The 2013 movie The Saratov Approach tells the abduction story of LDS missionaries Travis Tuttle and Andrew Propst while serving as full-time missionaries in Russia. Both were twenty years old at the time.
On March 18, 1998, Elders Tuttle and Propst knocked on the door of a man they had met a few days previous. Inside his apartment, the two responded to his questions about the Church but instead of finding someone to teach the gospel, the two were bludgeoned with a metal baton, then handcuffed, tied up, and left with tape covering their eyes and mouth. Their ordeal lasted for five days before they were able to escape. Meanwhile, the abductors delivered a ransom note asking for $300,000 to officials of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Officials in the United States government became involved when LDS lawmakers demanded help and U.S. Embassy and FBI agents went to Russia to assist.
During the five days, they were fed little and their captors played mind games with them. The two considered plans to escape.
- "I remember thinking, 'I need to get out of here or I will not live to see tomorrow,'" Tuttle said.
- One of the kidnappers, a 19-year-old Russian man, had monitored them throughout the ordeal and the three had much to talk about, including sports, politics, the differences between Russian and American customs, and even the gospel of Jesus Christ, which the missionaries were in the country to teach.
- “We tried to build those relationships with him so if there ever was a chance for him to decide, 'Do I kill these guys or do I let these guys go,' hopefully the friendship we had tried to establish would save our lives," Propst said.
- Their conversations, like many dealing with the gospel, had been deliberate.
- Throughout the long days together, the two never neglected to pray—alone and together—submitting themselves to God. They believed that their faith would get them through.
- On the fifth day, their prayers were answered when an older captor came home very drunk and said he was going to let the missionaries go. It was a prospect that was hard for Propst and Tuttle to believe, but they hurriedly put on their coats and shoes and rode quietly, huddled in the back seat of a small car for about 45 minutes.
- “He says he could hear my heart pounding and I could hear his," Propst said of his companion. "There wasn't a word spoken that entire time. We thought we were being taken to our final resting place."
The companions were pushed out of the car into the snow and the vehicle drove away. The quickly called police and church officials and were taken immediately to Germany. For their safety, Propst and Tuttle were later transferred to separate missions in England, where they each received therapy and completed their two years of service.
- One of the Russian captors was arrested the day after the missionaries' release and the other was tracked down by police two weeks later. The older man served two years in prison, and the 19-year-old was put on probation and wasn't allowed to leave Russia for two years.
"In hindsight, no matter what happened, I knew that everything would work out," Tuttle said. "It has changed my life. It was not just another day. It has made me a better person."
Tuttle’s handcuffs were so tight on one hand that he endured major nerve damage, a constant reminder of what he went through. He suffered from mild depression after so abruptly leaving a land he had grown to love, but Tuttle understood why he had to leave. He was glad he got to finish his mission.
- “Every missionary gets a chance to change lives, we just got to do it on a bigger scale," he said. "I took a beating for a greater cause."
- Because of what he went through, Tuttle said he lives each day to its fullest. He wants others to know that "no matter what happens, you're in charge of your own destiny. You never know when it is going to be over.”
Tuttle lives in the Boise, Idaho, area with his wife and family.