Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » “Pack the Books”: Evacuation Instructions for Missionaries

“Pack the Books”: Evacuation Instructions for Missionaries

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 03, 2009

I had heard of these emergency instructions, with their “pack the books” and “ship the books” codes, from a friend whose older brother had seen them as a missionary in Finland 20 or more years ago. Another friend, a returned missionary from one of the German missions (not Frankfurt) sent me a scan recently, reporting having found them in his first missionary apartment during one of those archaeological digs many of us have made through the detritus left by generations of long-gone missionaries. Neither these instructions, nor anything like them, had been given to us in the Switzerland Geneva Mission while I was there. Although its ultimate provenance is unknown, I am confident the document is legitimate, due to the agreement between the code phrases reported by someone who knows I am interested in codes, and the later unsolicited and independent delivery of this document by the returned German missionary.

It’s an odd document, and not only in a cloak-and-dagger kind of way. It appears to have been composed hastily, or at least carelessly, for such a potentially crucial document — notice the repetition of paragraph 3 under “Emergency Packet.” It is undated, and it’s difficult to pin down the date — the reference to tape recorders as being “heavy and cumbersome” suggests something from the early ’70s or earlier, because by 1980 recorders were lightweight and smaller than a shoebox, and so cheap that nobody would have hesitated to have discarded one in an emergency. Because I have only a scan, I can’t tell whether the reproduction was by mimeograph or photocopier, which might help date the document. And how long has it been since cords to tie packages were banned by post offices because they caught in the machinery?

There is plenty here to set off peals of mocking laughter, and I suppose it would be impossible to ban giggles from the discussion altogether. But assuming this is a legitimate document, it was given in all earnestness with the intention to save missionary lives, and I’d rather the discussion be generally focused on that seriousness, with laughter being the spice and not the substance of comments.

Were you given, or have you heard of, instructions like this? Where and when? If you were charged with writing a current set of evacuation instructions for missionaries in a particular part of the world, what improvements would you make?

And while I don’t hesitate to post these instructions, as old and outdated as they are, if any of you are aware of current security codes in use in your missions today or even in the recent past, please use discretion and don’t violate any confidences.




1. Missionaries are to avoid accumulation of personal effects. (Books, heavy and cumbersome tape recorders, or any other large objects that cannot be readily moved.)

2. Suitcases are to be kept ready for packing, already tagged and labeled with the missionary’s home address.

3. Containers should be on hand which are ready for shipping (heavy cardboard boxes, strong cord, labels already made out, tape, wrapping paper, etc. needed to ship personal effects – this is to avoid exceeding weight restrictions on airlines and the cost involved in paying for excess baggage).

4. Unpaid debts are to be kept at a minimum (in case of sudden departure, the safety of the missionaries could depend on it).

5. Missionaries are to keep 15- marks with them at all times in order to reach a designated assembly point. Missionaries should also have 100 dollars with them.

Passports and identification papers should be kept with missionaries at all times. In a separate place, passport number, date and place of issuance, should be kept in case of loss or theft.

6. Missionaries are to advise the mission president, district and zone leader of nearest phone number where they can be reached in case of emergency.

7. All missionaries should send in their weekly written report to the mission president without fail. This is in order to keep him advised of missionary’s health and general work status.

8. Missionaries should be aware of the addresses and the phone numbers of the following (in case of emergency): mission president, district and zone leaders.


1. In case of a major local earthquake, flood, fire, riot, civil strife or antichurch hostilities:

a. Missionaries are to report immediately to the mission office by phone or telegraph their personal status and let the mission president know where they can be reached, or …

b. Circumstances permitting, missionaries are to travel by available means from the disturbed area to the nearest safe location and report status to mission president, awaiting further instructions.

2. District and zone leaders, after learning of established tranquility, are to investigate unreported or unaccounted for missionaries and phone or telegraph progress reports to the mission president.

3. Mission office sta[ff will record] all emergency phone or telegraphic communications rec[eived from t]he missionaries and report to the Area Presidenc[y and the Mi]ssionary Department.


PLAN A: Evacuation with notice:

1. Continue working normally, but missionaries are to follow and acknowledge instructions from the mission president.

2. Missionaries will receive instructions from the mission president by telephone, telegraph, or special delivery letter, depending on the time factor involved.

3. If the message is “pack the books”, missionaries will pack one suitcase for immediate evacuation and pack other personal effects in boxes properly wrapped and labeled with his home address for immediate shipment.

a. Missionaries should be aware that only necessities will be a [sic] able to be taken with in case of emergency evacuation.

b. Missionaries should also be aware that they will not be able to do wrapping and packing at the mission headquarters.

