“…there’s a ton of stuff that should be covered in the MTC.”

In Sam’s post about tax liabilities stemming from membership in an organized religion in Germany, someone mentioned that missionaries destined for that land should be prepped on the topic. Sam’s reply was that “…there’s a ton of stuff that should be covered in the MTC.”

Back in my day[1], the MTC stay was 8-9 weeks for those requiring language training, and 3-4 weeks otherwise. Perhaps it’s longer/shorter/different now, but the point is missionaries don’t spend very much time in the MTC before being sent packing. A month or two, like! That’s not very long! And missionaries are really ignorant youthful!

My recollection of the MTC is that we prayed a lot. We sang hymns a lot[2]. We ate a lot. And we studied our language and the scriptures a lot. Fairly little time–if any at all–was spent on Cultural Learnings of Americans for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Finland. Virtually all basic information about Finland itself was learned later, as we cuddled up to the feet of our wise trainers. Naturally, this means that missionaries–myself included–did and said a lot of really stupid things because we didn’t understand anything about the culture we were now immersed in and didn’t respect it (because we were being trained by Americans who were also trained by Americans who were also trained by Americans…) sufficiently to pay attention until it was about time to go home. Le sigh.

But it’s not all tax law–OH THAT IT WAS, RIGHT SAM!?–and cultural ignorance. It’s also gospel knowledge, food preparation, relationship management, basic automotive care, medicine, cartography[3], and countless other facets of life that 18-19 year-olds really could use some extra help with.

So let’s imagine that you are put in charge of the MTC for a day, and you are charged with improving the preparation of missionaries for “dealing with missionary work and life.” Assume 1) that this additional training has to be covered without major new staffing, facility, or travel requirements (I.e., No professional cooking classes in SLC), and 2) each missionary will remain at the MTC an additional week–7 days–in order to receive this new training.

What do you cover?

[1] Early 1999.
[2] This is not to say we sang a lot of hymns. By about the middle of the third week, we were singing the same 3-4 hymns all day, every day.
[3]I got so lost one time. Seriously–so lost.


  1. Matt Stone says:

    I would use the extra seven days to teach them how to really work. The days of the Idaho-farmboy-turned-missionary are all but over. The extra days would be spent doing hard labor/service in the community: significant landscape projects, construction, trail building/maintenance etc. MTC leadership could coordinate with local governments and non-profits to find opportunities. This way we could show the suburban missionaries that waking up at 6:30 or knocking doors in the rain isn’t all that bad when compared to actual labor. Hopefully it would give some marginal missionaries some experience developing a real work ethic before entering the field.

  2. Much more time needs to be dedicated to the development of cultural sensitivity. Before I left on my mission, here’s the grand total of the training I received regarding how to not be a jerk in the place where I was going: one piece of card stock, printed on both sides, with the words “Culturegram” or something like that at the top, and a few factoids about the place I was headed to. It makes me angry just thinking about it: what hubris, telling young people that the stuff they really need to know can be condensed into the equivalent of a “cheat sheet.”

    And perhaps it wouldn’t be feasible to have whole classes for each country or mission–my MTC district contained elders going to half a dozen different Spanish-speaking countries. But couldn’t there at least be some classes on the importance of cultural sensitivity in general? So that it doesn’t take missionaries a year or more to figure out that when they go to another country, THEY are the weirdos?

  3. Basic automotive care would’ve been pretty useless to most missionaries in my mission–but basic bike care would’ve been incredibly useful, especially after the mission president decided that the mission bikes would all be standardized (and therefore all overpriced pieces of junk).

    Some cultural sensitivity training would also have been useful. And some training on how to not get things (ie–bikes) stolen. Though, come to think of it, I’m not sure anyone ever bothered stealing the standardized mission bikes.

    Honestly, though, basic skills live cultural sensitivity, cooking, and hard work need to be taught in the home. Those aren’t skills you can teach in a week.

  4. Tim, come now, let’s be reasonable. Do you really expect the average Mormon household to teach cultural sensitivity to its children?

