“‘This Work Will Continue to Go Forward’: Elder Ballard Discusses Missionary Safety,” Ensign, Apr. 2006, 73–74
“This work will continue to go forward, regardless of what happens, regardless of what the future may hold,” said Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, as he discussed the safety and well-being of the Church’s 52,000 missionaries in January 2006.
Earlier that month, three missionaries lost their lives in the field: one was killed in a shooting and two died in an automobile collision. A fourth missionary made a full recovery from wounds he suffered in the shooting.
Elder Ballard expressed condolences to all those grieving: “The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve extend our love to you, pray that the Lord will bless you, and that the peace of the Lord will ultimately come to your hearts.” No matter how many missionaries there are, he added, “When we lose one the whole Church mourns and our hearts go out to the parents, to the siblings, and to the priesthood leaders over such a tragic loss.”
Though violence and accidents happen from time to time, Elder Ballard said such tragic deaths are rare among Latter-day Saint missionaries. “The safest place in the world for 19- to 21-year-old young men and 21-year-old young women is in the service of the Lord in the mission field, scattered out over the four corners of the earth,” he said.
Elder Ballard emphasized that the Church does “the very, very best we know how” to protect their health and safety while they serve in 343 missions covering the earth. He reviewed several key elements of missionary organization and training that help keep missionaries safe:
Training in personal safety and good health practices begins in the Church’s 16 Missionary Training Centers and continues in zone conferences and district meetings throughout the time of missionary service.
Missionaries always work in pairs and are required to stay with their companions.
Qualified, mature, inspired mission presidents and their wives shepherd the young people in their missions “like they were their very own children.”
An organization of assistants to the mission president, zone leaders, and district leaders “is structured to watch over and be very careful where we place missionaries.”
Consultation with local Church leaders and members about the safety of specific areas and neighborhoods is ongoing. Missionaries are instructed to avoid unsafe areas.
Careful instruction in automobile safety is provided for those using cars.
Ongoing safety training is provided for missionaries who ride bicycles.
When walking, missionaries are encouraged to walk swiftly and with purpose. They are instructed to minimize the objects they have with them and carry only cash sufficient for that day’s needs. If accosted by thieves, missionaries are trained not to resist, to avoid confrontation, and to give up whatever money they have.
A network of 80 physicians serve as full-time volunteer missionaries around the world “so mission presidents have access to the best medical advice they can possibly get right within the boundaries of their own areas.” An additional 200 volunteer nurses and others with medical and health-care backgrounds are supporting the missionary force, said Elder Ballard.
Missionary apartments are periodically inspected for safety and cleanliness. Missionaries are moved to different apartments whenever needed.
Elder Ballard concluded by emphasizing that such tragedies will not stop the Church’s work of sharing the restored gospel of the Savior: “Joseph Smith made it abundantly clear that there would be nothing that would stop this work from rolling forward till the Great Jehovah comes forward and says the work is done. And He hasn’t said that yet.”