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Worldwide Roll Call

By Michelle Lehnardt

While our American readers attend parades, eat ice cream and light fireworks today, let’s have everyone outside of the U.S.A. raise their hand.

Yes, you. That means you! And if any of you U.S. of Aers are skipping the pancake breakfast, feel free to join in the discussion too.

We are indeed a worldwide church, but it’s easy to be Amerocentric sometimes. And in some ways who can blame us?

I’m in beautiful Vienna, Austria right now and while shopping at a Viennese grocer this morning I heard American music piped through the speakers, saw posters for American movies and noted that the tabloids feature American celebrities.

In a world where there’s a McDonald’s on every corner and each school child learns English, it’s hard not to feel like we are the center of the universe.

But we’re not.

God is the center of the universe and unites us all.

So tell me, please.  What efforts have you seen to make the church friendly to different cultures and peoples? How can we do better?


About Michelle Lehnardt

(Blog Team) I'm the kind of mom who drives through mud puddles, throws pumpkins off the roof and lets the kids move the ping-pong table into the kitchen for the summer. Despite (or probably, because of) my immaturity, my five sons and one daughter are happy, thriving, funny people. I'll climb a mountain with you, jump into a freezing lake hand-in-hand or just sit with you while you cry. I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ will heal the earth. Founder of buildyourteenager.com, scenesfromthewild.net and rubygirl.org.

28 thoughts on “Worldwide Roll Call”

  1. I'm in Australia, and while I hope to one day attend General Conference in person, "the Church" isn't in my head as "American".

    I see lots of examples of church being friendly to different cultures and peoples – separate wards for different languages can help (though can hinder too), different general conference languages, individual temple sessions with headphones for different languages, and the fact that every country the church is in has their own people serving there, being friendly to the cultures and people therein. The International Art Competition helps too – artists contribute in their own style and cultural backgrounds to the same gospel message.

    One thing that could be done better, I feel, is dropping the term "the mission field". Sometimes it seems like anywhere but Utah is outer darkness with danger, difficulty, heathens and horrors unspeakable. Which is wrong, and can be annoying/insulting to those that are quite happy living non-Utah.

    The best thing to do to welcome people is find out about them, their culture, and what that means to them and their lives. Sometimes it's stereotypes that get focused on (no, I don't have a pet kangaroo, nor do they jump down the street!) instead of the similarities and opportunities we are given to improve ourselves and go further in our gospel journeys.

  2. I had to comment even though I'm in the US but just wanted to say hi, I miss you and hope you're having a fabulous time!

    I love that the church magazines always spotlight people from around the world. It's such a great reminder that we have brothers and sisters around the world, worshipping exactly as we do.

  3. Michelle, loved hearing from you.

    I liked the new video from Mormon Messages, including people from around the world sharing what freedoms they are grateful for. Freedom is on the brain, but the focus was not just on Americans' freedoms. I thought that was great.

    I also like how the Church magazines include much from all over the world.

    And that Conference is available in dozens of languages.

  4. I recently returned from a humanitarian service trip to Guatemala. It was amazing to see the Church in action in another part of the world. The Church is the center of their world. Our leaders who are serving there LOVE the people. Many suffer from poverty, but they are so sweet and humble, and they take care of each other. We could step back from our fast-paced world and take a lesson. That's what I'm trying to do.

  5. I appreciate Selwyn's comments. I feel that too often people in the church in America get so caught up in the cultural aspect of the church, that they forget very basic gospel principles. I do not believe in the "church", my testimony is anchored in the gospel. And that is what is universal and eternal. Scouts, girls' camp, and stake dances are not eternal principles.

    I, too, get highly annoyed when people refer to anywhere non-Utah as "the mission field." As Selwyn mentioned, it's offensive and downright ridiculous. As if there is no missionary work to be done in Utah. Plus, the world is not comprised of Utah and Everywhere Else.

    I think if everyone focused on the actual gospel, the international barriers would naturally be less obvious.

  6. While the 'mission field' is annoying, so is referring to people living in poverty as 'sweet and humble'. It's similar to calling an unattractive person a 'sweet spirit' or something. It just comes off as patronizing or something.

  7. On my mission, one of my Chilean companions and I were talking about the second coming, and she made the comment that she thought that when the Savior returned, He would speak English. I was really taken aback — to me her comment reflected the idea that because the church was centered in the U.S. that it was an American church and that God spoke to His people in only one language. Another comment on my mission came from an Elder from Utah when we were discussing the idea of Zion. He said, "Zion is wherever the prophet is, dude." It was kind of sad to see the Utah-centric attitude from him as well.

