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As pandemic restrictions ease, Latter-day Saint missionary work moves ahead under strict travel guidelines

Elders Seth Lunt, left, Ethan Kasunick and Kaden Davis pose for a photo with Marc Schulz before Elders Lunt and Davis board a train at the Leipzig, Germany, train station for transfers to new assignments on Tuesday, May 5, 2020.
Courtesy Marc Schulz

SALT LAKE CITY — Latter-day Saint missionaries are on the move again.

As coronavirus pandemic restrictions begin to ease in some areas of the world, so are restrictions for missionaries in some parts of Europe who have been working from their apartments for months under the direction of leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

On Tuesday, the church’s missions in Berlin and Frankfurt, Germany, held transfers for the first time since Feb. 25. A transfer usually happens every six weeks, with some missionaries changing mission companions and moving to different cities within the mission.

Today and tomorrow, the Berlin Mission is holding physical gatherings for zone conferences, said Marc Schulz, a German church member who works with the mission and helped with transfers on Tuesdays. The moves are in sync with the German government’s moves toward reopening. For example, the country’s professional soccer league, the Bundesliga, will resume play without fans on May 16.

The church also is reopening its temples in Germany and Sweden on a limited basis on Monday.

The church sent about 30,000 missionaries back to their home countries during the pandemic’s peak. Europe was an exception. The church kept more than 2,000 nonnative missionaries in place in the 22 missions in the area.

Those who did return home spent two weeks in self-isolation and then waited for pandemic restrictions to begin to ease. Now another major missionary migration is swinging into action as those missionaries begin to travel to temporary new assignments within their native nations.

As they begin to travel, the church has implemented strict guidelines for them and their families and friends to follow, church spokesman Daniel Woodruff said in a prepared statement released Friday.

“Missionaries throughout the world are departing for their new assignments and will continue to do so during the next several months,” he said. “Others are returning home at the end of their service. When they depart or return home — regardless of location — we ask missionaries and their families to strictly follow established guidelines to prevent the spread of illness while at the airport or on an airplane.”

The church is asking families to limit the number of people who pick up, drop off or accompany a missionary based on local airport regulations.

“Whenever missionaries are inside the airport or an airplane, they should wear a mask, avoid congregating in groups, not shake hands or hug and obey all social distancing measures,” Woodruff said. “Above all, missionaries and their families should promptly follow all instructions from airport officials or volunteers. We appreciate the cooperation of missionaries and their families as we all work to follow these important safety guidelines.”

Last week, the church announced the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had begun issuing new assignments to missionaries who returned to their home countries to self-isolate after the coronavirus outbreak became a pandemic.

Many missionaries throughout the world have already begun their new assignments, Woodruff said last week. Some American and Canadian missionaries began departing for their new assignments this week.

Among them are missionaries who completed online training in place of the usual experience at a missionary training center.

“Once in their new assignments, missionaries will take part in activities appropriate to the local communities where they will serve. All missionaries will continue to strictly follow local and national public health guidelines relating to travel, personal interaction and preventing any further spread of COVID-19,” Woodruff said.

Many missionaries still hope to be able to return to their original assignments in other countries. The church spokesman said it isn’t clear yet how long missionaries will remain in their reassigned locations.

“Any return to their original missions is dependent on conditions associated with the pandemic,” he said.