Missionaries and Murder

I recently wrote a post detailing my experiences casting out devils as a missionary. I mentioned in the beginning of that post some other strange or harrowing experiences I had undergone as a missionary, including witnessing a murder. Reflecting further on this, I recalled hearing somewhat similar stories from other missionaries. I asked my wife, who served in Manila, Philippines, if she had ever been witness to extreme violence or murder and she affirmed that, among other things, she and her companion saw a group of men descend on another man and cut his head off with a machete.

Actually, being a missionary can be quite the extreme experience itself, sometimes self-inflicted. Missionaries are often bold to the point of stupidity and even disrespect in their interactions with others, and very often ignorant of their physical and cultural surroundings (and sometimes headdeskingly not so ignorant). I certainly was at times. This particular experience, though, (mostly) didn’t fit that bill, but it was haunting enough that I still think of it fairly often, even almost 13 years later.

I only had 1 or 2 months left in my mission. I was in Zona 13 of Guatemala City, which sits in a valley right beneath the airport. It was considered a semi-safe area to serve in within the city; among missionaries in my mission we would judge the safety of an area according to who would not be allowed to serve there. Sisters were not allowed to serve in several areas in the capital city, (like the one I was in, for example), and several other areas were open only to Latino, non-American missionaries.  Because missionaries are always young and often stupid, we were constantly badgering APs and the mission president to allow us to serve in the more dangerous areas. We were missionaries after all, on a divine mandate from God and therefore subject to His protection. Nothing could harm us.

My companion and I (a greenie who had just arrived the month before) had just left the home of a family of church members and were headed to another appointment. Upon rounding a corner we heard the scuffle of feet to our left and turned to see 3 boys in their late teens bearing down on a man, about 40 feet from us. One of the boys pulled a gun out of his pants and fired several times into the chest and stomach of the man from about 10 feet away, as the man was trying to turn and run. He immediately collapsed onto the gutter. The 10 or so people in the street with us immediately scattered, retreating into homes and shops lining the street. My comp and I, on the other hand, were too stunned to move. We just stood there, even as the three boys crossed the street directly in front of us, only feet away. The shooter looked right at us as he was putting his gun back in his pants, a blank expression on his face. None of them said anything as they crossed our path and it felt like they were moving in slow motion. They kept on walking and I remember fervently praying they wouldn’t change their minds and turn around to eliminate the idiot witnesses who couldn’t be more obvious in their frozen state. I also kept thinking we should run the other direction but I couldn’t move. They never turned around and soon disappeared over the top of a small hill.

I looked back at the man lying in the street. He appeared to be moving slightly. I told my companion that we needed to see if we could help him. He was face down in the gutter. I had no idea what to do and looked around to see if anyone else was there. There was a girl watching from her window about 20 feet away and I yelled to her to call the police. She sat there for a moment and then disappeared into her home, hopefully, I thought, to call the police. Turning back to the man I could see a stream of blood running out from under him and down the street. He was twitching a little so I thought he might still be alive. I told my comp that we needed to turn him over but he was hesitant. I insisted, and he helped me roll him over. The dying man was a big guy and it took several attempts before we could get him onto his back. I could see he had been shot four times, twice in the chest and twice in the stomach. His eyes were closed but his body was twitching, and blood was seeping out of the corners of his mouth. I could hazily remember some CPR training from high school (and even more hazily a First Aid merit badge earned when I was 12) but had no clue what to do in this situation. His breath was rattling shallowly in his throat. Looking around I could see no other signs of help forthcoming and so I started to perform chest compressions. This only caused more blood to come out of his mouth and wounds and I immediately stopped. Rocking back on my heels I looked at my companion, who was white as a ghost. He didn’t say anything. I stood up and we waited. There was nothing else to be done. Two minutes later he stopped moving and breathing.

The police arrived a few minutes later and only then did some people begin cautiously venturing back onto the street. I told one of the officers that we saw the boys who did it pretty clearly but he declined to take a statement. He said that if he officially recorded anything we said it would be published in tomorrow’s newspaper and we were not exactly inconspicuous residents of this area, to say the least. We would easily be identified. Besides, he assured us, they (the police) had a pretty good idea of which gang this was and why they had killed the man.

After speaking to the police officer I noticed that my hands, much of my shirt, and nearly all of my tie were covered in blood. Not wanting to be seen walking around looking like that, we headed back over to the member family’s home for assistance. The mother of the family opened the door to greet us and screamed when she saw me. We quickly explained what happened and she ushered us in, telling one of her daughters to go find a shirt for me to wear. I had to dispose of shirt and tie, obviously, and was given a t-shirt to wear home. Upon arriving home I called the mission president to report the incident. He asked me how I was feeling and I told him I felt a bit shaken but generally ok. He said we should certainly take the remainder of the day off and assess how we were feeling for tomorrow before venturing out. The next day I obtained a copy of the newspaper and read about the incident. There was a picture of the body, covered with a blanket, and a short blurb about a shooting by a local gang that police were investigating. (Later at church several members would chuckle about the police “investigating” anything, saying that they were corrupt and likely on the payroll of the gang who committed the murder, which would explain why the killers were unconcerned about us as witnesses).

