Missionary slayings very rare in LDS Church

Published: Thursday, Jan. 5 2006 12:00 a.m. MST

While most Americans watched football bowl games or otherwise enjoyed an extended New Year's holiday on Monday, Elder Morgan W. Young knocked on doors in the rain in Chesapeake, Va., offering a gospel message.

Then he and his LDS missionary companion apparently witnessed a shooting, and a gunman turned on them. Young, 21, of Bountiful, was shot to death, making the ultimate sacrifice for his beliefs.

Statistics suggest that the tragedy was atypical for LDS missionaries, who seldom fall victim to violence. Most of those who have been killed in recent years have died in accidents, not slayings. The opposite appears to be true for missionaries of most other Christian faiths, where almost all of their reported deaths have been murders.

The Deseret Morning News identified 177 Christian missionaries killed in the past seven years, based on Internet searches of newspapers and church Web sites. Of them, 158 were murdered — 89 percent.

Among those 177 total deaths were 17 missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Fourteen of them died from accidents, and only three from murders.

The LDS missionaries who died often were killed in supposedly safe places and not by attacks. For example, 10 of them died in automobile accidents, and eight of them died in the United States.

Four of them — Elders Jaysen Ray Christiansen, Jared Mont Pulham, Bradley Alan Savage and Daniel Byrne Roundy — all from Utah, were killed in January 2000 in the same collision in Iowa.

Of note, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former head of the Salt Lake City Olympics and presumed presidential candidate, was nearly killed in a car accident when he was an LDS missionary in France in 1968. (One missionary in the car was killed.) In fact, a policeman who found Romney lying on the road wrote "Il est mort" (he is dead) on his passport. Obviously, he survived instead.

Accidents besides car wrecks also kill LDS missionaries. Last month, Elder Benjamin Ellsworth of Mesa, Ariz., died in Argentina when he fell beneath a train he was attempting to board. In 2003 in Argentina, Elder Nathan Scott Godfrey was electrocuted when he jumped into water trying to save a 13-year-old boy. Both died when a power line made contact with the water.

The world may have more modern martyrs than most people may realize. The 177 missionary deaths identified by the Morning News among Christian churches is likely just the tip of the iceberg. (A list of all 177 and how they died is available online by clicking on the graphic link at left.)

DNews graphicDownload missionary death listingRequires Adobe Acrobat.

"I do know that there are many Asian, Indian, Brazilian and Korean missionaries who have been killed that you will never hear about since you probably are not reading Korean, Portuguese or Chinese newspapers (nor are they on the Internet)," says Scott Sunquist, professor of world missions at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

David B. Barrett, editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia, estimates based on 30 years of research that 130 or so Christian foreign missionaries of all faiths are killed each year — and most are not reported by newspapers. He says that number could be much higher, depending on how a "missionary" is defined.

He says most churches count as missionaries only those full-time clergy who are proselyting in foreign lands. But if all Christian workers (full- and part-time, in home countries and abroad) are counted, he figures about 1,700 of them are killed a year.

And in a larger sense, he says anyone who bears witness of his beliefs is doing missionary work. He figures based on reports collected over 30 years that a staggering 160,000 such Christians are killed for their beliefs each year, becoming martyrs (a Greek word that means "to witness").

How dangerous is the world today for missionaries?

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