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    Basic life skills. Mama’s little precious is going to the MTC without knowing how to do any number of things they need to be able to do in the field, like, say, their own laundry, how to clean an apartment, basic cooking, keeping to a budget, time management, and yes, basic auto/bike maintenance/security, how to read a map, how to deal with bank accounts, and so on and so forth. (Yes, really should be taught at home,. but it just ain’t happening these days.)

  6. Oh my goodness, a primer in Church History, especially explaining carefully how all the “anti-Mormon lies” aren’t exactly lies, nor anti-Mormon.

  7. EmJen: That. Exactly.

  8. Geoff - Aus says:

    Could we also have some for Mission Presidents, on a whole lot of things especially those mentioned above. A new mission president in Australia recently, in stake conference, spent part of his talk on the toxic world. We do not use terms like that about our country, and it did not display the “Love for the people” we were told to do in my mission. I realise it is Utah culture, but it does not fit with Australian culture, any investigator would be affronted.

    I did not go to MTC because I was sent from England to Ireland in 1968. I always wondered what I missed, if anything.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    I was faced with serious questions from investigators I didn’t know how to answer pretty much right out of the gate in my mission. I got tired of saying “I don’t know” all the time, so I found out, to the extent I could with the resources I had available at the time. But yeah, this process could have been a lot easier on me if someone had bothered to give me a primer on this stuff.

  10. MargaretOH says:

    I never served a mission but I did do a year of AmeriCorps when I was 18. We spent a month doing much of what you’re talking about here: life skills, cultural sensitivity training, mini service projects. What I mostly remember about that month was an enormous amount of collective eye rolling. I do not envy those who were trying to get a bunch of 18-24 year-olds to patiently sit through meetings that (of necessity) addressed the most basic of life skills. We were all offended, of course– do they really think we don’t know how to cook?? Or balance a checkbook?? Don’t they know we’re ADULTS?? There was probably information presented there that would have been useful for me but I was way too cool and mature to listen to it.

  11. Jack of Hearts says:

    Cultural sensitivity training would be wonderful. Beyond that though, I don’t think much else of what has been suggested is feasible. Sure it should happen in the home, but if it’s not, a week in the MTC isn’t going to do it either. That’s something for mission presidents and trainers, and often it’s too mission-specific. Car and bike maintenance would have been useless for my mission, as we had neither. And when I needed to know country/mission-specific stuff about budgeting, laundry, cooking, cartography, cleaning, etc., I asked my trainer, who was happy to give tips and share what had and hadn’t worked for him.

  12. –CPR
    –Basic First Aid
    –Quick Cooking
    –How Not To Come Off As An Arrogant Ignoramus.

  13. This obviously doesn’t apply directly to the MTC and of course I know it’s not feasible for any number of valid and silly reasons, but I think instead of lowering the age for missionary service, we should raise it. I went out at age 24, with a college degree and several years of living on my own under my belt. I’d also had plenty of time to serve in the Church in various callings and see how people live in the real world rather than my parents’ house or a dorm at college. I also knew a lot about Church history thanks to a good Institute instructor and my own curiosity and searching, so when I was hit with “surprises” from anti-Mormons I was pretty well buffered. In the MTC itself, along with the scripture study and role-plays about the commitment pattern, our teachers told us lots of stories about weird or funny things that happened, gave us tips about things to expect, ideas that worked for them, etc. They were pretty honest about what a mission is really like. I don’t know what kind of training or instruction the teachers receive, but they should have plenty of leeway to talk about cultural and traditional sorts of things, especially if they went to the same general area or worked with the same cultural groups their students will be serving in. We also had the Telecenter when I was there – I spent an extra four weeks in the MTC working in there. I learned a lot that way, too. I went on a Stateside mission, so I didn’t have as much culture shock as someone going to a foreign country but there was still a lot of mission culture I had to get used to. Of course, I still got thrown for a loop plenty of times once I was actually in the field, but I felt that I was as prepared as I could be for the reality of missionary work.

  14. But it’s not all tax law–OH THAT IT WAS, RIGHT SAM!?

    Blasphemy! But if tax law is off the table, how about a quick primer on the history highlights of whatever country/region missionaries are going to? (Heck, we could do produce a video for most of the countries, so we didn’t even need to hire additional teachers.) Those history highlights could provide some vestigial sense of context for missionaries.

