Church missionaries return home due to coronavirus

Steve Lyon

Weiser residents have been called home from church missions in farflung places like Brazil and Ecuador as the coronavirus has spread around the world.
 Eli To’omalatai had been in Brazil since January serving a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
 He was notified at the end of March that he and other missionaries needed to leave the country.
 It was a long flight back from San Paulo to Los Angeles. Due to cancellations of direct flights, he ended up flying from LA to Minneapolis before he could get to Boise and then home to Weiser. When he got back at the end of March he immediately spent two weeks in self-isolation.
 “I didn’t leave the house. I pretty much didn’t even leave my room,” he said.
 To’omalatai was one of nearly 20,000 LDS missionaries who are U.S. citizens and were called back from postings abroad in the past month by the church.
 Tim Erhard, a top official with the church in Weiser, said all missionaries from outside the U.S. have returned, except those in Europe. Some have different travel restrictions. There were no Weiser missionaries serving in Europe.  
 Missionaries were called back from postings in Africa, New Zealand, the Philippines, Mexico and South America.
 In the local area, which includes Weiser, Payette and McCall, the church had 15 missionaries in those countries. All of them have returned home and are just ending their mandatory14-day quarantine, Erhard said.
 To’omalatai, a 2019 graduate of Weiser High School, was living in the city of Rio Grande, one of the oldest cities in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande. There were 20 or so missionaries serving in the community, with about half from the U.S. and the rest from other countries.
 He said he had not heard a lot about the emerging coronavirus in the local community. What he knew came from talking long distance to his mom in Weiser and what the other missionaries had heard.
 There could have been emerging cases of coronavirus in the area, but he didn’t know anybody who had it.
 To’omalatai said he liked the community where he was living. He learned how to speak Portuguese, the local language.
 “It was pretty cool down there,” he said.
 When he signed up for his mission, Brazil was not even on his radar. He thought he might be assigned to Europe. He doesn’t know yet if he will return to Brazil or complete his missionary work in the U.S.
 Kelvin Price is another missionary from Weiser who was serving the church in Salvador, Brazil, when he was told to return to the U.S. He had been in Brazil for about eight months when the coronavirus pandemic hit.
 He said another missionary called him and told him to start packing as the coronavirus anxiety reached the city of Salvador. The country’s borders were starting to close. As he was leaving, stores were closing and the city was shutting down.
 “It was starting to get a little crazy,” he said.
 Price also flew out of San Paulo and landed in LA. He has completed his two weeks of self-isolation at home.
 He hasn’t decided yet if he will go back to Brazil and continue with missionary work once the pandemic is over, or maybe he will start college in the fall. Right now, he’s working on a farm.
 “I’m just going to wait and see,” he said.
 The church has temporarily released missionaries that have returned from overseas.
 They can decide to either go back to their original or temporary assignment “as soon as conditions allow” with the original end date or return to full-time proselytizing service within 12 to 18 months with a new end date.

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