Area Conferences for Africa, South America
Saints in South Africa and eastern South America will be able to attend area conferences of the Church in late 1978, the First Presidency has announced. President Kimball will head the group of General Authorities that will meet with the Saints in the nations of South Africa, Rhodesia, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
More than 114,000 Saints live in these areas—50,000 in Brazil, 34,000 in Argentina, 23,000 in Uruguay and Paraguay, and 7,000 in South Africa and Rhodesia.
The conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, will be held on Monday and Tuesday, 23 and 24 October 1978; the conference in Montevideo, Uruguay, for the Saints in that country and Paraguay, will be held on Thursday and Friday, 26 and 27 October 1978; the conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, will be held on Saturday and Sunday, 28 and 29 October; and the conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil, will take place on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 3–5 November, immediately following the four days of dedication ceremonies for the new Sao Paulo Temple.
Area conferences of the Church have for several years provided Saints in areas of the world far removed from Salt Lake City an opportunity to listen to the messages of the leaders of the Church and meet them in person. Even though conferences are held in the most central locations possible, thousands of Saints still sacrifice a great deal, both in time and in money, to attend the conferences.
Since 1971, thirty-six area conferences have been held in thirty-four different cities. The 1978 conferences will be the first ever held in Montevideo and Johannesburg.
Today there are eleven stakes and four missions in Brazil, six stakes and four missions in Argentina, six stakes and one mission in Uruguay, and one mission in Paraguay. Considering that the Church’s missionary work only began in earnest in 1925 in South America, the last fifty-three years have seen tremendous growth in both strength and numbers in that area. Missionaries first arrived in South Africa in 1853, but it was not until 1903 that a permanent mission was established. Today there are a stake and a mission centered in Johannesburg.
Last year area conferences were held in the other nations of South America, so that within two years a great number of the Saints in those two continents, South America and Africa, will have had a chance to see and hear the President of the Church and other leaders.
1978 Area Conferences
Survey Results Show That … A Mission Makes a Big Difference
A recent survey of returned full-time missionaries provides hard evidence that a mission does make a difference in a young man’s life. Over a thousand missionaries answered questions on their attendance at Church meetings; obedience to certain key commandments; and service in the Church; and the results were impressive:
97 percent of the returned missionaries attended at least one sacrament meeting a month, and 91 percent attended at least three sacrament meetings a month. This is far ahead of over-all Churchwide attendance figures.
89 percent of the returned missionaries had a current Church calling.
95 percent of the returned missionaries who were married were married in the temple, again far ahead of Churchwide figures.
Why was the survey conducted? Elder Carlos E. Asay of the First Quorum of the Seventy, executive director of the Missionary Department, explained that for some time stories have persisted in the Church claiming that a high percentage of returned missionaries became inactive. “Even one or two missionaries falling away concerns us greatly, but we found it hard to believe that such large numbers were being lost!” So, to find out if there was a great problem, and, if not, to squelch such stories, Eric Ott of the Missionary Department and John Madsen of the Priesthood Department administered the survey.
The questionnaires were mailed to 1,757 returned missionaries. More than 65 percent of those who received questionnaires returned them—an unusually high percentage for mailed surveys. But to reduce the possibility of error even further, the bishop of every fifteenth returned missionary was called, to see what relationship there was between the missionaries’ self-assessment and their bishops’ view of their activity in the Church, and also to see if those who returned the questionnaire were significantly more active than those who did not.
The results of the follow-up survey reinforced the original results. Though missionaries who failed to return the survey tended to be slightly less active, the difference was almost negligible—three percent.
Not only are today’s returned missionaries very active—they’re also more active than their counterparts forty years ago! A survey of missionaries conducted in the 1930s suggested that 84 percent of the then living returned missionaries were full or part tithepayers, compared to 92 percent full tithepayers today; 83 percent were active in terms of attendance at meetings in 1936, while 91 percent are very active today, and 97 percent attend at least monthly.
But the high percentage isn’t cause for too much self-congratulation, Elder Asay warns. “The results of the survey were a bit better than I had expected—and I had expected them to be good. But we’re very concerned about all our missionaries. To lose just a few is still tragic; we’re not content with 91 percent or 97 percent. We want 100 percent of our missionaries to come home and be active, faithful Latter-day Saints.”