    I agree with the above comments that the church and the world are not comprised of Utah and Everywhere Else. Zion is where the pure in heart are. God loves all of his children equally and speaks to each of them in their own language. If we focus on the principles of the Gospel and not the culture of Mormonism, we can overcome a lot of the barriers to a truly international church.

  8. Wow, anon. I don't think JoLyn was saying all people in poverty are "sweet and humble". She simply said that in her recent experience, the people she served happened to be sweet and humble, despite their poverty. I'd love to be called sweet and humble anytime, and wouldn't find it patronizing in the least.

    And I agree that cultural Mormonism can get in the way of spiritual Mormonism at times, but I feel that the heart of the gospel definitely crosses borders and boundaries. In my (Utah) ward, we've had refugees from the French Congo who have been taught Sunday School in their own language, then join the rest of the ward for Sacrament and Priesthood/RS. Not a huge thing, but definitely a step towards inclusion.

  9. Hello, new around here!

    I am American, but I live in Paris, where we mix Americans, French (including my in-laws), Chinese and African members. If there is any ward in the church that struggles constantly with being an international ward, it is ours! It is very hard for the French to

  10. Hello, new around here!

    I am American, but I live in Paris, where we mix Americans, French (including my in-laws), Chinese and African members. If there is any ward in the church that struggles constantly with being an international ward, it is ours! It is very hard for the French when Utah Mormons come in and criticize how everything is done. France isn't Utah, and in many ways, the Church is still developing here, so things aren't going to be as smooth or as established as in Salt Lake. I think that cultural differences must always be taken into account and that all members on all sides must strive for more understanding.

    Interestingly enough, separate classes tend to divide our members more. I do English translations in Relief Society so the Americans can be among the rest of the sisters, but in the other hours, I feel like the room is quickly divided into American, French and Chinese sections.

    Needless to say, there is a lot of tension on this subject! I wish the doctrines were more important than the programs or the culture. If we all believed and acted on the doctrine that we are all children of God and equal in His eyes, things would be a lot easier.

    Just my two cents.

  11. I am in England. What I love to see are missionaries being kept in their own countries as much as possible. I served in France but would have loved to have served in England (although France was great). People need to see that it is not an American church, and the American missionaries often give the impression that is.

    I do admit to getting a bit bugged when the Americans in our ward frequently say that whatever we are doing isn't done in Utah. For instance, apparently your primaries don't do the nativity the week before Christmas and in England every christian church, no matter what the exact denomination will do one. You also don't have stake swimming galas, well, so what!! On the opposite foot we don't have scouting as part of the church over here.

    I love the fact that we are all studying the same messages every week no matter where you live in the world. The gospel is what is important. I think in general the one thing that would make a difference is the same thing that would make a difference to most issues, we need more love and compassion and less judging.

  12. My family and I are in the middle of a 9-month round-the-world trip and one of the highlights of each week for me is going to church wherever we are. What I have noticed is that the church culture seems pretty much the same everywhere we go, but with the added "flavor" of Guatemala or Spain or Italy or even Hawaii. Last week, I spent most of Sacrament Meeting entertaining a little African toddler while trying to catch the jist of the talks in Italian (not very successfully). The hymns are often familiar. The structure of the meetings is the same. The members I'm able to talk to have the same concerns that I do in my home ward in Washington: how to serve the less-active, how to instill testimony in our youth, how to stay strong in the gospel, how to keep our families safe. I love fast days best, because even though I don't always understand the words, the spirit of testimony is exactly the same round the world. I find joy and friendliness and anxious do-gooding in every ward and branch. It makes me proud to see the church working so well in the lives of people all around the world.

    Amanda, tomorrow we'll be at the Paris Ward. Maybe I'll see you there.

  13. As I've mentioned often, I lived in Sweden for 5 1/2 years. I even lived in Israel for a stint and experienced a very multi-cultural branch. My current ward in New York feels, unfortunately, very divided between Spanish and English. Uniting the two groups has been of great concern to many ward members and leaders.

    Some things translate well into other cultures from the church, others don't. In Sweden, service projects, without fail, fell completely flat. The youth were rarely able to get something organized within the community because of the socialist nature of the country. If you did a service project, you were taking someone's job! Many members in Sweden were completely unaware of the church's VAST humanitarian efforts. When I served in the Relief Society, I tried to develop some service projects that would contribute to the church's humanitarian efforts, and the sisters just couldn't connect to what I was trying to do. I suppose that was a failing on my side.

    However, I am completely grateful to the church and the members of my ward in Sweden. Swedes are an extremely reserved lot and I made very few Swedish friends outside of the church (despite my very persistent efforts).

