Africa and Missionaries

KenyaI have been gone on vacation for a little over a week. I was visiting my parents in Western Wyoming. The timing of the visit worked out well, because just as we were preparing to leave my parents received their mission call. They will be serving in the Kenya, Nairobi, East Africa mission. I am very proud of them. It is an interesting call since this is the same area that they served together in the Peace Corps after college. While in the Peace Corps, about 40 years ago, there was no church presence in Africa, and as far as they knew they were the only members on the whole continent. Now that they return there are about 6000 members in Kenya alone. Much of our conversation centered around their future mission – they leave in November for 18 months.

I was flipping through my fathers church almanac and saw that Kenya has 6000 members and thought about how few 6000 members is. But then something astonished me. I saw that this number of members compares quite well to the number of members in countries like Finland, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, and similar places.

I found this remarkable since Kenya has only had missionaries for about 15 years. We have been sending boatloads of missionaries to many Scandinavian and European countries that have not been very productive in terms of converts for several decades. I have not checked into the numbers yet, but I wondered if the number of missionaries in a country is roughly equivalent to the productivity of the mission. My impression is that it is not even close. Nations in Central and South America are blossoming like a rose, with what I assume is a modest amount of missionaries per convert. Many of these countries are providing their own missionaries from within. Should we not divert more missionaries from unproductive Scandinavian and European countries to countries that are more productive in terms of converts? Should they not go to where the field is more ‘white’?

This lead me to wonder about how missionaries are called. I thought I might try what Christian might call a Fermi problem with this. What is the likelihood that each mission call is made by direct revelation? Is this not a process that might have been automated in some way? Do the areas that missionaries (particularly from the US) are sent meet with what may be considered logical decisions? If anyone can shed some light on the actual process feel free to.

But if you assume 30,000 mission calls per year, that would roughly come to nearly 100 per day. That is a lot of personal revelations to get. Does Gordon B. Hinkley get revelation for each one? What should happen as the two most populated nations (China and India) open their doors to missionary work? Should missionaries be diverted from the less productive missions to where the fields are more ‘white’ (probably rice fields in this case)?

Let me know what you think. I make a similar case for temples in Africa at Small and Simple here.

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17 Responses to “Africa and Missionaries”


  1. 1 Wade August 28, 2006 at 8:16 pm

    Eric:

    As to your question about diverting missionaries to more productive areas, I think we will see exactly what you suggest; that is, I think we will start seeing many more missionaries being sent to third-world countries than we now do.

    It’s interesting, it was my stake’s semi-annual stake conference yesterday; and the first counselor in the mission presidency here said that the Church will soon be sending the majority of its missionaries to countries below the equator. He said that missionary work is about to explode in third-world countries and that this is the primary reason that the youth are being challenged to raise the bar.

  2. 2 Connor Boyack August 28, 2006 at 8:55 pm

    Elder Eyring, in “Called of God”, Provo MTC, August 26, 1997:

    One of the great blessings of having the opportunity to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve is that after they had given me a year or two to test me out, I guess, I was allowed to participate in the calling of missionaries. You need to know something and this is a fact. This isn’t Brother Eyring trying to impress or motivate you, this is a fact! All my life, from teh time I have been a young boy and as far back as I can remember, I have had experiences feeling of the Holy Ghost. I have felt a voice speaking within my mind. I have had other powerful experiences of inspiration and revelation, but I’ve never felt what I have felt as I have called and participated in the calling of missionaries. I should not even use the phrase “I called.” That is what is so remarkable. I have never called a missionary.

    We go into a room, and because the missionary force is so large now and the Quorum of the Twelve is “twelve,” it will be a two or three-hour session and sometimes longer. Because of technology it is possible for us to have yoru picture and the information about you displayed. And then quickly on that same screen, all the missions of the Church with all of their needs are displayed. Within minutes and sometimes less than a minute, the impression comes so powerful that it would be, if it were a single instance, something that you would never forget. Can you imagine sitting there for hours at a time having that happen time after time without interruption? I testify to you that it is real.

  3. 3 bookslinger August 28, 2006 at 9:02 pm

    Eric,
    Please give my email address to your parents. Ask them to keep my email address when they go to Kenya, and to please make contact with me from there, or even before they go.

    I think Ethiopia and Eritrea are in the Kenya Mission. Either that mission or the Uganda Mission, I’m not sure.

