Coming Home Early because of COVID-19 Virus – Here are some Faithful Reactions

Last week, the Church has announced several substantial, though temporary, adjustments to full-time missionary service due to the world-wide pandemic of the COVID-19 virus.

  • Returning to home nation to continue serving. In the coming weeks, the First Presidency of the Church has said to expect that a substantial numbers of missionaries will be brought back to their home nations to continue their missionary service.
  • Those with 3 months to go may be released. Young missionary elders currently serving in the United States and Canada who have served for 21 months may be released from their full-time service early.
  • Those at risk or with health issues may be released. Senior missionaries and young missionaries with respiratory or other health conditions may be released from service.
  • Missionaries will continue to be calledMissionary applications will continue to be received, and missionary assignments for worldwide service will continue to be made.
  • MTCs worldwide will not receive new missionaries. Training for missionaries will take place through technology with most missionaries being trained from home via video conferencing.

With so many missionaries being brought home early, either temporarily or permanently, many young people and their parents are struggling with how to cope with the situation. There are mixed reactions, of course, as people understand the gravity of the Corona virus situation, yet there is disappointment in not being able to live and work with and serve among the people and nations where missionaries were originally called.

Below are two faithful and testimony building thoughts from families in the middle of this situation. One is from a sister missionary coming home and one is from a parent with a young missionary coming home. I thought they both exhibited a wonderful, eternal perspective on how to cope with coming home early in this environment of quarantine and social distancing due to the virus.

A Sister Missionary Dealing With An Early Release

Megan Crow New York City Mission

Megan Crow New York City Mission

“This is a pretty hard email for me to send. Due to the corona virus and how quickly it is spreading in New York City, all missionaries who have any respiratory or other health conditions at all are being sent home from their missions and released temporarily for safety reasons. And I am unfortunately a part of that group.

“We had just gotten out of an amazing lesson when I received the call from my mission president, and I was absolutely devastated. It honestly just broke my heart completely.

“I had so many thoughts running through my mind. ‘Heavenly Father, don’t you know how hard I am working? I had just gotten to a happy and comfortable place in my mission! It’s not fair Heavenly Father, how am I going to do this? Why me, why me, why me!?’

“I know I am not the only missionary who received that phone call. Missionaries around the world are receiving similar phone calls and having those exact same thoughts and feelings that I was having.

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way before. How was I going to leave my whole heart in New York City and hop on a plane and take off my missionary tag? And the truth is, I still don’t know.

“But what happened next is really what I wanted to share with you. Only minutes later, one of my favorite hymns came on in the car, I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go.

“This song has gotten me through some pretty hard things on my mission. The words, my testimony, are just as true to me now as they were when I was deciding whether or not to even come on a mission in the first place. I made a promise to myself and to my Heavenly Father that I would truly go where he wanted me to go and be who he wanted me to be. Nothing has changed, that’s still my promise to him. And if President Nelson received inspiration that I need to be somewhere else, no matter how much I want to be in New York, then I know with my whole heart who that request really came from.

“I was also reminded of the words I had spoken in the lesson I’d been in only minutes earlier… As I testified that I was not afraid at all of what’s going on in the world right now, because I knew for a fact that Heavenly Father was watching over me and guiding me and protecting me. In this lesson, I bore probably the most powerful testimony of the Restoration that I have ever borne in my life. Looking the person in the eye, I said that I knew I walked hand in hand with the Lord and that they could to. I told them that we all are called in this life in our weakness and we are qualified to do what the Lord needs us to do.

“I HAD said those words and I remembered them so clearly and I knew they were just as true to me then as they had been 30 minutes earlier. I trust my Heavenly Father and I know He’s in charge. I feel it is not enough to merely accept his commandments, I want to embrace them and trust them.

“So it may not be on the mountain height or over the stormy sea, and it may not even be in New York City, where my Lord has need of me. But He has in fact called me to this path, though ‘dark and rugged’ it seems. But I’ll do his will will a heart sincere, I’ll be what and where He needs me to be.”

-Sister Megan Crow, New York City Mission

Parents Who have Missionaries Coming Home Early

Patty Morford Colorado Fort Collins Mission

Patty Morford Colorado Fort Collins Mission

“So many of us seem to be mourning what we dreamed their homecoming would be like. Most of our children will be on a mandatory 14-day quarantine. No big groups at the airport. No parties. No well-attended talk at church. May we make a suggestion?

“Instead of mourning, perhaps we can embrace this moment. Perhaps our missionaries can fill the entire world, not just their mission area, with the gospel for 14 days. And more.

“Every one is glued to media, waiting for news. What if the news they were receiving was the good news our children have been sharing? What if their mission report, in front of their family, was on a live Facebook feed for all the world to see? More would attend their talk than could have fit into a chapel.