The next day we decided to continue to work but our conversation was focused solely on the events of the day before. We certainly thought we had been divinely protected as missionaries though we questioned the utility of trying to get involved in helping the man when we clearly had no idea what we were doing and it was unlikely he could have been saved in any case. I couldn’t shake the thought that I should have done more even though I had no idea what I would have done differently.

Looking back on the experience now, I see some well-meaning recklessness on my part. Missionaries often see themselves as more than just preachers of the word and bringers of the truth, but also as uniquely qualified and motivated to intervene in various kinds of situations generally. As mentioned above, this is partly due to to the exuberance of youth and partly because missionaries believe (and are taught) that they have divine approbation and protection to do so. So variously we see or hear of missionaries engaged in various kinds of spontaneous service and assistance, as well as, e.g.,  behaving brashly and rudely by saying condescending things about others’ religious beliefs or walking into churches and preaching to whole congregations with or without permission (I saw both frequently on my mission). I wasn’t overtly reckless in this case, but there was definitely a phenomenological sense of removal from my surroundings–I was with the people but not of them, in the world but transcending it at the same time. Many of my experiences had the subtle quality of feeling like I was a viewer as much as a participator; with some exceptions I thought and acted as if what I said and did were precisely the right things to say and do. Because I was a missionary. This emboldened me to say and do things I might not do now (or then if I’d been self-aware). Paradoxically, it helped me to enact love and compassion while at the same time be heedless of my surroundings and the people in them.

What about you? Any encounters with violence or murder in your missions?


  1. In a town in East Germany, we lived in a rough part of town. One night we heard a serious disturbance going on in the hallway or somewhere on our same floor complete with some loud hitting and banging noises. When we went out of our apartment in the morning, we saw a large quantity of blood leading down the hallway and down three flights of steps. This was not the blood drips you sometimes see on city sidewalks but a real trail of blood interrupted by pools of blood along the way.

    Another time in the same northern city we found ourselves in a Straßenbahn car returning to our apartment late at night when a group of drunk skinheads entered the car. We were alone in the car with them and they were trashing the place. One threw an empty beer bottle at full strength at the window near our seat and the bottle exploded showering the car with broken glass. That’s when they saw us. One had a hammer hanging from the loop in his work pants — pretty threatening. He came over to us and asked us what we were doing in Germany, selling insurance? Instead of answering his question directly, I started talking about everything I love about Germany. We jumped out at the next stop though we were still pretty far from home. We were happy to walk it under those circumstances. I felt like we avoided some real violence that night.

  2. jjohnson says:

    Person decapitated by a train. We never knew how the person was hit by the train–but I still can see the head. Then there was a homeless mentally ill woman slapping me and later shooting her pretend gun at me. Nothing came of it, other than completely freaking me out for a few minutes, but this was in one of the nicer areas of the whole mission. The latter was also on the train which members told us we should not take, but it was convenient, cheap, and faster than the buses and I think we likewise thought we were protected. Argentina Buenos Aires North.

  3. Not as direct as yours, but…after I had been in the mission about 18 months, my companion and I taught a young father whose wife and children were already members of the Church. Male converts (and particularly fathers in intact families) were rare in Mexico, so this was a particularly precious opportunity. Unfortunately, upon receiving his baptismal interview, we were informed that his case would have to be reviewed by the First Presidency. Apparently, this man had once been a security guard and had shot and killed someone who was trespassing. As it turns out, the Church had recently changed its stance on such cases, such that even police who killed in the line of duty still needed FP approval to be baptized (no idea whether this includes members of the military, either current or former, though I suspect the answer to be no). I will admit to bristling a little at this requirement and a lot of griping on my part about how unfair it was. Part of it was, of course, anger at being “denied” a male convert baptism, which, like I said earlier, was rare. But part of me was genuinely concerned about what I perceived as a silly policy. In hindsight, I think I was a little naive about the legitimacy of policy/security violence, not exclusively but particularly in other countries where corruption and extrajudicial violence by police etc. are very common. The story has a happy ending though: his FP approval came through and he was baptized shortly after I left the area.

  4. I served state-side (have I lost 3/4 of you already since my mission wasn’t foreign and exotic?) and I never saw a murder. However, a companion and I were white washed into the most dangerous county of the mission and a place Sisters hadn’t been allowed to serve in for eight years.

