SALT LAKE CITY — The number of Latter-day Saint missionaries in some areas of the world has fallen steeply because of coronavirus-related issues, but missionaries are beginning to return to the field.

Four months after the pandemic upended the highly organized global missionary program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, six American sister missionaries recently arrived in the Denmark Copenhagen Mission, including Sister Kendra DeLange, 19, of North Logan.

The relief was welcome in a mission where reduced numbers meant more areas were on the verge of going without missionaries, according to returned missionaries and family members.

More help is poised to crisscross the globe. Many stateside missions are full of Americans holding international mission calls who are unable to travel to their assigned callings because of pandemic-related restrictions. The U.S. State Department’s decision on Thursday to lift its Do Not Travel advisory, in place since March 19, may help.

As the pandemic spread, church leaders recalled 30,000 of its 67,000 missionaries. About 26,000 young missionaries were sent back to their home countries and 4,000 senior missionaries were released because they were at higher risk of COVID-19 complications.

At least one mission, in Hong Kong, temporarily emptied out completely. Others continued with a fraction of their pre-pandemic population.

Several thousand missionaries who had planned to enter the church’s Missionary Training Centers this spring and summer instead trained at home for six hours a day. Thousands more continued to receive new international mission calls, and many of them learned their new languages through instruction provided in Zoom conferences in anticipation that pandemic restrictions would lift.

DeLange was in the Provo MTC when the pandemic threw her plans into disarray. She had arrived there on March 4 destined for Denmark. Suddenly, her planned five-week stay was cut to three weeks.

“The missionaries were called to a Sunday meeting, and at the end they were told the MTC would shut down by the weekend,” said DeLange’s mother, JoAnn. “She found out the next evening she would be going to Gilbert, Arizona, and she was on a bus to the airport by 8 a.m. She found herself in 100-degree weather with a whole bunch of cold weather gear for four months.”

Sisters Kendra DeLange and Kelsey Anderson stop for a photo outside the Gilbert Arizona Temple on March 29, 2020. DeLange originally was scheduled to still be in the Missionary Training Center, but the pandemic caused a change that sent her to Arizona for four months instead of her original assignment in Copenhagen, Denmark. | DeLange family

The Arizona Gilbert Mission was bursting with missionaries. DeLange spent all four months in apartments with multiple missionaries. Many stateside missions have resolved housing and vehicle shortages by booking local hotel rooms and renting cars, according to the church.

Now DeLange, who continued to study Danish an hour a day while in Gilbert and via Zoom calls with MTC teachers, is part of a vanguard company of relief for missions thirsting for more help. She arrived in Denmark with five other sister missionaries on July 26. The first handful of missionaries sent to international assignments went out in late May to Taiwan.

“Over the last several weeks, the church has been able to send a small number of missionaries to their original assignments in some places in Europe and Asia,” church spokesman Daniel Woodruff said. “In these circumstances, missionaries have proper travel documentation and strictly follow local requirements concerning self-isolation or quarantine. As they continue their service in these areas, the missionaries take part in activities appropriate to local circumstances.”

Beginning in March, the church sent home missionaries with international assignments from 377 of the church’s 399 global missions. Only the missions in the church’s Europe Area, like Denmark, and Europe East Area were able to keep their foreign missionaries.

“I am grateful I was able to stay on my mission,” said Mei Sorensen, 21, who returned home to West Valley City last month after completing her 18-month assignment in Denmark. Her missionary companion when the pandemic was declared was sent home immediately. because she was close to the end of her mission and there was concern she would not be able to get a flight home later.

Sister Mei Sorensen, center, poses in Vejle, Denmark, with her companions, Sisters Brynn Shults, left, and Caroline Storm, right, during their missionary service during the pandemic for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. | Mei Sorensen

“A large part of the reason I could stay was the ability we had to transition to contacting and teaching on Facebook,” Sorensen said. “Otherwise, I think we would have been sent home. It was difficult at first to not really know what to do and to have the temptation to scroll through Facebook all day. With direction and guidance from our mission leaders, we learned how to use it well.”

As missionaries completed their two-year or 18-month assignments and returned home, the numbers in Europe dwindled.

For example, the Russia St. Petersburg Mission had about 44 volunteers when the pandemic began. The last group of missionaries who went home dropped the mission’s numbers to 17, said Brent Rawson, whose three-year term as the St. Petersburg Mission president ended last month.

“That is a very, very small group,” the former Exxon Mobile executive said in a phone interview from his home in Houston.

Restrictions caused by the pandemic led to a reduction in the number of volunteers in the Russia St. Petersburg Mission while Brent Rawson served as the president with his wife, Nena Rawson. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The church’s Missionary Department initially accepted the offer Rawson and his wife Nena made to continue to lead the mission until their replacements could travel but then decided that could become an indefinite term.

“The Russia Moscow Mission is down about half, too,” Rawson said. “That’s why we were able to leave; the Moscow Mission president is able to oversee both the Moscow Mission and St. Petersburg Mission.”

Still, missionaries all over the world continue to find converts through their new online contacting and teaching. Rawson said his St. Petersburg volunteers found a woman 300 miles from any church building who now awaits baptism once her travel can be arranged.

Sorensen, the West Valley City woman who finished her mission in Denmark last month, taught a man in Nigeria who had sent her and her companion a Facebook friend request after they began to interact with a group on the social media platform. The man is scheduled to be baptized on Aug. 15.

“He messaged me the other day and told us about his baptismal date,” Sorensen said. “We were just overjoyed. He said he wished he had a private jet so he could fly us out there. I would go in a heartbeat.”

Without the infusion of DeLange and her fellow travelers, the Copenhagen Mission, which had more than 50 missionaries in March, according to Sorensen, would have faced the possibility later this month of dropping to about 32 missionaries overall and just five sister missionaries.

For DeLange, the trip was breathtaking, her mother said. She experienced a 50-degree temperature swing as she moved from one of the church’s smallest geographical missions in Gilbert, Arizona, to what one of its largest: The Danish mission includes Iceland and Greenland.

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“She’s really excited to be in Denmark,” her mother said. “She’s a tough bird. We’re really proud of her. It’s been hard. This group of kids really got thrown a curveball, things that weren’t really in their plans or in their control, or any of our control.”

Her daughter’s arrival in Denmark, JoAnn DeLange said, “might be a sign things are headed in the right direction for all of us.”

Sisters Amanda Sorensen and Kendra DeLange point to their assigned mission in Denmark on March 5, 2020, the day after they arrived at the Missionary Training Center in Provo. The pandemic caused the women to accept temporary reassignments until they could travel safely to Denmark late last month. | DeLange family

DeLange’s MTC group traveled from Provo to San Francisco to obtain their visas almost immediately after arriving for training. Those visas helped enable their travel.

As for whether more missionaries soon will be headed to their original foreign assignments, Woodruff said, “Additional travel of missionaries to assignments outside their home countries is dependent upon local conditions and travel restrictions.”

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