Brussels Bombing Victim Now Serving in the Ohio Cleveland Mission
Contributed By Tad Walch, Church News contributor
- Sister Fanny Clain was hospitalized for one month after the Brussels bombing in March.
- Clain was determined to serve after over a year of preparation and waiting.
- She recognizes her ability to still serve despite her injuries is a miracle.
“When we choose to trust in God, 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. I saw miracles all along.” —Sister Fanny Clain, missionary in the Brussels airport bombing
On March 22, Sister Fanny Clain was like thousands of other missionaries before her, excited and happy to be at an airport preparing to board a plane for the missionary training center in Provo, Utah.
Then a bomb exploded. It was as if the Brussels airport had disappeared. The tiny 20-year-old Frenchwoman, knocked to the floor by the blast, could see only gray and brown ashes around her. The three other Mormon missionaries who’d been standing with her while she waited in line for her plane tickets to the United States had disappeared.
“I was alone,” she said.
The world quickly learned about the two suicide bombs detonated by terrorists that morning and the four missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who suffered burns, shrapnel wounds, and other injuries.
All four are recovering, but the attack abruptly ended the mission service of Elder Richard Norby, 66, of Lehi, Utah; Elder Mason Wells, 19, of Sandy, Utah; and Elder Joseph Dresden Empey, 20, of Santa Clara, Utah.
Sister Clain, despite serious injuries that included a broken eardrum that left her with 40 percent hearing loss in her right ear, second-degree burns to her right hand and head, and shrapnel wounds in her right leg, was determined to finish a mission that felt like it had just begun.
On June 1, after a year of waiting, preparation, and overcoming obstacles familiar to many missionaries—she served in the France Paris Mission for four months while waiting for her visa to the United States—and the unique experience of surviving a terrorist attack and a month in the hospital, Sister Clain arrived in the Ohio Cleveland Mission, which includes historic sites in the Kirtland area.
“Now because I have been through all of those things,” she said in an interview before she left the MTC in Provo, Utah, “I’m asking myself the question, if I meet that many obstacles to go [to Kirtland], 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?”
Sister Fanny Clain talks about her recovery while at the missionary training center in Provo, Utah, May 27, 2016. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.
Sister Clain studied leather working—shoemaking and bag making—in Montélimar, France, for two years before her mission. She is from Réunion Island, a French island east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. She completed her mission papers in May 2015 and received her call to Ohio in August. She began her mission on November 24, assigned to wait for her visa while serving in Brussels.
Her mission began under a cloud of terrorism, said her first mission companion, Hannah Nelson, 20, of Farmington, Utah, a freshman at Utah State University.
“When I picked her up we had to stay in Versailles for a week before going back to Belgium because of the terrorist bombings in Paris,” Sister Nelson said. “She was super enthusiastic, super ready to get going. She had a really positive attitude. It’s clear she still does.”
Her last companion in Belgium, Sister Haylie VanDenBerghe, wasn’t surprised to learn Sister Clain wanted to complete her mission despite her injuries, but she said it was hard to see her in the hospital a day after the explosion.
“It was kind of a shock to see her all bandaged up like that,” Sister VanDenBerghe said. “It was kind of overwhelming. We hugged instantly and cried a little bit. It was so good to see her and that she was well and she was smiling and happy.”
Sister VanDenBerghe described Sister Clain as pure-spirited.
“She would never cause harm to anyone, just the most sweet-natured person. I love her very much. She is a very innocent person.”
Sister Fanny Clain, right, and her companion, Sister Aniela Santoso, talk with Spencer Christensen at the missionary training center in Provo, Utah, on May 27, 2016. Sister Clain was a victim of the Brussels terrorist attack. She has recovered and is now serving in the Ohio Cleveland Mission. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.
Sister Clain said the lessons she’s learned since the bombing will help her as she serves in historic Kirtland, while still nursing burns that require cream and lotion and, on her right hand and arm, a special glove; her damaged ear, which cannot get wet; and the scar on her hip that remains itchy. Her ear may require surgery later, if her hearing doesn’t return.
Still, she feels better prepared for her mission now. She has learned to talk to strangers, improved her English, and gained insight into helping others.
“Passing through these kinds of things makes me better understand people, because people have really hard things in their lives, so now I’ve had hard things too, so I can understand more,” she said.
She said her faith grew as she worked through her recovery.
“When we choose to trust in God, 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. I saw miracles all along. 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 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.”
Sister Fanny Clain talks with others at the missionary training center in Provo, Utah, on May 27, 2016. A victim of the Brussels terrorist attack, she has recovered and is now serving in the Ohio Cleveland Mission. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.