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Peggy Fletcher Stack
Peggy Fletcher Stack has been producing stories for The Salt Lake Tribune's award-winning Faith section for nearly two decades. Writing about contemporary faith, rituals, and spirituality as well as religion's conflicts and cohesion has always been Stack's passion. Follow her at facebook.com/peggy.fletcherstack, Twitter @religiongal

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Mormon churches in Ebola countries may suffer sans missionaries

During the past week, all Mormon missionaries assigned to Sierra Leone and Liberia have been evacuated safely from those West African countries and reassigned to other locations due to the Ebola epidemic, according to a statement Wednesday on the LDS Church’s newsroom website.

"Missionaries will be traveling to their new assignments over the next few days," the news release said. "When they arrive, they will call their families to update them."

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The Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has "a strong presence in Liberia and Sierra Leone, where thousands of our members continue to live, worship and serve," the release added. "The church, through its humanitarian programs and partners, is in the process of assessing needs and considering how to best support relief efforts to its members and the people of these countries."

Mormon demographer Matt Martinich worries about the LDS populations left behind in those nations without missionaries to help staff and run the congregations.

"The church has historically struggled with self-sufficiency problems with local leadership development in both countries, much more so than in other West African nations," Martinich wrote in an email from his home in Colorado Springs. "The church has experienced much more rapid growth in both countries over the past couple of years as more missionaries have been assigned. Also substantial improvements have been made to convert retention during this period."

The "real test" going forward, the researcher said, will be "how well local church leaders are able to take care of the recent converts and if they can perpetuate growth despite this epidemic."

Peggy Fletcher Stack

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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