lds missionaries

Sister Eva White, from left, Sister Abigail Forinash and Sister Sierra Campbell, are in Pierre on missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the LDS church moved many young missionaries back to the U.S. from postings overseas. It means there may be more LDS missionaries around the Dakotas this year.

There are some religious young people in Pierre on a mission just looking around for ways to help people.

On Monday evening, three young women went to a stranger’s home and worked in the garden.

The three go by the title “Sister,” as missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Young members of the LDS church are encouraged to go on missions after high school to help share their faith and do good things. Men go for two years, usually, and women for 18 months.

“They encourage you to do it,” Sister Abigail Forinash said of the LDS church and missions. “But for everyone, it’s really just a choice. It’s a difficult thing to do to leave your family for a year and a half and dedicate your life to serving other people. I’m the first one in my family to go on a mission.”

As for so many, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the focus of LDS missionaries.

Forinash is 19 and has been in Pierre about a month. She and Sister Eva White, 20, and Sister Sierra Campbell, were doing a little shopping Monday before going out on a service project.

“We live in an apartment out by Walmart,” Forinash said.

It’s an apartment kept by the local LDS congregation and is used throughout the year by young missionaries.

“We have missionaries year-round, usually two elders and two sisters” said Nathan Jones, branch president of the local congregation.

He is a U.S. Department of Agriculture soil scientist and has lived in Pierre for 10 years with his family.

“On our rolls, we have about 270 members and our average attendance is about 90,” Jones said.

Due to concern about public meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic, LDS congregations did not conduct corporate meetings, but followed a weekly schedule of spiritual services. “So theoretically, everyone is learning the same doctrine at the same time each week,” Jones said. ”Yesterday in Pierre, we were allowed to go back for a modified sacrament meeting. I was blown away by the attendance. We had 80 people, so we are almost at our expected numbers.”

Usually, the young missionaries spend a lot of their time in Pierre — or wherever they are serving their two-year missions — “proselytizing," or talking about the church and the gospel, hoping to encourage people to join, he said.

But concerns about keeping social distance during the pandemic has had missionaries switch their focus.

First, a lot of LDS missionaries serving overseas were returned to the U.S. because of travel concerns and other issues related to the global pandemic, said Elder Sam Neil, who is in charge of about 150 missionaries in the Dakotas. He’s 18 and was overseas until being recalled.

Forinash is from Rockwall, Texas, not far from Dallas.

Sister Eva White was in Brazil before being moved back because of the pandemic concerns.

“I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio,” the 20-year-old White said. “But I grew up in South Dakota. I spent 15 years in Sioux Falls.”

Sister Sierra Campbell, 19, is from Salem, Utah.

There is another sister, along with five “elders,” as the young men are called, living in Pierre this summer. Every two months or so, missionaries might change locations, they said.

Forinash said they are trying to find ways to help people, not only church members, but anyone in the community.

“We do use social media. We have a Facebook page for the Pierre area, so the community knows there are nine people here, up for doing some service.”

It’s under Church of Jesus Christ in Pierre on Facebook.

Some of the young men went down recently to help with branding on a ranch near Gordon, Nebraska, she said.

A person in Pierre, not a member of the LDS church, asked if the young women, the sisters, could come do some gardening.

It makes sense, Jones said.

“As missionaries, their ultimate goal is to help people develop a better relationships with Jesus Christ,” Jones said. “And all Christ did was serve other people. So, in a way, they are doing exactly what Christ would do when He was on Earth. He taught His Father’s message and served his brothers and sisters.”

Jones said the LDS branch invites anyone to visit. “Our services are at 10 a.m., Sunday,” he said.

He can be reached at 605-222-7573.

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