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Tallahassee missionary couple adapts to gospel service under pandemic conditions

SAN FRANCISCO – Tallahassee residents Curtis and Carol Austin left their home last year to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, arriving in the Bay Area to support members and leaders of the church.

They soon received an assignment: teaching English to Mandarin and Cantonese speakers and helping adults pursue their education through Brigham Young University’s Pathways Program.

Then COVID-19 changed the landscape and the Austins were given an option: continue the mission or head back home to Tallahassee. The Austins, who raised six children in Tallahassee and where Curtis worked as executive director of the Florida Association of Post-Secondary Schools and Colleges, decided to stay, and finish their work.

In a recent letter to members of the church in Tallahassee, the Austins provided an update about their mission experience. They said they were quarantined on March 16. Three months later, they were still quarantined but saw some relaxation locally with some outdoor dining and retail opened for limited customers.

Then, the nationwide civil unrest sparked by the George Floyd incident in Minnesota exploded, as well as a new surge in COVID-19 cases, putting the Austins back into their apartment.

“For us, personally, there have been quite a few changes. When the quarantine started in March, our service in the soup kitchen, public library, and senior English class closed immediately. The gym closed and in-person church meetings ceased. Suddenly, our previously very busy days were not busy anymore. Our BYU Pathways program switched to virtual literally overnight, but we were able to continue that via Zoom. Thank goodness we brought our laptops on this mission,” they wrote.

Though their days have changed, the Austins continue to enjoy their service.

“We did establish some kind of new routine. We got up at the usual time and went for long walks along the San Francisco Bay trail or up and down the hills of South San Francisco. We began reaching out to all our members in the Chinese branch and the Young Single Adult branch via texts, calls, and Zoom. The junior missionaries began teaching everyone in their wards and branches. They taught long-time members and new members, as well as at-home family and at-home friends,” they wrote.

In May, another senior missionary couple went home due to a family emergency and the Austins were assigned to work in the mission office across the street from the Oakland Temple.

The Austins say the mission is now working with more languages, including English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Samoan, Fijian, Tongan, Cambodian, Spanish, Tagalog, Lao, Camai, Khmer, Portuguese, Thai, and Vietnamese.

“It’s still a grand adventure. We love what we’re doing,” they wrote.