    It was rural, a place where people came to “hide”, had no street lights (so it was DARK), there were lots of drugs, the Mexican cartel ran secret marijuana fields in the hills, and it is one of the few areas that the state of California gives all it’s paroled convicts a one-way bus ticket to. When we’d be out in the evenings, we more than once had people open their doors with guns drawn or openly threaten us. When we decided we were risking our lives and it was too dangerous to be out past 8pm, we actually got yelled at by the MP (big shocker).
    He told us we were to stay out until 9:30pm every night despite the risk to our lives because we were “no different than the Elders.” All I could think then and now is: weren’t our lives AND the lives of the Elders more important than being killed?

    In my next area, in a town up near the California/Oregon border, my companion and I saw a homeless man be beat to unconsciousness with blood coming out of his nose, mouth, and ears. We were the only ones to stop and call 911 and the 911 operator refused to send an ambulance. Apparently they got so many of “these kinds of calls” they didn’t send ambulances until a police officer came and determined if someone needed an ambulance. I can understand that for a scrapped knee, but an unconscious man bleeding from the ears? Come on.

  5. Sorry to hear that is how your Mission President treated you. This type of thing should not happen among us.

  6. merkin4 says:

    Inner city Baltimore. Saw a man beat his baby-mama to death with the windshield wiper broken off a car. He was on the third or fourth floor walkway of one of the cages – housing projects ten stories high, fourteen apartments on each floor, totally wrapped in chain-link fence to keep people from being thrown off.

    Also managed to get evacuated by police car from another area of the projects one Sunday evening following a Nation of Islam rally. That night shook me up pretty good. We tried to hide out in the home of an investigator, but when we got there, they were armed with baseball bat and cast-iron frying pan and having a little bit of a tiff themselves. Sister Battle was the one wise enough to put down her pan and take us to the police substation at the community rec center. Perhaps our first mistake that night was taking a shortcut through a large park known as “The Body Factory”.

  7. correlated says:

    In the pension where we lived at the time in the south part of Santiago, Chile, the man of the home, who was not a member of the church, got drunk one night and took out his revolver. He approached me with it in the kitchenette area of the very small home after everyone had gone to bed and started pointing it at me. I was scared because he was not all there mentally even when sober. He kept waving it and pointing it at me and asking me what I was going to do. He then put it down after some time and said it was just for the “patos malos” (bad ducks or bad guys) and went over to the couch to pass out. Needless to say, I did not sleep very soundly in that place thereafter.

    We encountered a couple of dead bodies as well (one related to a bus incident and one a shooting victim), but those were from a distance. I was spit on and had rocks thrown at me a few times, but I was uninjured.

  8. We sisters routinely walked home after dark through narrow alleys in an ancient Mediterranen seaport, or through slums — there’s no other word for them — in huge, dirty inland cities, and I never saw or was threatened by violence worse than the usual curses and dogs and deliberately aimed soccer balls that plague missionaries everywhere. Of course, I shared that expectation of divine invincibility, so maybe I wasn’t aware of danger that actually was there.

  9. Mark B. says:

    Other than sitting across the table from a man, whose two pre-teen children were running around the house, and hearing his tale of losing his temper and stabbing his wife to death, his attempts at hara-kiri (complete with lifting of shirt and showing of two or three ugly scars across his abdomen), and his arrest and trial and acquittal on the grounds of temporary insanity, nothing very exciting ever happened to me in Japan.

  10. We were waiting for a bus in Germany when a man approached, pulled out a knife, and threatened to stab us if we got on that bus. I was perfectly willing to catch the next bus and be five minutes late to our appointment in order to avoid a stabbing, but my companion had other ideas. He aggressively got in the man’s face. The man backed down, and we got on the bus safely. My companion talked a bit more to him before the man got off, and even gave him a Book of Mormon. Definitely one of the dumbest things I saw anyone do on my mission.

    Other than that, a death threat, and an investigator who broke down in church and told us about some incredibly serious war crimes she’d committed before coming to Germany, my mission experience was devoid of violence.

  11. Speaking of war crimes, Tim, that reminds of an experience that was eery/evil but not currently violent. Knocking on doors, we were invited into the apartment of an old man who proceeded to tell us unrepentantly that he had been in the Waffen SS and had been captured as the Allies advanced in the West but he had escaped custody on the Western Front and had voluntarily gone over to the Eastern Front to keep up the fight — because he believed wholeheartedly in Hitler’s war. He was then captured on the Eastern Front, spent 6 years in a Siberian gulag and ended up back in Germany, just as convinced as ever that Hitler had been right (a central plank in Hitler’s platform focused on the confronting and resisting Soviet communism).

    It was a truly chilling conversation. Before that discussion I had never really considered (as a boy of 19) that there were German WWII veterans out and about in Germany who didn’t regret the war or the ideology, just that Germany had been so thoroughly defeated.

