By Nick Nelson
While dozens of foreigners streamed from an embattled Haiti on Friday, Feb. 20, 2004, missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stayed put under the vigilant watch of church leaders.
The U.S. State Department issued a warning for all non-governmental Americans to leave Haiti and cautioned, “American citizens who elect to remain in Haiti should remain vigilant.”
The same day, the church issued a statement indicating that leaders would wait to evacuate LDS missionaries.
“The mission president and area presidency are closely monitoring the situation and reporting regularly to headquarters,” the church statement reported. “The church is continually vigilant for the safety and welfare of its missionaries worldwide.”
“Some missionaries have been moved from areas where civil unrest has occurred recently,” the statement read.
Coke Newell, manager of media relations for the church, said Friday that missionaries were being transferred from the most dangerous areas of the Port au Prince mission, but had not left the country.
“Missionaries have been instructed to take precautionary measures, to avoid crowds and areas where demonstrations are occurring, and to remain inside their apartments when it is not safe to be out,” the statement read.
The U.S. State Department announcement encourages United States citizens to “defer travel to Haiti and urges American citizens to depart the country at their first safe opportunity.”
The Port au Prince Mission includes the besieged city of Gonaives, where rebels took control 11 days ago to protest the presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Aristide said he would die before leaving office and plans to complete his term, which ends in 2006.
According to the 2004 Church Almanac, the Haiti Port au Prince mission was dedicated in August 1984 and now includes about 130 missionaries. About 40 American missionaries serve in the mission, according to a recently returned missionary to Haiti.
About 25 percent of the 20,000 Americans living in Haiti are missionaries. Over the weekend, missionaries of other faiths were evacuated from Haiti and some were transferred to the Dominican Republic to await the end of violence.
Battles fought largely in Haiti”s streets have already claimed more than 50 lives. A U.S. peace plan was introduced over the weekend and calls for Aristide to cede considerable power, but allows him to retain his position as president.