BISMARCK — With the COVID-19 pandemic inducing countries to close their borders, missionaries with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are serving local communities in the United States to continue to help others and spread their faith.
Approximately 100 more missionaries with the church are in North Dakota and South Dakota due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these missionaries were abroad to serve communities overseas, but the pandemic sent some followers of the faith back to their home countries to focus on serving local communities.
The Church's North Dakota Bismarck Mission is one of the larger Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints missions in the country, and it was able to reassign people who would otherwise be serving in countries such as the Philippines, Mexico and Brazil, among others. Members of the church are taking precautions to protect themselves from COVID-19, and they are branching out their work through less-traditional means such as Facebook and Instagram.
"There's a lot of people looking for a little bit of hope and peace and trying to get some understanding in life, and so the missionaries have really stepped up," said Lori Howell, companion of the North Dakota Bismarck Mission President.
Because there are about 200 missionaries in the Dakotas, many have been able to branch out their services to areas they have never been before. Followers of the church have taken to assisting ranchers and farmers with their duties, and Howell said a group of missionaries recently spent a week camping along the Maah Daah Hey Trail near Medora, N.D., to pick up garbage and help keep it clean from debris.
More than 35,000 missionaries worldwide were sent home once the pandemic began to worsen, but now as some countries begin to get a better handle on the pandemic, some people are returning to their missions abroad.
Some of the Latter-day Saints missionaries speak more than one language, so they are able to give lessons to people seeking to learn another language, Howell said. The missionaries also attend seminars and classes to learn more about their faith and how best to serve local communities.
"It's a time to really grow up and learn what's most important, and that is giving back and sharing what's precious to you with others," Howell said. "It's a wonderful thing these young people get to do."
Readers can reach reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at firstname.lastname@example.org.