Church Missionary Department Embraces Angry Sports Show Culture with New Safety Videos

Keeping Latter-day Sait missionaries safe is vital, but does this new mock sportscast do it effectively?

[dropcap]F[/dropcap]irst off, I’m flummoxed. I don’t use that word lightly. I just finished watching the first episode of The Safety Zone, the new effort by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to teach missionaries values related to safety while in the mission field. This is super important stuff! I just can’t decide whether the chosen format is the most effective way to yield results.

Produced in the style of popular sports commentary shows, where various hosts yell at each other over various metrics and unprovable qualitative aspects to an athlete’s game, The Safety Zone stars three surnameless hosts, Jarom (yes, Jarom), Spencer, and Vivian, who “replay” videos of missionaries engaging in various activities, and the results of their choices. Jarom and Spencer are real-life hosts of BYU Sports Nation.

Jarom and Spencer, both of whom I want to punch, couch their arguments in the first episode in two areas: Jarom in favor of strict obedience (and his gelled hair, Windsor knot, and general uptight demeanor seem to play to the archetype), and Spencer more concerned about all forms of awareness. Spencer is clearly the “bad boy” of the group, what with his moppy hair, non-white shirt, and summer sales demeanor. Who will win?! Vivian basically plays arbitrator, trying to get the two opponents to find compromise, and it’s a genuinely nice note that the “buzzer” moment at the end of the sequence is that of obtaining the oft-eluded “Consensus!” instead of one person vanquishing the other. It’s just a shame that Vivian is relegated to what is essentially a supporting, motherly role, as opposed to an equal player with passionate opinions who can mix it up with the other two. Perhaps future episodes will give her more time to duke it out.

The Safety Zone comprises 12 episodes in total that will cover areas such as courtesy, respect, food safety, personal safety, transportation safety, avoiding electrical wires (an important, but unfortunately required solution given how many missionaries have died or been injured in recent years due to contact with electrical wiring), and sexual assault or harassment, to name a few.

“The Lord cares about His missionaries,” said Elder S. Gifford Nielsen, a General Authority Seventy and former NFL quarterback serving in the Church’s Missionary Department. “We’re trying everything we possibly can to think about the situations that they might find themselves in that would take them away from being who the Lord has called them to be, and that is to be His missionaries proclaiming His gospel throughout the world.”

Among the good messages shared in the video, Vivian makes the point that if missionaries fail to be safe and respectful, they will be unable to preach the gospel and serve the people around them – the entire reason they are there. Don’t let careless decisions hinder what should otherwise be a positive 24 or 18 months devoted to the lives of others.

Apparently Elder Nielsen, as well as Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women General President, will appear as guests in some of the episodes, which ought to be amusing if the current format is preserved and doesn’t shift to that mysterious faux living room from which originate regional stake conference broadcasts. You know the one. Those windows aren’t real.

Recently called missionaries will be asked to view the first episode of The Safety Zone at home with their families. Subsequent episodes will be viewed in Missionary Training Centers and in the mission field. The first episode embedded above is unlisted on YouTube, so it’s anyone’s guess how much of a profile the remaining series will have among the general public.

With 65,000 missionaries currently serving, and a seeming rise in accidents affecting missionaries, proper training, even if some areas seem like common sense, is necessary to keep the Lord’s army safe and effective. Personally, I’m on the fence whether a faux sportscast, in all its cheesy, Utah glory, is the best way to go about this, especially for a global body of missionaries that might not fully appreciate the homage to commentators yelling on ESPN and Fox Sports. At least March has already given us such great content after February gave us the US Army’s worst recruiting video in recent memory.

I will say this, however. I loved the segment on respect. Various vignettes showed missionaries being disrespectful in myriad ways, from running onto a bus in front of another woman, to making stupid poses in front of a Buddhist shrine (that one is actually located in Hawaii, btw), to antagonizing an angry dog. The crucial message was that there are deeper consequences to being disrespectful. The angry dog? Its owner was watching. Teaching opportunity gone. The bus? Women were repulsed by the Elders’ behavior. Teaching opportunity gone. The shrine? A groundskeeper saw the Elders’ behavior and was ashamed. Teaching opportunity gone.

Also, outside of teaching opportunities, just be respectful because it’s the right thing to do. That said, I will grace you all with a picture from my own mission that veered into this territory. But I wasn’t the one who made fountain of a kid peeing! You also might notice a couple kissing in the background, a not uncommon sight on the Iberian Peninsula. Those people are saucy!

But let’s pause for a moment and recognize that the footage of the sister missionary riding on the bed of at truck and subsequently being knocked onto the ground by a tree was comic gold.

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