SEGUIN, TEXAS — If you were Texas Houston South Mission President Lee, what would you say if all 146 of your missionaries left, all at once, for a four-day weekend 160 miles away from their areas?
You would say relief!
With then-Category 5 Hurricane Rita headed straight for his mission, President Lee ordered, under the directions from Salt Lake City, a westward evacuation of his missionaries. The designated shelter was the Seguin, Texas Ward in the San Antonio East Stake, approximately 160 miles out of harm’s way. It turned out to be an unanticipated but spiritually fulfilling adventure.
Reports of evacuating motorists spending 16 or more hours traveling the 160 miles were not exaggerated. Hundreds ran out of gasoline, but not the enterprising missionaries of the Texas Houston South. At one point a group of them put their cars in neutral and pushed them along
Interstate 10 in the sweltering heat to conserve fuel. Not one mission vehicle ran out of gas. They all arrived in Seguin late Thursday night or very early Friday morning.
An impressive vision it was to see 115 Elders setting up cots throughout the meetinghouse, including behind the Sacrament table. Older missionary couples stayed in ward members’ homes; while the 20-plus Sister missionaries were lodged in a home owned by a ward member.
Seguin Ward Bishop Dan Schacht said, “While it has taken work and sacrifice by our ward members, we have gained spiritually. It has been a joy to associate so closely with this wonderful group of missionaries.”
Seguin Ward Relief Society President Jennifer Smith said, “Our members provided meals at the meetinghouse. Just as we were cleaning up after breakfast, it was time to start lunch.”
A recently returned missionary from the Sequin ward, Alexander Smith, spent Friday morning hunting feral pigs on his father’s. This meat was used to make Texas-style barbeque pork for one of the meals.
Morning hygiene became a real challenge. Temporary showers were set up outside the ward building the first two days. One Elder said, “I am so glad that on Saturday Sister Leukhardt (ward member and local school employee) gained permission from her principal for us to use the school’s gym facilities for showering on the weekend. It was beginning to be a bit fragrant”.
President Lee said, “The missionaries have demonstrated patience and cooperation with this disruption to their normal routine. They have willingly responded to all instructions.”
Besides a schedule of mission home-type activities — scripture study, prayer, training and meetings — the missionaries provided service to some 400 evacuees housed at the local coliseum.
The Sister missionaries were able to view the Women’s Conference via satellite in the meetinghouse. Sunday services in the ward went on as planned with small adjustments.
“Many miracles were evident as we made our way to Seguin,” President Lee added. “This has been an historic event and our missionaries have grown by the experience. It has been marvelous to feel the love of the Saints in Seguin.”
After receiving reports on damages to the various areas in the mission, President Lee began a staggered schedule of returning the missionaries to their apartments on Monday.