  12. Dominican Republic Santiago mission – we were at a family home evening with other members at a single girl’s house. Apparently we got too loud for drunk dad/uncle/not sure who he was, but he got mad and burst into the house yelling and waving a machete. We all got up and ran like crazy, and later people told me that as I ran past the guy he swung his machete at my head and missed by inches. Oh, and I spent an afternoon in jail as well :D

  13. BHodges says:

    I saw a man drive up to a small group of people across the street in Milwaukee, get out of the car and start waving a shiny pistol around. Everyone scattered. We were sitting on a porch and ducked behind a small wall at the front of the porch. Another time I walked past a short guy and noticed he was carrying a pistol in his right hand. I didn’t see any actual shootings, though.

  14. One Sat. night in my mission in the Midwest/South in the late 80’s my trainer and I were in for the night (about 10 p.m.)and there was a pounding on the door. The person was slurring their words and yelling for us to open the door or else. I looked out the peephole in the door and saw this HUGE native american guy standing there. He said he was going to break down our door, then he smashed the porch light so we couldn’t see him any more. My comp and I looked around the apartment and saw that we could maybe use one of the dumbell weights as weapons to defend ourselves, because he now started to try to actually break down the door. We both used all our weight to push against the door. He then said “I’ve got a .45 out here!” I freaked out because I knew what he was talking about…my comp didn’t have a clue what a .45 was. My comp was also on the phone with 911 the entire time and we could hear through the door when the police arrived and tackled the guy and arrested him. The next day was Sunday and we were coming home from church, when we walked up to our apartment and in the apt building courtyard were about 5-6 huge native american guys who called over to us when they saw us. My comp and I thought we were done for now because we’d called the police on their buddy and they are going to get revenge. We walked over to them…….and they apologized to us for how their buddy acted last night and they were sorry if he scared us. We thought we were going to die! I used to tell that story a lot when I got home, but haven’t in a long time.

  15. I never saw a murder firsthand. But there were definitely some adventures.

    I missed the gunpoint robbery of the mission office by about one minute. The APs drove by us as we were walking from the bus stop to the mission office. They honked and waved, and kept driving. They got there in time to be robbed, and we didn’t. We probably saw the robbers leaving as we walked in, but we didn’t notice them (people are in and out of the office all the time). When we walked in it was completely empty. Weird. We called out, “hello?” A muffled voice from the supply closet replied, “are they gone?”

    We opened the closet, and the APs, secretaries, President and his wife, and a few random elders who had happened to be there at the time, were all in the closet. The robbers had come in, put a gun to an elder’s head, demanded money, and then left. It was a really quick strike. Afterwards, the APs said they got away with about $10,000. The elder who they randomly grabbed as their temporary hostage was a kid who had been particularly high-strung and had trouble in an outlying area, and had been moved to the office as a mission secretary because it was less stressful. He had a nervous breakdown and had to be sent home.

  16. Shawn H says:

    Sheesh!! What a boring (thankfully) mission I had. Never saw any violence. Only interesting thing was when my comp tried to persuade a prostitute ( he didn’t know she was working – gotta love Utah) to let us come to her house an teach her. She was amazingly sweet as she turned him down repeatedly. I just watched and chuckled. Barcelona mission.

  17. Peter LLC says:

    I know well the feeling of paralysis. One night my comp and I were walking to ward council when we encountered a drunk couple. The man spit on my comp as we passed on the sidewalk. I registered my disaproval upon which the guy fumbled around and drew a pistol. I froze in terror but fortunately the wife/girlfriend freaked and knocked the gun to the ground. The guy then took a seing at me, which I ducked, causing the clow to land on my comp’s ear. My comp then performed a remarkable flying kick to the guy’s chest and brief (gunless) melee ensued. It ended as abruptly as it started and we tottered off to our meeting with our opponent swearing revenge as stumbled off in the opposite direction.

  18. Peter LLC says:

    Good grief. Make that “The guy then took a swing at me, which I ducked, causing the blow to land on my comp’s ear.”

  19. Melanie RC says:

    Ummm….Exactly how long ere you married before a minor experience like seeing a man’s head cut off was shared? Just saying – kinda hard to get past that! (have only read that far)

  20. TheMeanGuy says:

    1) A little kid pulled a .45 on me. It was an old 1911.
    2) Your wife saw a guy get his head cut off with a machete and it never came up until you asked? Really?