In the survey, missionaries pointed out some of the areas that were of most concern to them. The most-named problem area was that of dating, courtship, and marriage. Many missionaries felt that too much pressure was put on them to marry quickly after their missions; others found that it was strange and difficult to get used to dating again after two years of being involved in other things.
So far as marriage is concerned, Elder Asay pointed out, “We’ve never set any kind of time limit on missionaries.” There is no magic number of months within which a returned missionary should be married; “I’ve told returned missionaries to keep themselves pointed toward marriage,” Elder Asay says. “But they shouldn’t be in too much of a hurry, either. They should seek the right kind of girl, one that they can take to the temple, have sealed to them, and with whom they can build an eternal marriage.”
What does it mean to keep oneself “pointed toward marriage”? Elder Asay explains, “It means that you shouldn’t become ingrained in bachelor ways. Don’t make yourself so happy with solitary life that you no longer want to get married.”
Another clear result of the survey was that the single most helpful thing local Church leaders can do to help returned missionaries stay active is to give them “meaningful assignments” that can keep them interested in Church work. They’ve spent two years in the forefront of the gospel program—it can be discouraging to suddenly feel unneeded.
One missionary who wrote a personal answer on the survey commented about how painful it was when, after great personal sacrifice of time and money for the Lord’s service, he came home to find that the Church no longer seemed to need him. Others, who had more positive homecoming experiences, pointed out that one of the things that helped them most was having something to do in the Church.
But it isn’t enough just to give them a job and forget them. Missionaries are used to being interviewed every six to eight weeks by their mission president. They’re used to having their priesthood leaders take an active role in helping them to be happy. Elder Asay suggests that “Quorum leaders and bishops need to keep close contact with the returned missionary.” Excellent advice on how to do this is contained in the pamphlet The Returned Missionary.
The responsibility is shared, of course, by the missionary himself. Perhaps the most harmful thing a missionary can do is to immediately drop his missionary way of life. Elder Asay recalls, “In my final interview with the young men in my mission who were about to go home, I would reach across my desk and hand them a blank sheet of paper and say, ‘Let me give you fifteen minutes to write down all the habits you’ve cultivated while in the mission field—all the habits.’ They’d come back to me with a list that always contained at least twenty items—things like going to bed and getting up early, praying every day, studying the scriptures daily, good personal grooming, using time carefully and wisely, and many others.”
When they had gone over the list together, Elder Asay remembers, he would then ask them to cross off the list all the habits that they felt would now be inappropriate, after their mission. “Cross off everything that will be obsolete, everything you can afford to drop.” Tracting would disappear from the list, and a few other things that belong exclusively to the full-time missionary work.
But most of the list remained. “I can’t afford to lose any of these,” they would tell Elder Asay, and he concurred. “If you want to retain the Christlike attributes you acquired on your mission, you can’t afford to lose any of those good habits.”
What can ordinary Church members do to help returned missionaries stay active? Elder Asay’s, answer was quick: “My personal feeling is that the most supportive thing a regular member of the Church can do is simply to be a good member. It can really shake a returned missionary’s faith to come home and see how casually the members of his ward take the gospel. It can be very disappointing.”
Comments from individual missionaries also point out something else that the folks back home can do to help missionaries feel good about their missions—and about themselves: many missionaries, as well as some folks at home, come to feel that reaching a leadership position in the field—like zone or district leader—is a sign that they have been “successful.” And along with that is the idea that if they don’t get such an assignment, they have “failed.” Folks at home should avoid giving that impression to their sons and daughters. Numbers of baptisms, too, can vary widely between missions and between missionaries—and people at home should remember that inspiration puts each missionary where he is most needed, not necessarily where he will baptize the most people.
What does a returned missionary most need when he comes home? One young man said that one should “have a heart-to-heart talk with his stake president or bishop or someone who would listen. Just listen—to the inner feelings of the missionary, his fears, how he felt about his mission—don’t let him be in turmoil over how well he did and how well he’s doing.”
As Church members welcome returning missionaries back into the wards and branches, however, we should not be thinking about the problems the returned missionary has to face so much as we should be thinking of the great strength those young men and women have to offer. Despite occasional problems and difficulties, they remain the most active, involved, dedicated segment of the Church population. They may need to lean on us in some ways—but in many other ways we, too, must depend on them.
“These returned missionaries are the backbone of the Church,” Elder Asay said. And the recent survey report shows how very strong that backbone is.
