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Former UVU President Matt Holland talks missionary safety in the midst of Hurricane Florence

The mid-summer skies were likely sunny and clear when newly arrived North Carolina Raleigh Mission President Matthew S. Holland conducted his first round of zone conferences.

Hurricane Florence was still months away, “but I felt a need to spend a fairly significant amount of time (during the zone conferences) on emergency preparedness.”

Under President Holland’s direction, the missionaries were soon building 72-hour kits, stocking up on drinking water and developing communication and evacuation plans.

“When (Hurricane Florence) did come, I felt that our missionaries were feeling quite peaceful and well-prepared,” he told the Church News on Thursday.

For anyone residing in hurricane-threatened communities, “peace” and “preparedness” are priceless qualities. Hurricane Florence was battering much of the Carolinas’ Atlantic coast Thursday evening.

Tybee Island residents Sib McLellan, left, and his wife, Lisa McLellan, load sandbags into the back of their truck while preparing for Hurricane Florence, Wednesday, Sept., 12, 2018, on Tybee Island, Ga.
Tybee Island residents Sib McLellan, left, and his wife, Lisa McLellan, load sandbags into the back of their truck while preparing for Hurricane Florence, Wednesday, Sept., 12, 2018, on Tybee Island, Ga. Photo: Stephen B. Morton, AP Photo

“We have evacuated all the missionaries from the coast up through the Fayetteville area and placed them in members’ homes in the greater-Raleigh area,” said President Holland.

In fact, the vast majority of the elders and sisters serving in the North Carolina Raleigh Mission are waiting out Hurricane Florence in member “safe homes.”

“We recognize that the storm may not come as far as Raleigh, but you never know,” he said. “This storm is dynamic, so companionships are with members in homes identified as safe places with good elevation and away from flooding.”

Most of the companionships arrived at their host homes Wednesday night or Thursday morning. The missionaries have been instructed to be “courteous and respectful” and not be intrusive.

“But we’ve also asked them to remember that they are still missionaries. They are getting in extra study, role playing, reading and writing in their journals, and appropriately interacting with the families in quiet activities.”

A National Guardsman directs traffic onto U.S. Highway 501 as Hurricane Florence approaches the East Coast Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, near Conway, S.C. Time is running short to get out of the way of Hurricane Florence, a monster of a storm that has a region of more than 10 million people in its potentially devastating sights.
A National Guardsman directs traffic onto U.S. Highway 501 as Hurricane Florence approaches the East Coast Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, near Conway, S.C. Time is running short to get out of the way of Hurricane Florence, a monster of a storm that has a region of more than 10 million people in its potentially devastating sights. Photo: Sean Rayford, AP Photo

A few of the missionaries provided service in their areas prior to Florence’s arrival, “and we will likely get them more involved in service as soon as the dangerous phase of the storm has passed, but that’s all to be determined,” said President Holland.

Hurricanes are tricky to predict, so the next few days for the missionaries are also unpredictable, he added.

The former Utah Valley University president has ties to North Carolina that stretch far beyond his current assignment.

“Coming to North Carolina was really like coming home,” he said. “I lived here for six years when I did my graduate studies at Duke in Durham, so I already knew and loved this state.”

President Holland is relieved knowing his missionaries are safe and away from the dangers of the storm. But he’s quick to add his thoughts and prayers are also with the Latter-day Saints and others in Florence’s treacherous path.

“This is a beloved state with wonderful people, and our hearts go out to them and the situation they are facing.”

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