    Also, I think some sort of introduction to literature/music/sports/culture would be great. When I went to Brazil, basically everything I knew was that Stan Getz brought bossa nova to the U.S. and Paul Simon had done a Brazil-inflected album (Rhythm of the Saints, fwiw), too. Not that Stan Getz and Paul Simon aren’t great, but, well, that didn’t give me a whole lot of context.

  15. I’ve got a sauna in Springville all ready for some serious cultural sensitivity training!

    Last week I managed to catch a missionary (son of a friend) headed for Finland before he could get to the MTC and formally be told it’s now kielletty to participate in the most important Finnish social ritual.

  16. Definition of an idiom, and why it can’t be translated word for word. Please, please don’t find “stud” in your dictionary and use it as a term of praise for the RS president.

  17. Bro. Jones says:

    sba: That’s amazing.

  18. Here’s what I’d tell these missionaries:

    You will have a tremendous impact on a few people’s lives, but that is not your mission. Your mission is how you leave the 99.9% of people who are not going to accept your message, and not going to join the church.

    Will you have left these people with a stronger faith in Christ? A deeper love for their Father in Heaven? Or will they remember you for telling them that their beliefs were false and that they belonged to the wrong church? You won’t have convinced them to believe in your church, but will you have convinced them that ALL churches are wrong? That the faith they grew up in is an unholy abomination? Will they abandon the faith they have in Christ, and turn their backs on God, because of something you did or said?

    I hope not. I hope you realize that your commission to lead people to Christ extends to all people, even those who aren’t ready to receive our church. Whoever you meet, and wherever they are in their faith in Christ, make sure they’ve drawn a little closer to Him because of you.

  19. While use MTC time to introduce cultural, legal and religious aspects of the target region, I think it must go beyond that. Each mission needs regular training (of mission presidents on down) on these issues. If today’s missionaries are anything like me, a few hours spent on such deconstruction of expectations won’t be very effective.

  20. Bro. Jones, amazing but true. It sounds pretty bad in Hungarian. Likewise “that sucks, man.”

  21. I would use an extra week to unteach all the stupid things that the MTC tells you about how your mission will be that make the first several weeks (sometimes months) of your mission miserable as experience continually conflicts with MTC advice and expectations. Basically all you use from the MTC is language lessons and some basic teaching lessons. The rest is actively harmful as it conflicts with practice.

  22. U.S. Peace Corps spends 12 weeks half-time on intensive cultural training, both from former volunteers and from host country nationals well used to young Americans, and still it seemed we never ran out of different ways to amuse the former and shock the latter.

    And any missionaries named Linda who might be headed to Central African Republic, I strongly suggest you use a pseudonym, since the Sango language has a particularly crude meaning attached to a similar-sounding word.

  23. I would teach them how to develop personal ministry rather than business sales techniques. To be pastoral minded rather than business minded

  24. Cultural sensitivity would be needed, indeed. I remember how my companion once started to argue with a Palestinian guy how there is not a country called Palestine and that the country’s actual name is Israel. Not something a refugee from West Bank or Gaza wishes to hear.

  25. “If today’s missionaries are anything like me, a few hours spent on such deconstruction of expectations won’t be very effective.”

    Exactly. I really do not know what effective cultural sensitivity training would like. In fact, Scott’s post hints at the best solution, be trained by someone who is not American (or of the same culture).

    The MTC serves three (for some, four) basic purposes: 1) give new missionaries the Restoration script, 2) provide a safe place where they can experience some kind of confirmation that the decision they have made is a good one (e.g., testimonies can be solidified and/or gained), 3) teach basic communication skills and 4) provide language training. I think the MTC does a pretty good job of these, even if it felt a little heavy handed at times. Most of this other stuff is best learnt in the field.

  26. I would add a #5 to Aaron’s list, which would be learning to live a heavily regimented lifestyle with lots of rules, regulations, and expectations.

    I would echo what others have said about cultural training. I believe when I was in the MTC (late 1999), there was an informational meeting one evening where former missionaries who had previously served in the country to which you were assigned would have a “Cultural Night” or something along those lines. It was fine, but left me wanting.

    I also agree that much of what is learned in the MTC is undone in the first week or two by your trainer. This can become a problem though as not all trainers are up to the challenge.