  21. racerx says:

    Dominican Republic- Santo Domingo: I wasn’t ever in a zone that was safe/comfortable enough for sister missionaries, but all of my areas in the capital all had reputations for violence. Once during a family home evening there was a huge ruckus outside and everyone went out to watch. The sidewalks were lined with people watching what was going on, and the street was filled with tigueres (not organized enough to really call them gang members) who were having a street fight. There were a bunch running around with machetes and pipes, and there were also a few driving motorscooters through the mess with a passenger on the back holding a pipe or a machete taking swings at people. I saw one guy get hit in the back of the neck with a heavy pipe, and he immediately collapsed. He was carried off a minute or two later by some friends. Other than that we mostly just saw evidence of violence right before we showed up- a guy running down the street holding his arm after someone cut off his hand with a machete, a disconnected head in a motorcycle helmet, a guy who fell off a 4th story building….

  22. It’s true. Truth be told, she had many other negative experiences on her mission that were more personally traumatizing for her (all of which I’ve been told about). This one was visually terrifying but not as deeply personal as some of those other experiences. She said she really had forgotten until I asked.

  23. Wow, these are some crazy experiences. I hope that those who have seen such violence have been able to get some psychological help. I don’t have anything at all to compare, but I do remember something that was pretty amusing, all things considered. I served in the Spain-Malaga mission in the early 2000’s. Towards the end of my mission, in the city of Jerez de la Frontera my companion and the other two missionaries in our area were walking back home from visit with members when a small group of young men, aged about 15-18 started harassing us. Pretty normal stuff, really. We tried to engage with them casually but found that they were far to angry to be settled down by the normal talk of sports and other minutia. We continued and one of them grabbed a 2×4 board and started brandishing it like a weapon. We walked faster. The board-carrying one rushed up and managed to strike one of the elders in the back of the head. We all turned and started yelling at them, and they eventually ran off. The elder who was hit was ok, but had a bruise and (if memory serves) was bleeding a bit. We decided to stop by the police station on the way home to report it. Because of that my companion and I wound up coming home later than usual. At that time we lived in a small courtyard apartment with an extended family of Gypsies. They had more-or-less adopted us into their group and our landlord was horrified that we’d been treated like that. I tried to brush him off but he demanded to know where it had taken place and what the boys had looked like. I eventually relented and then he and another man who lived there got in their car and rushed off. A few days later, we were in the same part of town where we’d been attacked and one of the boys appeared and made a bee-line towards us. He apologized profusely for their behavior, claiming they’d been drunk and high at the time. Apparently, our landlord had gone down to that neighborhood and put the word out that any action against the Mormon missionaries would be considered an attack on his family of Gypsies. So we were left alone and even given some deferential respect after that.

  24. One night, in Beziers, southern France, leaving a meeting at the branch president’s home, my companion and I were accosted by a man, who, I thought, was asking for directions. I stopped, my companion continued walking. Before I realized the man was drunk, he threw himself forward and head-butted me. I staggered backwards, then moved away from him and started walking towards my companion. The man shouted but didn’t follow. When I reached my companion, he told me he thought I’d been stabbed. A headache lingered for a few hours.

  25. EdmundsTucker says:

    In SP, Brazil in the same rough area we had 2 experiences. One night we heard a gunshot and a few minutes later we saw this kid walking by so we stopped to talk to him. He was super shaken up. He told us he had just seen a murder a few minutes ago. Some thug named Sapo (frog) had shot and killed a local guy who was visiting family back in the hood (he had gotten a good job and life, and left the ‘hood a while ago). A few days later we were teaching a guy the 3rd discussion when a friend walked in and said, “Hey Sapo, ……” We asked the guy if Sapo was his nickname, he said it was. We asked if that was a common nickname around here. He said no, he was THE Sapo. We wrapped that appointment up and never did schedule another appointment with him.

    Later another night this local glue sniffing addict named Joao Batata (John potato) tried to pick a fight with us, which we just laughed off and left (he was super high). We had made friends with all the local gang banger kids. They thought we were cool (owing to our americanism probably). *Side note, we brought them all to church when we first met them, but they’d all murdered someone, so we just left the door open and stayed friendly. *end side note. So every night gang bangers would ask us how our day was as we walked home, they liked hearing our stories. We told them about Joao Batata trying to fight us. And they got series and said that they would handle it, that they’d been meaning to get around to knocking him off. We talked them down pretty quick, that he was a harmless addict, but they were ready to kill him for us.

    PS, anybody who served in Rio De Janeiro has dozens of crazy stories like this if they served in the favelas. You’d be in a public place, and hear someone yell, “Does anybody know this person?” Everyone would look away as that person would shoot him/her. Everyone just wanders off. 2nd hand story heard many times about Rio. City scares me to death. Olympics 2016 should be interesting.

  26. The Other Brother Jones says:

    I served in Montreal. In my first area there was a neighborhood that was a little rougher than usual. I guess the local mob types were wondering who we were looking like feds canvassing the neighborhood. I guess we tracted into one of them and he let his buddies know who we were. I guess they sort of kept track of where we were and that nobody should bother us.

