In this mini-episode of Mormon Stories, we interview John O’Conner—father of a Mormon missionary in the path of Hurricane Harvey (Houston).  John had an email exchange with his son’s mission president that was released on MormonLeaks wherein John was given little to no information on his son’s whereabouts, a disaster plan of action, or a phone number to reach his son directly.  Instead, the mission president encouraged John to “support him in his decision to serve with all his heart, might, mind, and strength and to keep the mission rules and policies.”



  1. Grant J August 31, 2017 at 9:15 am - Reply

    I am so sorry to hear about this. Thank you for coming forward with your experience. It absolutely happened to me a four years ago.

    My youngest son attempted suicide by jumping off a height in one of the canyons near us. His injuries were grave. The Utah County Sheriff called me and told me and that he was unresponsive when they loaded him on Life-Flight. I was away on business and rushed home.

    My two older sons were both serving in the mission field and I wanted to call them so they did not hear about the incident on social media and so they could hear it from me. I so desperately needed to hear their voices as well. I called my oldest son’s mission president in Uruguay who was wonderful. No pushback. Moreover, he could sense by my tone that there was a real problem and he did not push me for details. He told me he would have my son on a phone as soon as they could track him down.

    My younger son’s mission president was not immediately cooperative. I ended up trading several voicemails with him why he continued to condescend to tell me that any bad news I had would need to be relayed through him and that “that was the way the Brethren have set things up” . My third voice mail was me spewing profanity laced-tirade in that I mentioned that I was not asking for his permission and I did not care what the rules were. It took about 8 hours to get my second son on the phone. I was underway with the worst days of my life and this idiot was making it worse for me. I am so sorry to hear that you experienced this.

    I am glad to say my son made it and is growing into a happy adult. I am too but the events of that week were the death knell of my long association with the Church. I hope your speaking out will cause the Church to re-think a ridiculous policy.

  2. Q August 31, 2017 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    During my mission, the government of the country I was in experienced an attempted coup, and there followed a few very tense days of waiting to see whether things would be resolved (they ultimately were). During that time our mission president authorized us to call home to tell our parents we were OK, and I think that’s a great indicator of the kind of mission president he was. It seems to me that the way mission presidents handle these small things are one of the many ways that they have a huge influence over the experience that young Mormons have as missionaries. Getting assigned to a mission might well be the most critical game of “ecclesiastical roulette” in the Mormon experience for many of us.

  3. Russ August 31, 2017 at 5:12 pm - Reply

    As a father of several missionaries within the last 5 years I can understand brother O’Connor’s concern with regards to his missionary. One of our missionaries went through Hurricane Sandy so I have something to relate to. That said I feel that this has been overblown and made out to be something that it’s not. He was informed and told where his son was located and that he was safe and on high ground. Give the mission president the benefit of the doubt. He has anywhere from 100 to 200 plus missionaries. His top concern is providing for their safety and well-being without being distracted by 200 parents calling him, texting him, or email him to find out every minoot detail. Helicopter parents do not benefit anyone, especially their children. Your little boy is now a man. Let him be so. He is having the time of his life and will have a good story or two to tell you as a result of this. Besides the local members will go out of their way to make sure that the missonary’s needs are taken care of.
    Of all the real problems and concerns in the LDS church this is not one of them.

    • John Dehlin August 31, 2017 at 5:27 pm - Reply

      FWIW, I think your comments are generally reasonable, but I really, really disliked your invoking of the phrase “helicopter parents” to describe a vulnerable, emotional parent that is worried about the safety of their child.

      • Russ August 31, 2017 at 6:41 pm - Reply

        I can understand why you dislike, my comment about “helicopter parent” I will be the first to agree that I have rough edges and have become an expert at putting my rather large foot in my mouth, but the more I think about it I really, really dislike you exploiting this vulnerable, emotional parent just to try and give the LDS church a black eye. I’ve delt with 5 different mission presidents as a parent and 2 different mission presidents when I was a missonary a long, long time ago. They were all different because they were individuals, human, and had flaws, just like me. I learned many lessons from my presidents and I’m sure my adult children have also done the same. Some of those lessons were what not to do. Hopefully my children have learned what not to do from me and not make my same mistakes.

    • Seethrupo September 1, 2017 at 3:43 am - Reply

      If this “little boy” is now a man then why does he need permission to speak with his ‘mummy and daddy’ cult alert .