    I think the MTC is an important transitional period for young missionaries. I wonder if part of the problem of returning missionaries is the shortened stay in the MTC. We have a young man leaving soon to the South Africa Cape Town Mission. He is reporting straight to the Johannesburg MTC where he will spend all of 12 days. That seems way too short to me.

  27. What EmJen said- I think this would make a huge difference in these kids. A primer in our history, and an acknowledgement of the facts. A missionary in my ward was telling me the other day that he’d been explaining to an investigator (Can we come up with another word, please? Perhaps “person”?) how polygamy came about from Brigham Young needing to deal with the excess amount of sisters after the trek west. He said she made an appointment with him, but called the next day to cancel, wondering why he’d lied to her.

    Poor sweetie. He had no idea. I had to explain to him, as gently as possible, how that old tale was wrong, and how anyone who can type “google” can quickly discover JSJ himself had many wives, and it happened before the trek west. I told him that’s from “anti” sites. It’s true, and it can be verified through our own historians.

    We’re doing these kids a disservice in not providing at least a basic primer on the real questions they’re going to get, and in the age of the internets, we should give them real, solid answers.

  28. Edit: ^I told him that’s NOT from “anti” sites. It’s true, and it can be verified through our own historians.

  29. Doctrinal/historical discernment: Learning to distinguish and evaluate sources and attribution, so that not every bs photo-photo-photo-photo-copied talk attributed to (fill in dead General Authority here), or statement/interpretation that gets passed around is then taught to investigators as Mormon Truth. More of the statement about how “not every statement by a General Authority represents doctrine or the position of the Church.”

    Polygamy? More women then men.
    Word of Wisdom? Caffeine and bad chemicals.
    Three wise men? Lehi, Nephi, and Alma
    Wine in the NT? Yeah, that’s really grape juice.
    Catholicism? Church of the devil.

  30. As Aaron R. noted above, there are certainly things the MTC is fairly well equipped to do, but conveying cultural awareness is not going to be one of them. There are simply too many Americans in one place for that to work. Not that Americans are especially unteachable; it’s just that there’s no real incentive to reexamine your assumption when you are part of the dominant culture. And due to the high degree of isolation from “the world” this continues even after arriving in the mission field. Think of how ineffective SYL efforts are, for example, or the number of non-native English speakers who go to a non-English-speaking mission and come home having mastered the American idiom.

    Maybe establishing more local MTCs would help, but as long as a bunch of like-minded Americans are spending time together, I fear that the exposure to foreign cultures will play out like this:

    “I’ve met people from all over: a guy from Penn State, these two Sig Ep brothers from the University of Oregon, and some really cool people from Clemson,” said Blevins, a political-science major who is taking eight credits at the Universidad de Sevilla. “And I was worried I wouldn’t fit in.”

  31. I agree with Ben, although I think this inoculation process might have to begin a lot earlier than the MTC. Frankly, I’d despair of teaching much in the way of cultural sensitivity to anyone, much less a Utahn teenager, in 3-8 weeks. :)

    I was pretty well-equipped for my mission to Italy from a cultural standpoint. I was a convert of about 13 months, raised Roman Catholic, and I turned 22 just before leaving the MTC. I’d been living on my own for almost 4 years at college, was a Marine Corps Reserve veteran, knew how to cook, iron a shirt, and polish my shoes, and had a knowledge of and respect for the primary religious tradition of my mission country. I slapped more than a few younger colleagues back into line before the “great and abominable church” stuff got out of hand. That wasn’t a background I could communicate in a couple of weeks; all I could do was try to lead by example.

    What I was really ill-equipped for was trying to fill 10 hours a day with “useful” proselyting work. If we could train missionaries to find service opportunities and work them hard, as I think someone suggested in a post last week and as Matt Stone aims at in #1, we’d do a lot to reduce the sheer feeling of uselessness and futility that I think is driving the rise in missionary anxiety cases.

