SALT LAKE CITY – The Mormon church for the first time ever is sending out a survey to the religion's 62,000 missionaries to gauge safety conditions for young men and women serving proselytizing missions around the world, the religion said Monday.
The confidential online survey wasn't triggered by one particular incident or a decrease in missionary safety, but rather a desire to assess conditions amid a changing world landscape, said Eric Hawkins, spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Results will be used to potentially modify safety guidelines or mission assignments. The survey will include questions asking missionaries if they've endured physical threats such as being robbed or attacked and whether they've suffered any form of sexual harassment.
Up until now, safety guidelines have been based on feedback from mission presidents about what they observe in their areas.
"This survey is to help us better understand the day-to-day experiences and perceptions of missionaries around the world related to physical safety," Hawkins said in a statement.
Men serve for two years while women serve for 18 months in missions that are considered rites of passages in the Utah-based religion that counts nearly 16 million members worldwide.
One missionary has died this year, Hawkins said. Four died in 2016, and six in 2015, church figures show.
Last year, four missionaries nearly died when they were in the Brussels airport when a bomb went off. In recent years, missionaries have also been pulled out of Venezuela and Ukraine due to unrest in those countries.
Missionaries are taught basic guidelines to keep safe and told to rely on their own best judgment.
The guidelines call for missionaries to stay away from unsafe areas, only travel at night in lighted areas and "walk quickly and with purpose." They are also taught to avoid confrontations, stay away from public demonstrations and be cognizant that some groups or institutions may have anti-American feelings.
A recent video showed a Mormon missionary in Brazil fighting off two robbers while wearing the white shirt and tie that is the customary attire of missionaries. The video shows two men drive up to the American missionary on a motorcycle. One man pulls out a gun. The missionary wrestles it away from him, throws the gun over a fence and then fights off the second attacker.
Hawkins said after that incident that missionaries aren't taught self-defense, but that church officials were pleased everyone was safe.
The church guidelines also advise missionaries to rely on their faith.
"Listen to and follow the promptings of the spirit, which can warn you of danger," the guidelines say. "Be sensitive to anything that is out of the ordinary, especially anyone who watches you closely or asks probing questions."