Weston Innes, a retired business owner, and his wife, Jody, arrived in South Carolina from the Utah desert, in July 2017. While many retirees flock to the state to enjoy the affordable cost of living, lush landscape, historic charm, and vibrant culture, the Innes’ came to supervise more than 160 young adults between 18 and 20 years old and a few older married couples serving missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a region that encompasses all of South Carolina and parts of North Carolina and Georgia. The South Carolina Columbia Mission office is located in Irmo.
President and Sister Innes, as they are known by the missionaries and members of the Church, not only faced the challenges any Mission President and his wife would expect in an assignment such as this, they also had the challenge of ensuring the safety of these young people through hurricanes and an unprecedented global pandemic. As the parents of four adult children, the Innes’ are no strangers to the anxiety family members may experience when their sons and daughters are far from home. “You can imagine the parents being concerned about being in the path of devastation during a hurricane, for example. We keep parents well-informed and ensure they are at peace.”
The South Carolina Columbia Mission surged to a total of 200 missionaries in the wake of the pandemic as missionaries from throughout the world returned home to the States early and were re-assigned to domestic missions. And then there were the challenges associated with keeping the missionaries busy while being quarantined and confined to their apartments when their typical days included being out in the community working as volunteers and teaching lessons. “Toward the end of 2017, we became a ‘social media mission,’” Innes said. “We were doing a little with Facebook and Messenger to communicate with those interested in hearing our message of Jesus Christ. When Covid-19 hit and we couldn’t go into homes any longer, we hit the ground running.” Immediately the missionaries began creating Facebook pages, holding Zoom meetings and Facebook Live events such as free Bible studies, and posting messages of faith and hope that were shared by members of the congregations with their friends.
The missionaries are teaching and finding more people who are interested in learning about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints than they ever found before. They have caught the vision of the power of the Internet and, Innes says, the whole world is their area. In fact, the missionaries have taught people living in Africa and Syria during the pandemic, but they are getting better at localizing their efforts. “The old way of knocking on doors and street contacting were uncomfortable to these young people,” says Innes. “They had not grown up in a world of socializing. Now that they are online proselytizing it fits them perfectly. They are clever and creative with video pieces. This group of missionaries was preserved and prepared for this time.”
Wes and Jody Innes will miss so much about this beautiful part of the country as they return home to Utah in July after serving for three years in South Carolina: the greenery, trees, broad rivers, the coast, and the BBQ, in particular. They loved visiting Charleston, Hilton Head, and Savannah during their stay. Most of all, they will miss the missionaries, “the joy of their lives,” and the testimony building experiences and the miracles of conversion that have been a life changing experience.
Featured Photo: Wes and Jody Innes don their South Carolina Columbia Mission aprons. The couple is concluding a three-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints where they lead 200 missionaries serving in South Carolina and parts of North Carolina and Georgia.