    The other thing that occurs to me is that many areas around the world are seeing more and more missionaries from similar cultural backgrounds. Sure, we still get all of the Utah and Idaho boys here in Minnesota, but my son in Brazil served with many, many more natives, percentage-wise, than I did in my mission, and I hear similar things from other recent RMs and their parents. I also note that we seem to have an increase in the number of our kids who are serving in the US and Canada – sometimes in other languages; my second son served in Boston, speaking Spanish – but more frequently either staying in their own countries or going places where there’s not much native Church presence. And it’s a rare Italian who leaves Italy these days; likewise with other “settled” countries where the Church has a long-term presence.

    IOW, the cultural dissonance issue may be less of an issue now than it was 10, 20, 30+ years ago when many commenters here served. I hope so, anyway. Now let’s give them something useful to do.

  32. John Mansfield says:

    Over the last decade, there have been a dozen missionaries serving in my American ward who were called from Chile, Peru, Italy, the Netherlands, France, Latvia, and Mongolia. I can’t think of anything any of them ever did that bothered me as an American.

  33. “Sure, we still get all of the Utah and Idaho boys here in Minnesota”

    Midwestern solidarity! (I grew up SW MN.)

  34. I agree with those (like WVS above) who don’t think that there is any way to fully teach “cultural sensitivity” or some of the other important things in such a short period of time with such limited facilities and resources. However, I think that STARTING the education in the MTC would be incredibly helpful. The teaching should take the form of “We’re going to bring up a few things, and you’re going to learn more about them later when you get to the mission field–so be forewarned.”

    This would have (hopefully) the effect of instilling in missionaries’ minds that, when their trainer tells them that it’s important to learn X, Y, and Z in addition to testifying, teaching, and baptizing, the young missionary doesn’t feel like they’re being taught something “new” or “contrary to what we were told was important in the MTC.”

  35. The Other Clark says:

    Much of the skills listed in the early comments of this post–financial and time management, hard work, difficult living conditions, even reading a map–ARE taught in the “activity arm of the Aaronic priesthood:” Scouting.

    I recognize that Boy Scouting is a favorite whipping boy in the Bloggernacle, but if it were done right (and not just an excuse to hang out and play B-Ball once a week) it would resolve 90% of these issues. OTOH, based on what I saw in my mission, maybe hanging out and playing basketball is great preparation. :-)

  36. That’s great, TOC, but who’s teaching the Young Women those skills?

  37. Nobody, Amy. Why do you ask?

  38. Kevin Barney says:

    When I was YMP, I was gearing up to do what I called Missionary Boot Camp, which was going to cover both life skills and a primer on the kinds of questions missionaries get asked but have no clue about. But I was released (not because of this program, which never made it off the ground) and so it never happened. Too bad; I think it would have been fun and helpful to the kids.

  39. Hear, hear, on teaching these kids how to work.

    My daughter was getting really frustrated with spa and hygiene nights for Young Women, so she asked if I would take her to the demolition project the Young Men were doing – tearing down an old swingset at a home for unwed and homeless mothers. We still laugh long and hard about the 17-year old boy who asked her, in earnest, “Do you have a nail file? I think I broke a nail….” She outworked any three of the boys put together.

    My second suggestion – The Mission President doesn’t need to approve everything. If you’re doing something good, keep at it. One companion and I managed to weasel our ways into getting on the chaplain staff at a major hospital. That was one of the most rewarding activities of my mission, but the mission president would have blown a gasket if he thought we weren’t out “bringing numbers to Christ”. If it’s something that would make your Mom proud of you, and something that will result in a really good story for your homecoming talk, then do it.

    And, rather than teaching them every cultural sensitivity issue, teach them how to apologize effectively and humbly ask forgiveness. If a missionary is actually out working, she/he will do some offensive things, and they will be far better off if they realize this going in and have a plan in place for making amends.

  40. Scott B., I’m less skeptical than my (garbled) comment sounded. I think anything, MTC outreach, home ward programs like Kevin mentioned, boots and the ground in mission training, any of it would be great. I think the far-flung MTCs were designed as part of a solution, perhaps.

