4 Missionaries Stranded On Remote Pacific Island
ST. GEORGE, Utah – A missionary from Utah is among four stranded on a remote island in the Pacific after coronavirus forced the country’s borders to close.
The missionaries have been serving on the small island nation of Kiribati – on a remote island called Kiritimati, or Christmas Island.
The island is so remote that they missed the flight back in April, when more than 100 missionaries boarded planes from the capital cities.
The Reeve family in St. George told KSL-TV they were anxiously awaiting word that the country’s borders will reopen, and their son will return home.
The Reeves’ 20-year-old son Eric has been serving in the Marshall Islands/Kiribati Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Once a mission with over 150 missionaries is now left with less than 25 missionaries,” said Elder Reeve’s father, Jared Reeve.
Due to its remote location, Reeve said missionaries often fly through Fiji to get from the capital city of Kiribati — Tarawa, which is part of the country’s Gilbert Islands — to Christmas Island, part of what is known as the Line Islands.
“I know that he and the three other elders, they’re just making it work out there on Christmas Island,” said his mother Amanda Reeve.
One could say the four missionaries were putting in some serious overtime. Two of them have already hit their two-year marks.
When the pandemic broke out and the country decided to close its borders, the majority of the mission’s elders and sisters were able to leave in April. However, the four elders were left stranded on Christmas island when Fiji closed its borders.
Jared Reeve said there are also no senior couples left in the mission and the missionaries have been without their mission president since early August, when he and his wife left on an emergency medical flight to Hawaii following a health complication. They have not been allowed to return.
“They’re on their own in a sense and what they do every day is up to them,” Reeve said. “That’s amazing. It speaks a lot to these boys and what they can do.”
According to Reeve, the country extended its border closure on September 9 until the end of December.
“He loves the people there. He loves the place,” he said.
Reeve added their accommodations were much different than back home.
“It’s like glorified camping for two years – a lot of the places he lives, (he) sleeps on mats, (has) an outhouse and mosquito nets,” he said.
Elder Reeve and the other three were the only American missionaries in the country.
The country closed its borders just as the Church was bringing missionaries home because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Now they’ve been told to hunker down for the long term,” Jared Reeve said. “The closure forKiribati has been extended ‘til the end of the year.”
Their hopes were lifted a few weeks ago, when they received word from the Church that a charter flight had been scheduled to pick up the missionaries.
“They had the boarding passes — everything. But at the last minute, the Kiribati government denied it,” Reeve said.
Despite the uncertainty, the Reeves were staying optimistic.
“I know the people of Kiribati, they’ve just welcomed them and loved them, so I’m grateful for that,” he said.
“I’m grateful that they are in a safe place where there haven’t been any COVID cases, that helps my mom heart,” Amanda Reeve said.
If it’s not too early for holiday wishes, leaving paradise on Christmas Island is at the top of their list.
“We’re really hoping that we can all be together for Christmas and that the other families can have their boys back for Christmas, too,” Reeve said.
Kiribati’s efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 apparently worked. Officials have reported zero confirmed cases of COVID-19, which they credit in part to closing their borders.
Church spokesperson Daniel Woodruff told KSL-TV they were closely monitoring the situation in Kiribati and other countries where missionaries have been serving beyond their term due to closed borders.
“We have a number of missionaries around the world in countries where, due to government restrictions, travel is not possible at this time,” Woodruff said. “As a result, some of these missionaries are serving beyond their original term of service until they are able to return home. The Church continues to closely monitor conditions throughout the world and is working to arrange travel as soon as is feasible. We are grateful for these missionaries and the faith and optimism they are showing during this uncertain time.
There are nearly 21,000 members of the Church currently in Kiribati, which is about 18% of the population.
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