  14. Lisa,

    What chance! I didn't get to meet you there (I feel like all my husband and I do on Sundays is run around), and as you can see, there are more tourists than residents! If you were in Relief Society, I did the translation into the headphones. 🙂

    I hope that your Sunday in Paris was wonderful.

  15. Kay–no Scouts? That's it, I'm moving to England!

    Lisa–are you doing a blog on your travels? I'd love to hear about them.

    The thing that bugs me the most is when a General Authority whose native language is most definitely not English has to give his General Conference talk in English anyway. Heaven forbid that we English-speakers have to read subtitles for once! It's that kind of thing that perpetuates the American-centric view of our church (and that Christ will speak English).

  16. Jennie, it doesn't bother me that General Conference talks are given in English, perhaps because English is generally given to be a world-wide language. It is the world-wide scientific language and often one of business. While I don't mind reading subtitles, I don't think this particular thing makes the church seem American-centric. Most scientific journals are published in English, even if they originate in different countries. It is just the common language so to speak.

  17. Although I grew up in Utah, my husband and I chose to raise our children "in the mission field" (which I do not feel to be a derogatory term at all, rather a cultural expression of places where members of the church are the minority, rather than the majority). We felt that there were experiences that they would be able to have outside of Utah that they wouldn't be able to have anywhere else. We were right.

    Our current ward is struggling. Many of the lifetime members here are struggling with even the most basic principles of the gospel such as faith, service, and showing love and acceptance to everyone, regardless of race or culture. But missionary work is also thriving here. We, too, have a thriving Spanish community in our area. I was disappointed when it was recently announced that plans to make a Spanish branch were being made. I love our Spanish speaking brothers and sisters and I enjoy the opportunities to listen to them bear their testimonies in their native language. It also gives us an opportunity to branch out and to learn how to accept differences. On the other hand, it will give them an opportunity to serve that may not happen if they stayed in an "English speaking" ward.

    This is the reality of being part of a world-wide church. Should we allow missionaries to serve in their own countries. Absolutely! Should we limit it to these types of calls? Absolutely Not! My husband served in the Philippines and I can definitely say that seeing the poverty and the presence of the spirit there changed his life. It was an experience that he could never have had in the US. Yes there is poverty here, but it is just different in other countries, or so I've been told.

    One of my dreams is to serve a mission for the church outside of the US. I want to experience the richness and diversity of the different cultures that our church has to offer. It is one of the beauties of the restored gospel, that missionary work is being done in every land and in every tongue. What an opportunity to learn to love and serve our fellow brothers and sisters. What a sad state of things, should we ever forget, that our Father in Heaven loves diversity and his children in all forms.

    I, for one, am thrilled when someone who does not speak English as their first language speaks in General Conference. Their experiences are often so different from those that grew up in the US and yet, so much similar. What a wonderful world we live in! What a spectacular time to be a member of the restored gospel! What a precious opportunity to learn to love all of God's Children!

  18. The reason why all General Conference talks are given in English is for ease in translation. They are translated into nearly 100 languages, and it is hard enough doing the translation from English into some of them, let alone finding translators who could do things like go from Spanish to Farsi or something like that. The way the church does it now is the simplest and fastest, because they only have to switch audio trakcs. Subtitles are a lot more work and take more time. It's fairly standard for large, international organizations to have a single, standard language. (I have a degree in translation studies from BYU and one of my professors was part of the church's translation department).

    General Conference has actually always reminded me that the church is worldwide, both through the shared participation by members and by the talks given from area authorities. I also have noticed the formatting and design of magazines and manuals changing to allow for greater adaptation in other cultures. I know sometimes I've grumbled a bit about the changes, but it is a big challenge to really service a worldwide population.

  19. On general conference talks — you will notice that the GAs that speak different languages may do their own translations recorded beforehand. Listen to the German track and you will hear Elder Uchtdorf's voice clear as a bell.

    I too lived in a stake where a spanish branch had to be disbanded because there were too few members. I was disappointed to hear a member in our ward insist that we could do what we could to make accept the spanish members but that it would never work well because "the gospel is just different in Spanish." During stake enrichment day, I was glad to see that half the talks were in spanish and we all had to wear headsets for half the meeting.

    I also grew up in Europe in an international ward with members from all over Europe, America, and even South America. One thing I've learned is that if anything can overcome the barriers of language is the spirit of God and the love that follows it!

  20. In response to:

    "I served in France but would have loved to have served in England (although France was great). People need to see that it is not an American church, and the American missionaries often give the impression that is."

    On the other hand, they have recently been calling foreign missionaries to America, and as much as it might give Europeans the idea the church is American from all the American missionaries I think it is really good too show people in America that the church is not only American!

