SALT LAKE CITY — Mormon missionaries are having a say about their personal safety as the LDS Church conducts an online survey among its young adult full-time missionary volunteers
A link to an online survey was sent by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this past weekend to the 62,000 missionaries currently serving in the church’s 400-plus missions worldwide.
“This survey is to help us better understand the day-to-day experiences and perceptions of missionaries around the world related to physical safety,” said church spokesman Eric Hawkins.
Missionaries will answer questions about physical threats, assaults, robberies, sexual assaults, residential safety and more in the survey. It is confidential as far as the respondents’ identities, but they not only identify their assigned mission by name but also their current and previous assigned proselyting cities and areas.
“The safety of missionaries is of great importance to the church,” Hawkins said. “Missionaries are taught principles to keep themselves safe, and in areas where missionary safety may be at risk, we may alter assignments or provide them with more specific guidelines to enhance their safety.”
Missionary well-being emcompasses a wide array of aspects, including physical health, emotional health, vehicular and bicycle safety, personal safety in proselyting and residential areas.
That well-being becomes newsworthy when missionaries are threatened or missing in times of natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes or other unexpected environmental events; or if they suffer life-threatening injuries or death in automobile accidents, bicycle accidents, criminal indicents (such as last year's Brussels airport attacks), or sudden illnesses.
The issue of personal safety in proselyting and residential areas — the primary focus of the current survey — got plenty of attenion three months ago when a video surfaced of two LDS Church missionaries in Brazil being threanted at gunpoint. One missionary in the video responded by grabbing the gun away from an assailant, then beat up the would-be robber.
To complete the Missionary Department's online survey, the hope is that missionaries will respond on their “preparation day” — a day, usually Monday, set aside each week to do shopping, laundry, cleaning and recreational or cultural activities. It’s also the day to send a weekly report to one’s mission president as well as communicate by email with parents, family and friends.
Mission presidents received notification of the upcoming survey several days ahead of the missionaries, and they were asked to encourage the missionaries to be honest and thorough in their responses and not to downplay or influence survey results.
Questions will ask if missionaries have experienced assault or harm in their areas or other situations that pose physical dangers. They’ll be asked if they have been victims of robbery, theft or other criminal acts as well as victims of sexual assault or sexual harassment.
In addition to questions of whether the missionaries have been victims or had personal experiences, they also will be asked if they have witnessed such acts or threats in their areas, which can suggest whether a city or an area has safety risks or not, even when missionaries haven't been directly invovled or impacted.
In addition to personal safety, missionaries will be asked about their residences — do exterior doors have locks, do exterior windows have coverings or curtains, are fire or smoke alarms or carbon-monoxide monitors present and functioning, and are their residences located in safe areas?
Any postive response from a missionary regarding personal safety experiences or the witnessing of incidents will result in additional questions seeking more details on the incidents and the environments.
Because of safety concerns, some missions do not have young, female missionaries assigned to serve there. In others, the mission president may decide not to have sister missionaries in certain proselyting areas because of the risks and potential dangers.
Hawkins said the survey is seen as a proactive effort, with the Missionary Department collecting data to help identify areas or circumstances where missionary safety may be at the greatest risks. Results will be used to review — and modify, as needed — missionary safety guidelines and instructions.
“Missionaries are divinely watched over in the work they perform,” Hawkins said. “However, we believe it’s important to understand their circumstances and make appropriate adjustments when needed.”
The LDS Church currently counts some 68,500 current full-time missionaries — however, about 6,500 missionaries are “senior” missionaries — older individuals and couples who are serving and who will not participate in the survey.
That number of missionaries is expected to rise with a seasonal increase, with many young adults finishing school work before beginning their voluntary missionary service — 18 months for young women ages 19 years and older and 24 months for young men beginning at age 18.
Many of the 18-year-old young men are concluding their senior year of high school in late May or early June, so the numbers first in the missionary training centers and soon thereafter in the missions themselves see an noticeable upswing in numbers.
Several times in the past decade — particularly after a missionary death or accident — the LDS Church has noted that the mortality rate for missionaries is significantly less than those in the general population’s same age group.
In 2013, 10 Mormon missionaries died in the first nine months from accident or illness. Elder David F. Evans of the Seventy, then executive director of the Missionary Department, noted the annual mortality rate worldwide for young page in the same age range was 205 deaths per 100,000, with the LDS missionary percentage less than one-twentieth of that number.
Nevertheless, no statistics can lessen the pain of a missionary’s passing, Elder Evans’ statement noted.
A similar statement on missionary safety was posted on the church’s mormonnewsroom.org resource site in 2007.
The church, its Missionary Department and the individual mission presidents strive to ensuring missionary safety through providing training in personal safety, good health practices, auto and bike safety instruction and consulting with local Church leaders about safety in specific areas or neighborhoods.