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Missionary Impossible

The Problem with Spreading the Good Word.

Over the centuries, various denominations have sent their braving and daring, and sometimes their newly initiated into dangerous and hostile places around the globe to convert new believers. The work is considered the bedrock of so many doctrines and considered an integral part of their church pathos. Missionary work in the 21st century is an increasingly challenging uphill climb when countered by social media and news outlets. As is a people’s ability to thrive when beset by modern missionaries.

One of the most prominent missionary programs is an arm of the Church of Latter-day Saints, which has 80,000 young missionaries around the globe seeking to convert communities. The mission for a young Mormon is a trail-by-fire in the individual’s life. For males between the ages of 18 and 25, and females over 19, a mission is a two-year commitment in a community or city of the church’s choosing. While there, they seek to share the Church of Latter-day Saints’ gospel, which can be a serious challenge.

In the developing work, the vast majority of communities were courted by missionaries decades ago. These denominations established churches and work to make these new churches thrive, leaving new-coming acolytes with the task of converting the converted. What is at stake in South American villages and African tribes who play host to missionaries? Although the Church of Latter-day Saints is approaching two hundred years old, some of the indigenous communities they preach to are far far older. Not only are these community’s cultures, customs, languages, traditions at stake, but their very history.

Cheryl Finley of Los Angeles, California traveled to Ghana through a non-profit organisation, staying two hours north of the Accra on the Volta River. While in the country, she became familiarised with the tribal communities, as well as missionaries in the area. One trend arose: while every member of the tribe is a member of the church, they still tend to practice their tradition African religions as well as their Christian/Mormon faith. That fact that is doesn’t create a conflict of interests is worth noting.

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Finley also became briefly acquainted with some Mormons on mission. Three boys all under twenty living ascetically in the Senchi Ferry area. With their pressed white shirts and ironed pants, these three young men were attempting to preach their faith to the several communities in the area with moderate success. As a personal journey for a young teenager, a mission has potential to be life-affirming. As a means to convert new believers, missions appear inherently problematic. Wisdom is comprised of study, introspection and experience – most of which are just still gestating in an individual’s late teens and early twenties. So why do missions and missionaries sometimes thrive?

In a very real sense, Western missionaries establish communities that are not just faith-based, but also key social gatherings. To be a part of the church is to be a part of the community. Yes, missionary work has brought many good things into impoverished and destitute communities throughout the world: medicine, literacy, technology, this should never be denied. But can great works be done without a will for ideological indoctrination?

It is the right of every religious institution to take up the cause the of missionary work, but to embrace the plurality of both religions and cultures, the myriad of differences that define us, while helping those in need is God’s work, if ever there was.

Scott William Baumgartner came of age in the Great Plains, now he kicks around the City of Angels in search of coffee and a view.

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