Servicemen in Europe Flock to Berchtesgaden Conference
Berchtesgaden was the site of Hitler’s “eagle’s nest,” a complex of bunkers that he intended to use as his last stronghold in World War II. But for nine days in October and November 1977, Aaronic Priesthood holders passed the sacrament to sixteen hundred Latter-day Saints gathered there; leaders of the Church spoke to members and answered their questions; patriarchal blessings were given to numerous members; and many Latter-day Saints serving with the United States military in Europe had their first contact with other Church members in months.
It was the annual Servicemen’s Conference, divided into three sessions because of the large number attending. Held at Berchtesgaden, Germany, since 1955, the annual “retreat” is offered with the cooperation of the U.S. Army. When Chief Chaplain Kirtley of the U.S. Army in Europe visited a Latter-day Saint servicemen’s conference in Frankfurt in 1954, he was so impressed that he worked to have such an event made possible for all religious denominations. The result was the facility at Berchtesgaden—but because the Mormon gathering had given rise to the idea, Chaplain Kirtley offered the Church first choice of conference dates. And the Latter-day Saint conferences are still the largest of such events.
The first three days of the conference were attended by Saints stationed in northern and central Germany, Holland, Belgium, the United Kingdom, and Scandinavia. The second session of the conference was for unmarried Latter-day Saint servicemen in Europe. And the last three days were for families stationed in southern Germany, Spain, the Azores, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and North Africa.
The conferences have become a haven for the American military Saints in Europe. As one who attended the conference said, “It is an opportunity to remove oneself from rigorous military duties, from the coarse life in the barracks, from long, dirty, and difficult training in the field, to join together with other Saints as soldiers of the Lord.”
Although there are three servicemen’s stakes in Germany, providing many opportunities for interaction among the Saints stationed in those areas, many military members are assigned to isolated posts with no other members of the Church nearby—or in areas where they can only attend meetings conducted in a language foreign to them. For such individuals, fellowship with Saints in meetings conducted in their own tongue becomes a strengthening blessing.
One couple traveled “space available” for 2 1/2 days from Turkey to attend the conference, explaining when they arrived that it was worth the difficult travel just to be there. They live in a small community in Turkey where there are only four active priesthood holders—and because by law they can’t proselyte, they have little hope of increasing their numbers. The conference provided a needed uplift to their spirits.
And a mother with four Church jobs—and four children—came to the conference from a fair-sized ward in Germany. She had thought her work was hard, until she talked with a sister from Spain who lives in a small branch where she holds eight Church jobs—and has four children even younger than the other sister’s.
The conferences are also a missionary opportunity. Eighteen new members were baptized at the single adult conference held in May 1977. And this fall, one sister convinced her then-inactive husband to attend the conference, if for nothing more than to enjoy the spectacular scenery. He came to please her—but left his cigarettes home and attended the welcoming session and the social. He was so touched by the spirit and friendly people that he eagerly attended other activities. They began to study the scriptures together and had their first family prayer. This faithful sister, standing hand-in-hand with her beloved husband with tears of joy filling her eyes, was a testimony of answered prayers and an example of the special spirit found in these meetings and activities.
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the First Quorum of the Seventy presided over the Northern Zone and Single Adult conferences, and Elder Charles A. Didier of the First Quorum of the Seventy presided over the Southern Zone Conference. Many other Church leaders from Europe attended, and Elder Thomas S. Monson of the Council of the Twelve made a brief visit and spoke at one of the sessions.
Elder Wirthlin summed up the purpose—and the achievement—of the conference when he said, “By nature of the job, the serviceman is different. He needs the best we can give.” And the military Saints, even in their difficult circumstances, have often achieved outstanding results. “The Church is able to provide the kind of leadership among our military members that will ensure your growth and progress in the Lord’s kingdom here on earth,” Elder Wirthlin told the Saints.
The conference also made an impression on local people. The manager of the General Walker Hotel, which is at the heart of the retreat facilities, says that the Saints are especially welcome in his hotel. Why? There are no alcohol-related problems, he points out—and no damage from carelessly handled cigarettes. But there are problems with serving a conference of Latter-day Saints: milk is required in quantities unheard of in Germany, where milk is regarded as baby food. And the Latter-day Saint conference is the only one held there that includes entire families, which taxes the nursery facilities to the limit.
Was the conference worth the effort and sacrifice involved in attending?