  21. My favorite church meeting was one we attended on vacation. We wanted to go to church at a realistic hour 🙂 but ended up at the Spanish ward!

    The blessing came as it was their ward's Primary Presentation — my kids were the most attentive ever because they knew the songs, and the scriptures, and the theme since they had performed theirs the week before.

    It was a beautiful experience!

  22. What a lovely topic of conversation. I've truly enjoyed reading people's responses to this blog post. It has opened my eyes to many things we could all do to assist the leaders in making this a world wide church. You are right when you say that it is not the church we believe in, it's the Gospel.

    I served my mission in South America and, due to immaturity and an enormous sense of pride, I felt it was my duty to make sure everyone did things like we Utahns did them…boy was I humbled quickly. Toward the end of my mission, I rejoiced in the differences. It was more of a cultural shock coming home than it was going there. Now I love to attend Latino wards and I long for the wonderful attributes of my South American wards and branches.

    I live in California now and find that when my ward does things a little different (and let's face it, my California wards aren't much different than my Utah wards) than I was used to growing up, I simply shrug and go with the flow. It makes me love my ward for it's individuality and the living, breathing organism that it is.

    I also love the term "mission field." It makes me feel like I'm running through a "white" field that is "ready for harvest." I love living in a place where I get to share my testimony with people of other faiths on an almost daily basis. I love being the different one and getting missionary opportunities so frequently.

  23. P.S. I consider Utah just as much of the mission field as I do California or France or Honduras. There are missionary opportunities everywhere!

  24. I felt it was my duty to make sure everyone did things like we Utahns did them…boy was I humbled quickly.

    As someone who has lived in S. America, on both coasts, in the midwest, and in Utah, I think that yes, we need to be careful that we aren't too Utah-centric. BUT on the other hand, sometimes there ARE valuable things that people w/ experience where the Church is older and stronger might be able to bring to different areas. That's part of why they call senior couples to serve — their experience is valuable in helping in places where the church is newer and still learning. Of course, again, that could be taken to an extreme, but I worry sometimes it's easy to swing to a different extreme and discount the value of some of the things that Utah (or other more heavily-populated Mormon area) can bring to the table in a good way.

    Just wanted to say that, because I think sometimes Utah can get a bad rap. Yes, sometimes it's deserved, but sometimes it's not. And honestly, there is something to having the strength of many people to really staff and run a ward. There are things that can be done when that happens that are amazing and bring the Church and its potential to new light. And there are lovely and wonderful things about the "Utah culture" that I have really come to appreciate as I have lived and served in several different places and then come back here.

    I also really appreciated what a bishop recently said — missionary work is helping ANYONE endure to the end. That can include members, too. 🙂 There's plenty of mission field wherever you go. (It may also be cliche, but Utah continues to be one of the highest baptizing missions. There ARE missionary opportunities everywhere.)

  25. I agree that missionaries should serve throughout the world, I hope I didn't give the impression that they should all stay home. Here are a few figures though to show why I feel that.

    We have lived in our present ward for 11 years. In those 11 years of all the missionaries that were called from our ward only 1 served in Britain. We had a large map of the world at one point on the wall showing where all of the members had served, and there are quite a few of us, approximately 75% served abroad. I cannot remember the last time we had a British missionary serve here in this ward, at least not in the last 5 years.

    We are all called for different reasons to go to different places. We are an international church. I would deny anyone the experience of serving abroad but would love a few home grown missionaries now and then.

  26. M&M – I'm sorry that my comment went misunderstood. I meant to say that when I was serving my mission I felt the need to change the cultural differences between the South American LDS and the culture of where I grew up in Utah.

    I consider myself a Utah Mormon, even though I live in California. I also feel Utah Mormons do sometimes get a bad rap and I try to dissolve any myths that other members of the church bring to my attention about members of the church there.

    This post isn't about Utah Mormons though – it's about members of the church outside of the United States. I'm sorry I brought the focus away from them.

  27. Lovely comment thread! I don't live outside the US now but did live in Peru with my family when I was young and have spent time outside the US for a year or two as a young adult and visited wards while traveling.

    I *love* seeing the nuances of difference while also taking great comfort from the similarities. Some of my deepest spiritual experiences in church meetings have occurred outside of my home country.

    One thing I do think that US members need to be sensitive to, when visiting wards abroad, is to not take over testimony meetings, etc. or come across as "monitors" or I'm-bringing-the-true-way-to-you. Open eyes, hearts, and minds mixed with a measure of humility go a long way toward helping us all appreciate each other and find the good.

    Welcome home, Michelle!


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