In a letter distributed to the families of the missionaries of the Australia Sydney North mission President Scruggs recounts the events of Tuesday, October 14:
At about 8:45 PM, Elders Collinsworth (out about 6 months from Mapleton, UT; BYU basketball player, 6’9″, 220 lbs) and Elder Ferguson (out about 18 months from Great Falls, Montana; BYU major in Ancient Near Eastern Studies, 6’1″ — very slender), were walking on the sidewalk about 1/2 a block from their apartment. The area, Auburn, is our most urban. The missionaries refer to it as “all manner of ‘ese: Chinese, Sudanese, Lebanese, etc.” The Elders saw two Lebanese men, over six feet tall with mullets, walking towards them. As they approached, the Elders stepped off the sidewalk to let them pass. As soon as the men were in striking distance, they struck. Elder Collinsworth grabbed his attacker and threw him down into the street and held him to the ground. Elder Ferguson exchanged punches with his attacker with enough ferocity that the coward fled. By this time a third attacker jumped on Elder Collinsworth pulling his shirt over his head. He was knocked to the ground and kicked. He said the last thing he saw as he hit the street was Elder Ferguson running towards him. Elder Ferguson knocked the third attacker off of Elder Collinsworth. The second attacker who had run away earlier returned to join the attack.
At this time a passing Sudanese motorist stopped and honked his horn, flashed his lights and yelled. The three attackers ran away. The motorist got out and checked on the Elders — now both on the street — and then went to get a nearby policeman. At this point the Elders realized they had both been stabbed. Elder Collinsworth, once in the back; Elder Ferguson, thrice — in the thigh, the upper left arm, and the left wrist. Blood was especially pouring out of the wrist wound, so Elder Collinsworth took off his tie and bound the wound. An ambulance quickly arrived and transported them to Westmead which is a very good hospital.
President Scruggs provided a witness of tender mercies experienced throughout the ordeal, which continued as the missionaries were attended to at the hospital. Upon the elders’ recovery, an impromptu, spiritually uplifting meeting was held at ground zero (see pictures above and below). To parents of all the missionaries in his care, he provided warm assurance that every precaution is and will be taken to look after their safety. Some perspective was added that bicycle accidents occur much more frequently to missionaries than physical attacks, which set up this gem from Elder Collinsworth: “When you get home and tell people you got hurt in a bike wreck, they think you’re a dork; but when you tell them you got jumped and stabbed, we’ll get some respect.”
Elder Ferguson (via his mother) gave me some details not found local news coverage:
I have 9 stitches in my hand, and about as many in my leg. My leg has an ugly L shaped cut. I think I passed out for a second when my head hit the ground and that is when one of the men stabbed me in the leg and jerked the knife. When I came to, I kicked the man in the shin, jumped up to my feet, and then tackled the other guy. I imagine I wouldn’t have done that if I knew I had been stabbed.
What the papers don’t tell you about the fight is that I was confronting the guy with the knife before he ran off. He had a scared look on his face and in reflection, it seems he was just about as surprised to be in the fight as we were. The third guy, we believe, was not connected to them and just wanted to join the fight.
Elder Collinsworth and I were doing exactly what we were supposed to do. We pushed back the exchange a day because my regular companion was sick. We made the exchange at the only available time for the family which I wanted to visit. After meeting with the family, we took the most direct route home walking quickly, and we would have arrived home exactly at the right time to finish the night.
On Wednesday the story of the missionary attack was reported by Deseret News and other local media (for example KSL and the Daily Herald). The interest created by the sports angle ensured that media outlets throughout the nation picked the story up. As a former member of FAIR, Elder David Ferguson may very well be to our apologetic network and reader audience what Elder Chris Collinsworth is to the BYU basketball team and fans. The initial reaction of FAIR volunteers to the news was perhaps best typified by Don Neighbor’s admission that he was “utterly speechless,” which is significant coming from one never at a loss for words as he eviscerates anti-Mormon arguments. While what follows below is FAIR’s tribute to Elder Ferguson, we recognize he and Elder Collinsworth are but fine examples of missionaries everywhere who sacrifice their time, talents, and sometimes health and safety to further the Lord’s work.
Several of us from FAIR contacted Margaret Ferguson to express condolences and let her know her son was in our prayers. I asked her how she found out about the attack and if there was any discussion of him coming home. She responded: “He called us from the hospital with his Mission President a few hours after the attack. He said, ‘I was in a bit of a scrap and I am in the hospital but I am O.K.’ Of course I started to cry and he told me to STOP crying. Now this sobered me up because I knew that he must not only be O.K. but back to his usual ‘not a big deal self.’ Then his Mission President got on the phone and described a little of what had happened. So we never felt like he needed to come home.”
