Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Mongolian Version of Come Unto Christ Website

The Church has recently launched a Mongolian version of its website, Come Unto Christ (formerly Mormon.org), for the first time. The Come Unto Christ website provides basic information about Church teachings to interested individuals. The website also provides options to request missionary lessons, copies of scriptures, and information on meetinghouse times and locations. Use of the website can significantly help with finding interested individuals regardless of geographical location. It also appears the Church will be launching additional languages for the website, including Chuukese, Pohnpeian, and Kosraean. A full list of languages provided on the site can be found at the bottom of the webpage.

Updated Country Profile - Central African Republic

Click here to access the updated Reaching the Nations country profile for the Central African Republic. The Church has maintained a continuous presence in the country for almost 30 years although young, proselytizing missionaries have never been assigned due to political instability. low living conditions, and geographical isolation from the nearest mission headquarters. See below for the Future Prospects section of this article:

The opening of the Cameroon Yaoundé Mission and the Africa Central Area in 2020 present good opportunities for more member and leader support and resources to explore options to begin deliberate missionary efforts in Bangui. Ongoing political instability, low living standards, and geographical isolation from the nearest cities with a Latter-day Saint presence remain major barriers to assign foreign, full-time missionaries. It is unlikely the Church will assign young, full-time missionaries until greater peace and political stability is established and maintained. Mobilization of local members and leaders to find, teach, baptize, and retain new converts appears the most appropriate method to help the Church grow in the immediate future. Translations of basic missionary and gospel study materials and the Book of Mormon into Sangho is greatly needed given the widespread use of this creole language throughout the country. The assignment of a senior missionary couple presents good opportunities to explore humanitarian and development projects to help alleviate suffering, especially in regards to literacy classes and medical care, although this may not be possible until conditions in Bangui become safer for foreigners to live in the city for extended periods of time.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Updated Country Profile - Turkey

Click here to access the updated Reaching the Nations country profile for Turkey. The Church originally opened its Turkish Mission in 1884 and intermittent missionary efforts occurred among Armenians and Arabs in the mission until its headquarters were transferred to Syria in the 1930s. Although branches were organized in several cities during the 1970s for American military and foreigners who lived in the country, it was not until the 1980s when Turks began to join the Church in larger numbers. Nevertheless, Turks have been largely unreceptive to the Latter-day Saint gospel message albeit foreign groups, such as Iranians and Iraqis, have been receptive and join the Church regularly. Today, Iranians outnumber other ethnic groups in multiple branches, and the branch in one city (Isparta) is an Iranian Persian-speaking congregation. The Church first assigned proselytizing missionaries to Turkey in 2012, but their presence was periodically interrupted by visa renewal problems or political instability. Finally, the Church withdrew these missionaries in 2018 after greater safety threats were evident following the government's suspicions of the Church's involvement in the failed political coup. See below for the Future Prospects section of this article:

The assignment of proselytizing, full-time missionaries in the past decade was a significant development for not only the Church in Turkey but the Church’s efforts to reach Muslim-majority nations. The proactive efforts of the Church to also organize a mission headquartered in Istanbul and expand missionary activity into previously unreached cities is highly commendable in an era where the Church has been very conservative in its outreach expansion efforts in neighboring nations. These efforts led to quick tangible results, such as increases in church attendance, membership totals, and the number of congregations. The high receptivity among Iranians in Turkey has been one of the most noteworthy developments which has resulted in Iranians outnumbering all other ethnic groups in multiple congregations, and the organization of the first-ever Iranian Persian-speaking branch in Turkey in the city of Isparta. The withdrawal of foreign, full-time missionaries has come at a most unfortunate time in which the Church has achieved significant headway in establishing a Latter-day Saint community that is not predominantly comprised of Western expatriates. The ongoing absence of foreign full-time missionaries will be an important period to test the durability of new converts and whether the Church can achieve greater self-sufficiency in its functioning with little-to-no outsourced leadership resources.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Full-Time Missionaries Temporarily Withdrawn from Liberia

The Church announced yesterday that the remaining 99 young, full-time missionaries in the Liberia Monrovia Mission will be temporarily reassigned to other missions given the deteriorating economic situation in Liberia. On February 2nd, the Church reported that 23 missionaries who served in the mission that were nearing the end of their missions would return home early given the economic situation. Prior to these changes, there were 122 missionaries assigned to the Liberia Monrovia Mission.

The Liberia Monrovia Mission President has reported significant problems with a lack of supplies, particularly with fuel. The mission has been unable to obtain adequate amounts of gasoline to perform basic travel within the mission. As a result, the mission withdrew all full-time missionaries from cities outside of Monrovia earlier this month, including Buchanan, Cotton Tree, Ganta, Gbarnga, Greenville, Harbel, and Totota. This resulted in all missionaries being assigned to Monrovia where they were within close proximity to the mission home and the vast bulk of Church membership in Liberia. The onset of the current economic crisis in regards to the availability of gasoline appears to have occurred suddenly. For example, the mission just weeks ago underwent an exploratory trip in the Robertsport area. Although economic conditions have been poor for multiple consecutive years, these conditions have not significantly interfered with missionary work until the past 1-2 months. For more information about current economic problems, click here.

