Unique Missionary Approach Prompts Questions For God in Russia
Heather Whittle Wrigley, Church News and Events
A roll of paper—that was the genesis of the “Questions for God” missionary activity in Nizhniy Novgorod, Russia, on October 9, 2011.
Over a period of several hours, more than 150 people stopped by the two paper-covered tables on the busy “walking street” in Upper Nizhniy, picked up felt pens, and wrote their questions. The first was, “Why does God let children die?”
Other sincere and personal questions followed: “When will my mother stop crying?” “Who am I?” “Which religion is true?” “Is there a life after death?” “How can we defeat cancer?” “What is the purpose of life?”
In all, 84 questions were written on the rolls of paper. Many people voiced a desire for an answer from the missionaries present at the activity.
The idea came to the missionaries, Sister Aryel Cianflone and Sister Wynn Taggart, who returned to their apartment with a large roll of leftover paper following a special one-day conference with Moscow West Mission president Ken Woolley a few days earlier.
The sisters contacted Andre Zemskov, a counselor in the branch presidency and the ward mission leader in the Upper Nizhniy Branch, and proposed using the paper to provide people a place to write one question they would like to ask God.
The tables were set up and a whiteboard sign announced, “Write a question you would like to ask God.” Copies of the Book of Mormon were placed along the tables, and senior missionaries Sister Nadia Lovett and Sister Pam Gay provided baked goods. Elders Alexander Bressler, Robert Olsen, Jonathan Dannenberg, and Zachary Brazier, and senior missionary Elder David Lovett also arrived to help, and local member Silena Ivanova attended and spoke with many of those who were interested.
The response was immediate and almost overwhelming at times. Often, more people crowded around the tables than could be accommodated. Many picked up copies of the Book of Mormon to read through a few pages, which the missionaries helped to explain.
David Lovett, now returned home from his mission, commented that the activity drew many who normally would not stop to talk with the missionaries—parents with children, young teens, and small groups of individuals.
“Many were curious, but some were very interested,” he said. “There was less interest in the baked goods than there was in the missionaries, the Book of Mormon, and the questions people could write or ask.”
Brother Lovett attributes the activity’s success to several reasons, including the ready availability of the Book of Mormon for people to pick up and read and the idea of posing a question to God. More than 30 copies of the Book of Mormon were given out, and many people requested follow-up contact from the missionaries.
“It was an answer to a prayer,” Sister Cianflone said. “We often pray that Heavenly Father will help us find people. It was such a clear sign for us that Heavenly Father was really answering our prayers and He was aware of us.”
Following the activity, answers to the questions that were written down were prepared using references primarily from the Book of Mormon and the Bible.
“People have these questions in their minds. They’re looking for answers,” Brother Lovett said. “If they’re in the right environment, they’ll ask these questions and they’ll ponder them. To be able to show them the answers through the Book of Mormon and the Bible was a great experience.”
On a typical cold day in western Russia, both those who participated in the Questions for God activity and the missionaries who put it on were blessed by a unique approach to sharing the gospel.
“Missionary work really just comes down to work, but at the same time, it’s important not to get stuck in a routine, whether as a Church member or as a missionary,” Sister Cianflone explained. “It was really neat to do something that could inspire a whole mission. It was a testimony that we need to live the gospel in an inspired and personal way.”