Book Review: A Global Testimony

61da02d9-cf78-44ea-bbbe-805751eed7a6“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.

Comments

  1. Sounds like an interesting book. There is even a story by someone I know of in it.

  2. Darn it, just finished my Christmas shopping, would have been a great gift. In my travels I have to agree that church always seems depressingly the same in sacrament meeting, but differences in culture and understanding become more apparent in gospel doctrine and ward activities.

  3. Thank you for posting about this. My husband and I recently finished doing oral interviews with nearly fifty members all over western Mexico from a variety of ethnic groups, we’ve interviewed every member living in a certain Central Asian country, and we’re interviewing Latino members living in the US attending Spanish wards right now.  These stories are so important to tell, both the conversions and the struggles of continuing on in the church.

    I don’t much like that saying that the church is the same everywhere.  I live in a ward right now with a lot of USians who have lived all over the world- not just for a short time or when they were in college or in Europe, but in nearly every country, with children, for at least two years at a time.  Most of them can’t say the church is the same everywhere and if you really talk to them, you hear about the real struggles they have going to church where their kids refuse to go to church for years because they don’t speak the language and feel isolated (especially for parents who would never consider letting their children stay home from church); where they can’t leave their children in Primary or nursery because of serious health and safety concerns; where there are major conflicts between members of different ethnicities, races, and nationalities; and so much more. It’s not all warm fuzzies and familiar hymns (even in the US).

    Tell all the stories.  There are so many good people out there trying hard to make the gospel and the church work in their lives despite significant challenges.

  4. This really sounds like a great book, Kyle. Thanks for the review!

  5. Eventually every one’s experience will be like one of my daughters. She grew up at the beach in Southern California and her three church friends include a Rwandan (who lost her father in the genocide), a Dane (whose family were the only members in Greenland), and a Swede (who served a mission on temple square).

  6. Thanks for the review, Kyle. Good job.

  7. Globe Trecker says:

    I’m looking forward to this book, thanks for the heads up. And for the record, the Church is absolutely not the same everywhere. Maybe in N. America but not everywhere. Not by a long shot. Sure we all use the same manuals and hymnbooks, but I have lived in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the U.S.A and it is all very different according to the culture of the country. For instance, when I lived in Germany, it was a very multicultural ward with a lot of Filipinos, Austrians, Germans, Americans and Czech’s, and it was not run very well by the book. Quite rogue on some levels, correct on others. I lived in Italy and everything was done exactly by the book and the lessons were quite dry. By the book, great, but very dry because they didn’t relate the gospel into personal life in a lesson. Australia and New Zealand? Absolutely dysfunctional due to the culture of the people (New Zealand being the worst and surprisingly so, considering the Church had been there since the 1850’s and you’d think it would have strong roots but it is quite the opposite. A lot of false doctrine and horrific dysfunction throughout the country). Canada and the U.S. were close, but definitely differences in tolerance levels of by the book vs. slacking off in some areas. So no, the Church is not the same wherever you go. As anyone who as lived vs. just visited as a tourist and you’ll find the same response. Tourists love to say the Church is the same because on the surface, it is. It looks the same, feels similar, etc. but if you’ve lived in different countries and served on a ward or stake level, you’ll figure it out very quickly that you’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

  8. J. Stapley says:

    This sounds like a really great book. Thanks, Kyle. I was completely unaware of it.

  9. It’s interesting, J., I’m not aware of any other collections that pull from such a geographically diverse bunch of contributors. And the fact that the writers are all new to the church, many in countries where *everyone* is new to the church, gives it a really interesting flavor. Their stories feel rough and unpolished, and very real.

  10. John Mansfield says:

    Having some colorful foreigners among us is one of the things every LDS ward I’ve been a part of has had in common.

  11. I must add that no matter how many times I have read and proofread these accounts, I have been touched by the Spirit, reminded how involved the Lord is in the details of our individual lives and I have felt truly empowered. The book is officially endorsed by David Archuleta and Claudia and Richard Bushman (Rough Stone Rolling).

    We have a Facebook page/Twitter where we aspire to inspire and a website with more info, upcoming projects and volume discounts. I wanted to make this accessible worldwide and while that is not always possible with kindle, if you wish to send print copies to anyone anywhere in the world, I am currently covering the standard shipping. http://www.aglobaltestimony.com/order.html

  12. Fred: The book features one conversion story per country written by the specific convert/family with a firm testimony. It does not discuss the Church as an institution or reflect the testimonies of other converts in the same country. While I have asked the converts to provide some historical or cultural background, these are personal life/faith/trial/triumph accounts. Our desire was to help individuals recognize and feel the Spirit regardless religion – for this reason, we have clarified certain LDS references and fully quoted many scriptures. We focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ and its power to change individual lives across the world.

  13. I know in the ’70’s Elder Hartman Rector Jr. of the Seventy and his wife collected new converts stories, I don’t know if they are arranged geographically or not , it’s called, “No More Strangers”. I think this new book will be an excellent addition to the ongoing story of the unfolding of the restoration