The Church in Liberia has had a significant history of disrupted missionary efforts due to war, disease, and political and economic turmoil. The original Liberia Monrovia Mission opened in March 1988, but full-time missionaries were reassigned to Sierra Leone in 1989 and the mission closed in 1991 due to civil war. Missionary activity was intermittent in the next two decades due to civil wars. Many Liberian Latter-day Saints fled the country, such as to the United States and Ghana. In Ghana, a congregation was organized specifically to administer Liberian members who lived in the Buduburam Refugee Camp. There are a significant number of Liberian Latter-day Saints in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, some of whom appeared to enter the United States during these civil wars. The Church organized its first stake in Liberia in 2000, but closed the stake in 2007 due to inactivity problems, leadership development challenges, and the departure of many active members to other countries to escape political turmoil and war. Missionaries were again withdrawn due to the Ebola outbreak from August 2014 until September 2015. In late 2017, approximately 60% of the full-time missionary force were Black Africans.

The Church has experienced membership and congregational growth in Liberia during the past decade that has ranked among the most rapid in the worldwide Church. Improvements in local leadership development and member-missionary activity appear primarily responsible for this reversal from slow growth rates to rapid growth rates. For example, one stake president shared that the area presidency's emphasis on preparing youth to serve full-time missions was a major catalyst that led to reestablishment of stakes in Liberia due to a surge in qualified leaders. Membership has nearly tripled from 5,251 in 2009 to likely over 14,000 as of year-end 2019. The number of congregations (i.e. wards and branches) has mushroomed from 12 in 2009 (all branches) to 53 in 2019 (38 wards, 15 branches). There are now five stakes in Liberia - all of which have been organized in Monrovia within the past four years. Sacrament meeting attendance is high throughout the mission and conferences are well attended. For example, the first stake conference of the Gardnesville Liberia Stake had 1,700 in attendance in November 2019 - only a few hundred less than total Church membership for the newly organized stake (most stakes in Liberia have the minimum of 1,900 members when they are first organized). Church attendance for most wards is between 100 and 200. Monrovia is a strong candidate for a future temple announcement given steady growth.

The Church's presence in Liberia has also significantly expanded. For example, the Church only operated in Monrovia from 1987 until 2008 when the first branches were organized in Harbel and Kakata. Additional cities and villages where the Church has organized its first branches include Buchanan (2018), Cotton Tree (2018), Totota (2018), Gbarnga (2019), and Greenville (2019). Member groups also operate in several additional cities, including Ganta, Harper, Kingsville, and Zwedru. Ganta was the most recently opened city to missionary work where the first missionaries opened a member group in October 2019. At most recent report, there were plans to have the group become an official branch due to rapid growth (50 people in attendance for Church meetings).

Although the temporary withdrawal of full-time missionaries will significantly disrupt missionary efforts in Liberia, this crisis provides an opportunity to test local leadership's self-sufficiency and ability to operate with minimal-to-no outside support. The current situation also presents opportunities for local members to find, teach, and prepare prospective members for baptism rather than rely on full-time missionaries for these responsibilities. Local leaders report that they have been given authority to prepare and baptize new converts while the full-time missionaries and mission president are evacuated. Nevertheless, the transfer of all full-time missionaries out of the country presents significant challenges to expand outreach into previously unreached areas as the Church strongly depends on full-time missionaries to accomplish this. Also, the current economic crisis may result in political instability if not properly resolved, and could therefore have long-term impacts on the growth and stability of the Church if another civil war arises. Local Liberian members have expressed the greatest challenge they have had has been in regards to a lack of employment opportunities in the country in order to become more financially self-sufficient. Further deterioration of the economy may result in another wave Liberian members who flee the country in search of better living conditions.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

January 2020 Newsletter

Click here to access the January 2020 newsletter for www.cumorah.com.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

New District in the DR Congo

The Church organized a new district in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) on January 19th. The Kasumbalesa Democratic Republic of the Congo District was organized from four mission branches in the city of Kasumbalesa, which is located on the border with Zambia south of the large city of Lubumbashi. Branches assigned to the new district include the Bilanga, Golf, Kasumbalesa 1st, and Kasumbalesa 2nd Branches. The Church organized its first branch in Kasumbalesa in 2011. Branches in the area pertained to one of the stakes in Lubumbashi until 2-3 years ago when they were reassigned directly to the DR Congo Lubumbashi Mission.

