SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Church is transferring all of its 274 missionaries out of Sierra Leone and Liberia, where the deadliest-known Ebola outbreak in history has killed hundreds of people, including two Mormons.
The church announced the decision Friday, the same day the World Health Organization's director general said the disease was moving faster than efforts to curb it, which could lead to catastrophic consequences that include a “high risk” it will spread to other countries.
“We are aware of two members who have died from the Ebola virus,” church spokeswoman Jessica Moody said, apparently one in Sierra Leone and one in Liberia.
All Mormon missionaries serving in the two West African nations are being moved as a precautionary measure. They are being reassigned to a variety of other missions: “Missionaries who have been called to serve in these countries and an additional three missionaries in the Ghana MTC will be reassigned,” Moody said.
Of the 274, 157 are natives of African nations and the other 117 are primarily from the United States and Canada, Moody said.
Across the top of the mission blog of one of the Americans is the now-outdated phrase "Serving in the Liberia Monrovia Mission from Sept 2013 to Sept 2015."
Now Elder Rain Price of American Fork, Utah, will spend the final year of his mission elsewhere.
"We've been concerned but not overly frantic about it," his father, Dale, told KSL. "We've always had complete confidence in the leaders on the ground there, and we knew they were monitoring it much closer than we could. It doesn't come as a huge surprise, and it does verify the church is on top of it."
Dale Price, who became internationally famous for wearing a crazy costume while waving goodbye as his son got on the school bus each morning, also said his son and his companion and other missionaries were closely following the precautions outlined by the mission president, President Roger Kirkham.
Price said he thinks his son will be sad to leave Liberia.
"He'd been there 10 months, so he was just getting really comfortable with it and loved the people, loved being there, so it's going to be an interesting change and a new adventure to find out where he's going to go," he said.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced the transfers on mormonnewsroom.org:
"Ensuring the health and safety of our missionaries is our top priority. In recent weeks measures have been taken to reduce risk to missionaries, including asking them to remain in their apartments. To date, there are no reports of illness among the missionaries. Families are being notified as the missionaries arrive in their new assignments. This is a very challenging situation for the missionaries, members and citizens of these countries, and like other organizations we are taking every practical step to reduce risk."
A New York Times graphic and Q&A on the outbreak said 1,300 people have contracted Ebola, and more than half — 729 — have died since the outbreak began in March.
The areas hardest hit by the outbreak are Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
The church organized the Sierra Leone Freetown Mission in 2007, according to the Deseret News 2013 Church Almanac. The first approved church meeting was held in the country in 1988.
Today, Sierra Leone is home to 13,078 LDS Church members and 30 congregations, according to MormonNewsroom.org.
Liberia has had a Mormon presence longer. The first branches, or small congregations, formed there in the early 1980s. The Liberia Monrovia Mission opened in 1988, at which time it included Sierra Leone.
Liberia now has 8,081 LDS Church members and 22 congregations.
There was no word Friday about whether the outbreak would impact church meetings this weekend.