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Mormons encounter visa hitches in new Botswana mission

Published July 16, 2013 1:52 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A few weeks after creating a new Mormon mission in Botswana, LDS leaders are temporarily moving five missionaries assigned to the south African nation.

"Due to a recent change in its forms and processes, the government of Botswana is not currently granting new visas or some visa renewals," church spokeswoman Ruth Todd said in a statement. "While those visa issues are being resolved, affected missionaries will be temporarily moved to nearby countries."

Mormons have had a small presence in Botswana since the early 1990s, when the Utah-based church organized its first branch there. The faith has grown slowly, but steadily, since then, now claiming about 2,150 members.

The Botswana mission was among 58 new ones established July 1, making use of the recent surge of new missionaries after the church lowered the age for full-time proselytizers to 18 for men and 19 for women.

But the LDS Church's visa problems "are not new news," Matt Martinich, an expert on Mormon growth for cumorah.com, said from Colorado Spring, Colo. "This has been a major problem for maintaining a full-time missionary force, especially in the past when the mission was based in South Africa."

In fact, Martinich believes that the visa problem "contributed to the creation of the new Botswana Gaborone Mission."

Having a separate mission, he wrote in an email, "will help the church settle misunderstandings with government officials who have been suspicious of foreign missionaries temporarily living in Botswana after arriving in South Africa first."

The LDS Church, Martinich said, also has a "small number of Botswana members serving missions, which the church could potentially reassign to [their home country] if there are serious shortages in missionaries to staff the new mission."

Peggy Fletcher Stack