In response to rioting and violence that has shaken downtown Baltimore this week, six LDS missionaries serving in the area have been temporarily reassigned to nearby suburbs. The three companionships of elders had been serving in the Inner Harbor Ward and the Alameda Spanish Branch, both in the Baltimore Stake, and the Brooklyn Park Branch in the Annapolis, Maryland Stake.
“My wife and I have been monitoring it very closely,” Maryland Baltimore Mission President Mark L. Richards said Wednesday morning. "I struggled to sleep Monday night and spent the evening watching news coverage. Sister Richards and I love these young missionaries like our own sons and daughters.”
President Richards had already mandated all missionaries in the area return to their apartments before dark on Monday.
“Let me tell you, the Lord truly watches over his missionaries," President Richards said. "I got a call Monday morning from the Washington D.C. North Mission president, Peter Cooke. He was hearing things would get really bad at 3 p.m. So, I immediately texted all missionaries telling them no one was to visit downtown on their preparation day. They love going down there, especially the missionaries serving outside the city who don’t normally get to see the sights around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.”
As for the three companionships closest to the rising protests, they were safely in their apartments by 3 p.m. A senior couple also serving downtown live far from the epicenter of activity and were never in harm's way.
By 4 p.m., violence erupted in areas the missionaries likely would be have been visiting. Before calm was restored, schools were closed, more than 100 vehicles were destroyed, 20 police officers were injured and 15 buildings were set on fire.
President Richards monitored the situation closely throughout the night, and at 2 a.m. felt impressed to remove the three companionships at sunrise. “We didn’t want to send young missionaries, or even a senior couple downtown after dark. So, we kept them safely in their apartments and began making calls at 6:15. By 7:30, when the trouble was still asleep, the six missionaries were safely in a vehicle with Elder and Sister Moss, a wonderful senior couple serving in the office. Where would we be without our senior missionaries?"
President Richards reports that though Tuesday night’s curfew seemed to have helped the situation, the six missionaries will likely remain outside the city for a few more days. "Just like any mission president, we take no chances," he said. "We won’t send the missionaries back to work downtown until we’re confident they’ll be safe.”
In the meantime, President Richards has been communicating with contacts in the Baltimore Police Department, local church leaders, the missionaries and their families. “We've been getting calls, emails and texts from all over. We're grateful, and please know the missionaries were never in any danger."
President Richards concluded with a call for prayer. "This is a special place. We love Baltimore and the people here, no matter what church they belong to. Their safety and well-being is just as important as the missionaries, and we hope everyone will join our prayers that peace will last.”