“What if they spent each of their 14 days posting all they wished they could have said if they had stayed in their mission? More hearts will be touched than they could have reached in the 2 weeks they would have spent there. What if we celebrate this hinge point, in not only the history of the Church but the history of the world, by flooding the world with the Gospel?

“What if we encourage them to make the most of this unique situation where the world is more humble, more aware of the need to rely on God, more aware of the universal lack of power and control in this life, to let others know that there is One who has all power, all control, and that He loves us and is aware of our pain and fear?

“What if we embrace this moment we have been born to live and encourage our faithful children, who were also born for this moment, to do the same? More good will be done in this effort than could have been done if life had continued as it has been.

“Let’s heed this call. Let go of the useless, unimportant, temporal traditions we have come to expect. Instead, let’s embrace a new day, a new opportunity to change the world…through our missionaries.

“Their hearts will be healed as they heal others. In doing this, they will be following the footsteps of the greatest Healer of all. He embraced His circumstances and made the most difference that has ever been made in this world.

“These chosen, valiant, preserved youth who are coming home on the wings of angels and the miracles of Heaven were born for this day. Let’s help them live it the way the Lord hoped it would be lived.”

-Alisa Banner Morford and April Hill, founders of Ghana Pay it Forward

Understanding and Helping Early Returned Missionaries

Reasons Why Missionaries Return Home Early
This website is dedicated to helping young people be better prepared to serve the Lord as full-time missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While we want every missionary that goes on a mission to complete their term of service fully and honorably, we know that a percentage of missionaries will need to come home early for one reason or another. In this article, I’d like to talk about the reasons why missionaries come home early, how to help those missionaries adjust to that reality, and what we as their friends, family, and fellow church members can do to help and support them.

Elder Holland once said this to a missionary who came home early because of mental health issues:

“Obviously we want everyone to have a full and complete mission. We’re anxious that no one succumb to homesickness or battle fatigue and truncate their mission, come home early. …But listen. Understand, this young man and anybody else out there in the audience who is concerned. There are reasons that people can’t serve a mission. There are reasons that people can’t go on a mission in the first place. We know that. We understand that. …So I say commendation to you, and the love of the Lord to you, and the blessings of the Church to you for trying to go, for wanting to go, and for the fact that you successfully served for four months.” (see Elder Holland’s Counsel for Early Returned Missionaries, March 2016)

I’ve heard many news stories in recent years about the increasing number of missionaries returning home early. While the Church doesn’t publish the exact number or percentage of missionaries returning home early, anecdotal evidence does seem to indicate the figures may be on the rise. Regardless of those trends, we know some missionaries do return home early and the brethren have taught us to love and support those individuals. As this 2014 Church News article reminds us, “Returned Missionaries Need a Friend, a Responsibility, and Spiritual Nourishment” regardless of why or when they come home.

Why Missionaries Return Home Early

Missionaries return home early from their missions for a variety of reasons—physical health issues, mental health, transgression, and other issues. A 2012 survey of 348 ERMs was published by BYU in a 2015 article called Return with Trauma: Understanding the Experiences of Early Returned Missionaries (see “Issues in Religion and Psychotherapy” Volume 37 | Number 1 | Article 9 by Kristine J. Doty of Utah Valley University and S. Zachary Bullock of Brigham Young University) examined the reason why missionaries come home early. It found that:

  • “Thirty-six percent reported that mental health issues were a factor in their return”
  • “Thirty-four percent returned due to physical health issues.”
  • “12% of the respondents came home due to unresolved transgression”
  • “11% for breaking mission rules” (see p40 of the article referenced above)

Another study of early returned missionaries (ERMs) conducted by Drake and Drake (2014) corroborated those results showing “38% of early releases were for mental illness diagnoses alone” and “34% who were released due to physical reasons” (p36). That leaves 28% for other reasons including transgression before or during mission.

That makes two studies within a two-year period that show basically the same results—the vast majority of early returned missionaries come home because of health reasons and only around a quarter of all ERMs are home early because of inappropriate behavior such as breaking the mission rules or entering the mission field with previous transgressions still unresolved.

Regardless of why missionaries come home early, almost all of them feel like they have failed at their mission and are uncomfortable talking about it. “Of the ERMs responding to the quantitative survey, 73% said they had feelings of failure. Two-thirds of ERMs felt uncomfortable in social settings, and 44% felt uncomfortable answering questions about their missions” (p 41). These feeling are prevalent among ERMs, “regardless of whether their early return was related to personal conduct” (p 41) or if it was due to health or other issues. Due to the fact that mental health issues is the biggest reason young people come home early from their missions, and due to many misunderstandings about this issue in our society, I, and the authors of the study we are examining, think it deserves a deeper exploration.