    Of course, we only found out about this later when we were teaching this guy who knew the mobsters. We had heard of this guy before and were warned to stay away from him. We recognized him by the bullet hole scars and a long surgery scar that went from neck to navel when we tracted into him. We tried to get out of there but he invited us in.

    Turns out he was the nicest guy. Local kids would come by and ask to walk his dog. He would curse at them, throw them a couple of bucks and the dog and tell them to bring him back in an hour! Other thugs didn’t want to mess with him but he would help little old ladies carry groceries. Years before he was an up and coming boxer, but he quit when the mob was pressuring him to tun his career. But he did beat people up for the sailor’s union.

    The reason for the scars was that he got into a bar fight that continued outside. The other guy pulled out a revolver and gave him a warning shot. My friend kept mouthing off, so he got the other 5. About 6 weeks later, after he got out of the hospital and recovered some, the bar where this occurred mysteriously burned down. They never found out who did it. They should have asked the missionaries! We could have helped them!

    So we taught him and had some good gospel discussions. He read the Book of Mormon some and marked the places where he had questions. But he wasn’t motivated to change his life, so it didn’t go too far.

  27. whizzbang says:

    Um, I served in Arcadia, Ca but can’t recall any harrowing experiences like that! However I live in Winnipeg and we had a missionary who served here who committed murder, Mark Hacking. I totally remember him as a youth. I knew he got sent home and the missionaries at the time telling me about what all happened. Then later I heard about a Mark Hacking on the news and wondered if it was the same guy or just same last name. I saw some news report or something about him serving as a Mormon Missionary in Canada and former RMs were interviewed and i was like oh boy, it’s the same fella

  28. Saw several fights, one involving a knife which caused severe injuries. Had an M-16 pointed at me one night by a Korean MP. I remember being in the MTC and hearing the report of a missionary drowning his companion in their apartment after a fight (1976). Spies on the loose and the threat if war. Fun times!

  29. whizzbang,

    Just to be clear — Mark Hacking committed murder *after* his mission, right? He killed his wife after she discovered his whole life was a ruse — he would have been 28 or 29 years old, I think.

  30. whizzbang says:

    @jack-yes, he murdered his wife after his mission but he had been a missionary here

  31. My comp and I had a gun pointed at us once in Japan by a crazy ex-investigator turned evangelical Christian. Nothing else.

  32. fireland says:

    I am so curious. What did the rumors say he got sent home for?

  33. In the Russia Samara Mission, while my comp and I were waiting at a bus stop, she started street-contacting a young couple in their early twenties. I stood back a little bit trying to follow along (I’d only been in the field about 6 weeks, so my Russian wasn’t fluent). While she was talking, another young man in his twenties walked up to me and started chatting. He kept stepping into my comfort zone, so I kept instinctively backing up until I backed into two other young men, who turned out to be friends of his.

    The guy then reached out, and began stroking my arm and telling me what a pretty girl I was and some other stuff I couldn’t understand. In the meantime, I was starting to feel a bit concerned, blocked in by these three guys, ten feet away from my companion. And I had noticed everyone else at the stop had moved as far away as possible by the curb and were avoiding looking at us. When the bus came a moment later, my comp turned around, ran over, and grabbed my arm to pull me to the bus. One of the guys behind me grabbed me around the waist, though, and she let go and ran and got on the bus.

    I struggled to get free and finally elbowed the guy as hard as I could in the chest, got loose, and ran to the bus. I had just grabbed my comp’s hand when they grabbed me from behind again. Everyone on the bus was yelling at the driver to drive. I thought I was done for. But then a very elderly man with a cane elbowed his way to the door of the bus and started whacking these guys with his cane. They let go, my companion pulled me partway into the bus, and then while my legs were still dangling off the step, the driver hit the gas and drove off. I remember being a bit breathless but basically felt fine. My parents were much more frightened by the story than I was by the experience.

  34. Some great stories here. Definitely getting the feeling that 1st World missions aren’t nearly as exciting (or dangerous…) as others.

    I am surprised that at least some of these stories made their way home to parents. I thought the biggest unspoken rule in all missions was “don’t write home about stuff that will freak your parents out.”

  35. Notforthis says:

    One Sunday night in uptown San Francisco we heard a gunshot outside our window and a few minutes later the police arrived and picked up a body. Next day was P-day, just as we were getting ready to leave there were multiple gunshots. Like idiots, we looked out and saw the gunman running down the street, a body crumpled in the gutter with most of its head missing, and a woman screaming hysterically. (Turns out these were the bookends to a weekend gang war that had another killing sandwiched in between in another part of the city.) Saw homeless people fight, a bike currier as bus fodder, heard a LA tell us about his time as special ops in Vietnam and how he collected ears to prove his kills – and brought them home afterward. Was physically accosted once and had multiple companions who had been sexually accosted on the street or bus. Went to an appt. to find that the investigator had been killed in a drive-by a couple days earlier. Initiated greenies by counting sandblasted sections of sidewalk in the projects, revealing places of massive blood stains.

