Rough Week for Missionaries

by: Guy Templeton

July 28, 2013

Missions have often been touted as one of the safest places to be for young men ages 18-21.  This past week was a bit of an outlier, as an LDS missionary in Spain was badly injured in the train crash this week, and a young man from Canada was killed while serving in Guatemala.


Steven Ward was injured in the train crash in Spain this week.
(AP Photo/The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Scott Jackson)

Ward recounted his experience:

“Everyone was covered in blood, there was smoke coming up off the train,” said Ward, 18, of Bountiful, Utah. “There was a lot of crying, a lot of screaming. There were plenty of dead bodies. It was quite gruesome, to be honest.”

Ward said he suffered a fractured vertebra in his neck but has been discharged from the hospital. He expects to stay in Spain to complete his two-year mission with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which he started six weeks ago.

79 people have died so far (including two Americans) while scores more were injured.  Meanwhile in Guatemala,

Elder Joshua Allen Burton of Cardston, Alberta, broke his back and underwent surgery Saturday night after the accident that morning. He reported that sensation was returning to his legs, according to a family statement on Burton’s Facebook page.

Josh Burton killed in truck crash in Guatemala.

Josh Burton killed in truck crash in Guatemala.

But he died Monday night.

Three other missionaries involved in the accident sustained only minor injuries, according to Ruth Todd, spokeswoman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  [the truck they were] in overturned on the way to a service activity.

This death follows the death of another missionary by electrocution in Guatemala last month.  My heart goes out to their families.

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10 Responses to Rough Week for Missionaries

  1. Jace on July 28, 2013 at 2:11 PM

    Why do people say missions are safe? It never quite seemed that way for many missionaries in the scriptures (think Paul, Alma Jr., Abinadi, etc)?

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  2. James on July 28, 2013 at 4:38 PM

    @Jace – There’s also a sort of folk belief that dying while on a mission is a free pass to the Celestial Kingdom or something, which may contribute to the feeling that missions are “safe.”

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  3. Jack Hughes on July 28, 2013 at 9:21 PM

    I’ve observed a slightly different folk belief; that missionaries are protected, to the extent that they have an above-average life expectancy in normally fatal situations. Many members I know can relate a third-hand account of a missionary they “knew” who was beaten, shot, poisoned, run over or stabbed, and miraculously survived the trauma only “because he was a missionary” and was thus entitled to divine intervention.

    I don’t know where to separate the truth from the missionary folklore, so I don’t even bother trying anymore. The unfortunate fact is, missionaries do occasionally (and tragically) perish in the field.

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  4. Douglas on July 28, 2013 at 9:57 PM

    Since we have about 50,000 elders in the field at any given time it might be well to do a statistical comparison to other groups of young men (soldiers, sailors, firefighters, etc.) to compare mortality and accident data. While all the rules intended to promote safety (as well as proper representation of the Church) are probably responsible for what is likely significantly lower rate of misfortune for our missionaries, it would be unrealistic to expect a zero loss rate (unless there was some “miraculous” intervention that the Lord would stage to ensure such a result, and due to a need to promote faith and obedience on the part of the missionaries, I don’t see why He would do that). It is sad when there is a death or a terrible accident in the mission field; but this doesn’t mean that the Lord or His servants don’t care. Free agency…it is truly a “witch with a capital ‘B’.

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  5. Mike S on July 29, 2013 at 8:31 AM

    Life is natural. Accidents happen – at home and on missions. I take care of a number of missionaries who come “home” to SLC with various injuries, and once they are treated, we can often get them back out. Given all that, as Douglas said, because of the rules and such, missionaries are probably statistically less likely to get injured than the same population NOT on missions.

    And for what it’s worth, my mission president suddenly died while I was on my mission.

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  6. aprilm5 on August 1, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    To me, it doesn’t matter if they live or die, so long as they live or die for the Lord. I find it difficult to type that, as I have a son serving in the mission field right now and another on his way. But, to me, it’s not about “are we protected?” It’s about doing what the Lord has called us to do, REGARDLESS of the outcome. I include myself in there, because although I do not currently serve a full time mission, I have called myself on a member mission and blog about my experiences and testimony almost daily. If we have desires to serve God, we are called to the work! No strings (or promises of protection) attached.

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  7. alice on August 1, 2013 at 1:22 PM

    “To me, it doesn’t matter if they live or die, so long as they live or die for the Lord. ”

    OMG! I hope this is just a momentary loss of perspective or simple hyperbole and not an indication that you’re under a lot of stress over this or suffering from depression.

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  8. aprilm5 on August 1, 2013 at 1:44 PM

    “I hope this is just a momentary loss of perspective”….You are right. Perhaps I should not have phrased my thoughts in that way! I VERY MUCH care that these missionaries LIVE! I suppose what I should have said was, “I believe that these missionaries are protected by God. However sometimes, if God sees fit to take one home, I am quite confident all will be well with that missionary – in the life to come.” Thank you for allowing me to clarify. :)

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  9. Nick Literski on August 1, 2013 at 8:13 PM

    I wonder how quickly LDS legal counsel moves to deny any liability/responsibility in these tragic deaths, after their church has (a) assigned the locations where these missionaries work, and (b) dictated in great detail how their work is to be done. I wonder whether they even pay to transport the corpses home to family members, or perhaps they “front” the expense and then send the family a bill “in the name of the Lord,” via the local bishop?

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  10. MH on August 18, 2013 at 8:58 PM

    I got this from Wikipedia:

    According to LDS Church apostle L. Tom Perry, from 1831 until 1989, “only seventeen LDS missionaries [were] killed by assassins.” At the same time, apostle M. Russell Ballard “indicated that of the 447,969 missionaries who have served since the days of Joseph Smith, only 525—about one-tenth of 1 percent—have lost their lives through accident, illness, or other causes while serving. ‘When you contemplate that number,’ he said, ‘it appears that the safest place to be in the whole world is on a full-time mission.'”

    The footnote reads:

    “News of the Church: Church Honors Missionaries Who Died in South America”, Ensign, August 1989

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