BOX ELDER COUNTY – By Ellen Cook – March 22, 2020
While some seniors in Box Elder County are trying to make it through the COVID-19 pandemic by keeping their distance and staying at home, there are many from the area who were once a great distance away and are finding themselves heading home much earlier than expected.
In the past weeks, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have asked senior missionary couples to leave their fields of service around world. This week the couples in North America and Canada were given the same directive. Those couples who have received calls and were about to begin their service have had those plans put on hold indefinitely. The reason for concern is that the older population is at a greater risk for complications from the virus.
Elder and Sister Martell and Ronda Menlove, were serving as the very first missionaries in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. They had been there for two months. For six months prior they had worked as missionaries in Cairo, Egypt.
“We received a FaceTime call from our supervisor late on a Saturday night telling us that we were being sent home,” Sister Menlove wrote of that day. “It caught us off guard. We had no idea the call was coming and were stunned and sad. We shed some tears.”
They were told they were to leave as soon as possible but the Church was already overwhelmed trying to coordinate travel plans for so many couples.
“He told us we should book our own tickets,” she remembered.
After several calls, they were able to locate a direct flight into JFK airport in New York. It was a day-to-day rush to finish up and get on that plane, Sister Menlove said.
“Sunday, we notified our local leaders and our family and then packed and cleaned. Monday, we finished up a humanitarian project and then gave away what we couldn’t take with us. We sent a message to our investigators and told them to meet us in the church parking lot, where we said a tearful goodbye.”
They arrived in Salt Lake City, Utah, on March 17, and immediately went to their home in Garden City for a 14-day quarantine.
“So many emotions!” she wrote. “Feelings of both joy and sadness filled our hearts. Not yet released, we will continue to serve using the miracles of technology. We are grateful for the amazing opportunity to serve and love the people in Cairo and Abu Dhabi. But we are looking forward to the day when we can greet our children and grandchildren.” Story continues below...
Elder and Sister Arthur and Jan Douglas are also heading home to Howell after serving only a year of their 18-month Farmland Reserve mission on the Triangle Ranch in Texas. They found out Wednesday, March 18, that they would be returning home and would be released.
“Pack all of your belongings and take them home,” the notice read.
“We had such a hard time with those words,” Sister Douglas said. “However, today we will move forward. One of our favorite saying is, ‘When the prophet speaks, the debate is over’ so we just looked at each other and said, ‘Okay, then let’s get out of here.’”
The Douglas’ face a common worry when they return home.
“The problem with most couple missionaries is that they rented or sold their homes,” Sister Douglas noted. “We rented our home out so we will be living in our fifth-wheel until September.”
She said the Church is working with those “homeless” couples to make sure they have living accommodations.
She added that the missionary experience is one they will treasure forever.
“It has been a joy to serve, even though we went from farm/ranch to ranch/farm. Leaving other missionaries who have become family will be hard,” she said.
They will also be in quarantine for 14 days when they return. Story continues below...
Elder and Sister Jay and Joan Argyle from Tremonton are in quarantine in St. George after coming home from Italy earlier this week. Their return to Utah came after much prayer and a lot of anxiety. The COVID-19 virus has hit Italy extremely hard, and Elder Argyle, serving as a mission nurse, understood the impact better than most.
The numbers quickly climbed in their area from 150 cases on Feb. 22, to 326 cases a week later. At that time, Sister Argyle said, the mission home sent word that all senior missionaries would be sent home.
That order was change to a matter of choice. The Argyles chose to stay.
“One week later on Wednesday, March 4, with 2502 cases now, with restrictions in Italy getting tight as red zones were identified,” according to Sister Argyle. “With no travel in and out of those zones, Salt Lake called and asked about senior couples’ health and asked that each couple be given the option to leave.”
The Argyles said no, again.
“Neither of us wanted to leave,” she said. “But I had an uneasy feeling and a very strong impression we were to go home. Saturday, we received a firm confirmation we should leave.”
They stayed up all night packing and called the mission president in the morning.
“It was hard to leave having feelings of failure and deserting the mission, but we knew we had been guided to this decision and now felt peace,” she added.
But getting out of the country and back on American soil was not an easy task. Flight arrangements were made, then cancelled by the airline. New plans were made. Italy’s government put in new regulations, fining anyone out without proper paperwork.
In spite of these difficulties, they were able to make it to the nearly empty airport and were happy to find their flight had not been cancelled. They flew in sparsely filled planes to Munich and from Munich to Denver and then to Utah.
“It was very emotional when we walked off the plane in Salt Lake City,” she said. “So grateful to be in America. We love Italy, but there is no place like home during times like these. Our plans are to return, but nothing is for sure in these times.”