4. If a second message is received by the missionaries, “ship the books”, then the missionaries are to proceed to the mission headquarters or some other specified point as in “ship the books to ______”. Missionaries should proceed immediately, by the best means of transportation available.

5. Missionaries are to avoid all unnecessary conversation and explanations that may cause suspicion or hysteria among the members or people where they reside.

6. Missionaries are to make certain that all debts, rent obligations, etc. are paid. In most cases, rental contracts require one month’s notice of move, so rent should be paid in advance. Having all debts paid will avoid many problems which could arise when leaving the city or area.

PLAN B: Evacuation without notice (immediate):

1. If only one message is received “ship the books”, missionaries are to be aware that this is an extreme emergency and should take only bare necessities which can be carried in one suitcase or on one arm. Missionaries should proceed immediately and without hesitation to mission headquarters. If the message specifies “ship the books to ______”, the missionaries should proceed immediately to the designated assembly point.

2. Missionaries should leave instructions with some responsible and trusted person to pack and take care of remaining belongings.

3. Missionaries should be aware that in this case it is an extreme emergency and no time should be taken to pack personal belongings.

4. All outstanding bills, including advance rental payments should be taken care of to avoid being detained by the police.

5. As in all cases, all unnecessary talk or explanations either to saints, friends, or landlord should be avoided.

PLAN C: Surprise invasion, massive bombardment or nuclear attack: As soon as all-clear is sounded, missionaries are to:

1. If phone and telegraph communications remain intact:

a. Await instructions from mission president; he should be immediately contacted and informed of the situation.

b. Pack emergency packet of personal items which can be carried by hand long distances (heavy suitcases or luggage are to be avoided).

c. When directed, proceed by best means available to designated assembly point or place of refuge.

2. If phone and telegraph communications are cut:

a. Pack emergency packet of personal items which can be carried by hand long distances.

b. Travel by best means available to emergency assembly point or place of refuge.

c. If transportation routes are impassable, flee in direction of nearest neutral country, avoiding the path of invading forces. Upon arriving, missionaries are to report to the nearest U.S. embassy, consulate, mission office or Red Cross.


1. Missionaries should be familiar with the use of time tables for bus and railroad in order to be able to assemble as directed.

2. Missionaries should have a map, which is convenient to carry (in the pocket) so they can know the roads to take in case of extreme emergency or necessity.

3. If missionaries have to flee in an extreme emergency, they should do so by car, bicycle, or on foot using map directing the[m] to the nearest neutral country or designated assembly point.


In case of dire emergency, missionaries should have the following available now and ready for immediate use:

1. Warm dress (coat, underwear, etc.) for cold, wet weather.

2. Passport and other identification papers, 150 marks, 100 dollars (Dollars should be in small denominations – tens, fives, ones.)

3. A small case already packed with soap, comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, towel, two pairs of garments, two pair of socks stuffed in a wax paper cup, food for one week (hard crackers and hard salami).

3. A small case packed with soap, comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, towel, two pair of garments, two pair of socks stuffed in a wax paper cup (or other water-proof container), food for one week (hard crackers and hard salami).


4. Water purification tablets (purchased at a pharmacy).

5. Box of matches wrapped in waterproof bag.

6. A blanket ready to make a roll and/or pack.

7. An extra pair of shoes should be taken in case of having to walk. They can be carried around the neck by tying laces together. Shoes would be indispensable in this case.

8. Missionaries are to maintain a low profile, speak softly and have faith. In all cases, follow leaders and the Spirit.


As in all cases, in the case of natural disaster the district and zone leaders are responsible for their respective districts and zones. The district leader is to determine the location and physical condition of each member of his district and communicate this to the mission president and the zone leader as soon as possible. He should heed any instructions they may have.

The district leader should make sure, that all members of his district are taken care of (i.e. that they have food, places to sleep, etc.). If district members are able, the district leader should go to the local priesthood or civil authorities and offer the services of the district wherever they be needed. The mission president should be informed of any work assignments received.



  1. “Pack the books” and “ship the books” were the codes we were given in Duesseldorf in 1976. Somehow, I thought they originated with the State Department, not the church. I don’t recall the accompanying instructions being nearly so elaborate as those you reproduce.