  41. I spent 4 weeks in Provo mainly focused on language training and then 4 weeks in the MTC located in the country where I served my mission. In the local MTC we had native teachers (most of whom spoke little English, if any at all), P-Day trips to local cultural sites, classes on etiquette and culture from the native teachers, and a native cook who prepared local food for our meals. Some of the missionaries were still boorish and insensitive–they complained about the pastry and yogurt for breakfast and the fish for dinner and were not interested in art museums on P-Day. One other problem was that the MTC president at the time had served as a mission president in a completely different country two decades previously–he and his wife rarely left the MTC and didn’t know much about the country and often gave us contradictory or weird advice about what to expect. It was still a good experience and I think that going to a local MTC was great.

    I’m also skeptical about how much more really can be accomplished in the MTC that isn’t already being done there. Curiosity about a country and its culture, humility, and empathy towards those who are different are hard attitudes to teach to people. I think I would have liked more information about the history of the country I served in and a chance to read more of the local news while we were there–when ETA blew up a car bomb half a mile from my apartment, I think it would have helped to know who they were and what the context was since everyone in the neighborhood was talking about it for weeks afterward.

  42. Serving in NYC, Spanish speaking, was a challenge, but I knew it would be going in. Thankfully I grew up in a multicultural family and in a very multicultural area of southern California. I knew enough about cultural sensitivity to know that I needed to be careful, but not so much that I knew everything I needed to know about the various cultures. Which was good because I met people from nearly 100 different cultures while I was on my mission. Learning about other people’s cultures was one of the highlights of my mission.

    I was very nonplussed by my trainer 11 years ago. He was from Sandy, UT and he was not particularly sensitive towards other cultures. Oddly, one of his biggest issues was cultural appropriation of black culture as we went door to door in the projects. I’m fairly certain we didn’t get in many doors because of his behavior, but I didn’t say much because I didn’t want to try and correct my trainer, at least at first. He was also the companion I got along with the least and we had a good number of fights and shouting matches near the end. As for the more practical skills, in just a few weeks in my starting area, I knew the area better and could navigate the streets and mass transit better than my companion.

    While I’m certain I was prideful beyond what probably willing to admit or acknowledge when I first got out in the field, my trainer really did not help.

  43. I’ll just chime in an state that cultural insensitivity is not a uniquely Mormon problem. It is of concern in this context, of course, where we’re mostly talking about sending young American Mormons to foreign countries. But my experience is that believing that your culture is better than the new one you’re in is a fairly universal human trait.

  44. Jared, which NY mission did you serve in? I was in the New York New York North Mission, Spanish Speaking, from 2003 to 2005. I had much the same experience you did with the multiculturalism of NY.

  45. Jack Hughes says:

    In addition to scripture and language study, I propose that a missionary’s daily routine should also include time for cultural study–where they can delve into the history, art, literature, etc. of their mission country. From what I observed in recent years (from living in Europe) I don’t think the LDS mission is nearly the cultural experience it could/should be.

    At the MTC though, something must be done to beat the American Exceptionalist/Religious Colonialism paradigm out of the missionaries-in-training. Where we lived in Europe, almost all of the missionaries serving there came from the same handful of Utah County high schools. They grow up conservative, depart with enthusiasm to convert masses, eventually get frustrated with the difficulty of trying to convert secular Europeans, develop hostility toward same, and return ultra-conservative. If Utah County and other Mormon-dense areas have such a large number of returned missionaries with experience living abroad, why are they such hotbeds of conservatism and narrow worldviews?

  46. Jimbob, other people may believe their culture is the best, “I’ll never leave the South!” etc. Mormon’s tend to have american and mormon culture exceptionalism nailed down better than most. “God’s chosen culture” and all that…….

  47. Amy T., Excellent point. If I could take it even a step further, I would go beyond the extra week in the MTC and improve the way we teach the youth, especially the Young Women. The new curriculum is a step in the right direction, but many YW leaders are still entrenched in the old way of teaching. Young women are often patronized by giving them treats, handouts and trinkets. If we want young women to be effective teachers and missionaries, we need to teach them in a way that reflects their true standing in the gospel. Less “Honor the Pr”Reese”tood handouts, more discussion about how we exercise it, please.

  48. Excellent discussion.
    If I may refer to an own contribution: make missionaries aware of the reasons why people can get angry at them.

  49. wow — amazing and deeply moving post, Wilfried. I hadn’t seen it at the time. Thank you for posting it here, very pertinent.

