Why Are So Many Missionaries Dying?

Geoff Openshaw

Geoff Openshaw

Throughout Mormon history, missionaries have died, but the number of missionaries to die in the past year has skyrocketed. Why? Can anything to be done?


By Geoff

I don’t get it, but it’s enough of an issue now where I’m seriously concerned that something more nefarious is afoot. No, I don’t think there is some global conspiracy, but is Satan up and having better luck as the Lord sees fit to massively boost the number of missionaries in His service?

We recently hit 75,000 missionaries actively serving in the Church. What an astonishing number! That’s a 21% increase over last year’s reported number – 58,990, and it perfectly coincides with the newer, younger crop of missionaries, as the first ones eligible since the lowered age requirement reported to the MTC in January.

Regardless, despite the relatively high numbers of missionaries over these past few decades, missionary deaths have been quite rare.  Indeed, my research shows only nine deaths from 1987-2006.

How many missionaries have died in 2013? The number currently stands at seven. Seven. Two of those have already happened in September, and the month is only four days old! Seven missionaries in one year is far beyond a 21% increase. We’re well over a 100% increase at this point.

But why? Oddly, all of these have been accident-related, which is quite different from what has happened in the past. In 1989, for example, two missionaries in Bolivia were killed in a terrorist attack by the Zarate Willka Armed Forces of Liberation, which mostly targeted US facilities and once also bombed an LDS meetinghouse. In 1990, two other missionaries were killed in a terrorist in Peru by the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. Stupid Marxists.

Other deaths were the result of stabbings or shootings, and only Robert Hunt’s murder in Lisbon in 1987 was something of an accident – a security guard thought he was stealing a car.

But look at passings in 2013:

[table file=”http://thisweekinmormons.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Missionary-Deaths2.csv”][/table]

Accidents, right? And so many of them involve vehicles in one way or another. Alesa Smith was hit by a truck while on her bike. Josh Burton was inside a truck as it overturned. Jason Wiberg was hit by a car while on his bike. Taylor Ward was killed in a car crash in Idaho. The only real outlier  is Peter Maughan, and we hope that the Church will eventually at least acknowledge the horror of what happened in Mexico.

I see a stark contrast here between the rather infrequent – but deliberate – deaths of other missionaries in years past and the jarringly rapid increase of accidental deaths more recently. Are missionaries not being careful enough? Are mission presidents too overwhelmed with the increased numbers in their ranks to look out for safety? Is Salt Lake not being careful enough? Is the media just reporting more deaths than in years past?

Unfortunately, freak accidents happen, and our heart goes out to the families and friends of the missionaries who have lived and died in the service of the Lord. But is there anything to be done? What do you think?

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