    Comment by Last Lemming — February 3, 2009 @ 7:57 am

  2. In the Switzerland Geneva Mission, even years before missionary expenses were equalized and monthly allowances given, all rents were handled by the mission office, not by individual missionaries, who sent a fixed amount of money to the mission home every month to cover rent. Was that peculiar to Geneva, or was it a common practice in Europe? by what date? (I’m thinking that would be another clue to dating this document, since this is written as though missionaries were responsible for paying their rent directly to the landlord.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 3, 2009 @ 8:00 am

  3. I served in the Germany-Frankfurt mission in the mid-1980s. I do not remember getting any sort of instruction sheets like these in my orientation. (Although I was suffering extreme jet-lag, I’m sure that I would have remembered instructions as detailed and gloomy as these). That’s not to say that at one time there weren’t such instructions given. I do remember that we were told to have 100 USD on hand in case of an emergency. The first time I heard the expression “pack the books” was shortly after I got to Germany. There had been a diplomatic incident involving a spy in East Germany. We were talking to an American serviceman about it. In conversation my trainer mentioned something about “packing the books.” He was the one who explained the code to me.

    There was, to be sure, a feeling that with the Cold War still a reality, something could happen and the Germany Frankfurt Mission was in harms way. On the other hand, I think with the missionary evacuations of 1938 and 1939 the Church did have some idea how to get the missionaries safely out of the country.

    There was an incident when the Church was concerned for our safety. Ironically, it wasn’t a Soviet invasion but rather terrorism. The wife of the Area Executive Secretary stopped us one morning and said that the Area Presidency just got word that missionaries were not to wear nametags or any other things that would identify us as Americans due to increased anti-American terrorism.

    As to the date these particular instructions were written I would guess no sooner than the mid-1970s. It was 1974 when the Church adopted the mission-name format (i.e. Germany Frankfurt Mission) as seen at the top of the document. It also mentions Area Presidency. Again “Areas” were not part of the Church administration until later. On the other hand, this document could have been copied (and revised) from earlier instructions.

    Sorry for my ramble. Good topic.

    Comment by Steve C. — February 3, 2009 @ 8:18 am

  4. Ardis Comment #2: In the Germany Frankfurt mission (mid 1980s) we paid our own rent rather than the office. So these instructions would have been valid in the GFM until at least 1987.

    Comment by Steve C. — February 3, 2009 @ 8:21 am

  5. We were given no such instructions in Japan in the early 1970s (Showa 48-50). In fact, if I remember correctly, all of our passports were kept at the mission office for safekeeping–which would have meant that we all would have needed to go there to get our passports if we suddenly needed to leave the country.

    We also paid a fixed amount for rent–there were substantial differences in rent depending on where one lived.

    By the way, Ardis, you’ve Kentucky-ized the spelling of Frankfurt.

    Comment by Mark B. — February 3, 2009 @ 8:22 am

  6. The rent issue sounded like it would be a clue to me as well. The reference to “phone and telegraph communications” may be a clue too. But the type of emergencies suggest the early sixties to me.

    Comment by BruceCrow — February 3, 2009 @ 8:27 am

  7. Oops. I’ll hotdog-ize the spelling right away (it appears correctly as Frankfurt in the original, of course).

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 3, 2009 @ 8:29 am

  8. Steve, your mission’s security warnings were rather haphazard, weren’t they? I mean, your trainer only mentioned “pack the books” to you because you happened to have been talking with the serviceman, and you were warned against wearing nametags only because you ran into the wife of a secretary — I hope that church security, wherever it might be implemented, is a tiny bit more formalized now!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 3, 2009 @ 8:34 am

  9. My grandfather was a missionary in Germany and I believe he and the other missionaries were instructed to leave the country three days before WWII started.

    I wonder how that all played out at the time or if they had any special instructions as the hostilities were mounting towards a declaration of war.

    Comment by danithew — February 3, 2009 @ 8:59 am

  10. In the Netherlands in the 70s the codes were identical. I remember my dad telling me stories about this.

    Comment by Latter-day Guy — February 3, 2009 @ 8:59 am

  11. This was found in a missionary apartment in the 90s. That apartment also came with a large supply of chocolate covered marzipan left over from the previous Christmas. (I hope.) Also old missionary brochures which could have been from the same era as the evacuation instructions.

    Comment by Absolutely Anonymous Source — February 3, 2009 @ 9:02 am

  12. Man…it’s been a long time since I’ve heard those phrases (“pack/ship the books”), but, yeah, they’re legit.

    I served my mission in Central America (Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama) in 1972-74, and, yes, we had evacuation plans in place. Realize that during the 22 months I was actually in Central America, we had:

    — a major earthquake in Managua, Nicaragua (Dec 72) that killed several thousand people, though all missionaries were safe;

    — a coup d’etat in Honduras (also Dec 72), with the military taking over the civilian government (relatively peaceful, but still…);

    — serious political tensions between Panama and the United States over the Canal Zone (Panama was the only place where I encountered outright hostility — including curses, obscene gestures, and a few thrown rocks — during my mission).

