The COVID-19 pandemic affected everyone worldwide. Serving a full-time mission during a pandemic wasn’t something 21st-century missionaries had experienced before. BYU-Idaho students Eli Averett and Carolena Sears are what we call “COVID missionaries.” They shared what it was like to return home unannounced and return back to the mission field during the pandemic.
Eli Averett, a freshman studying science, was originally assigned to the Philippines San Pablo Mission in 2019. He served for nine months in San Pablo before receiving the text that all missionaries were being sent home. Later, Averett was reassigned to the Tennessee Nashville Mission.
“I cried like a little baby. I cried for about 10 to 15 minutes, ” Averett said about his reaction when he saw the initial text. “Ultimately I felt that Heavenly Father had a big plan, and I needed to trust wherever he would take me.” Averett was puzzled what to do next. Living in the Philippines made it difficult to be quarantined and a missionary at the same time.
“It wasn’t like we could call someone on the phone and share a message because nobody had a phone. It was like a vow of silence for a month.” Averett stated.
According to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “some 50 percent of the global missionary force of 67,000 were impacted by returning home for reassignment or release in the Church’s adjustments to missionary service due to the coronavirus pandemic.”
Read more about the release of thousands of missionaries here. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/church/news/covid-19-impacts-50-percent-of-churchs-global-missionary-force-of-67000?lang=eng
Carolena Sears, a junior studying elementary education, originally served her mission in the Guatemala Quetzaltenango Mission before being reassigned to the Tennessee Nashville Mission. Coming home for her was not an easy task.
“I was really confused because we were really cut off from the world,” Sears said. “We didn’t even know what COVID was. I was in disbelief. I was sad. I was angry.”
Coping with this type of shock was different for everyone. Missionaries being sent home were given the opportunity to be honorably released. While some took the chance, Averett and Sears were among those who went back to the mission field.
They displayed a big act of faith and returned.
“The Lord is in control,” Sears said.
She expressed there are many times in our lives when we don’t ultimately expect the result to be one way. She explained, “There is nothing that comes out of nowhere for God. He has His loving hand in all our lives.”
Averett is especially grateful for the chance to come home and learn how to become the son of God he has the potential of becoming.
“I needed to know who I needed to be,” Averett said. “What I learned from being reassigned is that there are way bigger things than being a member of the Church and saying ‘I went on a mission.’ You can say you went on a mission and you can still come home and mess up.”
During Averett’s intermission he was able to reach out and strengthen important relationships that led him to Ellie Bryan, his now fiancé.
“My reassignment was a miracle,” Averett said. “It helped me recognize who I needed to be in order to marry someone like Ellie.”