There are now 23 stakes and two districts in the DR Congo.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

District Reinstated in Eastern Finland

The Church reinstated the Kuopio Finland District in a special conference held on January 12th, 2020. Plans to reinstate the district, which was previously discontinued in 2006, were in the works for more than one year. The original Kuopio Finland District was organized prior to 1980. The reinstated district has four branches within its boundaries (Joensuu, Kuopio, Mikkeli, and Savonlinna - three of which were mission branches previously) and a full district president comprised of local Finnish members. A total of 260 attended the special conference to reinstate the district - approximately 100 more people than average sacrament meeting attendance for the four branches five years ago. Active members moving to Kuopio and recent convert baptisms have appeared primarily responsible for the increase in active membership. More information on the district organization can be found here. More information about the Church in Finland can be found here.

There are now two stakes and three districts in Finland.

Updated Country Profile - The Gambia

Click here to access the updated country profile for The Gambia - a small West African country inhabited by two million people whose population is 95% Muslim and 4% Christian. The Church reported 19 members in the country in 2013. There remains no official branch despite widespread religious freedom and the operation of many other Christian denominations in the country. The unprecedented expansion of the Church into traditionally Muslim areas of West Africa since 2016 may indicate the Church will soon establish a presence in The Gambia as well. For example, area leadership noted in 2018 that they had recently visited and met with Gambian members. See below for the Future Prospects section of this article:

The Gambia is one of the most tolerant Muslim-majority nations in West Africa and offers significant opportunity for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to grow due to freedom of religion despite the slow growth of most Christian denominations over the past decade. The recent establishment of the Church in Senegal, Guinea, and Mali has immediately produced good results and rapid growth in fledgling branches and member groups. However, other nearby nations with larger populations may take precedence over The Gambia due to limited missionary resources allocated to Muslim West Africa and the cautious manner in which the Church has expanded its presence in Africa. Gambian members petitioning area leadership to organize a member group in Banjul appears the most likely method that the Church will begin to establish an official presence in The Gambia. Humanitarian and development needs provide excellent opportunities for the Church to serve and establish a presence. Delaying an official Church establishment may result in missed opportunities if religious freedom conditions deteriorate or the population becomes more receptivity to Christianity one day and many join missionary-oriented Christian faiths that have maintained a long-term presence. The placement of even one senior missionary couple in Banjul could offer significant contributions to laying the foundation for consistent humanitarian activity and the initial establishment of the Church. Assignment of The Gambia to a full-time mission, such as the Sierra Leone Freetown Mission, would also permit greater attention and resources to establish a Church presence. Prospects for a future mission one day headquartered in Dakar, Senegal would also likely significantly improve the likelihood that the Church would establish an official presence in The Gambia complete with proselytizing missionaries.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Updated Country Profile - São Tomé and Príncipe

Click here to access the updated Reaching the Nations country profile for São Tomé and Príncipe. The islands are inhabited by slightly more than 200,000 people and number among the few predominantly Christian nations in Africa without an official Church presence. There are good opportunities for growth given the demographics of the country and the Church's historical successes in less populous island nations such as Cabo Verde and the South Pacific. See below for the Future Prospects section of this article.

In a period of Church history with unprecedented opportunities to expand mission outreach in Africa, São Tomé and Príncipe remains a lesser priority due to the lack of local members, remote location, and small Portuguese-speaking population. Nevertheless, the islands present a valuable opportunity for growth given the Church’s historical successes in other island nations such as Cabo Verde and in the South Pacific. Mission and area Church leaders will likely need to conduct additional exploratory trips to assess conditions and search for isolated members. The assignment of even one senior missionary couple may provide an impetus toward establishing a permanent presence and the opening of the islands to missionary work.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Updated Country Profile - Guinea-Bissau

Click here to access the updated Reaching the Nations country profile for Guinea-Bissau. Guinea-Bissau is geographically one of the smallest nations in Africa and has a population of only 1.8 million. Guinea-Bissau is one of the few African nations without a Latter-day Saint presence where there is widespread religious freedom and a significant Christian minority (22% of the population). See below for the Future Prospects sections of this article:

The absence of a United States embassy in Guinea-Bissau, limited infrastructure and health care, and ongoing political instability may lead the Church to hesitate commencing formal missionary activity despite dozens of members who reportedly live in the country and widespread religious freedom. The Church’s historical reliance on American senior missionaries to establish the Church in unreached nations appears a major obstacle given these conditions. Security issues also pose potential concerns, although Latter-day Saint missions have long operated in Latin American nations with similar issues. Nevertheless, the Church in West Africa during the mid- to late 2010s promptly obtained government recognition and organized its first congregations in several previously unreached nations within a matter of months or a few years, suggesting that the Church may make similar strides in the remaining unreached West African nations such as Guinea-Bissau and The Gambia. Due to the maturation of the Church in many more established African nations like Ghana and Nigeria, African senior missionary couples may be assigned to the country to assist in establishing a presence. The growth of the Church in nearby Cabo Verde may result in Portuguese-speaking African missionaries being assigned in small numbers to Guinea-Bissau once regional and international Church leaders decide to begin proselytism.