By Kristi White
As Kalani Azabache stepped out onto his family’s front yard Saturday morning, he was greeted by a caravan of dozens of families in their cars honking their horns and waving handmade signs as they drove down the street.
Less than 24 hours earlier, he had landed at the Fort Lauderdale airport after serving 1.5 years in the Londrina, Brazil mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The COVID-19 pandemic has required many adjustments to missionary service within the LDS Church. Five missionaries have returned to the Coral Springs area, including J.P. Taravella graduate Vivian Tholen, who served 10 out of 18 months in South Tokyo, Japan, as well as other to the rest of the United States and Canada from around the world.
It has been a tough and even sad adjustment for many missionaries, some who have planned to serve missions for their entire life.
Many learn new languages in an attempt to connect with the populations they serve, and there is typically a 2-12 week training involved before they embark on wherever they are assigned for up to two years.
Returning missionaries typically are met at the airport by friends from their family, church congregation, and neighbors. It is a beloved Latter-day Saint tradition to greet missionaries. Some missionaries are even met by new nieces or nephews or newly married in-laws of their siblings for the very first time.
For Kalani, his mission was cut short to come home and be immediately quarantined for 14 days.
“After the whirlwind of the last few weeks and the abrupt return home, it was so nice to see and feel the love from my ward family,” said Kalani. “It is nice to be home in South Florida, but I will miss the people of Brazil every day.”
During this unusual time of fear and uncertainty around the world, a chilly March afternoon seemed an apt day for a “parade” to celebrate the dedication of missionaries for loved ones.
Other congregations of missionaries around the US have conducted this “drive-by” welcome. It was something Kalani’s parents arranged to help their son feel loved during a difficult time.
“Kalani was a little disappointed to return home early, but he understands his mission was never about him,” said his father Coco Azabache.“He was so happy to be welcomed home by friends and family.”
Currently, the missionaries serving in Coral Springs and surrounding areas are remaining out on their missions, hoping for eventual relief from the quarantine, and their service returns to normal.
Thousands of missionaries like Kalani have all returned early due to the COVID-19 Virus. Some of the missionaries will remain home permanently, and others who have not already served for most of their mission will be released temporarily and can be reassigned to serve until their original date or begin a new mission after a year of being home.
Currently, dozens of full-time missionaries have been under the Stay-At-Home order and have been seeking social distancing opportunities to serve the community.