    I was serving in Honduras — in fact, had just been in the mission for a little over a month — when the Managua quake hit (12/23/72). IIRC, most of the Managua-based missionaries were evacuated within 24 hours, and just about as quickly, the Church started trucking in relief supplies and continued to do so for a few months. At least one pair of elders remained in Nicaragua to help oversee distribution of the relief supplies; at this point (and for the duration of my mission), there were no stakes or wards anywhere in Central America. Missionaries were gradually sent back into Managua as the situation stabilized; I really don’t remember what was done with the missionaries in areas outside of the capital (such as Leon, Matagalpa, Jinotega).

    It may be hard for those serving missions in recent years to understand what things were like in the mission field 35 years ago. Later in my mission (spring 1974), I along with my companions (first Paul Quigley and then Jim Thomas) ended up as the zone leaders in Nicaragua. More clearly, we were the only zone leaders for the entire country of Nicaragua (which had just one zone and, IIRC, 2 or 3 districts of missionaries); the mission president (Pres. Quinten Hunsaker) lived in a different country altogether (Costa Rica), and we saw him once every six weeks; phone service was very limited and poor, and most communications with the mission office were by mail.

    As noted, there were no stakes or wards in Nicaragua; just one district and half a dozen or so branches. Total LDS membership in Nicaragua at that time was roughly 1500-1700 people, and only a fraction of those were actually active. Elder Thomas and I used to look at each other and wonder how the two of us ended up, in effect, overseeing and running the Church for an entire country, with quite a bit of autonomy. Then we’d laugh and keep tracting. ..bruce..

    Comment by bfwebster — February 3, 2009 @ 9:11 am

  13. It also mentions Area Presidency. Again “Areas” were not part of the Church administration until later. On the other hand, this document could have been copied (and revised) from earlier instructions.

    I also noted the reference to the area presidency, which would date it to no earlier than 1984.

    Comment by Justin — February 3, 2009 @ 9:14 am

  14. This stuff could be found in dusty apartment books in the mid-90’s Austria Vienna Mission. Awesome.

    Comment by Ronan — February 3, 2009 @ 9:26 am

  15. I know you requested no fun, but I’m smiling at the image of the missionaries (elders and sisters?) draping an extra pair of shoes around their necks, carrying two pair of socks stuffed in a paper cup and setting off — where? Switzerland? How would the average American missionary serving in Germany find Switzerland?

    Comment by Amy T — February 3, 2009 @ 9:28 am

  16. Ah ha — found an Ensign article that includes a description of what happened after the 1972 Managua quake (scroll down). It does appear that all 28 missionaries were evacuated (via chartered plane). Pres. Hunsaker’s comments also confirm that he sent two pairs of elders back in to help distribute relief supplies.

    I remember talking months later with one of those elders, who talked about what great shape he was in as a result of this experience. For weeks, he would spend all day unloading and moving supplies, then eat dinner at one of the local restaurants, all of which sold very good steak very cheaply (beef being a major export of Nicaragua at that time). ..bruce..

    Comment by bfwebster — February 3, 2009 @ 9:29 am

  17. There were rumors of these type of instructions in the Germany Munich mission (1972-1974) but I never saw or received any formal instructions. One evening while tracting at the time of the Arab oil embargo (winter of 73-74), were told by several houses in row that the US had mobilized it’s military to attack the Arabs and all eligible young men were being drafted. My companion and I went back to our apartment to wait for the call, which of course never came.

    Comment by Karl — February 3, 2009 @ 9:34 am

  18. Not *no* giggling, Amy — I just didn’t want to turn this entirely into a funfest at the expense of whatever mission leader prepared these instructions. Me, I’m wondering whether any of those dusty mission closets readers are mentioning still harbor any suitcases packed with hard crackers and — by now VERY — hard salami!

    I love it when a post extracts personal stories as this one is doing.

    bfwebster, my aunt and uncle flew to Managua to pick up my cousin at the end of her mission. While they were circling the airport, the earthquake struck and the plane had to take them elsewhere.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 3, 2009 @ 9:38 am

  19. We had the Pack/Ship-the-books code in Argentina South Mission 1971-3 (which included Rosario and everything south). However, they only were explained to us vocally in zone conferences. Our instructions were that “pack” meant to prepare to head immediately to the Mission Home and that “ship” meant to go immediately.

