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Preaching in a Pandemic: How Latter-day Saint missionaries continue their work around the world

"A missionary from Utah is among four stranded on a remote island in the Pacific after coronavirus forced the country’s borders closed. (Reeve Family)"

SALT LAKE CITY –The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will hold its General Conference virtually April 3 and 4 for the third time in a row because of the coronavirus pandemic. But the work of the church goes on, even if it is in different ways than before.

Missionaries for the church exemplify how they can still teach, uplift and serve even when they can’t meet face-to-face. KSL Newsradio’s Mary Richards spoke to missionaries and mission presidents about the past year and what the work will be like moving forward.

The Pandemic Brings Uncertainty to Missionaries

When the pandemic began, thousands of missionaries around the world suddenly found themselves locked down or facing restrictions.

Recently returned missionaries Wilson McConkie and Kelsey Straw, who live in Salt Lake City, talked about what it was like one year ago. 

“In England, it was pretty strict for the first few months. We could only go outside about once a day for half an hour for exercise,” said McConkie, who served in the England Manchester Mission.

“I spent a lot of time on my knees, and brainstorming with my companion about what we could do,” said Straw, who was in the Florida Tampa Mission.

Thousands of missionaries were sent home from around the world, including Utah Governor Spencer Cox’s son in Tahiti.

“He spent four months at home. Now he’s in the Four Corners area,” Cox said. “He’s had a unique experience this last year. My heart goes out to these young people whose lives have been disrupted in so many ways.”

Salt Lake City resident Hannah Morgan was in quarantine with her companion in the California Riverside mission, until her mission president regretfully told her that because of her health, she would also need to go home in the spring of 2020. She has asthma.

“I wanted to come home and not have people look at me differently. I was worried about how others thought of me, but I think tender mercy was the Lord put an idea so deep into my mind and made it so apparent that no, people are not going to judge you,” she said.

Amid the Storm Clouds are Rays of Hope

Her mission president was Darrel Hammon. He and his wife Joann were released in July 2020 and came back to Springville, Utah. When they think of that time, they say they saw many blessings.

Darrel and Joanne Hammon upon returning from their mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Darrel Hammon)

“How do you do an online multi-zone conference through Zoom? How do you help them when you are apart?” Joan Hammon remembered thinking. “But it was so amazing, they would say, we felt the spirit so strong, even though you were there, and we were here.”

Missionary work began to thrive again as they figured out new online ways to share the gospel. Missionaries stuck in their apartments were given smartphones, Chromebooks and social media training. They began reaching out online through Facebook and Instagram and put together videos and songs that went viral.

“It just created so many different outlets then that we hadn’t been using before for missionary work. I think that had to do with the amount of brainstorming and prayer and fasting that went into the whole pandemic of not just praying for family members to be healthy and be safe, but also praying for the Lord’s work to keep going,” said Straw.

Missionaries Reach New Audiences without Leaving their Apartments

Darrel Hammon says some of their sign language videos from the ASL missionaries were getting hundreds of thousands of hits from all over the world. This was a lot more success than trying to knock on doors to reach people.

McConkie had a woman reach out to them through their Facebook page who told him she never would have listened to their message if they had stopped her in the street. She ended up getting baptized.

Though Changed, the Work Still Rolls Onward

51,000 missionaries are currently serving around the world. Missionaries who began serving after last March have never been to a Missionary Training Center in person. They are getting all their training online.

Because Hannah Morgan was home, she was able to help her little brother, Casey, when he began the online MTC experience. She felt like her mission had been extended in a way that blessed their whole family.

Elder Caleb Petersen and Elder David Antillon, who are currently serving, say the online MTC was a tremendous blessing to them because they were able to also share those lessons with their families at home. They have been serving for about ten months in Orem, Utah, though they were originally called to Peru.

They say Church members can help with missionary work in a pandemic.

“All you have to do is just go to whatever page your mission is in or whatever missionary page you like to go to, and follow it like it, and then share the content. And even though it may seem small, you’re making a big impact. There’s a lot of people that can see things that we post on social media,” said Elder Antillon.

“We don’t have to wait for things to go back to normal to move forward,” said Elder Petersen. “The Lord has prepared these tools for this time and we can be creative. It doesn’t have to be some glorious, perfect professional video or thought. It’s those authentic and that real personal experiences and that personal testimony to help people see how the gospel has impacted your life.”