Saturday, February 29, 2020

February 2020 Monthly Newsletter

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Updated Country Profile - South Sudan

Click here to access the updated Reaching the Nations country profile for South Sudan. South Sudan is one of only a few African nations where the Church no longer has an official Church presence. Although there were thousands of prospective members who requested baptism in the late 2000s, very few of these individuals have since joined the Church. The Church closed the Juba Branch in the mid-2010s due to the civil war. A peace deal was recently reached between the government and rebel forces, although it is unclear whether this agreement will result in long-term stability and peace. South Sudanese-specific outreach occurs in Salt Lake City, Utah at present and there is at least one ward in Kampala, Uganda that is predominantly South Sudanese. See below for the Future Prospects section of this article:

South Sudan presents valuable opportunities for future growth in the Church given a highly receptive population with several groups of prospective Latter-day Saints who appear to continue to await baptism. However, civil war, low living standards, and political instability all pose nearly insurmountable barriers to the Church’s use of foreign full-time missionaries unless conditions markedly improve. The lack of a Church presence in South Sudan today despite the operation of a branch between late 2009 and the mid-2010s underscores the Church’s struggles to develop greater self-sufficiency in local leadership that is capable to maintain the operation of basic congregations without the close support of foreign missionary manpower and leadership oversight. During the 2010s, other Christian denominations have achieved significant headway and growth through the use of local manpower and resources, whereas The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ceased its official operations. The lesson learned from the Church’s brief operation in South Sudan is the need to find creative and effective methods to support local leaders who have minimal leadership experience in the Church and who may not be able to be met in person by mission or area leaders for considerable time due to safety concerns for foreigners. Use of technologies such as videoconferencing may be helpful to overcome these challenges in the largest cities such as Juba. Flexible strategies that foster organic growth and self-sufficiency in the Church are greatly needed in countries such as South Sudan which may remain unreached by traditional Latter-day Saint missionary paradigms for years or decades.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Corona-virus Disrupts Missionary Work and Church Operations in Asia

Click here for a summary of changes announced by the Church in regards to its operations and missionary program in several Asian countries. Countries affected by these changes due to corona-virus have experienced slow or stagnant Church growth for many years. Thus, the impact of these changes on Church growth appear negligible in this area of the world at present. In fact, these changes may serve as a catalyst to accelerate growth through greater member participation due to the reduction in the number of missionaries serving and use of options such as online proselytism to identify receptive individuals. For example, the Ebola crisis in West Africa appeared to have a positive impact on leadership development and church growth in the following months and years due to greater self-sufficiency required to operate the local Church. However, the virus may have a deleterious impact on growth given very slow growth rates in most of these countries and restrictions on person-to-person contact and meetings. Nevertheless, greater spread of the virus to countries where significant Church growth continues to occur, such as the Philippines, may have measurable impacts on Church growth for the year 2020 and beyond.

I will provide more analysis regarding the impact of the spread of the virus on church growth in the coming days.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Three New Stakes Created in Utah, New District Created in South Africa

The Church organized three new stakes in Utah.

The Pleasant View Utah Orchard Springs Stake was organized on February 9th from a division of the Pleasant View Utah Stake and the Pleasant View Utah South Stake. The new stake includes the following eight wards: the Misty Meadows, Pleasant View 5th, Pleasant View 7th, Pleasant View 13th, Pleasant View 15th, Pleasant View 16th, Pleasant View 17th, and Willow Brook Wards. There are now three stakes in Pleasant View, Utah.

The Saratoga Springs Utah Springside Stake was organized on February 9th from a division of the Saratoga Springs Utah Saratoga Hills Stake (organized in 2017) and the Saratoga Springs Utah Mount Saratoga Stake (organized in 2016). The new stake includes the following seven wards: the Heritage 1st, Heritage 2nd, Legacy Farms 1st, Legacy Farms 2nd, Saratoga Springs 1st, Saratoga Springs 2nd, and Saratoga Springs 10th Wards. There are now eight stakes in Saratoga Springs, Utah.

The West Jordan Utah Maples Stake was organized on February 2nd from the West Jordan Utah Sunset Ridge Stake and the West Jordan Utah Sycamores Stake. The new stake includes five wards, including the Maples 1st, Maples 2nd, Maples 3rd, Maples 4th, and Maples 5th Wards. There are now 22 stakes in West Jordan, Utah

There are now 607 stakes and one district in Utah.

South Africa
The Church organized a new district in South African on February 2nd. The Klerksdorp South Africa District was organized from three mission branches in the South Africa Johannesburg Mission, including the Jouberton, Klerksdorp, and Potchefstroom Branches. The newest of these three branches, the Potchefstroom Branch, was organized in 2003, whereas the Klerksdorp Branch has operated since 1966. This area of South Africa on the outskirts of Johannesburg has experienced slow growth. However, the organization of the district may indicate improvements in local leadership development and increases in active membership to warrant the organization of a district. One of the branches in the new district had approximately 50 active members in late 2016 per a report from a local member.

There are now 17 stakes and 10 districts in South Africa. All 10 of the districts in South Africa have been organized since 2007. The first stake in South Africa was organized in 1970.

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, 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

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