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!

The gear of 146 missionaries filled the meetinghouse.

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.

Sister missionaries also evacuated, and found refuge on friendly floors in Sequin.

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.

The Sequin meetinghouse was indeed a “welcome home” for 146 evacuated missionaries.

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.

White shirts hung everywhere, keeping them unwrinkled for Sunday wear.”

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.”

The cultural hall fed what appeared to be a cast of thousands.

A long hallway was used as a buffet line.

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.

Returned missionary Alexander Smith, slayer of feral pigs.

Relief Society presidency members were hard at work during the entire evacuation process, feeding 146 hungry — and appreciative — mouths

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”.

An outdoor shower was created to keep the missionaries smelling like missionaries should.

President Lee said, “The missionaries have demonstrated patience and cooperation with this disruption to their normal routine. They have willingly responded to all instructions.”

When not eating or sleeping, elders and sisters read scriptures and had meetings

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.

Even the chapel was gently used as a place of sleep.

“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.”

Missionaries bunked down wherever they could unfold a cot.

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.

Exhausted elders look forward to bedding down at the end of a long day.