Ask Brother and Sister Orr, whose four-year-old son Christoff joined in the Primary children’s chorus that sang “I Am a Child of God.” Born with serious heart defects, Christoff was not expected to live.
“But he did live,” Sister Orr said, “and God proved the doctors wrong.”
Ask the Reed family, who came from Turkey to the Berchtesgaden conference. Where they live, their entire branch consists of the members of their family.
Ask Sister Freda Edwards, who at eighty years of age was told by her doctor that she couldn’t go to the conference at Berchtesgaden. She went anyway—and felt that the blessings she received as a result were worth it.
Ask Sister Presgrove, who had laryngitis the morning she was supposed to sing a solo at the conference. Her husband gave her a blessing—and she was able to perform.
Their answers will be the same: Where the Saints are gathered together in righteousness, the Spirit will also be. The Spirit of the Lord was with the Saints in Berchtesgaden, and many, tasting that experience, wished they didn’t have to leave.
But as one member said, “There’s always next year. We’ll be back.”
The Gospel Moves to Micronesia
The names sound like a roster of strategic islands in World War II: Guam, Saipan, Yap, Truk, Majuro, Ponape, Kwajalein. The Marianas. The Carolines. The Marshall Islands. But today they are the site of a blossoming missionary effort, as the Hawaii Honolulu Mission reaches out to the many small islands of Micronesia.
“The Trust Territory of the Pacific and Guam are fast becoming our most fruitful missionary areas at this time,” says President William W. Cannon of the Hawaii Honolulu Mission, headquartered 3,300 miles east of Guam. Three million square miles of ocean are included in the mission, and only here and there do populated islands interrupt the waves. But since missionaries were first assigned to Saipan in March 1975, the total Latter-day Saint membership in the Trust Territory of the Pacific has passed the 200 mark—and 120 of these baptisms have taken place since March 1977.
Unlike the tiny islands in the Trust Territory, Guam has had the gospel for years. In fact, 600 Church members form two wards on the island of Guam, administered as part of the Kaneohe Hawaii Stake, headquartered on the island of Oahu.
Following the end of World War II in 1945, a group of Latter-day Saint servicemen and their families began holding meetings, eventually evolving into the Guam Branch of the Japanese Mission. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith of the Council of the Twelve dedicated Guam for missionary work on 25 August 1955, and the first full-time missionaries arrived in January 1957. The first chapel on the island was dedicated by Elder Mark E. Petersen of the Quorum of the Twelve in 1959.
Although most of the Church membership on 209-square mile Guam consists of itinerant U.S. military personnel or civilian employees from Hawaii or the mainland of the U.S., President A. Robert Schutte of the Kaneohe Stake reports that the Chamorros, the native residents of Guam, are becoming more interested in the Church. The Chamorros make up more than half of Guam’s population of 120,000. One of the more recent Chamorro converts to the Church was the recently elected student body president of the local high school—and he is now helping the full-time missionaries teach the student body vice-president and secretary, besides members of his own family.
Why is the missionary work surging in Guam and the Trust Territory of the Pacific? Mission president Cannon—a grandson of Elder George Q. Cannon, who was one of the first missionaries in Hawaii in 1850—points to the strong influence of members who are working throughout the islands. “Former BYU-Hawaii Campus students are among the Saints employed on the various islands. They are not ashamed of the gospel, and most of them are eager and excited to share the restored teachings of Christ with their families and friends and help establish branches of the Church. They have helped pave the way.”
Missionary work is a challenge in the islands of Micronesia. Spread over an expanse of ocean larger than the continental United States, travel between the tiny islands is often possible only by boat. And even though English is generally spoken, there are nine different language groups in the territory!
Another problem is the sparse distribution of the population. Missionaries in major cities elsewhere in the world have a pool of millions of people to teach the gospel to, and the new members can quickly be formed into a branch, as has recently happened with the new mission in Portugal. But the entire population of the Trust Territory of the Pacific is 122,000—less than half the population of Salt Lake City—and they are scattered among dozens of islands. In fact, on the “island” of Kwajalein the population is scattered among more than 90 tiny islets surrounding a lagoon!
But the missionaries are there because, as President Cannon says, “This is the right time for the gospel to be preached to the people of Micronesia.” In fact, one time since the missionaries were sent to Saipan, President Cannon decided to withdraw them because of the initial lack of success. “But things worked against my making the change, which let me know that the missionaries should stay.”