    Comment by manaen — February 3, 2009 @ 9:52 am

  20. Ardis Comment #8: I don’t remember getting detailed instructions about emergency proceedures during orientation, certainly not written instructions like you have on this post. To clarify things, we did get the “no nametags” from the Ex Sec.’s wife about an hour or so after the Church contacted the mission. A day or so later we had zone conference and our mission president went through a whole series of safety/emergency measures. So to say that something fell through the cracks isn’t accurate.

    Comment by Steve C. — February 3, 2009 @ 10:00 am

  21. my aunt and uncle flew to Managua to pick up my cousin at the end of her mission. While they were circling the airport, the earthquake struck and the plane had to take them elsewhere.

    OK, that’s really bad (or really good) timing.

    All the way back to the original intent of the post: I wonder what other documents like this lie buried in closets and file cabinets in missionary apartments and mission offices throughout the world? Or, for that matter, in storage boxes of returned missionaries everywhere?

    Sadly, sometime about 25 years ago, the box containing most of my own mission memorabilia vanished, including my mission journal. I still keenly feel the loss of that journal. ..bruce..

    Comment by bfwebster — February 3, 2009 @ 10:32 am

  22. 1978 Bolivia Santa Cruz mission, we used these terms. While I never saw any specific written instructions, we were taught when we arrived at the mission office for the first time what the codes meant.

    We were to carry $50 American with us at all times, in case we had to flee quickly. We were to go to a mission office or American Embassy in whatever location we found ourselves.

    The mission office kept our passports in a safe, so we had photocopies of our passports on us.

    In the 2 years I was on my mission, we had 6 presidents of the country. Two military coup d’etats occurred while I was there. Both times, we were send instructions to “pack the books.” During the first event, martial law was declared, preventing us from meeting in groups of three or more, and so we didn’t have Church meetings for a couple weeks. In areas that were considered “safer” we did still proselyte at times when possible.

    We never did get to shipping the books, but that one time seemed like it could get to it. We had a member who was vice president of Air Boliviano, who had arrangements with his company that in time of emergency the missionaries would be among the first ones out.

    The second coup d’etat occurred while I was in southern Bolivia, 5 minutes from the Argentine border. If necessary, we would have stepped over the closed border (we actually did a couple times to mail letters), and sought asylum.

    Comment by Rameumptom — February 3, 2009 @ 11:19 am

  23. I remember these terms being used in Austria when I was there 1998-2000, but I can’t remember if it was officially in our mission binder or not. Now I’ll have to dig that out and look. We did have a reason (albeit small) to worry about these things in Vienna when the U.S. was bombing Serbia practically next door in 1999.

    Comment by Jacob F — February 3, 2009 @ 12:08 pm

  24. i served in a european mission a year and a half ago, and we had those exact instructions almost word for word in our “supplemental” mission rule book. we read through them every few months during morning study, and of course giggled. the zls called once and said “sisters….pack. the. books.” and i got so excited. i was pretty disappointed when they said they were kidding. the phrase became a little mission joke, i was shocked when i heard my dad use it when i came home (he served in europe thirty years ago).

    Comment by laurenlou — February 3, 2009 @ 12:27 pm

  25. My ex served in the Austria Vienna Mission in the early 80’s and told me several times about the contingency plans, code words etc they were given for emergency evacuation, although I never saw any documents. The examples in your post tally with what he told me.

    Comment by Anne (UK) — February 3, 2009 @ 12:28 pm

  26. To me none of this sounds skullduggerylike in the least. It just sounds like sound good sense. Maybe it’s because I’ve read novels set during wars and stuff, but the memories of hasty evacuations from France ahead of the advancing German army would have been pretty fresh to the mission leaders, I’d think. Nevil Shute’s novel “Pied Piper” comes to mind, and you know he only writes about stuff that’s real. (Ultra-highly recommended novel, by the way. Shute is a fantastic storyteller.) It’s the story of an Englishman who was out fishing in France near the Swiss border when the German army began advancing, and the adventures of his evacuation along with the children he seemed to keep accumulating along the way. Of course the trains weren’t going and in the end they walked much of the way. I love this story.

    Another novel of his that comes to mind is “The Legacy”, also known as “A Town Like Alice”. I learn all my history from novels, can you tell? This one tells of how the Japanese army caught people in Singapore by surprise and how they ended up in camps, or marching around and dying in search of camps, because of not evacuating swiftly when it was time.

    I think how the ones in charge of missions in the 70s would have been keenly aware of events during WW2 like those, and would have known the difference between death or years in an internment camp versus getting home safely could be the ability of these kids to quickly mobilize and get out. I think it sounds eminently reasonable myself.

