After concluding our full-time senior mission to Calgary, Canada in May 2019, Sister Jarvis and I received a call to serve as ward missionaries. Less than a year later, the COVID-19 pandemic escalated across the globe, and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints grappled with the daunting challenge of preaching Christ’s restored gospel while maintaining the health and safety of 67,000 full-time missionaries. Inspired leaders and diligent missionaries (member and full-time) continued to develop new ways to find, teach, and serve by utilizing technology and the social media, (including Facebook, Zoom, and other digital tools and platforms).
Nevertheless, while Church leaders pondered the evolving new vision for missionary work and contemplated the heartache of returning thousands of missionaries to their home countries, many full-time missionaries had their own pondering to do as they faced recalls to home countries and pauses in missionary service.
Christ Continues to Lead Us
The introductory heading of the July 12-18 Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families: Doctrine and Covenants 2021 is “I will lead you along” (Doctrine and Covenants 78:17–18). During April 2021 general conference, President Russell M. Nelson said, “I testify that He has been, and is, indeed leading us along, as we seek to hear Him. He wants us to grow and to learn, even through—perhaps especially through—adversity” (“What We Are Learning and Will Never Forget,” Ensign, Apr. 2021, 36).
Kalil Hunkin of West Jordan, Utah was called to serve in the Japan Fukuoka Mission. He arrived in Japan in July 2019 but was “paused” in March 2020 because of COVID-19 restrictions. When he returned home, he wrote, “While serving nine months in Japan, my faith decreased...teaching opportunities were few. I reached a point when I was no longer feeling the Spirit, and I had many questions about the gospel.”
When Elder Hunkin’s mission president told him that he would not likely return to Japan for six months, he looked forward to being home and having a chance to rebuild his faith. After only one month, though, his stake president called with a new mission assignment, “You leave next week for the California Ventura Mission.”
Feeling depressed and anxious, Elder Hunkin wondered why the Lord would send him back out so soon--and to a different place. Elder Hunkin pondered his options. He could accept the immediate assignment in California or wait many months to return to Japan.
“My mother told me to pray,” Elder Hunkin said.
Some family members encouraged him to stay home and build his faith there. Others encouraged him to get back in the field quickly. While praying, “strong, loud emotions” filled Elder Hunkin’s mind: “Your faith is weak! Stay home!” However, amid the noise and turmoil in his mind, he “felt a tiny something.” When he prayed again, he received the “small” but undeniable feeling to “Go back out.”
Placed with two outstanding and surprisingly busy missionaries in the California Ventura Mission, the Spirit steadily returned. “I didn’t say much the first two weeks, but I was feeling the Spirit again. These wonderful elders were teaching me, and the Lord was leading me along.”
Despite the pandemic, missionary work continued to thrive in the California Ventura Mission where more than 25% of all referrals were obtained via Facebook. When asked to teach a training lesson to other missionaries on “Promise People Blessings” from Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service (, 200), Elder Hunkin’s anxiety and doubt came rushing back. Kneeling to pray, Elder Hunkin asked, “Have other missionaries gone through this? Doesn’t anyone understand how I feel?”
Pleading with the Lord, whose name he wore upon his chest, Elder Hunkin received a clear, stunning, empathetic response, “I understand how you feel.”
“All my fears, anxieties and depression fled,” Elder Hunkin said. “I knew it was Jesus Christ speaking to me.”
“God knew I would be coming to California; I was meant to be with the companions He gave me. I love this [the California Ventura] mission. I was converted here. It is the same work I did in Japan, and it brings me the same joy” (Interview with Elder Kalil Hunkin of the Japan Fukuoka and the California Ventura Missions, April 11, 2021).
The Call to Serve Matters More Than Where I Serve
When preparing his missionary application, Elder Sebastian Keil, of Coburg, Germany noted that he wanted to serve somewhere not “German speaking.” His father had served in the Germany Hamburg Mission and loved it, but Elder Keil wanted to see another part of the world.
“When I received my assignment to labor in the Canada Calgary Mission, I was thrilled and excited to get to know a different culture, language, and people,” Elder Keil said. “It was great to serve the Lord and the people of Canada. I gained a stronger testimony…and as my personal testimony was strengthened, I was also deeply converted to the Lord Jesus Christ. I learned that I was not in Canada for myself but for the Lord and the people he sent me to teach.”
During personal study, Elder Keil often focused on the attributes of Christ and was impressed by the Savior’s humility: “He always did the things that pleased His Father. I worked on becoming more humble throughout my mission just as I worked on other Christlike attributes. But the ultimate challenge of character came when COVID-19 hit Canada, and many missionaries were sent home.”
Elder Keil explains: “I could not imagine that for myself. When I thought about it, I said that it would not happen to me. I had been out for about 18 months. The Lord had sent me to Canada for a reason, and I was quite comfortable in my situation. But the Lord had a different plan for me.”
One morning, Elder Keil received word he would return to Germany in two days.
“I was shocked… and I really was not happy about it. Packing my suitcases, I had time to think. I did not know if I would be returning to Canada in a few months, or if I would be reassigned to a German-speaking mission. I didn't even know if I had the chance of finishing my mission.” Thoughts like: “Do I even want to finish my mission?” or “I served for 18 months, isn’t this enough? went through my mind.”
After returning to Germany, Elder Keil had a two-week quarantine at home. His stake president asked if he would prefer to be honorably released from his full-time mission, or if he would like to be reassigned.
Like Elder Hunkin, Elder Keil took his questions to the Lord, and he received a strong impression that he needed to complete his mission. Promptly called to the Alpine German Speaking Mission, Elder Keil was now excited to serve in and near his home country.
“The Lord sent me to Canada for a reason, and I knew that He also had a reason for my next call. He prepared people for me to teach wherever I was. I learned that I was called to serve the Lord wherever He needed me to be. I learned to trust in Him more. I loved my time in Canada, but I also loved my time in Germany and Switzerland. I knew that the Lord was happy that I followed His will,” Elder Keil said. “My missionary reassignment was a test of my humility and trust.”
Looking back, Elder Keil discovered a lesson taught by Elder David A. Bednar, “An assignment to labor in a specific place is essential and important but secondary to a call to the work” (“Called to the Work, Ensign, May 2017).
Looking forward, Elder Keil sees that “A call to serve does not just stop when a full-time missionary is released. The Lord has a reason for every calling we hold and every spiritual prompting we receive” (Interview with Elder Sebastian Keil of the Canada Calgary and Alpine German Speaking Missions, February 15, 2021).
Regardless of where we serve, or what call the Lord extends to us, we can count on His help as we advance the cause of the restored Church of Jesus Christ for the salvation of man and the glory to our Father in heaven—whose work this is! (see Doctrine and Covenants 78:4 and Moses 1:39).