“Church Honors Missionaries Who Died in South America,” Ensign, Aug. 1989, 74
“Missionaries are so dear to the entire Church that when one is lost through death the entire Church grieves,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley at funeral services for Elder Todd Ray Wilson.
“There is not a missionary parent in this Church whose heart is not bleeding and whose eyes have not wept tears over the passing of these two splendid missionaries,” said President Thomas S. Monson at concurrent services for Elder Jeffrey Brent Ball.
Elder Wilson and Elder Ball were killed by terrorists in La Paz, Bolivia, as they returned to their apartment the evening of May 24.
The next day, the First Presidency issued the following statement: “We are grieved to learn of the assassination of two of our missionaries last evening in La Paz, Bolivia. …
“We regret that anyone would think that these representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who have been sent to preach the gospel of peace, would be characterized as enemies of any group.
“They have died as martyrs in the cause of the Lord. We extend our love and sympathy to their families and pray that they may be comforted and sustained in this hour of tragedy.”
Funeral services for the two elders were held on May 30.
President Ezra Taft Benson spoke briefly at the service in Coalville, Utah, honoring Elder Ball. He expressed his love for the elder’s family and for missionary work. “This work has just begun,” he said.
President Thomas S. Monson, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, also offered encouragement. “Jeff has gone home. He has gone home to God,” he said. “He’s gone home on a missionary transfer. He is still on his mission; he has not been released. He carries on in the spirit of missionary work. … I think he would say, ‘Do not grieve, Mother. Do not sorrow, Father. I am on the Lord’s errand, and He may do with me as He sees fit.’”
Expressing faith in the Lord’s promises, President Monson said, “The void in the heart and the grieving in the soul can be ameliorated in only one way—and that’s through the intervention of the giver of peace, the Prince of Peace, the Lord Jesus Christ.” And he testified: “As the Lord rose, so shall Jeff Ball rise in the Resurrection and go on toward exaltation in the celestial kingdom. This is my testimony; it is my faith and my belief; it is my knowledge.”
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve and Elder Monte J. Brough of the Second Quorum of the Seventy also attended the services for Elder Ball. “We are doing all that we can to understand the nature of this attack,” Elder Ballard said, “but I know Elder Ball and Elder Wilson … would say, ‘Carry on the work in Bolivia and every other nation of the world.’”
At the service in Wellington, Utah, for Elder Wilson, President Gordon B. Hinckley, First Counselor in the First Presidency, spoke of the work the two elders were accomplishing: “What a mission, to bring light and understanding and truth and testimony, and to witness to the sons and daughters of Lehi of their great inheritance. … We wonder why [these deaths] happened. … We can only say that wisdom of God is greater than our wisdom, that mortal life … is only a passing episode in an eternal journey, and that it really doesn’t matter whether we are here for a long time or a short time in this probation.”
“I think as we weep here,” President Hinckley continued, “there will be those who weep with gladness on the other side of the veil. I think particularly Lehi and Sariah and their children and progeny rejoice over the good work of one who tried to lift and help some of their posterity in the land of Bolivia.”
Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve and Elder Russell C. Taylor of the Second Quorum of the Seventy also attended Elder Wilson’s services. “We meet today with sadness and with hope,” said Elder Perry. “Sadness at the loss of a loyal, devoted, and faithful servant of our Father in Heaven, who went willingly into the mission field, taught and trained and lifted, and touched the hearts of thousands as he spread his message of hope and good cheer and the great opportunity of enjoying life eternal to a nation that is so troubled, so much in poverty, with so little hope.”
Four days after the deaths of Elder Ball and Elder Wilson, two lady missionaries in Argentina died of accidental asphyxiation. On May 28, Sister Yunette Harris of Memphis, Tennessee, and Sister Gabriela Maria Cristina Nieva of Godoy Cruz, Mendoza, Argentina, died while they slept. Their deaths were caused by fumes from a malfunctioning gas heater.
Elder Waldo P. Call represented the Brethren at the services for Sister Nieva on May 30. Elder Rex D. Pinegar represented the First Presidency at funeral services for Sister Harris on June 4.
Church leaders indicated that the deaths will not hinder missionary work around the world. Elder Perry said that since 1831, only seventeen LDS missionaries have been killed by assassins. “In all those years, just a few have given the ultimate,” he said.
Elder Ballard indicated that of the 447,969 missionaries who have served since the days of Joseph Smith, only 525—about one-tenth of 1 percent—have lost their lives through accident, illness, or other causes while serving. “When you contemplate that number,” he said, “it appears that the safest place to be in the whole world is on a full-time mission.”
“I have every confidence,” said President Monson, “that the work will go forward with even greater acceleration.”