    Comment by Tatiana — February 3, 2009 @ 12:50 pm

  27. #6, for Bolivia in 1980, telegraph was often the only way to reach the elders. Most elders lived with no phone. We tried to have a phone per district in the larger towns and cities, but that excluded half the missionaries in the mission.

    Sad to see that there is no mission in Bolivia right now. Hopefully they’ll be able to return soon.

    Comment by Rameumptom — February 3, 2009 @ 1:24 pm

  28. Steve C, comment #3: “The wife of the Area Executive Secretary stopped us one morning and said that the Area Presidency just got word that missionaries were not to wear nametags or any other things that would identify us as Americans due to increased anti-American terrorism.”

    In 1988, my husband and I went to Portugal to pick up our son just finishing his mission. The night before his release, two elders had violated curfew and were out goofing around. They were shot and at least one was killed (my recollection is sketchy). All of the missionaries were instructed by the mission president to not wear their nametags, including the missionaries leaving for home.

    Also, a few years ago, my brother and his wife were on a mission in Kinshasha when there was a coup. They had to pack a suitcase and leave immediately for Ghana. They were there for several weeks and didn’t know if they would be allowed back into Kinshasha or their apartment, or if they would lose everything that was left behind. I don’t recall them saying there was any specific instructions given to them when they got their mission, though.

    Comment by Maurine — February 3, 2009 @ 2:05 pm

  29. My mid-1990s mission in Brazil had code phrases for shelter-in-place/pack and evacuate immediately. They were distributed, in writing, to new missionaries. The phrases had nothing to do with books, packing, or shipping.

    Comment by Burn Before Reading Then Cut Out Your Tongue — February 3, 2009 @ 2:07 pm

  30. The most interesting thing I every found in my mission apartments was a copy of Les Miserables. I must confess that although it was in English instead of Chinese (not even French, Ardis), I read it. In my defense my companion was bedridden for a few days.

    While cleaning out the mission office (the church was tearing it down to build the Hong Kong temple) I did find a copy of a marriage license for our former mission president. They had been married civilly at the mission office prior to flying to get married in the temple (probably Hawaii). It was kind of cool.

    Comment by BruceCrow — February 3, 2009 @ 2:10 pm

  31. I served in Spain in the early 80s and remember these instructions, though I do not recall seeing much in the way of printed material. Maybe it was all apocryphal, but I definitely recall those specific phrases. Of course, there had been a coup attempt in Spain not many years before I arrived, so maybe precautions like these had circulated in the then-recent past.

    I am going to home and look in my box of mission stuff to see if I can find anything!

    Comment by Martin Willey — February 3, 2009 @ 3:16 pm

  32. OK, I was unclear. I recall only the code phrases, not the detailed instructions. THAT is why I will be rooting through my mission stuff tonight.

    Comment by Martin Willey — February 3, 2009 @ 3:17 pm

  33. I sent this to my brother who had served a mission in Russia in the mid-1990s. He is at work and unable to blog, but he did send me the following experience:

    We did have those phrases, but we never had to use them. I remember a couple of times we were advised not to wear name tags, but at the time, everyone knew who we were, so I don’t think it would have protected us any!! When I was in Nizhny Novgorod in 94, eveyone who lived in our area knew where the Americans lived, so our cover was blown. We also had our telephone lines tapped, so they always knew what we were talking about over the phone.

    Comment by Steve C. — February 3, 2009 @ 3:24 pm

  34. I actually have my own evacuation plans in case New York City is ever subjected to a nuclear attack. If I can’t get out of town before the bombs hit, on a train, with my bicycle, then I’m going to climb up on my roof to watch the fireworks.

    If I can’t get up there in time, then I’ll sit in my cellar and read A Town Like Alice again, and then I’ll move on to On the Beach, which should be good preparation for what’s likely to come next. I’ll subsist on saltine crackers and genoa salami. And I’ll keep my socks in dixie cups.

    Comment by Mark B. — February 3, 2009 @ 3:57 pm

  35. Mark B. You could always watch Dr. Strangelove.

    Sorry for the giggle/humor. I couldn’t resist.

    Comment by Steve C. — February 3, 2009 @ 4:26 pm

  36. Steve C.

    I actually saw about half of it last week–happened upon it while channel surfing. Fabulous.

    I’ll have to get the DVD and a battery operated player so I can do that.

    Comment by Mark B. — February 3, 2009 @ 9:28 pm

  37. We never had any published instructions but I did have to evacuate twice. Once from an inner city Baltimore rowhome and once from a posh suburban Maryland condo. From the condo, our president said “Take everything that’s yours and nothing that isn’t. I want you out of there in an hour. (It took us a wee bit more than that). From the rowhome we had overnight to pack, but also a crazed neighbor who had threatened to kill us.I slept with a baseball bat that night. There is wisdom in not accumulating stuff and packing light.
    However the baseball bat did bring a measure of comfort.

