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Mormon missionaries among Brussels casualties

(RNS) Others in the Paris-based mission have been asked by the church to stay home.

People gather around a memorial in Brussels following bomb attacks s in Brussels, Belgium, on March 22, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Charles Platiau

People gather around a memorial in Brussels after bomb attacks on March 22, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Charles Platiau

(RNS) Three American Mormon missionaries from Utah suffered serious injuries in the bombing attack at Brussels airport.

The missionaries were taking a fellow Mormon missionary to catch a flight Tuesday (March 22) when two explosions rocked the airport, killing more than a dozen people in an attack for which the group that calls itself the Islamic State has taken responsibility.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints identified the three and their Utah hometowns as: Richard Norby, 66, of Lehi; Joseph Empey, 20, of Santa Clara; and Mason Wells, 19, of Sandy.

RELATED STORY: Belgian religious groups condemn Brussels attacks

All three were taking a fourth missionary, Fanny Rachel Clain, 20, of Montelimar, France, to Zaventem airport outside Brussels, according to the church. All missionaries in the France Paris Mission — which includes Brussels and is one of 421 Mormon missions globally — have been asked to remain in their apartments, the church said.

“Our prayers are with the families of the deceased and injured, including three of our missionaries who were injured and hospitalized,” the church said in a statement. “We also pray for the people of Belgium and France as they continue to deal with the uncertainty and devastation caused by the recent terrorist attack.”

The Deseret News is reporting that Clain also was hospitalized, with minor cuts and burns.

There is a strong tradition of missionary work in the 15 million-member LDS church. Though mission work is voluntary, many Mormon men and women choose to serve 18 months to two years spreading the faith. There are more than 74,000 Mormons on missions in the U.S. and abroad, according to the church. And though Mormon missionaries are most often young adults, in recent years more retired church members have volunteered.

Missionaries are frequently sent to countries where they are exposed to risks they might not encounter at home. In 2013, a dozen missionaries died, raising safety questions. The church, which provides language and other training to its missionaries, said that number was unusually high, and that serving is generally safe.

Jody England and Mike Hansen. Photo courtesy of Mike and Jody Photography

Jody England and Mike Hansen. Photo courtesy of Mike and Jody Photography

When Jody England Hansen, a Mormon from Lakewood, Colo., heard about the missionaries injured in Brussels on Tuesday, her heart went out to their families.

Several members of her family have served on missions, including a sister who did her stint in El Salvador in the late 1980s. Everyone came back safe, but Hansen’s daughter was on a mission in Ohio several years ago when a fellow missionary died in a car accident.

She said fear should not stop anyone from going on a mission and reaching out to strangers.

“When we turn away, in my mind, we turn away from God,” Hansen said. “Anything can happen anywhere, but you don’t lock yourself away.”

(Lauren Markoe is a national reporter for RNS)

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