that side of the world are known for not smiling as much. They don’t show that much emotion, but in the last meeting we had with them, it stuck out to me that they all were smiling.
“They all trusted that they are in the Lord’s hands and had peace in Christ.”
Landon said the timing of his return home, though it was a couple of weeks early, worked out well. He is working in real estate now.
The parent of another reassigned Ukraine missionary recently shared his experience with an Alabama news outlet.
My recent stories
Also, legendary BYU professor Stan Taylor died. He helped draft the 1976 executive order that bans assassinations. Here’s a story I wrote about him in 2003, my first year at the Deseret News. It was titled “Superspies live only in fiction.”
About the church
The Salt Lake Temple renovation just began its third year. Here’s what’s happening.
What Latter-day Saints get wrong about living prophets, according to an Ensign College devotional.
The First Presidency announced the Bahía Blanca Argentina Temple groundbreaking will be held on Saturday, April 9.
What I’m reading
I’ve spent a lot of my reading time this week with my head in Bronco Mendenhall’s 2012 book, “Running Into the Wind.” I’m about a third of the way through, and I’m pleasantly surprised and impressed by the number of stories from players, especially one about a talented defensive back who needed a therapist and how Mendenhall’s processes provided him with a fellow player he could rely on, Mendenhall’s personal attention and help from a therapist.
What a General Authority Seventy learned from surviving a suicide bombing.
I recommend the movie “American Underdog,” about Kurt Warner’s rise from a backup quarterback at a small school who wound up bagging groceries before toiling in the Arena Football League and NFL Europe and somehow winding up a Super Bowl champion, MVP and NFL Hall of Famer. Here’s his coach, Dick Vermeil, talking about Warner anda great scene between them in the movie.
Mitt Romney’s best memories of the Salt Lake Olympics. I covered events every day at those Olympics and have great memories. But I’m still trying to get over one disappointment. The reporter to my left beat me to a wayward puck that land between our laptops during the gold medal match. I have some wonderful things from those Olympics, so why can’t I forget the one that got away?
A couple of great lines from Kevin Clark of The Ringer in the wake of Tom Brady’s retirement:
- “In 2014, Brady said he’d retire when he sucked — then he got tired of waiting around for that to happen.”
- “I once heard someone say that perfect television was getting a character in hot water and then spending the rest of the episode getting them out of it. Brady was the football version of this. 28-3.”
Clark also wrote a story a few years ago about how the 2007 Patriots led by Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker built the modern NFL. If you enjoy American football, check it out.