Returning for Mental Health Issues

The biggest reason missionaries are returning home early is due to mental health related issues. The authors of the study we’ve been discussing say, “mental illness is overrepresented in early returned missionaries (ERMs) compared to their peers who complete their full term of expected missionary service. For ERMs, the challenges and hardships missionaries face may overwhelm their coping resources and exacerbate the turmoil, anxiety, and crises of emerging adulthood.” (p36)

Mental illness situations, like physical illness, are sometimes unavoidable though sometimes there are steps that can be taken to mitigate their impact. There are things missionaries can do to help themselves as well as steps family, friends, and church leaders can take to help prepare young people to handle the mental and emotional stress of going on a mission.

Internal Testimony rather than External Pressure for Good Mental Health

One thing that can be done to help reduce mental health stress on missionaries is to help them develop their own testimony instead of relying on the testimonies of others. The study we’ve been discussing found that missionaries who have a strong personal testimony and desire to serve the Lord without outside pressure from family or church leaders are more likely to have good mental health during their mission. Said the authors, “A high degree of intrinsic (internal) commitment to religion tends to correlate with good mental health better than an extrinsic (external) commitment” (p 36).

This reminded me of the oft-quoted statement from Heber C. Kimball, former apostle and member of the First Presidency:

“To meet the difficulties that are coming, it will be necessary for you to have a knowledge of the truth of this work for yourselves. The difficulties will be of such a character that the man or woman who does not possess his personal knowledge or witness will fall. … The time will come when no man nor woman will be able to endure on borrowed light. Each will have to be guided by the light within himself. If you do not have it, how can you stand?” (Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, 3d. ed., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1945, pp. 449–50)

borrowed light Heber C. Kimball


Preparing for Transitions and Realities of Mission Life for Good Mental Health

The other suggestion from the authors to help lessen the likelihood of mental health issue by missionaries is to prepare them for the frequent transitions that occur in the mission field. Going on a mission is a big life style change for all missionaries. They transition from school or work or playing full-time, to full-time service of the Lord. They leave their family and friends and go to far off places, often having to learn a new language and culture. Every few months, they move from city to city and often have even more frequent changes in the companions they live with. There are a lot of transitions involved in missionary work, and young people will have better mental and emotional health if they know what they are getting into and are prepared for those transitions.

“A person’s mental health may be affected, however, if preparation for a transition is inadequate, if there is discontinuity between the roles, if there is too much change in too little time, or if those transitioning experience culture shock or role shock service—discrepancies between a person’s expectations and the realities of their new environments and responsibilities” (p36).

If future missionaries can be taught about the nature of missionary work and hear stories from others who have gone before them on a mission, they can be better prepared for the transitions of missionary work. And, say the authors of the study, “Mastering those transitions can lead to enhanced self-esteem, personal growth, and maturity” –all aspects of good mental health.

The benefits of emotional preparation to serve a mission cannot be understated. The study clearly showed that “missionaries who were emotionally prepared to serve and believed missionary work was the work of the Lord were more likely to have strong spiritual experiences while on the mission.”

Reception of ERMs by Home Ward Members

One aspect of the ERM experience upon which the study dwelt heavily, and which also deserves our attention, is how he or she was received by their home ward upon returning from the mission. “Fifty-eight percent [of ERMs] felt they were received indifferently or poorly by their congregation (ward), and almost half felt they were treated indifferently or poorly by their ward leaders. Thirty-one percent of the survey respondents indicated that their friends and family were indifferent or unkind.” (p 40)

Even without the judgement of others, “many ERMs feel like people assume they returned for worthiness issues. They feel stigmatized and ashamed, whether or not there was sin involved.” (p 40) However, “ERMs who felt their ward members received them better upon returning home had lower feelings of failure” (p 42)

“Nearly half of the survey respondents (47%) reported they are not as active in the Church as they were before they went on their mission.” In fact, one survey respondent said “I took a job on Sundays and that way I didn’t have to explain things to people anymore.” But again, there are things we are ward members can do to lessen the likelihood of ERMs falling away from the Church. Say the study authors, “ERMs who felt their ward members received them well upon their early return were less likely to experience a period of inactivity” (p 42).

Having said that, we should also remember to give ward members the benefit of the doubt on their reception of ERMs as often times ERMs perceive prejudice from ward members, whether or not it intended or even really there. “There appears to be a strong perceptual component to these reactions. Of the interviewees who stated they were poorly received, few had specific or concrete examples they could recall” (p 41). However, if we go out of our way to let ERMs know that they are loved and welcomed back into our wards, then we can dispel that doubt and they can enjoy the blessings of our ward families.

