SALT LAKE CITY — "No worries, mama, I’m alright."
Suprised to find Internet access on a cyclone-ravaged island in Vanuatu, an LDS missionary sent an email home to mom on Thursday, adding that postcript and a smiley-face emoticon.
The LDS Church finally knows all 83 of its missionaries in Vanuatu are safe nearly a week after Cyclone Pam unleashed its fury on the South Pacific islands.
Six missionaries on the northern island of Ambae went six days without being able to contact leaders of the church's Vanuatu Port Vila Mission. Finally, mission President Larry Brewer asked two other missionaries, zone leaders from the island of Espiritu Santo, to take a commercial boat to Ambae.
The zone leaders found the six young men well.
That Cyclone Pam — called the worst storm in Vanuatu's history by the nation's prime minister — didn't kill more than 11 people is a testament to islanders accustomed to tropical storms and to their ability to prepare.
People buried food and fresh water before the storm arrived, then fled to brick or concrete buildings "as winds and massive seas ripped their flimsy houses to the ground," the Globe and Mail reported.
Brewer instructed missionaries prior to the storm to move to concrete LDS meetinghouses, which sheltered many of the faith's 6,100 members in Vanuatu, or other secure buildings.
Though relatively few lives were lost, Pam damaged or destroyed 90 percent of the nation's buildings, including every school, and relief agencies anticipate a coming food shortage because of crops were destroyed by winds that reached 185 mph.
Missionaries throughout the nation are distributing short-term aid.
A Sister Smith, a senior missionary on Vanuatu, sent an email to the mother of one of the six missionaries on Ambae to report her son was safe.
"We did send about 2,600 (pounds) of rice and flour to Ambae," Sister Smith wrote. "Many gardens were wiped out. At the big market house here there are plenty of pomplemoose (giant grapefruit) and root vegetables. Most of the bananas went down so the food shortage may occur in a month or so when new crops are not ripe."
Aid from outside the country is on its way, too.
Mormon Helping Hands volunteers in New Zealand are scheduled to assemble 2,000 food boxes this weekend. The LDS Church has chartered an Air New Zealand plane to transport 700 of the boxes on Monday. The remaining boxes will be sent by commercial flights next week.
The zone leaders who traveled to Ambae brought money for the six missionaries there, since the banking system is down. Sister Smith said that money won't last long, but additional relief will be sent soon.
Most missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are single women and men between the ages of 18 and 23. Zone leaders are missionaries generally within the same age range with leadership responsibility for a couple dozen or so of their peers.
The 11 missionaries on Tanna Island found themselves in the eye of the storm. They, too, were among the last missionaries with whom Brewer was able establish contact. He sent a charter plane to evacuate the five sister missionaries from Tanna on Wednesday.
Six elders, male missionaries, evacuated on Thursday. All 11 are now in the capital city of Port Vila, site of Brewer's mission home, which sustained damaged in the storm but had power restored on Thursday.
Brewer is responsible for a total of 141 missionaries — 83 in Vanuatu, 47 a few hundred miles southwest in New Caledonia and 11 in the Solomon Islands about 600 miles to the northwest.
While in Tanna, the missionaries sheltered with others in a school, where police asked them to conduct morning and evening devotionals of prayers, hymns and gospel messages.
The missionary who found Internet access in a school Thursday is on Malekula, Vanuatu's second-largest island, according to a blog set up for parents of missionaries in Vanuatu.3 comments on this story
The unnamed missionary reported that another storm is on its way toward Vanuatu, "but whatever happens we will be safe and there is no need to worry. All the missionaries in each island met in a central and safe location before the cyclone, and (we) in Malekula stayed safe in a brick house."
The missionary added, "This I know, we must always look on the positive side of all things and I just want you to know we are safe and don’t worry! I have definitely felt your prayers and your love and God’s love."
Sister Smith, the senior missionary serving with her husband in Vanuatu, said that kind of calm is typical of people throughout the country, including the six elders on Ambae.
"These people know how to live without much," she wrote. "Your sons do also."