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Missionary work can be deadly

Toll revised upward; most in the LDS faith die from accidents

Published: Wednesday, July 29 2015 6:39 p.m. MDT

The Deseret Morning News said this week that the 177 Christian missionaries it had identified through Internet searches as killed during the past seven years was likely only the tip of the iceberg. It was.

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Readers quickly identified 10 additional missionaries who had been killed in that time — six LDS and four Baptists. And, tragically, two more LDS missionaries were killed late Thursday in a head-on auto collision in New Zealand, Elders Bradley Isle, 20, of Las Vegas, and Jonathan Talmadge, 21, of Willamina, Ore.
Even with those updates, the bottom-line conclusion from statistics is the same: Most LDS missionaries killed in recent years died from accidents, not murders. The opposite appears to be true for missionaries of most other Christian faiths, where almost all of their reported deaths have been murders.
The deaths of the additional missionaries now identified sometimes had not been reported by news media that are available on the Internet or that are explored by major search engines, or stories about them did not include key words used in earlier searches such as "killed" or "murder."
The six additional LDS missionaries killed in past years identified now all died in accidents.
They are Clark Henry Pixton, killed by a fall in the Ukraine in 2000; Jonathan Reed Thomas, hit by a train in Argentina in 2001; Limuula Leauanae, killed in an auto accident in Samoa in 2002; Gregory Scott Johnson, electrocuted accidentally in Mexico in 2002; Michael Joshua Bent, drowned in Samoa flooding in 2003; and Joel Galindo Flores, struck by a truck in Mexico in November 2005.
The four additional Baptist missionaries identified drowned during a beach trip in Mexico in 1999 from a strong ocean undertow: Gary and Carla Sloan, John Weems and Joy Murphy.
With those updates, the Morning News has identified 189 Christian missionaries killed in the past seven years. Of them, 158 were murdered — 84 percent. Only 31 total died in accidents — and 22 of them were LDS. (An updated list of all 189 missionary deaths and causes is available online at the graphic link at the top of this story.)
During the past seven years, a total of 25 missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were identified as killed — and only three of them were murdered, including Elder Morgan W. Young, who was shot to death this week in Chesapeake, Va.
Danger can affect all faiths. Of the 189 missionary fatalities identified, 126 were Catholics; 25 were LDS; 19 were Baptists; nine were listed only as "Christian"; four were evangelical Christians; two were Wycliffe Bible translators; and one each came from the Lutherans, Mennonites, Methodists and Gospel for Asia.
Theologians say the 189 missionary deaths identified are likely only the tip of the iceberg because many deaths occur in remote areas and are not reported in the press, or are in foreign-language newspapers either not available or easily searched on the Internet.
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 that most are not reported by the press.
He said that number goes up, depending on the definition of "missionary" — which most churches consider to be only full-time clergy serving in foreign lands. He said 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").


E-mail: lee@desnews.com

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