For many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a two-year “mission” in a new city or country to serve the local church and share their faith in the community is something they prepare for their whole lives.
Logan Edington, 18, says he’s always felt like he needed to do a mission, especially as he grew older and realized how passionate he is about his religion. When he graduated from Silverado High School in Las Vegas, he was proud to be assigned to Argentina.
“It’s important for me to share with others this knowledge that I have and the happiness that the gospel of Jesus Christ brings to my life,” he said. “That’s why we’re on a mission.”
But for Edington, things were cut short. Only nine months into his mission, COVID-19 intervened and lockdowns caused by the pandemic forced him, and many of the 67,000 missionaries the church has around the globe, to come home.
“March 17 is when official quarantine started in Argentina ... and we had to stay in our apartment all day,” he said.
Argentina has so far seen more than 3,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and some 197 deaths. Officials credit the strict lockdown implemented in March with keeping those numbers significantly lower than original projections — President Alberto Fernandez said case numbers had been projected to reach 45,000 if action wasn’t taken.
On March 30, Edington and the other U.S. missionaries in Argentina were informed they would be returning home. After multiple delayed buses and days of travel, he found himself on a full flight, chartered by the church, which he said held approximately 375 people on his way back to Nevada. He arrived home the night of April 4.
According to church spokesman Daniel Woodruff the church has, at the request of foreign governments, allowed available seats on its chartered flights to be filled for free by stranded nationals who needed to return to their home countries.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has worked to move tens of thousands of missionaries back to their home countries in recent weeks,” Woodruff said. “This would not have been possible during these unprecedented times without the support and cooperation of many governments around the world.”
Woodruff said the U.S. State Department has helped some missionaries return through government-arranged charter flights. As of 2019, the church’s missionaries are serving worldwide at 399 mission locations, including 13 sites in Argentina.
Even before receiving word, Edington had realized his mission would likely be ending sooner than expected.
“We’d heard stories of other places — Africa, the Philippines, all of Asia — that they were being taken out, and, at that point, I kind of knew we were going to leave, even though they hadn’t told us personally,” he said.
After returning home, all missionaries were told to self-isolate for 14 days and, afterward, were told to decide by April 30 between two options — be immediately reassigned, possibly to their original mission but most likely closer to home, or wait another 12 to 18 months and be given a completely new assignment.
Edington is going with the first option.
“We’ll have the same planned release date. We’ll finish our mission on the same day. So now, even though we’re not on a mission, the clock is still ticking, which is a bummer,” he said.
After his mission ends, Edington plans to study business at Brigham Young University in Utah and doesn’t want to wait another year or more to begin his education. He said many missionaries in his position share that sentiment.
“Most of the missionaries that I know are going with option one to try and get back out as soon as possible and resume our lives.”
For many missionaries around the world, however, things are even more complicated. Missionaries from nations other than the U.S. are having trouble returning home and are waiting in countries under lockdown, hoping to catch flights.
“I know there’s still missionaries in my mission that are still there that are from other countries such as Mexico and Chile,” Edington said. “They’re trying to organize with the government, but they’re getting more and more closed off, so they’re getting less and less options.”
According to the church, not all missionaries are part of the movement process. Some will remain in their assigned countries during the lockdown, including those in Europe and Canada.
While Edington is sad to have seen his mission come to an unexpected end, he understands the importance of calling missionaries back home.
“Being good citizens and following the guidelines is important to us,” he said. “And that we can be together as a family during this time and not have our families be worried about us and not knowing what’s happening all the time.”