“We could not have hoped for a better assignment,” said former President McReynolds. “It was great to be going back to the British Isles.” President Stuart and Sister Sheryl McReynolds led the England Manchester Mission (EMM) from July 2017 to July 2020.
President McReynolds grew up in Leicestershire and Sister McReynolds was born in North Wales. Later, Sister McReynolds lived on the Isle of Man for a short time but spent most of her growing up years in London. At the time of their call, it had been 20 years since they lived permanently in the United Kingdom.
Sister McReynolds hadn’t served a full-time mission when she was young, so the prospect of serving as a mission president’s wife was a bit daunting, and she felt inadequate in many ways. “Yet, I knew I wouldn’t be transferred, or get a new companion, so I hoped we would get on all right,” she said light-heartedly. “But the opportunity to be together, that was a real privilege – just wonderful.”
“When I didn’t know what to do, or I thought I couldn’t do something that needed to be done, I realised that the Lord carries you when you do His work,” she said. “I think intellectually I knew this, but I’ve seen it so much more on a day to day basis than I ever had in the past.”
One highlight for the McReynolds was seeing the strength and personal growth of more than 550 missionaries from all over the world, giving their best to share a message about hope in Jesus Christ. They were from over 60 countries including: Madagascar, Eswatini, Lithuania, Curaçao, Japan and others.
When compared with the mission he served as a young man, President McReynolds was pleased to see a substantial increase in the number of sister missionaries serving. Nearly half of the EMM missionaries were women. He said this created a balance of perspective and leadership in the mission, including new positions for sister-trainer leaders. Both were also amazed at how quickly they would come to love each elder and sister.
“We had been told that we would have instant and deep love for them,” she said. “But it was when we had been there just nine days, and about 24 missionaries were leaving for home, I realised how strong this love would be. It nearly broke my heart to say goodbye. Perhaps this is a blessing of the calling and comes when you are set apart – your capacity to love is expanded.”
“We have found that this love doesn’t really leave you,” President McReynolds said. “While we have only been back at home a short time, we still think about them, talk about them, worry about them and wonder how we can help them.”
The McReynolds saw quiet miracles take place in the mission. During one transfer, a missionary from South Africa who spoke Zulu, was sent to an area in the mission where a family of five from Africa would be taught the gospel. “It wasn’t that the family couldn’t speak English, but they saw it as a miracle – getting their very own Zulu speaking missionary,” President McReynolds said.
They also witnessed tender mercies in the lives of the missionaries themselves. “It was lovely to see a missionary, who had the gospel all of their life; allow the gospel into their life,” Sister McReynolds said. “Suddenly it starts to click and come together on their mission and then you see them change and progress as they learn to rely more on the Saviour and on Heavenly Father more than on themselves or their parents.”
At a production of ‘Our Story Goes On’, they were also able to see awareness of the Church grow with civic leaders. She recalled meeting a local mayor and his wife at the event. “Afterward, when the musical had finished, he and his wife, especially him, were in floods of tears. He said, ‘I’ve never felt anything like this.’ It was as if he had a better understanding of gospel principles and indirectly, the plan of salvation. Perhaps in the future, this could lead to an increase in positive support.”
The restrictions surrounding COVID-19 changed the way missionary work could be done. “The pandemic was a considerable challenge for us as mission leaders, and as missionaries. Staying at home, staying in place, and adjusting everything that we did,” President McReynolds said. “It created a need to rethink how missionary work could continue virtually. We had always done everything face to face, yet we all know how powerful technology and social media tools can be. Online missionary work became a massive pivot for the mission. I think we made good progress, as we were able to find people, continue to teach and later baptise.”
In March, everything was being cancelled including the mission’s upcoming ‘Why I Believe’ devotional, featuring the conversion stories of new members of the Church. It was decided to take a leap of faith and hold it online. This was a big undertaking to make sure that the programme would be uplifting and inspirational, without the distractions online meetings sometimes have when technology fails.
“We saw the Lord’s hand in that first one,” said Sister McReynolds. “Because of COVID-19, we were all in separate locations, and it honestly shouldn’t have come together as nicely as it did.”
Typically, the in-person monthly devotional saw an attendance of anywhere from 250 to 550 people, depending on the location. With the move to online, an estimated 4,000 people have tuned in each month.
“While we did the devotional together as a mission, the missionaries were likewise adapting their own sphere of responsibility,” said President McReynolds. Asking questions like, “How do I adapt finding? How do I adapt my teaching? How do I adapt working with members, by using all these online tools?”
The mission also began utilising Zoom-conference calls, to reach out to individual missionaries for interviews, and for training and mission-wide calls which typically took place three times a week. “I really think it united the mission in a way that we hadn’t had before,” said Sister McReynolds. “They were interacting with others in break-out rooms, meeting fellow missionaries that they had never met before. It was a huge blessing and created a feeling that we were all in this together.”
The McReynolds’ aim was that all the EMM missionaries would: first, be leaders and govern themselves; second, immerse themselves in Preach My Gospel, the guide to missionary service; and third, become Christlike missionaries. “We felt that becoming a Preach My Gospel Missionary or a Christlike missionary would not come until they really understood that they were agents to act, and truly govern themselves,” President McReynolds said. “Our dearest hope was that their conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and [to] Jesus Christ Himself would become deeper and deeper.”
President McReynolds shared a scripture in the Book of Mormon that summarised his and Sister McReynolds’ experience in the mission field as it relates to each other and the missionaries of the England Manchester Mission: “Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God. (Helaman 3:35)
“Humility is not something the world ever puts in the same sentence as strength, and in these assignments, you learn that number one, they’re just humbling and in that humility, there is strength,” he said. President McReynolds attested that he and his wife had themselves become “firmer and firmer in the faith” as they served in this assignment. For them, it was indeed a case of, “Filling their souls and our souls with joy – lots of joy.”
“Yeah, been an amazing three years,” Sister McReynolds said. “I don’t think we’ll ever be the same again.”