Mormon church transfers missionaries out of Nicaragua due to ‘growing political instability’

Jeremy Harmon/The Salt Lake Tribune The Salt Lake Temple is seen in a long exposure night shot at Temple Square, Sunday, March 23, 2008.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is moving 169 missionaries out of increasingly unstable Nicaragua.

A news release Tuesday said 158 missionaries will remain in the Central American country but are being moved to safe areas.

“Due to growing political instability in Nicaragua, the church is in the process of transferring 169 missionaries out of that country,” church spokesman Daniel Woodruff said in the release. “This includes 37 missionaries from the Nicaragua Managua North Mission, all of whom were nearing the end of their service and will return home.

“In the Nicaragua Managua South Mission, 20 missionaries will return home while 112 missionaries will be temporarily reassigned to other missions in North America, South America and the Caribbean.”

Only last month, LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson announced the church would build a temple in Managua, the church’s first in Nicaragua.

Demonstrations began in April as Nicaraguans protested social security reforms. The protests have expanded into calls for President Daniel Ortega to step down. Thirty-eight people died in a span of days during April rallies.

Matt Martinich, an independent LDS demographer who lives in Colorado, said the LDS Church made similar decisions over the decades, including when it removed North American missionaries from Venezuela in 2005.

“Missionaries [in Nicaragua] have reported being on lockdown for extended periods of time before this announcement was made,” Martinich said. “So it sounds like it was not taken lightly.

“The church has had quite a unique history in Nicaragua,” Martinich added. “For example, the church lost all of its property in the 1980s.”

Woodruff said the transfers affect missionaries of more than a dozen nationalities.

The Utah-based faith has nearly 100,000 members in Nicaragua and more than 100 congregations.