Elder John H. Groberg of the First Quorum of the Seventy, General Authority Area Supervisor for the Pacific, has encouraged President Cannon to extend the gospel to the people in these long-untouched islands. And less than a year after the missionaries first arrived on Saipan, the first baptisms in Micronesia (outside Guam) took place when in January 1976 the Brad Nago family joined the Church. Brother Nago, in a story similar to that of many other converts in the area, first heard of the gospel from two members who were working on the construction of a new airport in Saipan. Saipan, where 37,000 American and Japanese soldiers lost their lives in famous World War II battles, is now the site of a growing branch of the Church.
Shortly after the Church gained a foothold on Saipan, the gospel spread to Ponape, now the fastest-growing area in the islands. Success in Ponape was due in great part to two former students of BYU-Hawaii Campus, who learned about the gospel and were baptized in Laie, Hawaii—and then took the gospel to their family and friends at home.
One day while the missionaries were riding their bikes on the streets of Kolonia, Ponape, they were approached by a Pingilap (native of Ponape) who claimed he owed the Church money for a Book of Mormon he had purchased while attending BYU-Hawaii Campus. A schoolteacher, he explained that he had taken two of the missionary lessons while in Laie, and he wanted to continue the lessons. And so Naped Elias became the first person to be baptized on Ponape. Today he is branch president.
Growth has been rapid on other islands. Today, only a year after the missionaries first arrived on Majuro, there are twenty members in the branch. The Conrad family became the first natives of Truk to join the Church in October 1977—and other islands have been opened to the gospel even more recently.
The coming of the Church, here as everywhere, can mean improvement in the temporal affairs of the Saints, as well as the spiritual. Brother and Sister Abraham Lincoln of Waianae, Oahu, Hawaii, have been teaching Micronesians the art of making nets as well as helping them make better use of such indigenous products as clams and taro. And two Micronesian youths who joined the Church immediately—and happily—cut their hair to conform to missionary standards, so they could help the missionaries teach the gospel to others.
Thirty-five years ago, people around the world heard the names of these islands as bloody battles were fought to control them. Today, Latter-day Saints see an entirely different kind of effort going on as the gospel changes people’s lives throughout the tiny islands scattered across the western Pacific Ocean.
Islands Newly Opened to Missionary Work
Church Policies and Announcements
The following notice recently appeared in Messages, which is sent to local priesthood leaders as official guidelines from Church headquarters.
Primary 100th Birthday. The first Primary of the Church was held 25 August 1878, in Farmington, Utah. Now, one hundred years later, Primaries all over the world will be celebrating Primary’s 100th birthday with special activities. A publication entitled “Birthday Celebration Ideas” has been sent to stake and ward Primary leaders to assist in planning these activities.
As part of these activities, each bishop is requested to plan one sacrament meeting during 1978 to recognize the 100 years of Primary. The bishopric adviser to the Primary and the Primary presidency should be asked to speak. The theme of their remarks should be centered on the importance of Primary. Music should be furnished by the Primary children. Participation in this sacrament meeting by the Primary will be in addition to the annual children’s sacrament meeting presentation.
It is suggested that the Primary prepare an exhibit in the cultural hall to be viewed after the sacrament meeting, displaying Primary materials and programs as well as projects and activities of children. This would give many parents the opportunity to learn more about Primary and how it can assist the home in teaching children the gospel.
Celebrating Primary’s 100th birthday will present an opportunity for all to reflect upon our Church heritage and recognize the importance of strengthening each child.
The following notices recently appeared in Relief Society Notes to the Field.
Transition of Young Women to Relief Society. It is recommended that a young woman who becomes eighteen while a second-year Laurel remain in the young Women program until the end of the Church curriculum year. After her eighteenth birthday, however, there may be a special circumstance, such as individual maturity, desire to attend Relief Society, peer group associations, or graduation from high school, which may make it advisable to provide an exception to this policy. At that time a young woman may choose to move into the Relief Society program to meet her specific needs. This is done after consultation with her bishop. When a young woman marries, she becomes a member of the Relief Society. When a girl younger than eighteen goes away to a college where a campus branch is available, she may be enrolled in that Relief Society.
