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The Unanticipated Mission: 5 Tips for Missionaries Coping with COVID-19 Changes Shared in Virtual Fireside

by | Apr. 28, 2020

Mission calls have some differences—location, report date, name—but overall most of the language stays consistent with letters beginning with Elder or Sister and ending with the prophet’s signature.

One of the similarities in the mission calls is of particular importance for missionaries affected by COVID-19—the word "anticipated" in the phrase “it is anticipated that you will serve for a period of 18 [or 24] months.”

So what do you do when the unanticipated happens? Because of the global pandemic, missionary life looks different than it used to. This is just one of the many questions that were recently addressed in “Mission Accomplished? A Fireside for Missionaries Affected by COVID-19,” hosted as part of Deseret Book Live!

Speakers including Hank Smith, Anthony Sweat, The Nashville Tribute Band, Brittany Fisher Frank, and Laurel Christensen Day, shared powerful insights in the one-hour virtual fireside. Here are some of the thoughts they shared with missionaries.

1. Trust That Heavenly Father Is Pleased

Prior to the fireside, Deseret Book interviewed missionaries in several different phases of their missions, but across the board, four common themes emerged. One was the question, “How can I trust that Heavenly Father is pleased with the work that I’ve done even though my time was cut so short?”

 Laurel Christensen Day, vice president of product at Deseret Book, discussed the phrase found in missionary calls indicating that length of service is "anticipated," but sometimes the Lord has a different plan.

“God knew your mission would end on April 1, 2020, or whatever date you came home,” Day said. “This is no surprise to Him. He called you to serve and you served, and He is pleased with your service. You did what you needed to do and He will provide other opportunities now to learn and grow.”

Day shared a quote from President Dallin H. Oaks, “The first principle of the gospel is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith means trust—trust in God’s will, trust in His way of doing things, and trust in His timetable.”

She invited the missionaries to pray and ask Heavenly Father to know if He was pleased with the time served. “It is too important to Him that you know that for yourself,” Day said.

Explaining that it is okay to feel disappointment, Day also taught that the Lord has “compensatory blessings” in store for missionaries who came home earlier than expected. She shared a quote from Elder Richard G. Scott:

“Find the compensatory blessings in your life when, in the wisdom of the Lord, He deprives you of something you very much want. To the sightless or hearing impaired, He sharpens the other senses. To the ill, He gives patience, understanding, and increased appreciation for others’ kindness. With the loss of a dear one, He deepens the bonds of love, enriches memories, and kindles hope in a future reunion. You will discover compensatory blessings when you willingly accept the will of the Lord and exercise faith in Him.”

She encouraged missionaries to pay attention to the things that happen in the next 3–6 months. “I’m not saying there will be better things, but the Lord will work to make it up to you in other ways,” Day said.

Day reminded missionaries that an entire Church cares about them, is proud of them, cheers for them, and prays for them.

► You may also like: When Your Life Doesn't Turn Out How You Planned: One Beautiful Truth to Remember

2. Acknowledge the Real Burden of a “Helam Moment”

Author Hank Smith described the feelings missionaries must have with the sudden abrupt change in their lives.

 “The spiritual whiplash and the emotional whiplash, the roller coaster that you have been through must be very, very difficult,” Smith said. “You are definitely not spiritually weak or shallow or faithless if you have questions, if you have concerns, if you are asking heaven for answers. I promise you are not alone, and I promise you that the Lord understands where you are coming from.”

Turning to the example of Alma the Elder in Mosiah, Smith taught that the Lord was aware of their circumstances. After Alma the Elder was converted by Abinadi, the priests of Noah and the Lamanites put Alma and his people in bondage in Helam. Smith invited missionaries to picture Alma saying a prayer to the Lord amidst these circumstances and asking why this was happening to him and to these people. The words of comfort to Alma from the Lord are recorded in Mosiah 24:14–15:

“And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.

“And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.”

“Notice that the Lord is acknowledging that they are real burdens—and what you are going through, this is a real burden,” Smith said. “Maybe this is your Helam moment where you also can’t see the future. You can’t see what God has in mind and you do have questions and you do have real burdens. I wonder if you, similarly to Alma and his people, can ponder what it means to submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.”

Smith encouraged missionaries to stay close to the Spirit, pray, and study so the Lord could reveal His vision for them.

► You may also like: Hank Smith Shares 5 Ways to Create Happiness That Lasts

3. Live the "Summative Covenant"

Author Anthony Sweat focused his remarks on a question many missionaries are asking—“What now?” He didn’t give missionaries a list of dos and don’ts but instead taught gospel principles that will guide missionaries to make their own decisions.

 “Everybody is in unique circumstances and everybody has a unique path as they follow the Savior,” Sweat said. “We are all following the same Savior but we don’t all have the same paths to get to Him and we don’t all go on the same direction as we follow Him either.”

A gospel principle everyone can follow on their own unique path, according to Sweat, is the law of consecration, which means “you dedicate your time, your talents and your means to help build up the Kingdom of God on this earth then do what God wants you to do with them.”

