Here are several safety tips for LDS missionaries.
It’s common for pre-missionaries and their families to feel concerned when they receive a mission call to serve in an area notorious for crime and gang violence. While I’m not expert on missionary safety, here are some observations I made while on my Mormon Mission to Argentina.
Safety tips for LDS missionaries
1) Obey the missionary handbook.
The handbook has several general safety tips for all missionaries (including some on this list).
2) Obey your mission president.
Your LDS Mission President may be inspired to give you specific safety guidelines. Before the Chilean earthquakes, at least one Mission President in Chile was inspired to visit each apartment in the mission and make sure they were prepared in the event an earthquake should happen.
3) Avoid dark pathways at night.
I lost one of my ties to a drunk Argentinian because my companion and I walked on a dimly-lit path one night. Luckily the man didn’t take anything else from us and we were able to safely leave the situation. As I’ve interviewed dozens of returned missionaries, I’ve noticed a common theme- almost all dangerous encounters happen in the evening.
4) Stay with your companion at all times.
This is essential and will protect you physically and spiritually.
5) Ask ward members to accompany you.
It’s my opinion people are less likely to give you problems when a native member is with you.
6) Lock your apartment doors.
There were one or two times on my mission I was very grateful our outside doors were locked. Specifically I recall hearing what seemed to be someone shaking our outer door trying to get in one night. I was grateful we locked the door that night.
7) Change the paths you travel each day.
This makes it harder for strangers to predict where you will be at any given moment. If an ill-willed individuals know exactly where the missionaries go every day, they could attempt to harm them if they chose to.
8) Don’t give out your address to people on the street or online.
Really, there’s no reason for anyone but your mission and your ward members to know exactly where you live. With missionaries having access to Facebook it will be even more important to keep your address private. You might consider never posting your address online and setting your privacy settings high.
9) Don’t fearfully avoid groups of delinquents.
I think gangs feed off of fear. If you act calm while near them, they may be less likely to bother you.
10) Consider forming positive acquaintances with gang members.
You’ll have to use your judgment and the Spirit on this one, but sometimes it may be beneficial to go up to gang members and meet them. If you can form a positive acquaintance with them, they may be less likely to rob you, etc. They may even protect you from other delinquents. Once there was a drunk man asking us for money while waving a butter knife in the air. Eventually one of our friends (a delinquent) told him to stop bothering us and he did.
11) Listen to and follow the Spirit.
I think this is the most important safety tip you can follow. If the Spirit tells you to avoid a street, avoid it. If the Spirit tells you not to enter a home that invites you in, don’t enter. Even if you don’t know the reason for the prompting or it doesn’t seem to make sense to you, follow it. I’ve heard several stories of when missionaries were placed in an unsafe situation, because they didn’t heed an impression of the Spirit.
12) Walk with determination.
It’s harder to bother missionaries who are moving at a good pace. It may be wise to foresee oncoming dangerous individuals and cross the street and walk quickly (without acting too unnatural or frightened).
13) Avoid dangerous areas.
When you arrive to a new area, your missionary companion and ward members will likely know what parts of town are dangerous and in general are good to avoid. Your area book may also have some guidelines as to where to avoid. In many countries it is often more dangerous near bars, dance party locations and run-down neighborhoods.
14) Be back to your apartment by 9 p.m. or no later than 9:30 p.m. (if you are in a lesson).
This is a mission rule for most LDS missions. Some missions may require sisters to be home sooner (before dark) and some missions may allow missionaries to proselyte a little longer than 9 p.m..
15) Practice expanding your safety vocabulary.
You might consider learning to recognize a few words relating to safety and crime, including: help, fire, stop, come, gun, knife, rob, steal, kill, fight, rape, run, gang, etc. One of my old roommates heard a lady yell “rape,” in Spanish and was able to help protect the lady.
16) Get to know ward members in areas you visit.
This way ward members will be more likely to keep an eye out for you and you’ll feel comfortable going to their homes if you ever need to leave a dangerous situation on the streets. Your friends can become a sort of on-call help.
17) Keep valuables in the apartment or out of sight.
Wearing a backpack, a watch or carrying a cell phone on the streets can attract people who want to steal. If you need to carry a valuable in public you may want to hide the valuable (I used to hide my digital camera under my pant leg, underneath my sock).
18) Have some spare cash to give.
In Argentina they recommended having 5-10 pesos on hand to give someone if they tried to rob you. Once they get what they want, the robber may be more likely to leave you alone.