  4. Glenn August 31, 2017 at 7:16 pm - Reply

    This is a ridiculous policy given that these are all volunteers who pay their own way. Even the US military does not restrict communication between a parent and a child . It seems hard to believe that talking about missionary policy and its consequences would be considered a blackeye . If it is a blackeye it’s only because it’s bad policy. The church does not own these missionaries The way they are treated it’s creepy

  5. Larry Jensen August 31, 2017 at 7:16 pm - Reply

    I can’t believe you gave this guy so much attention. He obviously has never had an understanding of management practices in a crisis. The guy was so busy trying to do his job and assured him his son was ok, and yet he keeps emailing him asking to call his son. Having held managment positions most of my career, my sympathy is with the mission president having to deal with this “cry baby daddy”
    We have all had problems with people in authority at some time in our life, but this guy didn’t get it when he was told his son was safe and ok, and he continued to harass the Mission President! I doubt many of us could have displayed the patience with this guy, that thise mission president did. This guy doesn’t seem to realize that if people in management positions grant an exception for one person they have to do it for all, and I am sure there were many worried families and he was busy checking on the welfare of all the missionaries and making arrangements for those dislocated by the storm.

    I would prefer the mission president focus on managing his problems rather than try to keep emailing this guy. How embarassing for the missionary too!

    I think you errored John by allowing him on Mormon stories!!. I urge you to keep high standards for your guests, I feel you really lowered the bar in this segment!

  6. Kyle August 31, 2017 at 10:13 pm - Reply

    It sounded like the Mission Pres handled this situation within reason, given the guidelines that he is likely trying to abide. It didn’t sound like he was egregiously skirting Mr O’ Conner’s request, but rather trying to provide the needed assurance while simultaneously abiding the rules. However, I can understand Mr. O’Conner’s emotions and concern, and I think if a parent insists on contacting their missionary, the church and the president should yield and respect that request. I served and felt that my personal well-being was a top concern and priority for the two presidents I served under. My family also had the very unfortunate experience of having a son/brother killed while serving his mission (accident) and the church, both SLC and locally, handled it admirably.

  7. AG September 3, 2017 at 6:37 am - Reply

    My dad suffered a heart attack and required a quad bypass while I was serving as a missionary. My mission president called me and told me to call my mom immediately and gave me the phone number where she could be reached at the hospital (this was before cell phones). He told me that I could call as much as I needed to until the situation was stabilized. I am grateful for a wise mission president who recognized that the situation would be much better if my mom and I could just communicate.

    Having said that, and while I do believe in general that missionaries should be able to call or text home whenever they need to (within reason), I think this particular situation is really overblown. Mr. O’Conner was told that his son was safe. That should have been enough until a time when his son could contact him via email with details. A mission president’s job is to keep missionaries safe and working, his time is much better spent making sure they are safe and then helping the community how he can instead of contacting every parent with details about their totally safe child. And I’m sorry the name was spelled wrong, that’s unfortunate. But also rather petty. O’Conner is a name that could be spelled a few different ways, it’s an easy mistake and doesn’t mean the mission president doesn’t know and love his son.

    As for your experience, John, that is pretty crazy and I can’t imagine having to find something like that out several weeks later. Thankfully, your experience seems to be the exception rather than the rule. I know of a missionary just this week whose father was in a serious accident and he was informed immediately and ended up coming home to be with the family. He was due to come home next month and won’t return to his mission.

  8. Mary September 3, 2017 at 9:43 am - Reply

    I do understand the dad’s alarm, especially when they mispelled the name of the missionary and sent what sounded to my ear as a form letter reply without providing any details as to his situation. For a Church that is all about spreading God’s message of love, you would hope that they would have more compassion for a family that has sacrificed and dedicated so much to send their beloved son into the world in service of the Church.

  9. B September 4, 2017 at 9:13 am - Reply

    This is just one of many punitive control techniques exercised by the church in order to manage this out-of-date-, ineffective marketing scheme. The amazing thing is how parents continue to send their kids and make excuses for how missionaries are isolated from their families. In a church that is all about families it seems families only matter to serve the COTP.

  10. Fred September 7, 2017 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    I haven’t listened to the podcast and after reading the email exchange I don’t think I want to. In the emails the mission president sounded to me like a reasonable guy and this dad sounded like an angry and verbally abusive bully.

  11. Clay Dixon October 1, 2017 at 11:10 pm - Reply

    What has happened? Has the Father had the opportunity to communicate with his Son.

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