Imagine having your child come home from their mission and not being able to greet them at the airport with a hug. Imagine discussing with your family who would be the sole individual to pick up this child because the entire family is not permitted to go. As crazy as it sounds, this is the current reality for returning missionaries.
Due to the current state of the world and the spread of COVID-19, the Church has put in place many guidelines, including not meeting in person for church, changing the format of General Conference, and sending missionaries back to their home countries. While returning home from a mission is an emotional experience, the uncertainty and unexpectedness of these circumstances add to the stirring nature of this situation.
What Happened in Salt Lake City?
Over 1,600 missionaries arrived in Salt Lake City on Sunday, March 22, from the Philippines, headed to various places around the United States and Canada. The Philipino government ordered all foreigners to leave their county due to the coronavirus pandemic. The missionary families were given specific instructions from the Church: “Parents or guardians should go to the airport alone to meet a returning missionary and practice safe social distancing while there.” The United States government has made it clear that social distancing means gathering in groups no larger than 10 people and maintaining at least a six-foot distance between you and another person.
Unfortunately, the excitement of greeting returned missionaries meant all safe practices of social distancing went out the window. Although airport officials asked the families to remain in their cars, a wall of people with balloons and posters in hand, formed in anticipation. Officials called out a missionary’s name as she or he entered the parking garage. Then ONE member of the family would come forward to greet them.
Kelly Vaughen of KUTV captured this image last night in the Terminal 2 parking lot:
Hundreds of missionaries from the Philippines are coming back to Salt Lake City today. Social distancing is out the window as people welcome back their family members with posters, balloons, and hugs. @KUTV2News pic.twitter.com/CeyRDtRv9x
— Kelly Vaughen (@KellyVaughen) March 22, 2020
Utah Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox, who is heading Utah’s fight against COVID-19 tweeted his reaction to the situation last night saying:
Really disappointed in the behavior we saw from missionary families at the SLC airport tonight. I get it, I’ve been there (and still have a child serving), but this is unacceptable. In a time of shared sacrifice, we must do better to save lives. #SocialDistancing
— Spencer Cox (@SpencerJCox) March 23, 2020
Easy to understand. These missionaries had the rug ripped out from under them. They won’t be able to give a homecoming talk anytime soon. The least they should get is a normal airport welcome home, right? But when that is how all missionary families feel, it becomes a problem.
I know these missionaries are maybe thinking they are invincible; this virus is not targeting people their age and they have been doing the Lord’s work. But these are not normal times, and many of these missionaries are not aware of the severity of the current situation.
What Are Safe Practices in Bringing Home Missionaries?
Going forward, the Church has said that only parents are supposed to go to the airport to pick up their missionaries. No grandparents, younger siblings, or family friends. Thousands of missionaries are expected to return home in the coming weeks all across the globe (an announcement on March 23rd indicated that India, Mexico, and Vietnam are next). The Salt Lake City airport announced they would have stricter rules regarding returning missionaries amid the COVID-19 crisis. We need to be conscientious and sensible. Serving a mission does not give a person some kind of special immunity from spreading a deadly virus to vulnerable people.
Families can have friends send physical letters, drop off welcome home posters, or share well wishes via technology for the missionary to enjoy once they are home. Video record your missionary in the airport to share via social media or text. Utilize technology by having friends and family FaceTime the missionary. Make sure your missionary knows they are loved and they are taken care of. By doing this, we can ensure each missionary returns home safely while also helping limit the spread of this deadly virus.
Any other ideas to practice social distancing while welcoming home your missionary? Share in the comments.