  50. Wonderful stuff, Wilfried.

  51. great discussion in the comments there too. This one (comment 12 by Roger) stood out (it doesn’t allow me to link the specific comment, so posting it here) and is relevant to today’s discussion:

    This post took a while for me to read as I would pause every few sentences and reflect back on my experience in Spain 40+ years ago. Those were not altogether pleasant pauses. Some of the good experiences were sublime, many were tragicomic, others still bring great sadness in their wake. Frankly, I think a fair amount of the antagonism experienced by missionaries was brought on by their own (our own) arrogance and boldness — Cultural understanding and appreciation were not a priority, I distinctly recall each of my first six companions declaring, generally in moments of frustration, their hatred for the Spanish people.

    I recall Paul Dunn telling us in a visit to Sevilla that the Church recognized that the efficiency of sending 19-year olds was not at all apparent when compared to what might be achieved by sending more mature mature members who knew much more about life, let alone the actual doctrine.

    Apparently Gordon Hinckley had some insights into the retention issues. Has anyone considered anything about the proselytism process beyond throwing mass waves of adolescents at it?

    I absolutely loved being in East Germany and interacting with the people. I loved the language, the culture, the history, the scenery, everything (though without ignoring the difficulties of the work and the subdued emotions that it often provoked). So one of the most trying aspects of my mission was putting up with the many missionaries who would make derisive comments about the country and the people, much as Roger has described. That attitude and those comments were born of cultural insensitivity. It had nothing to do with the Gospel and everything to do with the cultural arrogance that those missionaries brought with them into the field, an attitude that had unfortunately been bolstered by the patriotic/American exceptionalism mindset that in their experience was married to the Gospel. So the most common reaction to the people they were serving was judgmental disapproval extending to negative observations about the city- and landscapes themselves. It was a challenge for me to hear those types of things.

  52. “Mormon’s tend to have american and mormon culture exceptionalism nailed down better than most. ‘God’s chosen culture’ and all that……”

    I guess I’m bucking trends here when I say that I don’t really agree that our brand of exceptionalism–American, Mormon, whatever–is all that different from any other culture’s. I’ve lived for short spurts in the Netherlands, Portugal, and West Africa, and the people in each believed they had a superior culture. I’ve spent much longer times in Texas and Louisiana, and the people there were pretty sure they had the best cultures. (Here’s a pretty good example from Germany: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UH4S9RQv5Os.)

    I can remember being in the Netherlands in 2002 and having a long unsolicited conversation with a woman at the Milosevic trial at the Hague where she repeatedly told me that we Americans were complete monsters for our views on the death penalty and that I should try to get my fellow countrymen to change to the European model. I remember thinking that whether she was wrong or right, the fact that she forced this conversation on me–a stranger and out of the blue–seemed to be the type of behavior that Europeans had always told me that they hated about Americans. But somehow it was okay for her to force it on me, but not me to force it on her.

    I’ve concluded that the only reason American exceptionalism is considered more galling than anyone else’s exceptionalism is that America itself is still the most powerful nation (at least for the time being). It’s one thing for a poor African to tell you why his culture’s mores are best. It’s another to have a rich American do so. The former you can dismiss, if you choose. The latter you kind of have to deal with, given all the world politics, entertainment, and commerce America affects. Or at least that’s my current theory.

  53. Kevin Barney says:

    Wilfried, I had missed that post the first time around. Thanks, that was excellent.

  54. I have nothing to add but I do have a question. I didn’t serve a mission and neither did my husband and we have always wondered…..why do all missionaries talk in that awkward halting cadence? They all sound the same, it sounds completely unnatural and it’s creepy! Are they taught a specific way to talk? All the LDS missionaries I’ve ever encountered across the country talk this way including my sister when she got back! What’s the deal?

  55. I haven’t heard that, Sarah – but they are taught now to think about what they are saying instead of just giving memorized lessons. It might have something to do with that, and, if so, it’s not a bad thing.

    Wilfried, thank you. I’ve missed your posts.

  56. I “know some people” who are trying to help missionaries by using satire to (humorously?) highlight ways missionaries get it wrong. In fact, Monday’s article addresses some of the arrogance mentioned in previous comments:


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