Latter-day Saint leaders said Wednesday that they have begun a “deliberate and cautious” process to return to international assignments some of the missionaries temporarily reassigned to their home countries during the pandemic.
“Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, many missionaries have accepted reassignments to serve in their home countries due to challenges posed by the coronavirus,” said Daniel Woodruff, spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City. “We are grateful for their faith and optimism in these extraordinary circumstances.”
As the pandemic spread, church leaders recalled 30,000 of its 67,000 missionaries. About 26,000 young missionaries were returned to their home countries and 4,000 senior missionaries were released because they were at higher risk of COVID-19 complications.
Over the summer and into the fall, the church has continued to issue international mission calls to new missionaries.
In July, a group of six American sister missionaries were among the first previously reassigned missionaries to arrive in the land of their original calling, leaving their temporary assignments in the United States for Denmark. Such moves have continued since then. Wednesday’s statement formalized the process.
“At this time, the church has begun sending a very limited number of these missionaries to assignments outside their home countries,” Woodruff said. “This process is 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.”
The spokesman said church officials are monitoring world events and will make adjustments as needed. They will instruct missionaries to follow public health guidelines established to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Once missionaries arrive in their new assignments, they will quarantine as required. After that period ends, they will engage only in activities appropriate to local circumstances.
“The safety of our missionaries and those they serve is our top priority,” Woodruff said.
Mission offices will notify directly those missionaries scheduled for travel, he said.
Church leaders have said that mission presidents and missionaries have transformed the church’s missionary work during the pandemic after being confined to their apartments for long stretches.
“Traditional methods of sharing the gospel have not been possible,” Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said at the church’s October general conference. “However, the pandemic is revealing new and more creative ways of reaching out to the honest in heart.”
Much of that creativity has come via digital means.
“Many of our missionaries are busier than ever,” added Elder Uchtdorf, chairman of the Missionary Executive Council. “Many are teaching more people than ever ... Of necessity, we are now learning how to use a variety of methods, including technology, to invite people — in normal and natural ways — to come and see, come and help and come and belong.”