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“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.

*** CONFIDENTIAL ***

EMERGENCY INSTRUCTIONS FOR MISSIONARIES
GERMANY FRANKFURT MISSION

READINESS:

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.

REPORTING:

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.

EVACUATION STEPS:

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.

TRANSPORTATION:

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.

EMERGENCY PACKET:

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).

[sic]

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.

CASES OF NATURAL DISASTER WHERE EVACUATION IS NOT NECESSARY:

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.

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52 Comments

  1. 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

  2. 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