    I’ve given out dozens of copies of the Book of Mormon in Amharic, which is the main language of Ethiopia, and the secondary language of Eritrea. Sometimes my contacts go back to Ethiopia on trips. It would really help if I could give them a contact address or phone # of the church for Ethiopia. I’ve heard there is one branch of the church in Ethiopia.

    The Ethiopians and Eritreans are a beautiful people. Some claim descendency from King Solomon. Some super-models such as Liya Kebede are from Ethiopia. And some other super models are from other countries in East Africa, such as Iman and Waris Dirie from Somalia.

    I’ve only given out a handful, probably less than a dozen, copies of the Book of Mormon in Swahili. But when I do, it’s usally the result of a specific prompting to go someplace or to talk to a certain person.

    Tell your parents that I’ve actually given out a Kisii Book of Mormon to a Kenyan here in Indianapolis. You should have seen how excited he was when he walked past our “Book of Mormon” booth that we had set up at an African cultural festival, and he saw the Kisii Book of Mormon on display.

    I’ve given out Swahili copies to at least a couple of Tanzanians, too. Two of those were really miraculous encounters, to boot.

    I’ve probably given out copies of the Book of Mormon to over 200 Africans in Indianapolis, most of whom are either from Ethiopia or Nigeria, with a smaller number from Eritrea, Somalia, Ghana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Tanzania, Senegal, DR Congo, Togo, Benin, Cameroon, and Mali.

    Your parents will see miracles over there. I know, because I’ve seen/experienced miracles giving out the Book of Mormon and other church material to Africans here in Indianapolis, and on some trips around the US (Colorado, Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina.)

  4. 4 Doc August 28, 2006 at 9:14 pm

    Diverting missionaries sounds great, but rapid growth that outstrips stable leadership can have its own perils. I think things are working just the way the Lord wants it.

  5. 5 BrianJ August 28, 2006 at 9:49 pm

    Eric,

    When I was in the MTC (1993), we had a visit from Elder Kenneth Johnson (a very affable and humorous GA). He began by opening to where Nephi cuts off Laban’s head. Then he talked about how mission calls are made (a normal transition, no?).

    He said that several GA’s and one Apostle meet together every Tuesday with a list of missionary applications and a world map. The map has all the missions with the number of vacancies indicated. The GA’s take turns reading names aloud, and the Apostle indicates where that missionary will be called. Occasionally, the Apostle will stop the process by saying something like, “Elder Johnson, go back about 11 applications to Sister Brown; change her call from Mexico to France,” or “Elder White? We aren’t ready to assign Elder White yet. Go to the next application” And so on through the day. The calls are then approved, en masse, by the President of the Church.

    It was a Tuesday night that Elder Johnson spoke to us, so he had spent the entire day in this process of mission calls. Elder Johnson concluded this little “opening remarks” by returning to Nephi and saying (roughly), “I know that each of you were called by God through a living prophet, because I am there in the room and I see it happen. If anyone tries to suggest to you that you were assigned by a computer, I want you to take out the sword of Laban and cut off their head!”

  6. 7 Ryan August 28, 2006 at 10:23 pm

    so are Eric’s parents.

  7. 8 a spectator August 28, 2006 at 11:09 pm

    I also served in PC in Kenya 1999-2002. During my time, the Nairobi mission included Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. The majority of young missionaries were African, many coming from within the mission boundaries, many from South Africa. Very few missionaries at that time were assigned to Ethiopia, because of instability. That region of the Chruch was operating under a program they called Centers of Strength which boiled down to missionary work only happening in major cities, so I was an 8 hour (one way) journey from the nearest meeting.

    Are your parents proselyting, office, or humanitarian missionaries?

    The mission I served in in Japan no longer exists (there was once 10, but I think they have been consolidated to 6 now) and many there will tell you that the reason is because the Chruch did not want to devote so many resources (missionaries) to an unproductive field.

    Although the Centers of Strength thing was frustrating because it effectively made me inactive for the 3 years I was there, it is understandable. Most churches take on a dynamic in Africa that our church would find problematice in changing for the culture. Centers of Strength ensures more oversight and “training” of future leaders.

    I would guess that a major obstacle with missionary work there is the transient nature of the population. Many people will live in a city for a matter of months to seek employment and then return to their rural home. Even if they had been converted, they would not have church at home. I was surprised to meet several people in my village who had attended LDS meetings in Nairobi and had baptism dates, etc. but then had to come home and were back to their old ways. I would guess that most of your 6, 000 no longer attend, but it may not be their fault.

    Sorry to go on and on.

