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Utah County Missionary’s Time Cut Short By Wildfires, Then Coronavirus

Apr 7, 2020, 6:08 PM | Updated: 8:11 pm

PLEASANT GROVE, Utah – One Utah County missionary, whose service was cut short by devastating wildfires in Australia, has returned home because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Derek Leetham has caught himself staring at the mountains near his Pleasant Grove home more than once over the past few days.

“It’s always good to be back here,” he said while looking out his bedroom window at the snowy peaks.

As much as he loves the mountains though, he was missing Australia and its people on Tuesday.

“It’s incredible there,” said Leetham. “It’s seriously, like, just the best. The people are amazing.”

Leetham was serving a mission in Sydney, Australia, for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

However, he returned home because that mission was cut short due to coronavirus concerns.

“I’m really bummed out, to be honest. I fully understand that is what’s needed to happen for our safety and just for what’s happening right now. It’s what’s best for us,” he said during an interview Tuesday afternoon outside his bedroom window.

Leetham was quarantined at home for 14 days once he arrived in Utah, just to be on the safe side.

“It’s hard just being stuck inside, especially in this nice weather,” he said. “But we have to do it to be safe.”

However, his mother sure was happy to have him home.

“It’s been fun to see his smile and his laugh, hear his laugh,” Shannon Leetham said. “It’s been nice to have him around again.”

Especially since this wasn’t the first time Derek Leetham was evacuated from his mission.

Just a few months ago, he was evacuated from his mission due to the devastating wildfires that engulfed large parts of Australia.

“Yeah, it’s been hectic,” Leetham said with a slight laugh. “Man, I don’t even know how to explain it. I just woke up one, and right as I wake up, I can usually see the sun. And it was just black. Then I soon realized there were fires all around me.”

Leetham and his companions were moved to Sydney until it was safe to return.

Once they were able to get back to their mission south of Sydney, they figured there was no way anything else that big could happen again.

“Yeah, I didn’t think anything else could go wrong. I was like, alright, the fires are out, I’m going back to get things going and get work going, and then the next minute, not as planned,” he said.

On Tuesday, Leetham was just hoping he’ll be able to go back at some point.

“Oh yeah. I want to finish that 15 months so bad,” he said. “I’ll be so excited for when I can do that again.”

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Utah County Missionary’s Time Cut Short By Wildfires, Then Coronavirus