Missionary work in a changing world

missionaries teaching lesson through video call

The Church is well-known for its missionaries – well-dressed and cheerful young men and women, serving the community, often in lands far distant from their homes.

One of these missionaries is Elder Thomas Holton, born in Dublin, Ireland in 2001, and brought up in County Westmeath. However, because of Covid-19, his story is somewhat different.

Like countless others before him, Thomas had an ambition from his early years to serve a mission. He prepared diligently and faithfully. He was baptised by his father, also Thomas, when eight and ordained an elder by him in spring of 2019. Not long after, with the endorsement of his local leaders, he applied to the President of the Church to be considered for full-time missionary service.

In October that year he received a response. He was invited to serve in the far-off country of Zimbabwe, starting in March 2020, before which he would spend a few weeks in a Missionary Training Centre.

He looked forward to this with great excitement, but the global COVID-19 epidemic meant that things did not turn out as anticipated. For a start, Elder Holton was one of a dozen young people to attend the first ever virtual ‘Missionary Training Centre’ in the Church. In his own words, “This was a great occasion”. Then, when it became apparent that travelling to Zimbabwe was not going to be possible in the short or medium term, he was assigned to the Manchester area in the UK. He was excited about this because both of his parents had served their missions in England. But due to COVID-19 that expectation was short-lived.

The solution came from an initiative, recently announced by the First Presidency of the Church, which focused on providing volunteer opportunities for young people who are unable, for whatever reason, to serve in the ‘traditional way’. Called ‘Service Missions’, they allow young women and young men to continue to live a ‘consecrated life’ at home, while working in the Church and local community.

According to Elder Dale G Renlund, a member of the Church’s Council of the Twelve Apostles, “Service missions are acceptable offerings to the Lord when a proselytizing mission is not possible. … All missionaries represent the Lord and are His agents in the work of salvation. They go about doing good, just like the Saviour did.”

Elder Holton has demonstrated both courage and faith. He has been a pathfinder, ushering in a new generation as the first male ‘service missionary’ in the whole of Ireland. He expects to have a transformative experience as he serves as the Saviour did. He acknowledges the support, example and love of his family and local leaders, including Mark Coffey, President of the Church’s Dublin Stake.

“The range of service prospects is remarkable, and I feel that this is a great opportunity to serve the Lord, help in the Church, cooperate with the community, and develop skills. Above all, serving a mission, of any kind, is a joy, because I get to be ‘on the Lord’s errand’. Among other things, I am teaching an online scripture class for teenagers, helping with financial auditing within the Stake and volunteering where I can within the community. We are also implementing the ‘JustServe’ programme’ locally and I’m heavily involved with that. And when the temples of the Church reopen fully after COVID-19, I intend to be working there regularly.”