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Terrorism didn't diminish Sister Fanny Clain's faith on Mormon missionary's long and winding road to Kirtland

PROVO, Utah — Sister Fanny Clain is serving an unorthodox Mormon mission.

She already has served more than a third of her 18-month term, but she only just left the Missionary Training Center in Provo on Tuesday. That is an oddity that only begins to describe a journey made up of both typical and extraordinary events.

The elfin, 20-year-old Frenchwoman from a speck of an island in the Indian Ocean completed her mission papers in May 2015, then waited three months to receive her calling to the Ohio Cleveland Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

She waited another three months before beginning her mission, not in Ohio but in Belgium, where without a visa to the United States she simultaneously waited and served for four more months. Such delays and transfers happen to many missionaries. What happened next does not.

Her coveted visa finally in hand, Clain was two hours from boarding her March 22 flight to Atlanta and then Salt Lake City on her way to the MTC when two bombs exploded in the Brussels airport. The shockwave ruptured her right eardrum. The searing blast left second-degree burns on her head and her right wrist and hand. At least two pieces of shrapnel punctured her right leg, eventually causing an infection in her blood.

On May 27, in an exclusive Deseret News/KSL interview in the lobby of the MTC, Clain said she had longed to reach Ohio every day since she received her call in August. As her long and winding road there finally ended more than 12 months after she filed her mission papers, the anticipation was laced with new meaning.

"Now, because I have been through all of those things," she said, "I'm asking myself the question, 'If I meet that many obstacles to go there, that seems to be really interesting, then. I really want to see what will happen there, because with so many difficulties to get there, what is waiting there?"

Lingering wounds

Sporting a new pixie cut, Clain bounced down the MTC's main hallway toward the lobby on a Friday afternoon with her companion, Sister Aniela Santoso, a 20-year-old from Malang, Indonesia. Santoso interrupted her music studies at BYU-Hawaii to serve a mission.

Both young women already had completed the regular three-week stay at the MTC and now were in the final days of the extra week of training for those called to serve at LDS visitors' centers. Clain is scheduled to serve in the Historic Kirtland Visitors' Center in Ohio, and Santoso is headed to the Los Angeles Temple Visitors' Center.

Clain looked forward to serving in Kirtland, she said, "because it's a special place. A lot of the history of the church took place there. There are a lot of historical sites. I would like to know more, and I would like to see where the people were that I read about in the Doctrine & Covenants. It's awesome, just awesome."

The interview was scheduled for her P-Day, the one day a week missionaries have to prepare for the coming week. She had played basketball earlier, the one indoor exercise she enjoys; she has to stay indoors to reduce the amount of sunlight on her burns. She also has to keep water out of her ear.

"Showering is kind of fun," she said with a laugh.

She has lost 40 percent of the hearing in that ear. If it doesn't return, eventually she will need surgery. The shrapnel wound on her right hip itches constantly. She has to treat it and the burn on her hand with lotion and cream. She wears a glove-like sleeve on her right hand and wrist to protect the burn.

Ten weeks after the bombing, the injuries haven't dimmed her determined optimism.

"I feel cool now, every day," she said, sounding a lot like a Mormon Audrey Hepburn.

Island girl

Clain grew up on Réunion Island — Île de la Réunion — a small slice of France in the broad Indian Ocean. The size of Moscow, the island sits due east of the much larger island of Madagascar, which is directly east of Mozambique on the southeast coast of Africa.

She moved to Montélimar, France, in 2013 and spent two years studying leather working. She plans to design purses, bags and shoes.

She long had exercised faith and planned to serve a mission. The attacks that served as bookends to her missionary service in Europe only fortified her faith, she said.

"My faith just grew," she said. "When we pass through those kinds of experiences, we have just two solutions: We don't want to talk to God any more, or we trust in him and we see what happens. When we choose to trust in him, we can see how he helps us and how extraordinary it is. I trust in him more now than before, I think, because I've seen he is here."

Asked if she saw miracles in the wake of the fear and isolation and pain she felt right after the bombing, she nodded.

"I saw miracles all along," she said. "The first one is that I'm still alive. The second one is that they took care of me really fast. I'm not as burned as I thought. I can walk. I have all my members. I still have my hands and my head, even my ear. I met a lot of nice people and I wasn't in the hospital too long, and I was able to go back on a mission fast. All of those are miracles."

Life lessons

When she finally reached the MTC on May 5, Clain began to realize that she had learned as much in the hospital as she had in her four months as a missionary in Belgium, which included interviews with French television amid intense interest.

Now she can relate to people who are suffering, she said. She recognizes, too, that everyone has different needs, and that as a missionary she can learn to help each individual.

"I met, really, a lot of people, so now I'm used to it," she said. "I'm used to talking with strangers now, and I'm used to speaking English."

The biggest message, she said, is to rely on God.

"Don't be afraid," she said. "God is here, and he wants you to be happy, and he wants to help us. ... We are often scared about things, but really we don't have to be, because he can do anything."

That feeling makes her want to share her faith.

"I'm pretty excited, because now that I've learned all these things, I'm in a hurry to apply it and to see how I can do it. So I will meet a lot of new people, and I know they are waiting for me, so that's kind of cool.

"It's like an adventure, and I like adventures."

Email: twalch@deseretnews.com