  8. 9 Wade August 28, 2006 at 11:23 pm

    bookslinger is rad.

    so are Eric’s parents.

    And so is Elder Kenneth Johnson! That’s an awesome story, if it’s true!

  9. 10 Eric Nielson August 29, 2006 at 7:00 am

    Wade

    I hope you are right. Do we see this happening as a trend? At first glance my impression is not yet.

    Connor

    The quote from Elder Eyring is great. For him to say this is a source of the most powerful experience and revleation is something!

    Bookslinger

    I will get your email and pass it along. Could be a good source for referals. You da man!

    BrianJ

    That is a great story. However, it is the vacancies that have me a bit concerned. What are the vacancies based on? Revelation? So if President Mineer of the Georgia Atlanta Mission has 10 vacancies he gets 10 missionaries – as long as supplies last? Did Elder Johnson say anything about changing these vacancies?

    Thanks for your comments and support.

    Ryan

    Rad indeed.

    Spectator

    Thanks for stopping by. That is interesting about Japan – that is just the thing I am talking about. I wonder if that sort of thing has happened in Europe as well. My impression is that it hasn’t.

    My parents are proselyting – or at the disposal of the mission president. Hard to say exactly what they will be doing.

  10. 11 Matt Witten August 29, 2006 at 8:13 am

    The Vacancies are made up of requests from current mission presidents and current Area Authorities and I’m sure other influences. One thing I know is that all Vacancies are not filled. When I was in the MTC (when I was 23), I know the vacancies for senior missionaries more than quadrupled the senior missionaries available. It’s one of the reasons I want to go on a mission again.

    I have a firend on a mission in Ghana or the country next to it (It’s a multiple country mission) and he said a lot of people go home early from his mission for health issues. He has Malaria, but is staying. I’m sure your parents will get training etc. But tell them to be careful.

  11. 12 Eric Nielson August 29, 2006 at 9:34 am

    Matt:

    Thanks for the info and the concern. My parents are getting all kinds of shots and stuff. They should be immune to just about anything – I hope.

  12. 13 Okie August 29, 2006 at 1:37 pm

    I remember well filling out my paperwork to send in to get my call. I picked my spots I wanted to go and even told them that I had recently lived in Anaheim California. I mailed my paperwork on a monday. Two days later my stake president came by my house to make SURE I had everything cleared up and I was ready (Salt Lake had called asking). I got my call the next monday. Yes, in a week and sure enough, I was sent to the California Anahiem Mission. It was the first of many signs to me that the call was given by God, through His Spirit to his servants. –

  13. 14 Eric Nielson August 29, 2006 at 3:18 pm

    Thans Okie. All those calls by revelation is quite a deal. If the church really pulls all this off at that rate….

  14. 15 Bookslinger August 29, 2006 at 8:57 pm

    1. Unfortunately, there’s no immunization against Malaria. You can control its effects by taking quinine in the form of seltzer water or pills, even before you get it. But in the end, you either get it, or you don’t. If you get it, no more donating blood, you’re permanently disallowed.

    2. It sounds like they are saying that 100% of missionaries are called by inspiration now in terms of their destination mission. That’s big progress from the old days. In 1985, Elder Loren Dunn told us at the dinner table in my mission that only 15% of missionaries had to go to a particular mission, and for the rest, it didn’t matter where they served. However, the Lord can, and often does, exert control over what appears to us to be random events.

    3. I know one local 19 year old who submitted his missionary application, had them approved by his bishop and stake pres. The papers were returned from church headquarters and he was “honorably excused.” That is the official term.

  15. 16 BrianJ September 1, 2006 at 12:03 pm

    Bookslinger: “It sounds like they are saying that 100% of missionaries are called by inspiration now in terms of their destination mission. That’s big progress from the old days. In 1985, Elder Loren Dunn told us at the dinner table in my mission that only 15% of missionaries had to go to a particular mission, and for the rest, it didn’t matter where they served.”

    I’m not sure there is any difference. Part of the inspiration the Apostle is receiving, both then and now, could be in identifying those 15% that need to go somewhere specific.

    (btw, I never heard that from any GA, but I always suspected it to be the case. And I always felt like I was in the 85%, but it made no difference to me how I acted as a missionary)

  16. 17 apostle henry nyabuto December 5, 2008 at 5:50 am

    giory to God. l tank God who offerd me this chance to cominicate with you.please come to our country which is kenya l want missionaries .One l want to build achurch and other s. God bless


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