Sunday, January 10, 2010

Misunderstandings and Missionary Work in Europe

One of my biggest pet peeves is something that is highly damaging to missionary work in Europe. It can manifest it in many different ways: here are two examples I've heard given at church.
1. A statement made in a Sunday School class for teenagers close to missionary age. "All of the good blood in Europe has already been converted, and they immigrated over here, and that's why missionaries in Europe don't get any baptisms."
2. A statement made by a church leader over the pulpit. "We're in Europe not for the Europeans, but for people from Turkey and other countries who immigrate to Europe."

BS. (I thought about spelling BS out, since it's certainly deserved here, but I'll restrain myself).
In the strongest sense possible, BS.

In response to the first statement: missionaries in Europe do get baptisms. They baptize actual Europeans. There are plenty of good Europeans in Europe, and some of them are willing to accept the gospel. Telling future missionaries they won't have success can be (and often is) a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's something Satan himself would say.

In response to the second statement: again, Europeans do get baptized. And once they get baptized, many of them remain active. Contrast that with non-Europeans who (in my experience) all go inactive. I served in two wards and two branches, and never once met an active member who was not either European or American (including South American). We tried working with a couple of these inactive members (Middle Eastern and African, mainly), but the language and/or cultural barriers were just too great--they didn't feel comfortable in the congregation. I know some missionaries in Europe in the past specifically sought out foreigners for easy baptisms, but such work is less effective. It doesn't work. It's not why the Lord sends missionaries to Europe. Missionaries are in Europe to serve Europeans.

If you know someone who's serving or who will serve in Europe, tell them this: Europeans are good people. They are intelligent, and they have good hearts. And missionary success among Europeans is very possible, as long as the missionary believes it's possible. Satan has his lies, and too often church members pass them on. Don't believe them. Believe in the people you're sent to serve, and believe in yourself.


Katrina said...

Great comments. It's too bad some Church members believe and pass these false ideas on.

Cougarg said...

My belief, which I don't think flies to much in the face of your comments, is that missionaries are called to serve the people that live in their mission boundaries, regardless of their country of origin. Serving in southern California, I helped in the conversion and baptism of several people, most of which were not upper-middle class and/or white. I spent half of my mission though in that part of town. There was one young family that came close until they returned home from a trip where I believe they were influenced by anti-mormon sentiments.

The one convert that I still am in contact with, and who is active is a woman from the Ukraine. I was called to America, but I served anyone that would listen, many of which were minorities or foreigners. That did not stop us from giving everyone the same opportunity to hear. But in my experience, most of the middle-class whites that we came across just were not looking to change anything in their comfortable lives. And I think that is the difficulty that missionaries find around the world. People that are comfortable are not looking to change. Good people that recognize the truth of the gospel and change their lives despite the comfort around them are special and may be more prevalent than I know. But in my experience, they were rare indeed.

Tim said...

Thanks for your comments.
Cougarg--You're right of course. We also worked with people from other countries, including Hungary, Russia, and England (all three of which got baptized--and, unlike most African/Middle Easterns in Germany, all three spoke German).
With the Hungarian, we were lucky, because another ward member was also Hungarian (although she'd lived in Germany for decades). The English girl was raised in Germany, so no cultural boundaries to deal with there.
Unfortunately, I never met any active Africans or Middle Easterns (although I met several less active ones). So new converts from places like Turkey had no one to relate to. And usually they had their own African/Middle Eastern communities where they felt comfortable. (I taught a first discussion to a room full of Middle Eastern men once--I think, socially at least, most of them were fairly comfortable).
Immigrants are great people to convert. But if they don't speak the language, chances are they won't stay active. And if they're background culture is too different from the rest of the members in the ward (African v. European, for example, has much larger differences than Ukranian v. American) inactivity is also likely.
Of course we talked to everyone. But, although missionaries in earlier times focused on immigrants, we knew what that lead to. We focused on those who were likely to speak German, and we had more of a lasting impact.

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