    Comment by J. Paul — February 3, 2009 @ 9:42 pm

  38. Well! Once again, Ardis, you resurrect old memories. In the French Mission (1967-70 for me), we all knew those two essential codes by heart, without the “the”:

    If a telegram should arrive saying “Pack Books,” that would mean to get ready to flee.

    If a telegram should arrive stating “Send Books,” that would mean to hie to the Mission Home in Paris immediately, by any means available.

    Being the French (and not a German) mission, we did not require the discipline or detail of a pamphlet. We simply knew “Pack Books” and “Ship Books”!

    Accordingly, in May 1968 during the mass work and student riots which more or less shut France down, we received the “Pack Books” order, and stood ready to get out of our various towns. Local youths prying cobblestones from the streets and throwing them at police provided welcome respite from the exquisite drudgery of tracting eight or ten hours a day, or standing on the squares with folding display boards.

    We observed and followed the riots, fleeing as indicated from sudden bursts of tear gas (while properly attired in suits and ties). This afforded welcome exercise and diversion. Eventually the excitement ended and we got back to work. The “Send Books” order never came. However, our Mission President sent us bunches of money in case we might need funds to escape to Paris.

    That was more than forty years ago, yet I can still walk —could probably even run from tear gas without getting too winded. Ardis, thanks for the memories!

    Comment by Rick Grunder — February 3, 2009 @ 10:41 pm

  39. In my mission (Korea, early 90s), whenever there were (student) riots, missionaries were under strict instruction not to leave their apartments. Never received any emergency instructions that I can recall.

    Comment by Mark D. — February 3, 2009 @ 11:14 pm

  40. Telegraph? Wow. That seems ancient to me, like something from the Wild West . . .

    If it were to get down to that, I guess we’d just have to ship the books.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — February 4, 2009 @ 5:33 am

  41. My mid-1990s mission in Brazil had code phrases for shelter-in-place/pack and evacuate immediately

    At least one Brazilian mission was using the books code through 2001.

    Like Mark and Rameumptom, my passport was kept at the mission office (which was some six hundred miles from one of my assigned areas). I’ve heard scuttlebutt that this practice is actually illegal in some countries (if not by US law).

    Comment by JimD — February 4, 2009 @ 1:03 pm

  42. They *couldn’t* have kept our passports at the mission home even if they had wanted to, since ours was a mission that crossed an international border. It was a hassle for one sister to get her passport replaced when her scripture case with her passport, metro ID, train ticket to her new city, and ticket to reclaim the bike she had shipped were all stolen the morning of her transfer.

    It didn’t occur to me that “pack the books” would still be a current code used in any mission — codes generally work only if knowledge of the code is limited to the sender and receiver. Yet our comments here suggest that tens of thousands of missionaries may have learned and later talked about this same code — it’s hardly a secure one. Well, if it wasn’t time to change it before now, this post has really let the cat out of the bag. {I’m sorry, Missionary Department.}

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 4, 2009 @ 1:22 pm

  43. JimD

    The question would likely be whether local law required one to have evidence of his status in the country. The passport, with visa and entry stamp, would have been the evidence–but if it’s six or ten hours away in the safe at the mission office, what good would it do one?

    In countries where one had to register his residence (like Japan), it may be that the registration certificate would have been sufficient to prove to the Japanese version of Immigration and Customs Enforcement that one was legally in the country.


    Maybe they could change the codes to “Fish” and “Cut Bait.” That would confuse everybody.

    Comment by Mark B. — February 4, 2009 @ 4:18 pm

  44. That’s right, Michelle! (#40: “Telegraph? Wow. That seems ancient to me, like something from the Wild West . . .”)

    During those 2 1/2 years, I think perhaps I lived in one apartment, at the end of my mission, which had a telephone. And of course, we didn’t have such things as computers. So, it was either pay phone, or telegram. And, lots of letters. Do LDS missionaries still write letters, or are they allowed to send e-mails, I wonder . . .

    Comment by Rick Grunder — February 4, 2009 @ 9:46 pm

  45. It’s email, Rick. They’re supposed to be strictly limited in the time they’re allowed to use computers, even for email, but they get that now.

    We didn’t have phones at all (the elders did). And the only telegram I ever sent was to tell my parents what day I’d be home. I didn’t need to do it that way, but I wanted the drama of an old-fashioned telegram. I discovered that a ten centime coin would allow me to make an overseas phone call with just time enough to say “Hi, I love you.” If I passed a phone booth at about 3:00 p.m., I’d call home just as my parents were having breakfast. Fun times.

