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LDS Missions unaffected — for now

PROVO — If war with Iraq begins this week as expected, missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will not be reassigned, delayed or sent home.

There are some 60,000 missionaries serving in 330 missions worldwide, including several thousand who are currently preparing at the Missionary Training Center in Provo.

"It's business as usual. Nothing has changed," said church spokeswoman Kim Farrah. "Of course we're monitoring the situation, but right now all missionaries are being sent out as scheduled."

Farrah says that could change if the conflict escalates.

At the height of the Vietnam War, each LDS ward was only allowed to send one missionary out every six months, according to the researchers of the Saints at War project.

But BYU professors Robert Freeman and Dennis Wright, who are supervising the project, say they have no evidence of missionaries being reassigned or called home because of war.

Freeman and Wright have archived more than 1400 interviews from war veterans for the Saints at War project, a collection of written and oral accounts of the experiences of LDS servicemen and women who served in modern wars.

Freeman said in prolonged wars, LDS missionaries were typically permitted to finish their missions before being assigned to battle.

Modern wars have had an impact on the number of LDS missionaries serving, however.

During World War II, for example, the number of young men set apart to serve missions dropped from 1,200 in 1941 to 261 in 1943, Freeman said.

The Korean War had a similar effect on the LDS missionary force. In 1950 some 3,000 were set apart to serve missions; two years later that number had dropped to 872.

As war with Iraq inches closer, some missionary mothers say they worry about the safety of their sons and daughters more than usual.

Terry Lewis of Orem, says she prays for the safe return of her son who is serving in Russia.

"I'm trying not to worry about things I don't have to worry about, but it has crossed my mind. I just think, what will be will be," said Lynette Reed, an Orem mother of a missionary serving in Japan.


E-mail: jhyde@desnews.com