How to Help Early Returned Missionaries

In addition to the other helpful items we have discussed, the authors of the ERM study offer several other suggestions to help early returned missionaries. “The quick release [of an ERM] does not leave time for a young adult in the identity development phase to emotionally, mentally, or spiritually adjust to the change and consider the impact it will have on his or her immediate future.” They recommend these steps to help ERMs adjust and have a higher likelihood of remain happy, healthy, engaged with the Church and living the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  • Allow the ERM to share his full story. “We were surprised at how many ERMs did not feel encouraged, or even comfortable, to talk about their missions to anyone.”
  • Promote empowerment. “The majority of ERMs were not given the choice whether they returned home, they feel a loss of control. …The ERM will need to feel empowered to own his or her healing journey.”
  • Teach communication skills. “Work with them to gain assertiveness skills so they can comfortably express what they need to their family members and church leaders.”
  • Encourage the use of spiritual strategies. “Fasting, prayer, temple attendance, scripture study, and most importantly application of the Atonement can provide them continued emotional and spiritual strength to find their new path.”
  • Encourage good emotional coping resources. “Help ERMs learn to reject shame and embarrassment. Many choose church inactivity as a way to cope with shame and embarrassment.”
  • Avoid urging them to return to the mission quickly. “The ERM should be empowered to focus on resolving the reason for coming home before engaging in any discussion about returning to the field. Moving on with his or her future by securing employment or attending college or vocational training may be the path he or she prefers or feels inspired to take.”
  • Consider a Church-Service Mission. “Not all ERMs can finish the full term of their proselyting missions, but many want to successfully complete their service. …[therefore] investigate whether the CSM program is an appropriate option.”


I’ll conclude with a word for the study authors and another great quote from Elder Holland. The study authors say, “Therapists, church leaders, family members and friends can offer support in a meaningful way to help ERMs make the needed adjustment to their unexpected return. …If ERMs can focus on being refined rather than defined by their experience, they will be much stronger to meet the future life challenges that most certainly lie ahead.”

And finally, this is what Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said to one early returned missionary:

“[Your mission] wasn’t a full term, but it was missionary service. It was honest. You were loyally participating and testifying. And I want you to take credit for that. I want you to take the appropriate dignity that you deserve from that and to know that the Lord loves you and the Church loves you for serving. … I want you to be proud. Appropriately proud. I want you to take the dignity and the strength and the faith that came from your four months and cherish that forever. I don’t want you to apologize for coming home. When someone asks you if you’ve served a mission, you say yes. You do not need to follow that up with ‘But it was only four months.’ Just forget that part and say yes, you served a mission. And be proud of the time that you spent. … Cherish the service you rendered. Be grateful for the opportunity to have testified, to have been out in the name of the Lord, to have worn that missionary name plaque.”

Online Donations Website Lets You Contribute to Specific Missionaries in Your Ward and Around the World

online donation to mormon missionaryOne of the more frequent questions I’ve gotten over the years is how to contribute to the missionary fund of a friend or relative in another ward. The process is relatively similar to the process parents go through to pay for their children’s mission–you pay into the ward mission fund of the home ward of the missionary.

If you’re doing this offline, you fill out a tithing and offerings slip. The missionaries and/or their family donate the $400 a month to the ward mission fund, paying it in the same way members pay tithing, via the paper envelope. When you fill out the paper form, note the amount in the ward missionary fund area and make of note of which missionary the donation is for. This process works fine in you live in or near the missionary’s home ward, but if not, you would need to send money to the family and have them fill out the paperwork. However, with the roll out of online donation system a few years ago, both family and friends near and far can use the Church’s website to donate to the mission fund of any missionary.

The Church Online Donation website is easy to use, especially if the missionary you are donating to is in your same ward. There is a drop down list in the online form to select the missionary for whom you want to donate fund. The tricky part can be donating to missionaries who live in a different ward or branch–you need to know the ward unit number in order to contribute money to the missionary. There are a couple of ways to get the missionary’s home ward unit number: 1) you can contact the ward clerk of the missionary’s home ward or branch and he will give you this information. Many of you will have no way to get in contact with the missionary’s home ward clerk, so you’ll have to reach out to family or friends in that unit and they will have to get the unit number for you. 2) Another option is for any priesthood leader with access to the Church Directory of Organizations and Leaders (CDOL). Priesthood leaders can log into the CDOL website and look up the unit number for any ward in the world.

Once you know the ward or branch unit number of the missionary’s home ward or branch, to give money to a missionary…

  1. Log in to, under “My Account and Ward” select “Donations.”
  2. On the “Make a Donation” tab, in the Ward Missionary Fund drop down menu, select “Missionary in Other Ward/Branch.”
  3. Enter the ward or branch unit number, and click “Continue.”
  4. A drop down menu will then appear with the names of missionaries serving from that unit.
  5. Select the missionary and type in the amount and following the remaining steps and you’re all set.

Here is a link to a video the Church has made to explain more about the online donations process.

I hope many of you will take advantage of this new technology to donate to the missionary funds of your friends and family members. As you do so, I know the Lord will richly bless you.

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