    Most of the stories I tell aren’t about violence though, just general human weirdness. It was understood that when you went to the city (no sisters), you came away with stories.

  36. It never occurred to me not to write home and tell my parents exactly what was happening. I’ve always been pretty candid. But after my dad’s second or third call to my mission president to find out why the he** his daughter was constantly in dangerous situations, the president asked my zone leader to tell me that I should probably save some stories for when I got home. :)

  37. “What did the rumors say he got sent home for?”

    It doesn’t matter. Whatever they were, they were inappropriate. Period. Specifying whatever rumors were said in this case limits the impact of the fact that all such rumors are inappropriate.

  38. Wow. My mission (in southern Italy) wasn’t nearly as exciting as I thought it was. One comp and I got followed home one night by some investigators who turned out to be a lot more interested in young American women than in the first discussion, and I eventually learned to hit the men I liked to call the bus molesters, which invariably caused them to back off, and even sometimes to apologize. It was actually kind of satisfying. I really hated the little fourteen-year-old boys who would zoom by us on their Vespas and reach out for a grab because there was no getting back at them as they sailed off into the distance, cackling with glee.

    But no murders. Not complaining. Not complaining at all.

  39. OK. So, neither my husband nor I served missions. My oldest plans to, but I am starting to have some doubts….

  40. Niklas says:

    I served my mission in idyllic small towns in Sweden, no murders there. I did witness an explotion of a self-made pipe bomb close to our appartment in a quiet provincial town, but nobody was harmed.
    Some neighborhoods in larger towns had lot of refugees from Afghanistan or Iraq who didn’t really deem Americans as liberators or heros. Those places could have been dangerous for missionaries, but because I’m European, I had no problems.

  41. Angela C says:

    Nona – these stories are interesting because they are relatively rare. I wouldn’t be too worried.

    I served in the Canary Islands, Spain. No murders witnessed, but one comp and I were mugged by two druggies on our way to visit a newly baptized family. When we got to their house, my comp said what happened, and the dad and son went after the muggers with a machete. They held the machete to the guy’s gut until he coughed up my comp’s cheap watch. I had another comp who was purse-snatched and dragged down an alley by the thief. She had to have the gravel picked out of her legs in the hospital. When I informed our very gentle president of the incident, he thoughtfully said, “Hermana, sometimes I just want to take a two by four to some people.” We also had one area where we had to walk between two 20 foot high concrete walls with only about a 15 foot wide path between, and every day about halfway along this path there was a naked man laying on the ground beckoning to us from the bushes.

    My husband who served in the same mission found a dead junkie in the hallway of one apartment he lived in. Also, there was an evangelista in the apartment across the air shaft from theirs who would sing hymns all day long. One day her husband slit her throat. There was another elder in our mission who was stabbed in the butt by some kids on the street because they wanted his companion’s fancy pen. He had to have a few stitches.

    My sister served in Perth. She said that two missionaries from her mission got married, and later the husband who had also struggled with mental illness in the mission killed his wife and baby and left their dismembered bodies in the Arizona desert. I believe he then killed himself, but it’s been years since I heard her tell the story, so I’m not sure.

    The beheading would be very hard to forget.

  42. Nona,
    It is a testimony builder to me that more bad things don’t happen to missionaries. I served in a relatively “safe” place, but even still I found myself in a few less than safe situations. Missionaries end up in all kinds of questionable places and yet very few missionaries are killed or hurt because of violence. In my opinion missionaries biggest risks come from accidents. I’m amazed that their aren’t more of those. Accidents happen to everyone whether you are on a mission or not.

  43. Master Blaster says:

    Statistically, missionaries are far safer on a mission than the general populace at large for that age group.


  44. They may be safer than the general public at large, but pretty sure they aren’t safer than my nice suburban community college. Just sayin.

  45. TylerDahl says:

    Norway: saw two homeless drunks beat each other until one had blood come out his ear. They were arguing who was going to push the button to open the door when the train arrived at the next stop.

    Also a missionary, who was from the country, took pictures of a huge car wreck and texted them to a journalist friend in hopes that he would get on the news.

  46. Meldrum the Less says:

    The most violent people I ran across on my mission to Japan were….THE MISSIONARIES!

    One missionary probably had an undiagnosed paranoid condition. He smuggled a .357 revolver into Japan and carried it with him all the time. Sometimes he would get realy quiet and angry, stay up until midnight and slowly throw the kitchen knives at the picture of President Kimball taped to the wall for a couple of hours. We thought of him as more obnoxious than dangerous. He was lazy and a slept a lot which was just as well.

