More big changes for LDS missionaries: ‘Substantial numbers’ to come home early; all MTCs to close their doors

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file) A choir from the Missionary Training Center in Provo sings at the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, on Saturday Oct. 6, 2018.

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A lot of Latter-day Saint missionaries will be coming home soon. Some won’t be serving their whole 18-month or two-year missions. And no newly called proselytizers will be going to any of the church’s Missionary Training Centers — at least anytime soon.

These are the latest directives from top leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in grappling with the ever-changing impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“In the coming weeks, based upon world conditions, substantial numbers of missionaries will likely need to be returned to their home nations to continue their service,” the faith’s governing First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said in a letter Friday. “This will be done in a systematic way based on the urgency of travel restrictions, level of COVID-19 concern, and other considerations.”

But the “term of service for missionaries returning to or serving within the United States,” the statement said, “will likely be reduced to accommodate the large number of missionaries returning from around the world.”

Though the church of 16.3 million members continues to make missionary assignments, none of the faith’s MTCs worldwide will now “receive new missionaries,” the leaders said. “Training for missionaries will take place through technology, and missionaries will be sent to their assigned mission as soon as possible.”

The faith had already stopped accepting additional proselytizers at its flagship MTC in Provo and a smaller one in Preston, England.

The latest change will affect tens of thousands of full-time young Latter-day Saint evangelizers serving internationally. An exact number was not known, and it was unclear how the shuffling would be applied from region to region.

Phoenix resident Brent Sherwood, who has a missionary son in Osorno, Chile, was relieved by Friday’s letter from the church — though he doesn’t yet know if or when his son might be returning.

“Things are uncertain and unsafe,” Sherwood wrote in an email. “I feel that the missionaries need to be home. … This announcement from the general authorities is much more hopeful that most missionaries will soon be reunited with their families.”

As for those missionaries who stay in the field, they aren’t able to do much proselytizing. Latter-day Saint worship services are canceled everywhere. In most places, the missionaries can’t work with members or potential converts in their homes. They can’t talk to people on streets, trains, buses or subways. Teaching is taking place through social media and other technology.

This comes at a time of increasing confusion, movement and reassignment of Latter-day Saint missionaries around the globe.

Young proselytizers with health issues and all senior couples have already come home from missions in North America and Europe, while elders in the United States and Canada who have served 21 months also will return or have returned early.

After a Philippine government order applying to all foreigners, missionaries who are not native to that nation have been moved out and reassigned. Most nonnative missionaries in Africa will return home to self-quarantine, and then serve in their home countries “based on capacity and need.”

“Returning missionaries will go through a 14-day period of self-isolation,” the church said, “and then may be assigned to serve within their home country, based on local conditions.

The church may make further “adjustments,” Friday’s letter said, as leaders “evaluate changing conditions.”

Church President Russell M. Nelson, his counselors, Dallin H. Oaks, and Henry B. Eyring, as well as the 12 apostles, “love and pray for our missionaries and their families,” the letter concluded. “We are grateful for the continued prayers and support of parents, loved ones and church members as we make every effort to help them remain safe and well in these challenging times.”