Like many in the United States, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have had to adjust to the social protocols ushered in by the coronavirus pandemic. While the church follows the lead of governments and healthcare professionals around the world as it enacts a measured return to normal operating procedures disrupted by COVID-19, the challenges during the pandemic has been a difficult one.
Non-members of the church may not have noticed any changes concerning their Christian brothers and sisters, but the sight of Mormon missionaries, knocking on doors in a neighborhood or sharing their messages in the streets, quietly disappeared across much of the world as public safety concerns rose.
In North Dakota, social distancing mandates issued at the state level on gatherings and other public activities disrupted missionary work for many of the young missionaries serving in cities like Dickinson.
Prior to the pandemic missionaries would spend much of their week sharing their message of faith and prothlesizing to interested individuals about the LDS faith, while also performing 10 hours of community service.
Under the new mandates missionaries tried something different.
The president of the Dakota Mission, Scott L. Howell, a university administrator on leave from Brigham Young University, and a former sexton of a small cemetery and an amateur genealogist himself, said that community engagement is at the heart of the church’s mission.
“I thought it would be helpful for our missionaries during this time of social distancing to get out in the fresh air and do something meaningful like take photos of headstones in cemeteries for genealogy purposes,” Howell said.
One of the missionaries currently serving in Dickinson, Laren Balls from Elk Ridge, Utah, took solace in the importance of the work she and others have been doing for those amateur and professional genealogists who are seeking to trace their family tree.
“We hope that our efforts will help our community see the importance of family heritage,” Balls said.
Currently, missionaries like Balls have photographed thousands of headstones in the Dickinson area and uploaded them to the BillionGraves website where other volunteers will transcribe the information so interested family and genealogists may electronically access the information and photo of the headstone from the comfort of their own homes.
If readers are aware of any small/private cemeteries in the area that they would like photographed, they can contact the Dickinson missionaries at (701) 690-7512.