BETA

`I know we had protection of the angels,' leader says

As troubles escalated in this Balkan nation, Albania Mission Pres. Laurel L. Holman began working on the logistics of evacuating the missionaries.

He was concerned about Elder Jozef Szamosfalvi, a native of Hungary, who was his assistant. Pres. Holman went with Elder Szamosfalvi to the Hungarian embassy, but while diplomats treated them with kindness, they expressed regret that they could not be of assistance.When the call was issued for missionaries to leave, Pres. Holman sent word for them to gather at the mission home in Tirana. On Friday, March 14, they left the home in small groups, with some walking 20 minutes to the U.S. Embassy. Each was permitted to take one piece of luggage.

At the embassy, officials initially turned down Pres. Holman's appeal for Elder Szamosfalvi to be evacuated with the others. "I told them that he was part of our group, that if he couldn't go, then I wouldn't go. I wasn't going to leave him behind, all alone," Pres. Holman said in a Church News telephone interview from Rome.

He and Elder Szamosfalvi watched all the other missionaries, including Sister Louise Holman, board a bus for a helicopter staging area at the embassy's housing compound about five miles away, to be flown to a ship bound for Brindisi, Italy, 50 miles across the Adriatic Sea.

After a long while, an embassy official attached a note to Elder Szamosfalvi's passport: "Let him go." However, by the time their bus arrived at the compound, shooting had become so intense that helicopters returned to the ship without passengers. The LDS pair stayed at the compound overnight.

"We talked," Pres. Holman said. "Our feelings and concerns weren't for ourselves. We were safe. We were sure that we would be evacuated the next morning. Our concern was about the people in Albania. We had baptisms scheduled. We talked about how excited and happy the people were because they were going to be baptized, and the disappointment that was coming into their lives now that the missionaries had left."

At 5 a.m. Saturday, March 15, Pres. Holman and Elder Szamosfalvi boarded the helicopter that took them directly to Brindisi, where they had a tearful and joyful reunion with fellow missionaries.

Pres. Holman told the Church News that it was the "love, concern and prayers of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve and other General Authorities, and of the families and friends of the missionaries" that enabled them to escape unharmed. Those prayers, he said, were answered. "I know we had the protection of the angels."