Latter-day Saint missionaries have started to trickle back out to foreign countries considered sufficiently safe from the coronavirus.
This comes about eight months after the same virus sent them stampeding for the dubious safety of their homelands, where many finished their missions staffing visitor centers, doing genealogy work, helping health organizations, and neutering livestock on church farms.
Note: I don’t know if that last one is completely true, but it would have made for an interesting homecoming talk.
Things were a bit stricter 50 years ago. There was no pandemic, but missionaries experienced revolutions, droughts, volcanoes, earthquakes. Most of the time, we stuck it out. Back then, there were only three ways to get rushed home early from an LDS mission.
First, was being on the verge of death from some disease, traffic accident, or violent mauling by a troop of monkeys.
Another note: If you think that last one was intended as humor, you’ve never walked a lonely jungle road on a Brazilian evening. I’m serious. Those critters are evil.
Second, was to get rushed back home by doing something considered morally awful. Decorum — and my editor — requires that I leave this to the imagination.
Finally, was to become so fed up with sanctimony that the mission president decided to send you home before someone got hurt.
It was rare that those sent home under one of these conditions ended up finishing their missions later or somewhere else.
Truthfully, if I had been sent home because of a pandemic, it’s doubtful I would have finished the entire two years. The official opportunity for an early out would have been seen as a sign.
This was not because of where I was, but rather most of the time because of whom I was with. I loved South America. But some of the elders the Lord commanded me to serve with really got on my nerves. And, as a result, I theirs.
Also, finishing up my mission sorting secondhand donations at a Deseret Industries in Moose Rump, N.D., would have been a serious letdown after having served in someplace far more exotic.
Admittedly, this attitude is contrary to serving the Lord. A hymn popular among missionaries of my time was “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go.” Included in the lyrics were the possibilities that it might not be on a mountain height, a stormy sea, or even a battlefront.
I sang this with notable enthusiasm in the then-Language Training Mission in Provo because I already knew that I was bound for someplace interesting.
The same could not be said of serving from the privacy of my own home, or had I been called to serve in the Cornflake Mission, of Battle Creek, Mich.
What the song didn’t include was the verse: “I’ll serve with whom thou wants me to serve, dear Lord. Even if thou wouldst that I be dangerously bored.”
By the time that part dawned on me, it was too late and too far to walk home early. So I stuck it out.
I must have done something right. Today, I have a wife, three daughters, nine grandkids, two dogs and a cat because of it.
Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.