Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Up To 38 LDS Missionaries Arrested In Guyana For Not Having "Updated Travel Documents"; All Now Released, But May Be Deported

Update September 3rd: A new story with many more details and some corrections to this story is available. The total number of missionaries affected is now 43. See updated post HERE.

On September 2nd, 2009, KSL Channel 5 reported that at least 30 missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were detained because they allegedly did not have updated travel documents. The Deseret News reports the precise number to be 38; all are young-adult missionaries except for one senior couple. Most of them are U.S. citizens and will be given one month to leave before they are deported, according to Police Chief Henry Greene. Greene later explained that the missionaries had failed to extend their missionary status with the Ministry of Home Affairs. KSL news video embedded below:

Video Courtesy of

The missionaries were actually arrested, and could be heard singing "We Shall Overcome" from their cells Wednesday night. Acting U.S. ambassador Karen Williams expects Guyanese authorities to release them in short order to prepare for possible departure; this has now happened and all the missionaries are back in their apartments. Meanwhile, a lawyer for the missionaries, Nigel Hughes, said he filed a motion with the courts and a judge issued an injunction blocking police from expelling the missionaries effective Thursday September 3rd. Agence France-Presse reported that Guyanese President Bharrat Jagdeo met Wednesday with LDS Church and mission leaders after the arrests.

LDS spokespersons said that the missionaries were strictly engaged in missionary work and had committed no crimes. Kim Farah, the primary spokeswoman for the LDS Church, said church leaders hope they can reach an amicable solution with Guyanese authorities. There are currently an estimated 100 LDS missionaries in Guyana. Official LDS Church statistics show there are 3,935 members scattered among 16 congregations in the country.

This story is still evolving, and so very few sources have picked it up. But here's some semi-informed speculation about this situation. I suggest there are three possible reasons why this occurred, in order of perceived likelihood:

(1). The 38 missionaries are the most junior in terms of service in the country, and some time during the past year, the Guyanese government changed their documentation requirements and failed to effectively communicate that change to either the LDS Church or the American Embassy. Thus missionaries arriving after the change was effectuated would not be in compliance.

(2). Some local Guyanese bureaucrat has an axe to grind against the LDS Church. Nevertheless, Guyana is not known for any particular anti-LDS sentiment or for propagating any measures against the LDS Church. The latter conclusion is supported by at least 10 posts about LDS activities in Guyana on the LDS Church Growth blog.

(3). Guyana has an issue with the U.S. government and is using the missionaries as political pawns.

Because there's no appreciable history of the LDS Church being targeted in Guyana, the prognosis for a successful resolution is good. Perhaps the Guyanese government will even change their minds and allow the 38 missionaries to stay.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am writing one of the 38 LDS missionaries arrested and deported and I asked him about the incident, particularly about the songs they were reported to have been singing. "We shall overcome" is what all the newspapers have been reporting, but they did not sing that song. The did sing some LDS favorites such as "Called to Serve," "Battle Hymn of the Republic," "Come, Come Ye Saints," and "Come All Ye Sons of God." I am familiar with these songs and I can see how they could be mistaken for "We Shall Overcome" by someone who has not heard those hymns before.