The Europe Mediterranean Area encompasses lands where Christ and his early followers lived and where much of the culture of the Western world was born. To learn how the Church is progressing in those lands, the Church magazines talked with the Area Presidency: Elder Spencer J. Condie, Elder LeGrand R. Curtis, and Elder Joseph C. Muren of the Seventy.
Question: Are there special difficulties in administering an area so diverse?
Elder Condie: We think of them as challenges, and there are many. But dedicated local members and leaders help make them manageable.
We have thirty-five countries in our area, and they provide great contrasts. France has fifty-five million people; we have members in six stakes and six districts there. On the other hand, we have only four branches in Greece, which has more than ten million people, but the Church has been there for a comparatively short time.
The countries in our area range in size from Algeria, which is one-fourth the size of the United States—to Monaco, which is forty-eight times larger than Temple Square in Salt Lake City.
Q: How are you able to supervise the area effectively?
Elder Condie: As a presidency, we each are assigned to directly oversee the work in different countries. We meet together at the area offices on Tuesday; then we tour missions and attend district or stake conferences in our assigned areas throughout the rest of the week.
To help us handle the diversity of the languages and cultures we deal with, we have gathered Church members from fourteen different countries for our office staff. They’re valuable not only for their language skills, but also for their dedication.
Q: It sounds as though there are many strong members throughout the Europe Mediterranean Area.
Elder Curtis: That’s true. Of course, the Church is more developed in some countries than in others. We have a large group of second-, third-, and fourth-generation Saints in France, for instance. And in every part of our area, we can see the strength of those who have been on missions and then are called to serve and lead after they return. That’s one of the many reasons we are encouraging our young people to serve as missionaries: so they can get the training a mission offers and then help build the Church in their own home areas afterward.
Elder Muren: Missions are vitally important, partly because there’s a spiritual dimension that few people capture without having had the chance to consecrate their lives, to sacrifice. There’s also a spiritual dimension of ministering that has to be learned. New priesthood leaders often haven’t had role models in the Church so they could see the Spirit at work as decisions were made. But members who go on missions come back to their local units with experiences that allow them to say, “The hand of the Lord feels like this.”
Q: How can those who have not been on missions learn about this spiritual dimension of ministering?
Elder Curtis: Couple missionaries serve as valuable role models. We need couples in which one or both speak Spanish, Portuguese, French, or Italian. We can promise them an exciting spiritual adventure; they will work among some very strong members. I see this strength in members who joyfully travel two to three hours on public transportation just to get to church.
Elder Muren: Taking the Church to where the people live is our answer to some of the distance problems. We’ve organized a number of smaller branches closer to places where groups of members are located.
Q: What helps build the kind of spiritual strength you’re seeing in members?
Elder Muren: Their personal faith is basic to their strength. Some spiritual things each member must learn for himself, so we’ve tried to foster the right climate for spiritual growth. We’ve tried to encourage and uplift individual members and help them see their own responsibility in living the gospel.
Elder Curtis: We keep our youth in mind. Our goal is to provide activities and experiences that will lead them eventually to the temple and missionary service. It takes a great amount of ingenuity, and leaders who are truly dedicated, to meet the needs of our young people; the interests of our youth vary widely, and the time and cost of travel often make it difficult for them to attend activities.
Elder Condie: Our members often help strengthen each other. Forty percent of them are single; and in France, where a large number of them live, there is a thriving, active single adult program. They flock to activities together.
There’s no way we could measure the great boost in strength that our members get from visits by Church leaders. Members came from all over Spain when President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency and Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve visited there for a regional conference. Forty members even flew in from Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands. There was a great spiritual resurgence among Latter-day Saints.
Q: That probably had a great effect on missionary work.
Elder Condie: Of course! And we are constantly urging our people to remember President David O. McKay’s admonition—every member a missionary.
As the Church grows in different places, its presence is strengthened by the fact that some of our local Church leaders are also civic or business leaders.
Elder Curtis: The district president in Rome, for example, is a well-known physician, and so is his wife. The stake president in Lisbon is a federal judge. One of the stake presidents in Paris is an account executive for a major international accounting firm.
Elder Muren: The spirit of the gospel and the love members feel for one another is strong, regardless of their numbers in a country. An isolated member in Morocco needed some medicine that he didn’t think he could get in his country. But we found a member in the city of Casablanca, Morocco, an executive of a drug company that makes the product, who arranged to get it to him. It was a two-family welfare program—members helping members. That is part of the beauty of the gospel—it works, whether we have thousands of members in a country or just a handful.