Suggestions for Concerned Citizens. In response to inquiries regarding community service received by the Relief Society General Presidency, the following guidelines are given:
A woman’s first responsibility for service is to her family; this is the fundamental priority established by the Lord. It should be her first consideration and the consideration of those who call her to positions or seek her assistance in any endeavor. Service in the Church should most often be a woman’s next priority, and service in the community her third consideration. Regarding this third area of service, in October 1977 general conference, President Spencer W. Kimball urged all Church members “to lift their voices, to join others in unceasingly combatting, in their communities and beyond, the inroads of pornography and the general flaunting of permissiveness” (Ensign, Nov. 1977, p. 5).
In the founding period of Relief Society, the Prophet Joseph Smith admonished women to “assist by correcting the morals and strengthening the virtues of the community” (History of Relief Society 1842–1966, 1966, p. 18). Today, women have many opportunities to strengthen the virtues of their communities. For example, a mother of school-age children could become involved in the improvement of the schools her children attend, or she could make her family aware of appropriate ways family members can be involved in worthy community causes. A woman whose family and Church responsibilities will permit might wish to run for political office or serve on a community commission.
Each woman should realize that she can be an effective, concerned citizen. One vote, a phone call to a local TV station, a letter to the editor of a local newspaper, a letter to one’s local or national legislator—any of these by an informed person can have a positive effect in the community.
Informed is a key word. Published statements by the First Presidency on moral issues are the most reliable source of information. The Church News, Ensign, and conference talks also provide helpful guidelines for applying gospel standards to community issues. Local newspapers and other news media generally cover national and local issues on which citizens should be informed in order to vote and act intelligently.
Among the many opportunities to join with others in strengthening the community are—
1. Serving on school boards and related committees.
2. Serving on zoning boards.
3. Joining citizen groups opposed to neighborhood displays of pornographic materials or offensive advertising.
4. Recommending needed neighborhood improvements such as street lighting, crosswalks, or traffic signals.
5. Beautifying neighborhoods with garden and cleanup projects.
The Relief Society continues to urge its members to act as individual concerned citizens and to strengthen themselves, their homes and their communities by becoming knowledgeable about important local issues and voicing their opinions in appropriate ways.
1977 Awards Given For … Telling the World about the Church
In Denmark, the Church is now listed as a Christian church—for the first time in history.
In British Columbia, hard work and fast photography earned front-page coverage for Church events.
In Ecuador, 6 million people hear regularly about the Church through the national news media.
These successes are only a part of the outstanding work being done by public communications councils in every part of the Church. Dedicated Latter-day Saints, many with professional training in communications, have made great strides in helping millions of people who know little about the Church to get a correct and positive view of what the Church is and what Latter-day Saint life is like.
Some of the most outstanding achievements in Church public communications are honored every year by the Brigham Young University Communications Department. The 1977 awards were given to Virginia Bee of the Los Angeles California Santa Monica Stake; David W. Ferrel of the Ecuador Quito Mission; Jerry Jacobs of the Wichita (Kansas) Public Communications Council; William A. “Bert” Perry of the British Columbia Vernon Stake; and Jorgen W. Schmidt of the Copenhagen Public Communications Council.
Why were they given these awards?
Take Brother Schmidt of Denmark, for example: When he was called to head the Copenhagen Public Communications Council, the official decimal system in the Danish public library system listed all books about Mormons in the section devoted to non-Christian religions! This meant that anyone looking up the Mormon Church in the library got the firm impression that the Church was not Christ-centered. After much careful work on the part of Brother Schmidt, the government changed the listing and since that time, several other European countries have done likewise.
Also, for many years a very influential book on world religions had contained derogatory, incorrect statements about the Church. Brother Schmidt asked for a chance to correct some of the errors about the Church and most of the changes he suggested were made in the newest edition.
When Brother Schmidt began his public communications work, there was a virtual vacuum in his area—the Copenhagen Denmark Stake had not yet been organized, and there were only a few thousand active Latter-day Saints. Also, some negative feelings toward the United States because of the Vietnam War also extended to the young American missionaries going door-to-door in Denmark. Now, though public relations success is hard to measure, there is a growing, positive awareness of the Church, and many negative impressions from earlier years have been done away with.
Part of the recipe for success in Church public communications is recognizing an opportunity—and using it. Jerry Jacobs was coordinator of the Wichita, Kansas, public communications council when the Mid-America All-Indian Center was ready to be dedicated. A Wichita city project, the arrowhead-shaped building was planned to provide facilities for Indians of every tribe.