He explained that missionaries have become accustomed to dedicating their time to the Lord, and this is something that can still apply to them now even if it looks different than it did in the mission field. For Sweat, living the law of consecration, which he calls the "summative covenant" at one point, meant coaching his son’s basketball team and devoting his time to that, but at another point in his life he prayed about coaching his son’s basketball team and that wasn’t where the Lord needed him at that time. He explained that we can’t judge another’s consecration, sharing a verse in Doctrine and Covenants 42:53 that says, “Thou shalt stand in the place of thy stewardship.” Sweat explained this meant your own stewardship, not your neighbor’s.

Sweat encouraged missionaries to pray and ask, “Lord, I am a 100% consecrated Latter-day Saint. I have dedicated my life to you on my mission. I have still dedicated my life to you now and what do you want me to do?”

He explained the answers may vary and might include enrolling in college, trade school, or other formal education; working to earn money; dating or maybe not dating; or pursuing certain avenues for a career.

“If you ask Him and if you offer up yourself as a consecrated, dedicated Saint, He’ll talk to you and He’ll hear you.”

He explained another important aspect of consecration is reporting back to the Lord at the end of the day through prayer, explaining the three-step cycle of plan, act, and report.

“It is my personal testimony and it’s my belief that if you live as a consecrated Saint, you cannot go wrong,” Sweat said.

► You may also like: Church Scholar Anthony Sweat Helps Members Better Seek Revelation, Answer Difficult Questions

4. Accept the Unexpected 

 Brittany Fisher Frank knows about life taking an unexpected turn—she ran track at Utah State University until she fell 80 feet during a moonlight repel in southern Utah, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. Initially, she felt hope, faith, and optimism, but there were other days that were more discouraging.

► You may also like: How This Woman Refused to Let Paralysis Undermine Her Optimism and Faith

“As disappointment comes into our lives and things turn out differently than we’ve ever expected disappointment can settle in,” Frank said.

During those moments of disappointment, she would cling to the moments of peace she felt, like the moments right before and right after her fall. She encouraged missionaries to remember the Lord’s words to Oliver Cowdery in Doctrine and Covenants 6:22–23:

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.

Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?”

She said missionaries can reflect on the moments they felt that peace during the difficult times they have. She also reminded missionaries to be real with their feelings, sharing a quote from Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin’s talk based on his mother’s phrase, “Come What May and Love It,”

“I don’t think my mother was suggesting that we suppress discouragement or deny the reality of pain. I don’t think she was suggesting that we smother unpleasant truths beneath a cloak of pretended happiness. But I do believe that the way we react to adversity can be a major factor in how happy and successful we can be in life.”

Frank said it was important to acknowledge the things we are struggling with and acknowledge disappointments, but reminded missionaries that God’s promises will be fulfilled.

“Regardless of what is going on in the world around us the promises that have been made to us will be fulfilled,” Frank said. She continued, “Each and every one of you have blessings and promises that are awaiting you and as you remain steady and faithful and hopeful and optimistic and real you too will find that peace.”

Reminding missionaries of the important role the Savior plays, Frank concluded:

“As we continue to navigate these unchartered waters—as we rely on the Savior and seek out to feel his peace now and in times past—we will be reminded of the peace that comes because of and only through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”

5. Realize You Were Called to the Work

 The members of the Nashville Tribute Band shared remarks, both in word and in song, to help missionaries who are suddenly being reassigned to new missions after falling in love with their original mission or their original call.

Brad Hull shared a quote from Elder Bednar that said missionaries are called to the work and then assigned to a place.

“It doesn’t matter where you serve,” Hull said. “It matters how you serve obviously, and it matters that you understand what you are called to do when you are called to serve.”

Ben Truman shared a story from his mission in Mexico and the difficulties he had with his trainer, who wasn’t interested in teaching the gospel. He explained how difficult it was for him to not work, but rather than focus on that disappointment, he dedicated that time to studying the Spanish language. Years later, as he read an apology from that trainer, Truman wept as he remembered that formative time in his life. 

“The experiences you are having out there right now as tough as they are as unfortunate as they might seem, you will grow from this,” he said.

Dan Truman encouraged missionaries to take advantage of the time when the world is quiet to draw closer to the spirit.

Jason Deere, Tim Gates, and Chad Truman all shared testimony through song during the fireside.

► You may also like: Nashville Tribute Band Founders Talk Their New Album, the Hymn They Submitted for the New Hymnbook, and More

The full fireside can be viewed through the video below.

Lead image: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
All other images: Facebook Screenshots
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Lindsey Williams

Lindsey Williams joined the LDS Living team with a passion to find the stories that matter most. Previous stops in her career include BYU-Pathway Worldwide, the Special Projects Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Utah Valley Magazine. When she's not searching for stories to write, the Colorado Springs native is most likely on a hiking trail. Follow her on Twitter with the handle @lindsey5brooke.

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