The Church is trying to keep up with the rapidly changing situation on the ground around the world where LDS missionaries are assigned to labor. Just a little more than a week ago, most out-of-country missionaries were called home (if they could safely return). Those with more than six months remaining on their term of service were to be reassigned to home-counrty missions, after a self-isolation period of two weeks. Now there’s a new plan, as detailed at the Newsroom: “Church Offers New Option for Missionary Service.”

A four-cell matrix in the post lays out the new options for all missionaries: those returning, those presently doing MTC training online, those called but who have not yet begun their online MTC training, and prospective missionaries who have not yet received a call. Basically all of them have the same option: (1) be released now (or as soon as training is completed) and await reassignment as soon as it is available; or (2) be released now (or as soon as training is completed) and be reinstated as a missionary to be returned to the original mission or reassigned in 12 to 18 months.

Giving young missionaries this much control and choice is almost unprecedented. The last time this happened was in the early 1980s, when the Church implemented an optional 18-month mission for young men. As I recall (and these numbers may be a little off) the Church expected many or most young men to stick with the standard 24-month mission. Instead, something like 80-90 percent opted for the 18-month mission. After a couple of years, that option was discontinued, and it has been 24 months for young men ever since.

Now young missionaries have until April 30 to make their wait-or-go decision. The Church has shown admirable flexibility in quickly (by LDS standards) calling vulnerable missionaries (seniors and those who were ill) home, then calling all out-of-county missionaries home, and now giving all missionaries the option to stick with original dates or to defer their service. Those who defer can go work or do college for a year, then return to missionary service when the world has settled into the new normal (whatever that turns out to be) and in-person missionary work can again be performed in one manner or another.

For some that will be a tough choice, given the many uncertainties out there at the moment. Choose to stay and maybe it takes six months to get back in the game. Choose to defer and there is no guarantee universities will even resume classes in the fall or that work will be available. Stay or go? Or even exercise the self-release option? It’s going to be a tough year either way for most young missionaries. I hope that whatever their choice and whatever missionary service they have completed or are able to resume, now or later, they all feel good about doing what they could given the circumstances. My sense is the Church is giving young missionaries the flexibility to complete, whether now or later, a substantial portion of their called two years or eighteen months, then move on with their productive lives. That’s better than spending a year or two in limbo. And that’s better, I think, than giving a perfunctory “thanks, but you’re all released now” letter to all of them, the vast majority of which are very dedicated and really do want to complete their missions.

Do you have a missionary in your family facing this choice? What are they thinking? What are you thinking? Since the choice does not have to be made until April 30, it would be wise to wait three weeks and see what the world looks like then. In the meantime, get college applications reactivated and look for a job, to see what options are available if the choice is to defer.

And good luck to all missionaries who need to make that choice soon.