19) Don’t resist being robbed.
If you resist you could put the safety of your companionship and future companionships in jeopardy.
20) Learn how to whistle with your fingers.
Learning to make a loud whistle by making a “V” with your fingers may be useful on your mission and after to signal to others if you are lost or in danger. The loud whistle will likely travel farther than a yell.
21) Do regular exercise.
I think a strong football player worries less about safety on the mission and for good reason. Having good cardio will help you to run from danger if necessary. Having more strength will give you an increased ability to defend yourself and your companion if it were ever necessary.
22) Don’t react to barking dogs.
In a lot of countries there are stray dogs on the streets. In Argentina I sometimes found myself surrounded by 5-10 dogs. I noticed if I didn’t show fear they usually wouldn’t bother me for very long. I once had a new companion on the mission who always attracted barking dogs (I believe) because he would move away from the dogs and act startled when they barked. Despite the thousands of barking dogs I saw on my mission I was only bitten by 2-3 dogs on my mission and the bites weren’t very painful. Another trick to deter dogs is to bend over and pick up a rock (not throw it- the mere act of bending over is enough to scare most dogs away).
23) Be careful with gas heaters and stoves.
I heard about a few missionaries in my mission who died years ago because they turned up the heat in winter and sealed off door and window cracks. One day there was too much gas inside the apartment and the missionaries fell asleep and didn’t wake up again. In South America there are many deaths each year of people who use gas stoves and heaters and seal air openings. Also, gas heaters and stoves can become explosive if you let the gas run before the flame is lit.
24) Avoid heated conversations in person and online.
Almost all physical violence is preceded by argument. I’ve found that if someone wants to argue with them, it usually is not an ideal teaching opportunity. If someone tries to debate or argue online, I might recommend kindly declining to argue and if they continue, you might consider blocking the person.
25) Look up crime reports for your mission
If you serve a stateside mission in the United States, you will be able to look up crime reports for areas of your mission. By looking at several cities’ crime reports you will begin to see some patterns of crime in your mission. Perhaps knowledge of crime patterns in your mission will help you to recognize potential dangers in your areas.
26) If you have a bike, watch out for vehicles!
In some countries there is the driver mentality of the biggest dog gets the road. If you are on a bike, drivers may not pay much attention to you. Biking can be especially dangerous on roundabouts. One of my friends who served in Texas biked around a lot and occasionally was harassed by people in vehicles. For example, once as he was biking a big slurpee flew right over his head. Another time, a different elder felt the fist on someone in a car driving by clip his ear while he was riding his bike.
27) Wear a helmet while cycling
One of my friends who served his mission in Jamaica was hit in his helmet while he was on a bike. A boy used his sling to throw a rock at him. The rock made a hole in his helmet. If he had not been wearing his helmet, the rock might have injured his head.
28) Don’t visit someone you feel you shouldn’t
It’s better safe than sorry! In Russia there was an instance when a sketchy man told the missionaries to stop by an apartment. One of the missionaries didn’t want to go. They went anyway and we beaten and held hostage for a long time. Even if someone acts interested in your message, don’t visit them if the Spirit gives you any feeling of hesitation or danger.
29) Avoid wearing a backpack in public
For some reason backpacks are like thief-magnets in certain parts of the world. THe only time someone tried to rob me and my trained happened when he decided to wear a backpack. Besides giving the impression that you might have something of value n your backpack (such as a laptop or camera), double-strapped backpacks give thieves something to grab if they want to hold you from running away. A single-strap bag makes it much easier to get away from a dangerous situation and does not call as much attention.
30) Wear comfortable walking shoes
If you are a sister it might be a good idea to steer clear from any high heels. High heels have a provocative connotation in some men’s minds. Also, wearing comfortable walking shoes will make it easier to run away from a dangerous situation if the time should ever arise. It’s almost always safer to run from a dangerous situation than to confront one.
31) If possible find an apartment with a bolt-lock
If you cannot find an apartment with a bolt lock you might consider asking your landlord for permission to install a bolt lock on your outer door(s). I’ve learned that it is extremely easy for people to pick a door lock. All it requires is a little bar and a little pick to push up the pins on your door. If you have a bolt lock that can only be unlocked from the inside, it will make it much hard to break into your apartment. Any extra security you add to your entrances will act as deterrents against break-ins. On my mission in Argentina break ins were very common and some people had several bolt locks on their main door and a metal gate over their front door and bars over their windows.
