One of the drawbacks of living in the BEST CITY ON EARTH is that you have to put up with a great deal of foot traffic. As someone who works in Times Square, it can be frustrating to wade through the hordes of tourists gawking at the billboards. Well, it’s recently gotten even worse, thanks to the pamphleteer armies of Falun Gong (a/k/a Falun Dafa, or Wheel of Law).
Time Out magazine wrote, "If it seems like you’re practically tripping over peaceful, yellow-shirted
demonstrators, that’s because Falun Gong (or Falun Dafa) practitioners have
descended on New York en masse in the past month." Yeah, no kidding. Several days over the last few months the subways have been jammed with Falun Gong-ers; I once received a pamphlet at 103rd Street (!) and again in Times Square during a single trip. It seems like they had thousands of people working for them.
Their demonstrations, while peaceful, graphically depict violence allegedly perpetrated against Falun Gong practitioners in China. See here for an example. Even more effective than these shocking scenes is the sheer scale of the assault on NYC. As a result of these efforts, the group has gotten tremendous media attention, and it seems that their strategy of raising awareness is working. Heck, the fact that we’re blogging about them speaks volumes!
After initial irritation at the inconvenience these protesters present, I was struck by their zeal and their devotion to the cause. Every day, hundreds of regular people don yellow T-shirts, put on torture makeup and hit the streets — and are met with (some) success. Most people ignore them; some scorn; but some stop and listen. I can’t help but feel a little jealous of how relentlessly energetic the Falun Gong are in their missionary work, compared to our own religion. We don’t come close in our efforts and energy to these younger, more marginal faiths like Falun Gong or even the Scientologists (who have recently begun their own Times Square onslaught — beware of the "Free Stress Tests"). Pound-for-pound, we can’t compete in our missionary efforts, fancy new manuals notwithstanding.
It wasn’t always this way: missionaries in the early days of the Church cut broad swathes through Europe like scythes harvesting ripe fields. Fervor and zeal were the watchwords of the early saints. Fearless heroes like Dan Jones went forth and baptized thousands, never ceasing their efforts. Today, mormons have essentially outsourced all recruiting efforts to a small
corps of full-time missionaries. While nominally every member is a
missionary, we’re weak-willed and largely apathetic as a body. As ward mission leader, I found out the last time someone had been baptized in my ward from a member referral — it had been years, and no one seemed to notice. What happened to us? Is this shift in missionary work a bad thing?
Personally, I’m envious of these new faiths. The Dan Joneses of today’s world are with the Falun Gong.