by Emily Miller, Austin Stake Communication Director
PFLUGERVILLE, Texas — A little more than two years ago, Dylan Salisbury, Simon Calabuig, Mosiah Carrizales and Matthew Rundquist, all members of the Austin Texas Stake, were sitting together in an early-morning seminary class in Pflugerville. Since that time, missionary service has been at the forefront of their minds and taken three of them to various parts of the world.
Dylan Salisbury began full-time missionary service in the Brazil João Pessoa Mission last fall. After his initial missionary training, he spent five and a half months in the Brazilian state of Paraíba. When Elder Salisbury was reaching a point where he was comfortable with the language, he was unexpectedly sent home.
Because Church leaders were concerned for missionaries’ health and safety, 26,000 missionaries from all over the world returned to their home countries in waves this spring. “It was a hard thing to accept at first,” Elder Salisbury recalled, “but life doesn’t go the way we plan. We just have to choose to make the best of it and trust that it’s all according to God’s plan for us.” After two months at home, Elder Salisbury has been reassigned to the Idaho Falls Mission for the time being, where he will continue to invite others to come unto Christ.
Simon Calabuig also began his missionary service last fall. He was called to serve in the Canada Montreal Mission. When the coronavirus outbreak hit, he was allowed to stay in the mission field, but his service was dramatically impacted. All types of physical proselyting, service, church meetings, and in-person visits and lessons were put on hold. “Initially I was saddened by the restrictions and felt as if my service was temporarily of a lesser grade,” reflected Elder Calabuig, but says he has since received inspiration to know how to “elevate the level of work” that can be done while in quarantine.
With the aid of technology, missionary lessons and the spread of the gospel message has continued, and he finds ways to serve others through the genealogical website www.FamilySearch.org. According to Elder Calabuig, “Against all odds, no effort nor minute is wasted in bringing joy to others as a missionary in Québec, Canada!” The Church reports that despite the pandemic, full-time missionaries are able to teach thousands of lessons every week, thanks to technology, and most missions have a long list of individuals who are waiting to be baptized as soon as chapels reopen.
Mosiah Carrizales was called to serve in the Cape Verde Mission, on the west coast of Africa. At first it was thought that the virus wouldn’t affect the remote islands of Cape Verde, but then COVID-19 hit one of the islands and the government ordered everyone to quarantine. Within a month, all the missionaries had to leave the country. According to Elder Carrizales, “It was unreal to think that we would be leaving. On the flight back home, I thought about all the people I taught and the families that we didn’t get to say bye to.”
When the Church made the decision to bring missionaries home, those who only had a few months left were released. The rest were allowed to be reassigned as soon as possible or to delay for 12 to 18 months. Like most missionaries, Elder Carrizales made the decision to return to missionary work as soon as possible. Now he is serving in the California San Jose Mission and getting readjusted there.
Matthew Rundquist was finishing his senior year in high school when the coronavirus hit. He was debating between applying to serve a mission or completing a year of college first. “I saw hundreds or thousands of missionaries being sent home, including my own older brother, and I came to the logical conclusion that a mission at this time wouldn’t make much sense — most countries have closed borders, little proselyting could be done, and I would be both a danger to others, and at risk from others.” After listening to April’s general conference, he felt the impression that “indeed, God wants me out in the mission field.” Despite all the uncertainty in the world right now, he is moving forward with faith and working on his mission application.
While the circumstances in the world right now are unique, they are not completely unprecedented. In 1939, in the midst of World War II, missionaries were evacuated from France. In 1989, when the government of Ghana banned all activities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the country, foreign missionaries were sent home. In 2014, when there was an Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, local missionaries taught new members and investigators by phone for a time. Similarly today, for thousands of young men and women throughout the world, missionary service has changed from what they had thought it would be. But most are resilient and embody the Prophet Joseph Smith’s proclamation that “no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing.” Even in the midst of a worldwide epidemic, the gospel message continues to move forward.