COVID-19 forced The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints missionaries serving abroad to return back to their hometowns from around the world, but now that vaccines against the virus are becoming more widely available in the U.S., missionaries are steadily being sent back to serve overseas, if they take the vaccine.
“Where vaccines are available, the church encourages people to get vaccinated,” said Jana Cherrington, the communications director for the church in southern Arizona.
In a press release put out on April 30, The Missionary Department of the LDS church stated missionaries in the U.S. with mission assignments in foreign countries should be vaccinated against COVID-19 before leaving the country.
The press release goes on to say that missionaries who choose not to get vaccinated will be reassigned to missions in their home countries.
“We’re just trying to be good global citizens,” Cherrington added.
Cherrington said that while there are no statistics for how many missionaries did not take a COVID-19 vaccine, most of the country’s 60,000 missionaries who participated in missions last year returned to serve this year.
Last year the Arizona Tucson Mission, which extends from Tucson to Silver City, New Mexico, saw a 29% increase in missionaries and now has more than 200 young people serving.
Decisions about which countries missionaries are sent to is decided by the church’s Missionary Department and local mission presidents based on the severity of the spread of COVID-19 in each location, and based on local travel and visa requirements.
“Most missionaries are serving in their home countries,” though, Cherrington added, even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of those missionaries, Hunter Riches, is nearing the end of his mission right here in Safford.
“It’s been amazing. The work here is amazing. It’s so much fun,” Riches said.
Riches, who’s from Murray, Utah, has been working at a Methodist Church and a food bank in town.
Riches said all of his fellow missionary friends have gotten a COVID-19 vaccine, and those that were serving in countries like Chile and Italy before the pandemic are now beginning to be sent back to those countries to finish their missions there after their service in those countries was cut short because of the worldwide pandemic.
Riches got his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine only a couple of days ago.
“At first I thought it would have been cool to be called outside of the States, but this is where I was called to be. There’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be,” Riches said.