Stories: Non-native LDS missionaries pulled from Venezuela
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Non-native LDS missionaries pulled from Venezuela
Posted: Tuesday, October 25, 2005 4:28:30 PM
Fullness of Times.com
On 24 October 2005, the LDS Church made a press release about their recent actions to remove 220 non-native missionaries from Venezuela and reassign them to other missions. The press release is as follows: "Difficulties concerning visas for missionaries have led The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to remove its U.S. missionaries from Venezuela, according to church spokesman Dale Bills. The problem involves renewing visas and obtaining new visas for missionaries serving in that country, he added. Consequently, the church 'has decided to reassign U.S. missionaries serving in Venezuela to other Spanish-speaking missions in Latin America, the U.S. and Canada where such missionaries are needed,' he added in an e-mail sent to the Deseret Morning News on Sunday night. 'Parents have been advised accordingly,' he added. Bills said the church will keep the matter under review."
"We can finally write and tell you all what is going on here in Venezuela," wrote Denton Rex Rogers, president of the Venezuela Maracaibo Mission, in an email to members of his home Ward in Arizona on 23 October. "Many of you have already heard rumors, but we were not allowed to say anything."
Presidents of all four Venezuelan missions received surprise calls on Wednesday, 19 October, from their area authority asking them to have their missionaries on "lock in" the next day, meaning that they were not to leave their apartments.
On Thursday evening, mission presidents were again contacted and informed that all non-native missionaries would immediately be reassigned to other missions.
"We were told not to say anything," wrote President Rogers, "We were told that the Prophet and his counselors and the 12 Apostles had been in the temple all day and they felt it was time to take all North Americans out of Venezuela. Wow, we were really shocked and were still not allowed to say anything."
Missionaries whose service completes on or before December 2005 were immediately released. Those whose service completes in June 2006 were reassigned to Spanish speaking missions within the United States. All other missionaries were reassigned to Chile.
As missionaries were notified, they were prohibited from calling or writing home. The Missionary Department in Salt Lake City, Utah notified parents of the transfers.
"[I] got a call just a few days ago from the Mission Department," wrote one father of a Venezuelan serving missionary, "saying [our] daughter was being transferred out of the country and that she'd call [us] on X day at X time." The parents had no idea what was going on and wondered whether their daughter was hurt or sick. She was reassigned to a mission in California.
In one mission, the missionaries gathered at the mission home for a day or so and were told to not tell anyone where they were going or what they were doing. They returned to their apartments only to clean and pack.
Elder Collins from Washington state, who was immediately released from the Barcelona Mission, reported that they were not to dress in their missionary attire nor wear their name badges as they left, and that if anyone had blonde hair they were to wear a hat. Efforts were made to protect those missionaries who looked "American".
Elder Collins also said that their plane left Miami, Florida just hours before Hurricane Wilma ploughed through that state.
This is not the first time that the LDS Church has pulled missionaries out of a country. At the start of World War II, for example, missionaries returned home from every country. Missionaries have been pulled out of countries at times for a variety of reasons.
Missionaries from Within
All four mission presidents and all stake presidents throughout the country met in Caracas with the area authorities that Saturday. They were informed, wrote President Rogers, that "this country and this country only, was given permission to call worthy 18 year olds to serve full-time missions." Missionaries are typically called to serve no earlier than age 19 for men and age 21 for women.
"Wow!" exclaimed President Rogers, "When we think that many of our Latino elders have only been members for 1 year and that neither of their parents are members, we are again surprised!
"However," continued President Rogers, "those missionaries have been some of the best! When you have to make changes in your life to become a member we find that they know the truth and they have embraced the Gospel. Who knows, perhaps the Lord has raised up another bunch of Stripling Warriors!"
Missionary Visas Suspended
The Venezuelan government suspended missionary visas in August 2005 after Evangelist Pat Robertson, a former presidential candidate in 1988, said that U.S. government should kill Chavez to protect American petroleum interests and because the Venezuelan president "has destroyed the Venezuelan economy, and he's going to make that a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent."
On 12 October, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez issued an expulsion order for American missionary group, the New Tribes Mission. Chávez proclaimed that New Tribes constituted a "true imperialist invasion" and was working with the CIA. He added, "We don't want the New Tribes here. Enough colonialism! 500 years is enough!"
The announcement of New Tribes' expulsion was timed perfectly to coincide with Columbus Day, which Chávez has renamed Indigenous Resistance Day.
With missionary visas an issue, the number of missionaries continued to decrease. "So, the missionary force has to come from within. What an opportunity for this country!" wrote President Rogers. "The work continues to move forward."
Teodoro Hoffman replaces Roberts as President of the Venezuela Maracaibo Mission. Hoffman is the welfare director for Venezuela and has previously served as a mission president. Many Venezuelan people, including some of the missionaries know him. Hoffman will remain until a new mission president is called in July.
President Guerra of the Valencia Mission is also being sent home to Chile. Guerra will return to his former job as an institute director for the church education system.
President David Hoopes and his counselor, Brother Johnson, serving in the Caracas Temple, will remain in Church service in Venezuela. Both are North Americans. Their movements are restricted between their apartments and the temple and will be monitored for safety. This too may change in the future.
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