    No books were ever packed, though.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 4, 2009 @ 10:41 pm

  46. I was a missionary in South Korea in the late 70’s. I was in a town with a US air base. One morning as we walked down the street, a jeep with loud speakers mounted on it came down the street announcing that all US military personnel were to return immediately to the base and that this weas not a drill. We flagged down the jeep and asked what was going on. They told us that a soldier had been killed on the DMZ and that the base was on alert. Actually it was more like, “Get your m_____ f______ a____ back to be base NOW!!!”

    We hurried back to the apartment and called the Mission President. He asked if we knew what pack the books meant and instructed us to do it. He would call us to tell us when to ship the books.

    We then called the base commander and asked if there was provision for evacuating US citizens. He told us that if 19 to 21 year old young men showed up at his base during a shooting war, we would be sworn in as soldiers and given guns.

    I can’t remember how long we sat in our rooms until we got the call from the mission president to unpack the books, they weren’t needed. I think it was several days. We missed the baptism of an airman because at the first sign of trouble, he was put on a plane and shipped to Japan. Evidently he had some top secret intellegence. We did baptize him later. We had several airmen from Mountain Home, Idaho visit the local branch the next week. They’d been deployed in case there was trouble.

    Pack the book and ship the books, two phrases that still raise the hair on the back of my neck.

    Comment by Floyd the Wonderdog — February 5, 2009 @ 5:12 am

  47. While in Bolivia 78-80, as I mentioned before, we got to packing the books twice.

    The first time, I was in the city of Cochabamba. We were in a Zone Conference, and upon leaving were told that there had been a military coup by Colonel Alberto Natusch Busch, and we needed to be careful.
    Later that day, we were downtown (it was P-Day) to get some ice cream. As we walked toward the little ice cream store, we noticed a bunch of young people running the opposite direction. We wondered what it was all about, when tear gas came zooming by my head, missing me by just a few feet. Well, we figured it was time to move off the main street, and go back to safer locations, so we all went to the Zone Leader’s home.

    One of the elders was preparing a cassette tape to his parents. He ran out of things to say, so he passed it to us. We began telling his parents to not worry about the current status of the country, and that their son was okay. Yes, with the exception of the minor bullet wound he received in the leg, he would be fine. The doctor said that the amputation wouldn’t take long and that there were some good prosthetic legs available in the States….

    Later that evening, I was with my District Leader on an exchange, on a bus to his area, when our bus had to turn around due to rioting and tear gas blocking several streets.

    As bad as it seemed, it was worse in the high Andes’ regions. Little old ladies sell out of their front doors there, where you can conveniently purchase bread, rice, candles and blasting caps.

    In fact, the elders in Betanzos had two sticks of dynamite on top of their dresser for months. It wasn’t until visiting with them one day and I noticed that the dynamite looked like it was sweating, which was not a good thing, that they decided to dispose of them by blowing them up over the river….(hey, it was 30 years ago!).

    Comment by Rameumptom — February 11, 2009 @ 11:21 am

  48. […] Evacuation instructions for Missionaries […]

    Pingback by Johnsenclan » Blog Archive » links 2/8/09 — April 14, 2009 @ 6:14 pm

  49. I served in the Philippines and never saw anything like this. These documents are fascinating to review. In any case, I was recently pointed to a video called How to Survive a Nuclear Attack with Irwin Redlener. It reminded me of Elder McConkie’s statement about “atomic holocausts that surely shall be” that may be of interest to some.

    Comment by Greg — May 8, 2009 @ 5:31 pm

  50. Served in the Austria Vienna Mission in 1998-2000. This was absolutely legitimate in our mission, never was implemented though.

    Comment by Spencer — April 4, 2013 @ 10:43 pm

  51. In Argentina (Buenos Aires North 83-85) our passports were kept in the mission safe to keep us from being targets for robbery. But they were all stolen from the office by armed robbers. There was political unrest and we knew we may have to evacuate. We didn’t have phones, but the mission office had the phone numbers of our neighbors for emergencies.

    We were supposed to keep a copy of our agenda posted inside our apartment door, with addresses, so that someone from the mission could find out where we were just by visiting our apartment. Or find out who was the last one to see us if we went missing.

    Who needs iPhones?

    Comment by Carol — April 5, 2013 @ 1:42 pm

  52. Oh, how lovely to reread this old post and comments. It’s perfect for General Conference-Missionary Reunion season.

    Comment by Amy T — April 5, 2013 @ 2:31 pm