    My first junior companion did not like me. He was a BYU football player and he got so mad at me that he picked up and smashed a small couch against a cinder block wall. I was afraid he was going to be the end of me, but he never drew blood and we survived the month.

    One missionary in my last district slept in habitually. It was winter, and quite cold. When the usual measures failed, I would turn a fan on his futon and then yanked it off of him. He was 6′ 9″ and he would just yank it back away from me and go back to sleep. One morning I put the fan on him, tied a rope to the corner of his futon and trailed it down the stairs to the front door. I got my companion and made him put on his shoes and say a prayer; for our safety, and also since it was a rule to pray whenever we left our house and it was likely we would be doing so shortly. At the sound of “Amen,” I yanked the rope so furiously the futon came tumbling down the stairs. He was not far behind and chased us out the door and down the street wearing only his garments. I had the futon and my companion had the other end of the rope. He grabbed an umbrella and was going to bonk us. Truthfully, we were all laughing by the time we got back to the house and he went right back to sleep.

    I dated a gorgeous Japanese girl in college back in Utah. She had a vaguely shady reputation and eventually told me that she was the daughter of a Yakuza mistress not married to her father, an oyabun (leader). She joined the LDS church to facilitate coming to America to escape them and a life as a teen escort/entertainer/prostitute. In Japan she felt safe from them around the Mormon missionaries, especially at the conferences when there might be dozens of us horsing around.
    (Yakuza= heavily tattooed Japanese mafia; generally involved in gambling, prostitution, smuggling, probably drugs discretely; they pretended then to be a legitimate organization and were not that violent, openly anyway.)

    We played quite a few pranks, definitely outside the current boundaries of approved missionary behavior. But beyond psychological fear and a bit of property damage we never harmed anyone that I knew about. All of the unapprehended murderers in the entire country of Japan had their pictures on the wall in the post office and there were only a handful, this in a country of more than 100 million people.

  47. I was waiting for the Meldrum story, figuring it had to be more extreme than anyone else could provide – and presenting a bad image of the Church in some less than blatant way.

    Half-right; half-wrong. Oh, well.

  48. You and me both, Ray — I expected it to be about how murder was a regular quorum activity led by the shady leaders in his stake, and how one of his sons was ostracized by the other deacons when they complained about his long hair because it sometimes got in the way of the knife when it was Meldrum Jr.’s turn to cut a throat, and how utterly unjust that was and therefore how fake the church was. Pffffft. There’s no creativity in his shopworn comment here.

  49. kevinf says:

    No mission myself, but my oldest son in the Dominican Republic-Santo Domingo witnessed a gang of locals hack a Haitian to death with machetes. Only heard about that one after he got home. A second son who served in Buenos Aires got tear gassed at an anti-American rally during the financial crisis there, and had to hide in an investigators home until the riot ended. Son # 3 served in Spanish speaking New Jersey Morristown, and saw lots of violence in Newark, Union City, and other inner city areas where he served. He did say that the gang members would make sure that nothing bad happened to the “Jesus boys” as they were called, so he never felt too personally threatened.
    My daughter served in Santiago, Chile, and while I am not aware of any specific things, she developed a sense of courage and a “take no crap” attitude that her comps noted about her. Part of that must have come from having 5 brothers.

  50. I never saw a murder, but my comp and I were staring out the huge window in the front row on the top level of a double decker bus in Hong Kong when a pedestrian darted out into the street and our bus hit and killed him. It was pretty gruesome and was traumatic at the time, but I don’t think I’ve thought of it at all in at least a decade until this thread dug it out of my memory.

  51. Someday, when my husband is in charge of the whole Provo MTC, I will read this post and every comment at our first devotional. My talk will be called, “Take no crap.” Subtitled: Ways to recognize when somebody is beyond help, for example if he no longer has a head.”
    The missionaries will be very interested.

  52. Haykakan says:

    I served in Armenia a few years ago and got into a couple of scrapes.

    In my first month in the field, I was kicked and my companion was punched in the face by a drunk middle aged man who was babbling about how much he hated Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    There was another instance later on where a few guys our age were harassing the sister missionaries in our area. We confronted them and after a lot of big talk from them, they backed down when they realized we weren’t going to. (I’m not sure how we would have fared had they really wanted to fight.)

    In another area, a different companion and I walked into a serious domestic violence situation. A liter of vodka had turned an guy who up to that point had been an investigator of ours into a runaway freight train. (He was a big, tall guy, well over 250 lbs.) There were 2 women (sisters) in the house and a 3 y.o. girl. He had thrown the girl against the wall, broken a few ribs and the nose of one of the women, and was in the process of doing the same to the other. We were able to diffuse the situation and get everyone out of there safely only suffering a few deep bruises in the process. As per usual in the 3rd world, the man who perpetrated the violence suffered no real consequences at the hands of the “law” following the incident.

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