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Missionaries face risks, but `it's worth it'

Sigan cada paso.

The phrase, Spanish for "follow each footstep," is the slogan for the Mormon pioneer sesquicentennial celebration in Argentina.It is also the phrase Elder Daniel B. Lawson sends his family, friends and fellow members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have been following his story since he was shot in the face Saturday during a holdup in a Buenos Aires suburb.

"It's good for people to know about (my story) because that way they'll understand the purpose of us being out here as missionaries," Lawson, 20, told the Deseret News from the British Hospital in Buenos Aires on Wednesday.

"My mom told me a lot of people have come to her asking her if it was worth it to send me down here as a missionary," he said. "It's definitely worth it, even if I risked my life."

Lawson remains in good condition, awaiting surgery to remove a bullet lodged in his cheek. Elder Earl C. Tingey, executive director of the church's missionary department, said Wednesday that Lawson will have the bullet removed after he arrives in Utah Saturday afternoon.

"That's news to me," Lawson said Wednesday night. "I guess being here in the hospital you don't get too much told to you."

Meanwhile, Buenos Aires police say they can't search for the shooting suspect unless Lawson or his companion provide a description, which neither has been able to do.

Lawson and his companion, Elder Brandon Bischoff, Missouri, who are serving two-year LDS missions in the Argentina Buenos Aires North Mission, were robbed at gunpoint by three men while walking home about 10:30 p.m. in Jose C. Paz, a town about 20 miles northwest of Buenos Aires.

One man searched Lawson's backpack while the other held a gun behind his head. Lawson turned just as the man fired, the bullet hitting him in the right cheek.

"It was truly a miracle that he wasn't injured worse," said Lawson's grandmother, Marie Thornton, LaVerkin, Washington County. "The same thing could have happened in any street in any city in the U.S."

The incident, however, sounds worse than it really was, Lawson said.

"I always felt protection from the Lord. I wasn't scared," he said. "I was just calm through the whole thing. It isn't until after that you start thinking about it, what could have happened, and that's when you get scared."

Buenos Aires police say they have not identified any of the robbers and are waiting for Lawson to leave the hospital before interviewing him. However, the incident took place in a dark area, and Lawson said he did not get a good look at the assailants.

"I don't remember them at all. If they put the people in front of me, I couldn't tell you who it was," he said.

Police have spoken to Bischoff, but "he could not provide many details because everything happened very fast," said police inspector Miguel Romero. There were no other witnesses.

In the four years that he has worked in that town, Romero said, this is the first shooting involving a missionary. However, the area, with a high unemployment rate, is experiencing an increase in drug problems that has led to a rise in crime.

"Regrettably, we are seeing a wave of violence that we had not seen before," Romero said. Shootings and thefts are common. "Drugs are within the reach of many people, and that leads to a lot of crime."

Lawson said a local church member serving a "mini" mission with full-time missionaries about a year ago also was shot in the stomach following a verbal exchange with a man. Lawson did not witness the incident, but he went to the hospital and helped take care of him for a while.

Local church-member support has helped him keep his spirits up, Lawson said. He even continues to proselyte with some of the nurses.

After returning, Lawson plans to live with his father in Kelso, Wash.