32) Carry a charged cell phone, on vibrate mode
If you are allowed to use a cell phone you might want to make sure it’s charged before leaving in the morning. If you are ever concerned about your safety you may want to call someone in your ward or district. Ward members will be happy to give you a ride home at night, if you ask them. Also, in some parts of the world people may be less likely to bother you if you are talking on the cell phone with someone, because they don’t want other people to know about crimes they would commit. It may be wise to carry your cell phone on vibrate mode so that you can still tell when someone has called but yet not attract undue attention in public when someone calls.
33) Beware of potential gas leaks
It’s good to be aware of any gas in your apartment. It’s not uncommon for the flame in a water heater to go out and for the water heater to leak harmful gas into an apartment. It’s important to make sure you turn off all gas stoves, ovens and heaters when you are not using them. It’s also very important to have a well-ventilated apartment- especially in the winter. In my mission there was a missionary companionship who passed away about 20 years ago because it was cold- so they sealed all their windows and doors- to keep in the heat. There was a gas problem and the missionaries both passed away in their sleep because their apartment did not have sufficient ventilation. One sign of breathing in odorless harmful gas is feeling drowsy.
34) Don’t wear immodest clothing
Tight or revealing clothing can draw undue attention from the wrong crowd. This is especially so for sister missionaries. The more modestly you dress the more likely you will not have evil-minded individuals entertaining inappropriate thoughts and bothering you. When in doubt, be more modest in your dress.
35) Don’t scare or intimidate others
Never try to intentionally scare or intimidate someone. When you do scare someone you risk having that person make a violent reaction. One Saturday on my mission my companion and I approached a man walking with his two young daughters. In my mind we were being very friendly. However, in the man’s mind he saw two six-foot Americans dressed in suits quickly advancing on him and his daughters. When I said enthusiastically “Good morning! How are you?” he gave me a deathly stare and punched me in the face. I’m still not positive why he punched me, but I think it was because he may have felt intimidated.
36) Don’t walk into the middle of a dangerous situation
There are some buildings that will freely let you in, but you should avoid at all costs. These buildings may include bars, brothels and gang hideouts. Once on my mission I was eagerly seeking to enter as many new homes as possible. I saw a house at the end of a long drive way. As we approached we saw several young adults walk in and out of the door. We thought “this will be easy- we’ll just walk in and start teaching them!” Little did we know we walked straight into a gang hideout. As we talked with them they told us they were a gang and that they liked to kill Mormons. Eventually we saw a couple of vehicles pull up and we thought we might be in for trouble. The ring leader asked us to leave and we did. I learned from that experience that just because some doors are open, doesn’t mean that you should enter them, if they are spiritually or physically dangerous.
37) Start knocking at the top of the stairwell
If you will be knocking doors at apartment buildings, make it a habit to start knocking from the top, down. The reasoning behind this is that if someone were to decide to do something violent to you, you would be more able to run down the stairwell away from the danger. If you start at the bottom and hallway up the stairwell someone from beneath you decides to chase you up the stairwell, it’s not nearly as easy to escape.
38) Learn to whistle with your fingers
While this skill may take you awhile to learn, it will be very valuable to you both during and after your mission. If you take a couple hours and learn how to make a loud whistle by putting your finger tips in your mouth (at the tip of your tongue), you will feel as if you always have a loud whistle you can use in the event of any emergency situation. A loud whistle can often travel farther than a yell. You may also learn to make unique whistle sounds to signal different messages.
39) Don’t play near oceans or rivers
In Doctrine and Covenants 61:15 the Lord says “the days will come that no flesh shall be safe upon the waters.” At least one missionary has died by playing too close to the ocean. If there is a storm- don’t go closer to the danger. There is a reason missionaries are not allowed to swim while on their mission. Oceans can have terrible riptides- when I was younger I felt the force of a riptide almost pull me into the ocean as I clawed at the sand hopelessly. Rivers also have powerful currents- much more powerful than they seem.
40) Learn your area extremely well
If you learn your area well it will help you be more easily directed by the Spirit and also you will be less likely to get lost. The more you can familiarize yourself with your surroundings the more you will be able to recognize danger and the more easily you will be able to find a path to avoid it. If may also be useful to learn what dangerous animals or insects frequent your area.
I hope these tips are helpful! If you have any other ideas, feel free to write them down in the comments below. Some additional thoughts on missionary safety.