Since the Church has always been vitally concerned with Indian affairs, Brother Jacobs moved quickly. Indian, a film by Oscar-winning Latter-day Saint film director Kieth Merrill, had its world premier at the Mid-America All-Indian Center. President Ezra Taft Benson of the Council of the Twelve visited the center and presented a free copy of a BYU film on alcoholism. And the center’s administrators permitted the missionaries to be at the dedication ceremonies.
Another opportunity came when Brother Jacobs was coordinator of the Mid-America public communications council. The Ray County Museum was to be dedicated in Richmond, Missouri a town very important in Church history. Local people discovered the connection with the Mormon Church, and when nonmember Claire Chenault found derogatory references to the Church in the Ray County History, she just didn’t believe what was said—and so drove out to Utah to talk to BYU professor Richard L. Anderson, who wrote a four-page history of the Mormons in Ray County.
With local interest already sparked, Brother Jacobs leaped into action again. The Independence Stake choir offered its services for the museum’s dedication—and the offer was accepted. They sang three songs, including “Come, Come Ye Saints,” and Independence Missouri Stake President Melvin James Bennion told the history of the song.
Enough? No! Elder David B. Haight of the Council of the Twelve gave the dedicatory address, and the dedicatory prayer was given by Missouri Independence Mission President Edwin C. Johnson. At the dedication Elder Haight told the people gathered there, “I bring you greetings from President Spencer W. Kimball of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There is no animosity between the Mormon Church and the people of Missouri. We love you.”
And the editor of the daily newspaper, who had met the missionaries in England while he was in the military, wrote an editorial urging the people of Richmond to invite the missionaries into their homes.
The opportunity had not been wasted.
“What many people don’t realize,” says Bert Perry of Vernon, British Columbia, Canada, “is that local media people are eager for news.” Especially local news after all, any paper can carry wire service stories to get national and international news, but local news can only come from hard work. What kind of news are editors and programming directors looking for? “Human interest local people doing interesting things.”
So Brother Perry personally visited with local newsmen and editors and sounded them out—what were they looking for? What form did they want stories to take? And soon Brother Perry was back with pictures of a prominent local Latter-day Saint holding a family home evening. And photos of a Latter-day Saint doctor digging up potatoes in the fall with his family. The accompanying story mentioned that he was preparing for a rainy day because the prophet had instructed Latter-day Saints to do so.
What happened? The newspaper editor wrote an editorial, saying that such preparedness was good advice.
One of the things Brother Perry found most helpful was that he did his own photography and darkroom work. It could make the difference between running a story on the front page and having it buried in the back of the paper. Once he asked for coverage of the Church’s Festival of Song in the local paper, and was told yes if he had pictures. He dashed around, took the pictures, developed them and printed them, and got them to the newspaper by the 4:00 P.M. deadline. The reward for his labor was the front page of the entertainment section. And the editor was happy, too: he had an interesting local story, with photos, for free—the fulfillment of a busy editor’s dream.
“I found that timing is very important,” Brother Perry says. “For instance, the suggested release on the Polynesian Cultural Center arrived in the summer, when practically no one from this resort area is interested in Hawaii. So I waited until November, and then phoned one of the local travel agencies. They told me that about 400 people from Vernon would travel to Hawaii during the coming winter months. This was our ‘in,’ and I was able to localize the story to make it interesting to readers in our area.”
With a nice big picture of a BYU-Hawaii Campus student performing one of the Polynesian dances, Brother Perry reports, “I was able to get in the whole story of the Church’s involvement in the Center, the student scholarship program and of course I invited prospective travelers to visit the Center.”
When a local genealogy library opened, Brother Perry was able to submit a companion article with a picture of the records storage vaults east of Salt Lake City, with details about the fantastic number of names microfilmed and the importance of genealogical work to Latter-day Saints.
Sister Eva Fry, the Vernon Ward public communications director, heeded a suggestion and organized a group of interested people from many churches in the city into the “Citizens Against Pornography,” which has conducted a very successful campaign.
The purpose of the public communications program is not just to help people understand the Church better it is also to help make the communities where Latter-day Saints reside better places for all the residents to live and raise their families. And as a result, as dedicated public communications workers serve the Church without pay throughout the world, they also serve their neighbors, their communities, and their nations.