“I’m so glad to be reminded that the church is the same everywhere.”
My ward gets a lot of out-of-towners in sacrament meeting each week, so we hear this line quite often during fast-and-testimony meetings. I think they’d see some differences if they stuck around for the other meetings, in which our ward members are teaching lessons, asking questions, and sharing their stories. That’s where the differences between wards, geographies, and cultures become apparent.
Take Katarina Jambresic. Her own story is global and incredible (and hers to tell, I won’t recap it here), and as she bears her testimony in front of our ward, she reminds us that the gospel is working its way into corners of the world we don’t often think about, and it’s touching lives in wonderful ways.
We need reminders that the world is big, and that it is the Lord’s. The church is bigger than we think—it’s easy to forget that as an American Mormon. Joseph Smith wrote in my language. I have a fat hymnbook to sing from. I can watch BYU games on TV. That’s the church I know, but it’s far from the entire church.
Katarina shares some big-world perspective in her book A Global Testimony, a collection of testimonies from converts in 60 different countries around the world, organized by continent. The book is a powerful reminder about what it means when we say the gospel will “fill the whole earth.”
She describes the book’s contributors as “pioneers who established the Church in their countries, translated the scriptures or became Area Seventies in the upper echelons of Church leadership. They are traditional families, singles, single parents, children joining without parents, parents of inactive children, ‘golden’ converts, former addicts, the rich, the famous, the poor, and everything in between.”
As I read their stories, the thought that came to mind was that the Spirit is the same everywhere, but the church and the people who join it aren’t, nor are our experiences in the faith. Many of the essays describe a charismatic brand of Mormonism that might feel unfamiliar to Western readers. We should expect those differences in countries where the entire membership is first-generation Mormon, and where the culture isn’t steeped in Judeo-Christian tradition. We just don’t often get a chance to hear from our brothers and sisters in those places.
Remember that video “How Rare a Possession”? It’s a side-by-side telling of the conversion stories of Parley P. Pratt and Vincenzo di Francesca after their first exposure to The Book of Mormon. There are several stories in A Global Testimony that mirror those narratives, and serve as a reminder that we don’t need to look into our past to find remarkable conversion stories; they’re happening all over the world, all the time.
Katarina has collected them from Muslim converts in Bosnia (where there are 27 church members) and Turkey (300 members strong), and a former Buddhist monk in Thailand (where there are 18,000).
We hear from a Palestinian Arab living in the West Bank who had to sneak across a militarized zone to meet with her ward in Israel on Sundays. We hear from an Indian sister who introduced herself to the missionaries because she’d never seen white people before.
I had been wondering why we’re building a temple in Congo. Turns out there are 38,000 members there who need one. I had no idea.
Katarina edits with a light touch—perhaps too light, but that’s understandable. She’s dealing with personal conversion stories, and in most cases neither writer nor editor are using their native language. She’s chosen her contributors well, however, and pairs their stories with membership and historical data from their countries. The data (which was almost always surprising) and the personal narratives reinforce the message that our sisters and brothers in the gospel are all over the world, and the Kingdom of God is big and varied and beautiful.
A Global Testimony is available in paperback and on Kindle.