Utah couple serving LDS mission to Vanuatu OK after cyclone hits south pacific islands

Posted at 9:39 PM, Mar 16, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-16 23:39:02-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Sherm and Cheryl Smith have been blogging about their LDS mission to Vanuatu since they began it in July. But a few days ago, the pictures and calls home to Utah suddenly stopped.

"They changed their travel plans, so they could get back to their cement building apartment in time to beat the storm," said daughter, Melissa Smith.

On Friday, about 1,000 miles east of Australia, Cyclone Pam hit the archipelago of islands.  It blew right through the island of Santo, where the Smiths are, as well as every other that laid in its path.  According to early reports, about two dozen were killed and thousands displaced.

It was not until Sunday evening that the Smiths got word about their parents.

"It was real short, just a cryptic little note saying, 'Hey, we are OK," said son, Jeremy Smith.

In the email to family, the Smiths said that while they were unharmed, they had not been able to reach several other missionaries.

In a statement posted on on Monday, LDS church leaders said they had accounted for all missionaries in the Fiji Suva Mission, as well as in the neighboring Vanuatu Port Vila mission.  However, "due to communication lines still being down," they had not been able to reach missionaries located on the outer islands.

"I didn't think I was worried most of the weekend, but I didn't realize how worried I had been until I got that email from them," Melissa Smith said. "I was jumping up and down when I got that email."

Sherm Smith, a retired CPA, was helping the local churches in Vanuatu with their finances.  Cheryl Smith was focusing on humanitarian work in the area.

"When I think about them, I can't think of a better people to be over there helping," Jeremy Smith said. "It's something I know they wanted to do."

The church has established a blog at the Church's Pacific Area Headquarters for families of missionaries to receive the latest information. In the statement, church officials said they would be contacting families soon for access.