Sister Ferguson has been most helpful in providing information for this post including answering questions about Elder Ferguson’s hobbies and interests prior to his mission:
David was raised with 2 older brothers and 2 older sisters and was 8 years younger than his youngest sister. He became an Eagle Scout with an Eagle project of making 200+ wooden cars for the Humanitarian Agency of the Church. He did a lot of hiking and camping with the scouts and his family throughout Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and southern Utah. He sang in an a cappella sextet called Deep Six during his Junior and Senior years of high school. He played a lot of Xbox with his friends until he joined FAIR and then he spent most of his free time reading and then discussing some of what he learned from FAIR with us. At age 18 he became a counselor in the Sunday School presidency which meant a lot of substituting for absent teachers. Of course he graduated from seminary. He entered BYU in the fall of 2006. He declared his major as Ancient Near Eastern Studies of which I blame FAIR. Ha! We will work on a change from that program to one that can feed a family.
David Ferguson’s participation on message boards led to him to becoming a member of FAIR at age 16 in July of 2004. FAIR’s Chairman, John Lynch, recently linked the character Ferguson displayed through apologetics to recent events: “He is very intelligent and can keep up with the best LDS scholars. I am not surprised he rushed to the aid of his companion and suffered serious injury, as I have never known him to fear for himself. Rather, it is his nature to run to the defense of others.” Scholar Kevin Barney summarized an exchange with Ferguson that impressed him: “David had asked me for materials to study Biblical Hebrew on his own. Below [in an email not included here] he has acquired the program I recommended and started using it and asks me a question about it. A pre-mission kid taking the initiative to study Biblical Hebrew strikes me as having some apologetic street cred.”
As my own FAIR membership overlapped his only by six months before he left on a mission on February 28, 2007, some of the long term volunteers enthusiastically pointed out past correspondence that gave me more insight on Elder Ferguson.
He saw one of his roles with FAIR as communicating “with any teenagers who email FAIR and make things a little more comfortable for them.” Such a skill seems to be increasingly in demand given the rise of anti-Mormon groups that have no qualms against targeting teens and using popular media like youtube to do so. If a fireside by Kevin Barney is any indication, teens have a set of issues that require specialized and in-touch attention.
Seeking perspective on the youthful ages of some plural wives, David spent some time in the Harold B. Lee Library researching marital ages in the 19th century and reported his findings back to FAIR. It was personally gratisfying for me to discover that I was following in his pioneering footsteps in helping Greg Smith research the same topic.
I found a quote from David on a message board which might help explain how he could bounce back so well from his recent setback (though somewhat removed from its original context): “Not to sound like a TBM or anything, but that is how God works. He refines us through antagonists.”
Louis Midgley recollects “when David announced his mission call to the West Island (aka Oz), I seem to have had no idea how young he was.” He praised some of David’s writings that he had saved as being ”truly remarkable.”
President Scruggs observes that “Elder Ferguson never plays the ‘scholar’ card in Gospel conversations. … He sticks to Preach My Gospel and does not draw attention to himself.” In a humble manner, Elder Ferguson has put his apologetics experience to appropriate use as illustrated by an incident he wrote home about:
We tracted into a man named Steven and gave him our message on his doorstep. He was fully ready to bash with us, but we replied to every attempt of his by testifying as we were guided by the Spirit. He said that we weren’t Christian. My companion had to fight back anger, but because of my apologetics background, I remained composed. Steven said that he knew more about theology than we did but I just listened. Eventually he said “but you view Jesus Christ as only an apostle.” I interrupted him with the words, “my Savior.” Those two words expressed my testimony. I opened up my heart to this man and he saw it was good and we ended our conversation a little later with him saying that he respected our efforts and that we were all going to the same place, but on a different boat.
Since embarking on his mission, his mother writes: “He has baptized people from Sudan, mainland China, Laos, Burundi and even a couple of Aussies. He plans to see the family from Burundi go through the temple in February. He has told us that he loves this Church, the Prophet who receives direct and modern revelation, and most of all the Savior who has changed his life more than he ever could himself.” Elder Ferguson learned valuable lessons about the atonement and grace while helping an excommunicated member change for the better: “But when exhaustion overtakes the disciples who know that they are too weak to break free, they cry for Father to save them. And He sends His Son with strength to loose the chains and allow the disciples to crawl free. He picks them up with strength beyond their own and brings them home. The disciple’s willingness to struggle, not how far they have wiggled free, is what sets them apart from every one else. … ‘For it is by grace we are saved after all we can do.’”