Date: October 09, 2016 04:48PM
I have an experience with church security. Sorry about the length of this, but it requires some explanation:
Between 2005-2008 we lived in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, during a period of intense political turmoil and military violence, as the Congolese vice-president, who had his own large militia, tried to fight the army over the presidency. In 2006/2007, there were three rounds of shooting in the streets, dead bodies, etc., and the god damned mission president did not take it seriously. In one of the rounds of violence, rebel militia began rounding up foreigners, coming floor by floor through the Vodacom Building, where the LDS church had mission offices on the ground floor, and mission president and wife on the 4th floor. I worked at the US Embassy, and he thought maybe I could do something, so he called me. Chuckling nervously, he asked if I could somehow help them. In a way I did do something: I called the State Dept. Regional Security Officer and told him what was happening. He cursed at me and asked, "Why the fuck didn't they evacuate?" Then he called MONUC (United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and told them some American citizens were in distress and needed evacuation from the Vodacom Building. MONUC dispatched a white UN armored personnel carrier, got the MP and other foreigners from the rebel militia, and drove them off to safety.
After this, the LDS church sent a rep from church security to Kinshasa, and he interviewed the RSO, an LDS co-worker, a couple of other locals, and me regarding the question of safety. My LDS co-worker and I told him that they simply needed to get the missionaries out of the country and run the mission from another location. (The only white missionaries were 6-8 senior missionaries; all the young missionaries were Africans from both Congos and other Francophone countries. They're expendable, after all.)
I traded E-mails with church security after their rep returned to SLC. We decided to go on vacation back to SLC, and I E-mailed the church rep and said I wanted to speak to him about security. He made an appt for me to go to his offices. Not thinking about it, I showed up in a beard and bright Congolese shirt. They had me park under Temple Square, where I was met by about 4 church security guys, who escorted me up to their office. People were really staring, and I think they must have thought that I was somebody that their men had caught. The guys showed me around in the office. They had a sort of situation room set up, with large-screen TVs tuned to CNN and Fox, and whatnot, and at the time they were trying to follow a coup in Thailand and were fretting about the missionaries there.
They met with me and I gave them some pictures of the destruction and dead bodies and stuff, and told them how the missionaries had shown me videos of them standing on the balcony laughing and carrying on during the violence (the first bad round). Five of them are pointing and howling at a man who is taking cover behind a large tree, and you can hear the voice of lone male hold-out saying, "Honey, get off the balcony and inside, because this is dangerous." But they go on filming until there is an explosion in the street that seems to kill the guy (he was only wounded, as it turned out). They ran inside and then an RPG round hit near the mission president's window on the outside. Although it blew out a relatively small corner of the window, it blew in a ton of shrapnel that shredded the bed, the wardrobe, an upholstered chair, and the door jamb, and would certainly have killed anyone in the room. That's when they finally took shelter in the hallway on the floor. The first time they called me, they called me from there, laughing and joking, but concerned. I told them that there was nothing I could do. The overnighted in the hallway, sleeping on the tile floor. It was the next day when the militia broke in and started rounding up foreigners.
I told the church security people that they had to, at the very least, train their people to take this shit seriously. It wasn't a game. The missionaries needed some sort of security schooling before setting foot in the country. I said that they also needed to set them up with a local private security firm (they are mostly ex-South African Army, and much like Blackwater, and are a sort of private army for hire). I agreed that they should get the people out of the country, and run the mission from somewhere else.
The security guys broke for lunch, and they all (about 6 of them) took me to a local Chinese restaurant for lunch. That's when I saw that they were all armed; up to that point I had heard that they were never armed, but the shoulder holsters said differently.
During the next round of violence after we had returned from vacation, the Vodacom Building was shot up real badly--windows blown out, outside walls pock-marked with 30 and 50-calibre rounds, and the grounds littered with shrapnel, unexploded RPG rounds, and the little motors that drop off the RPG rounds when they explode. An errant tank shell had entered the side of the building two floors or so up from the MP's home, and blew up on the inside, leaving a small hole on the outside, but destroying part of the apartment on the inside. DW and I were pinned down for 3 days in the crappy embassy annex with other American and Congolese employees, sleeping on stinky concrete floors and eating from a stash of MREs. This time the missionaries had evacuated to a building owned by the US Govt, where the church also rented an apartment for one of the couples. After the violence, I wanted to get a picture of the damage on the grounds of the Vodacom Building to send to church security, but I was not allowed inside the gate on order of the mission president, who was pissed about the talk I had with the security people, and the trouble he had gotten in.
In the end, not much changed, except that the church began a 2-week pre-Congo security seminar, held in Johannesburg, South Africa, after which the missionaries would fly up to Kinshasa. The MP eventually rotated out, and the new MP (a BYU business professor) came in, and when he met me the first time, he just said, "Oh, you're the guy." Since then, they have built more churches there, and are building or have built a temple only about 200 meters from were we lived. They even opened a new mission in Lubumbashi.
The Mormon church needs the DRC and countries like it for the false sense of progress, because missionaries often baptise a dozen people per month. But the members, the missionaries, and even the local LDS leaders themselves never quite give up their folk beliefs and traditions. They still believe in witchcraft and sorcery, and in the purchasing of fetishes from local sorcerers. Even a ward officer might pay a local medicine man to shrink the penis of his enemy--a particularly favorite curse.