They weren’t supposed to be here.
Eight missionaries serving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were reassigned to Grand Island when the pandemic struck.
“Most of us were reassigned from other missions around the world, mostly in South America,” said Elder Hill.
Hill had been serving in Argentina. Elder Gardner was serving in Guatemala, Elder Crowley in Montevideo, Elder Contreras in Peru, Elder Dew in Guatemala, and Elder Wilkins in Bolivia.
Sister Backman had been serving in Fukuoka, Japan, and tag even has her name in Japanese.
Sister Kinzel was already serving in Grand Island.
It does not matter where they are assigned, though, Contreras said.
“The Church of Jesus Christ sends a bunch of missionaries worldwide, and so no matter where they are in the world, they know that’s the exact place where they should be,” he said. “They know, and feel that God loves us and he has reassured us that this is where we’re supposed to be, to help the people of Grand Island.”
Unable to go door-to-door or engage people outdoors, an important part of their mission, the group has instead used the months to do service projects in the community.
The missionaries have been helping Grand Island Area Habitat for Humanity, the Multicultural Coalition and at Messiah Lutheran.
“At least for now we can’t teach what Jesus taught, so we’ll do what he did instead,” Hill said.
The change was not easy.
“It felt like the rug got pulled out from under us and we were introduced to this new way of trying to fulfill our purpose as missionaries, to invite others to come to Christ,” Kinzel said. “Now we have these new skills so we’re able to go out and serve people, and build stronger connections with them.”
She added, “It’s been a fight and a challenge, but it’s something I’m really grateful for.”
Through service, the missionaries are still able to connect with others, Elder Gardner said.
“Our purpose as missionaries is to invite all to come unto Christ and receive his restored gospel,” he said. “It’s really powerful to know that during these times and through our service opportunities we can magnify who we are.”
He added, “I’ve been super grateful for the opportunity to have our purpose stay the same by the way of service.”
Dana Jelinek, Habitat executive director, described the group’s members as always having a cheerful, helpful attitude.
“It’s always, what more can we do?” she said. “That’s always nice, because sometimes, in the positions we’re in, we’re looking at things that need to be done in advance, and then making the suggestion to people. They are asking before we can actually offer more work for them.”
Messiah Lutheran Council Member Jim Elrod said the missionaries have helped greatly with the church’s Saturday supper events.
“It’s been awesome,” Elrod said. “They’re happy to volunteer, and sometimes we run short of volunteers. They’re here, they help, and they do a good job.”
Only recently have the missionaries been able to go out again and engage people directly.
“As of last weekend we started being allowed to visit people in person, as long as we have masks on and are distanced and outside their houses,” Hill said. “That’s the closest contact we can have with people, aside from normal church meetings, which have resumed here.”
Eventually, some of the group will return home while others will be able to return to their original assignments abroad.
Dew, who has only been in Grand Island for three weeks, called the community “amazing.”
“The people here as so nice and so kind to all of us,” he said. “I feel that no matter what faith you believe in, we can all come together.”
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