International Series: Open Thread

“…And the Lord called His people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.”  Moses 7:18

As our current International Series comes to a close, we have had our hearts, minds and eyes opened to the wide spectrum of experience from our sisters and brothers across the world.  Like many of you, I read with great curiosity to learn of their struggles and successes, and how they find joy in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. At the end of nearly every post, I found myself asking, “How can I better relate to this person’s experience? What can I do? How could I help?”

Several of our guest posters and commenters touched on the following themes: the way American members and missionaries behave in foreign countries, perspectives of relative privilege, language barriers, proximity from other members, church buildings and temples, relating to the cultural history of the community as it colors their experiences with the church, emotional, physical and linguistic isolation, American/Utah Mormon superiority complex, labeling/judging others in general, missionary efforts, humanitarian efforts and variety vs. uniformity.

We now open this thread to you to share any thoughts or ideas you have, or to suggest tangible solutions to issues raised. You might also respond to this question: “How can we build a worldwide Zion and what can I do?”

“… Dear Lord, prepare my heart to stand with thee on Zion’s mount, and nevermore to part.” Hymns 41

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International Series: Seeking Out and Relieving the Distressed

We are thrilled to feature new voices and new perspectives, many from people who are posting for the first time in English. Their voices have been missing from the conversation about gender and Mormonism, and their posts highlight the diverse experiences of LDS women throughout the global church.

Today’s post comes from Dave Dixon. Dave is the co-founder of No Poor Among Them, a podcast/blog devoted to exploring ways in which we as Latter-day Saints can eliminate poverty in the Church and in the world. He is also a board member for the Liahona Children’s Foundation, the happy husband of Jana, and happy father of two sons.

As the sun shines brightly over the city of Lugazi, Uganda, around 21 women are busily making hand-crafted jewelry for Musana Jewelry. All told, these artisans support themselves and 108 children. Melissa Sevy, Rebecca Burgon, and Kristen Wade are pleased with the progress the organization has made. Musana (which means “sunlight” in the local language of Luganda) was formed by these after seeing the difficulties of these women on a humanitarian trip to the area in 2009. The organization has since blossomed, and has helped many local women to flourish. I spoke with two of them: Tina and Harriet. The business is run locally by Tina, a local LDS primary president. Harriet, a hard-working artisan told me that working for Musana has enabled her to better provide for her children and allows her to receive proper medical care for issues resulting from HIV. Many of the local artisans are single mothers who have had a very difficult time in their lives. Musana not only provides employment for these women, but also trains them with classes in literacy, English, finance, business, and health. These women have ambitions to start their own businesses when they feel they are on solid enough footing, thus allowing other women to enter Musana’s business training program. Melissa told me in an interview that focusing on women is the key to economic development. When you pay a woman or a girl, they reinvest 90 percent of their income in their families, compared to 30-40 percent for men. Musana does a great job of connecting women all around the world. My wife Jana hosted a Musana market in her home, in which friends and neighbors bought some of the hand-crafted jewelry, watched a specialized thank-you video from the artisans of Musana, listened to Ugandan music, and ate some awesome Ugandan food (the peanut butter stew was really good).

(Right to left) Melissa Sevy, Harriet Ochieng, and Tina Kyambadde of Musana Jewelry

(Right to left) Melissa Sevy, Harriet Ochieng, and Tina Kyambadde of Musana Jewelry

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International Series: Tongue-Tied

We are thrilled to feature new voices and new perspectives, many from women who are posting for the first time in English. Their voices have been missing from the conversation about gender and Mormonism, and their posts highlight the diverse experiences of LDS women throughout the global church.

Today’s post comes from Amira.  Amira is a peripatetic wanderer with lots of opinions about being an expat, books, education, women in the church, and food. She blogs at The Golden Road to Samarqand.

Three months after I turned 18 and graduated from high school I went overseas for the first time to get out of Orem, Utah, as soon as I could. I took Latin, French, and Russian in high school and spent 9 months in the Middle East in college, minoring in Arabic and majoring in International Relations. I married a fellow Arabic student who spent a summer during law school in Egypt studying Islamic law. We got stuck in the US for a few years while our two oldest children were born until we went to Kyrgyzstan for a year when they were 6 and 4, and back again a few years later; we speak Russian, Uzbek, and Kyrgyz between us as a result. Now we live in Mexico with three children (my husband speaks much better Spanish than I do) and are planning a move to Saudi Arabia in two years. I don’t know how much Arabic I remember after 20 years, but it will be so nice to not start on a new language. New languages are a huge part of expat life for me.

Growing up I always had an unrealistic idea of what it would be like to raise a family overseas. Some parts have come true (standing on the Great Wall of China with your children is much better than seeing the pyramids with your roommates), but other parts haven’t worked out the way my 16-year-old self imagined. Church has nearly always been hard overseas, learning languages takes a lot of work every single time, and you can’t make your kids love being international. Pretty much everything else, including the house with no plumbing in the kitchen, has been an adventure, but not those three things.

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International Series: Loving the Differences

We are thrilled to feature new voices and new perspectives, many from women who are posting for the first time in English. Their voices have been missing from the conversation about gender and Mormonism, and their posts highlight the diverse experiences of LDS women throughout the global church.

Hi, I’m Sarah Bringhurst Familia. The trendy, sophisticated term for my crazy life is “serial expatting.” But that implies a degree of organization and planning that doesn’t necessarily obtain. Really, I just have an insatiable wanderlust and a complete lack of the normal desire to settle down and get a mortgage and a regular life. For more of my writing, visit my blog, Casteluzzo.com

One of the things almost sure to be heard in a Mormon testimony meeting after someone has traveled (whether it’s across the ocean or just to the next town over) is an expression of gratitude that “the Church is the same no matter where you go.” To a certain extent, it’s true. We all sing the same hymns, although every ward congregation seems to have its particular favorites. We all read the same scriptures. Sunday meetings follow the same general format, even if the meetings are in a different order. Sunday School and other lesson manuals are standardized and translated into over a hundred languages, and on any given Sunday the whole worldwide Church is studying the same lesson (give or take a week or two depending on how organized the local Sunday School teacher happens to be).

Sarah and family

Me and my two children at the train station in Milan, Italy

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International Series: The ‘All or Nothing’ Mormon

We are thrilled to feature new voices and new perspectives, many from women who are posting for the first time in English. Their voices have been missing from the conversation about gender and Mormonism, and their posts highlight the diverse experiences of LDS women throughout the global church.

Today’s post comes from Crystal.  

At 16 years of age, I graduated from The Church College of New Zealand* with academic honors and armed with a fairly solid testimony of the gospel. Upon enrolling at my local university and in my first class, I befriended two Catholic girls. The three of us were inseparable from that day onward.all or nothing

 

Like most Catholics I knew at the time, and unlike the Mormon friends I’d had previously, these girls loved to drink (substantially) and immersed themselves in a student culture of parties and clubbing from around Wednesday night (student night) through to Saturday night, as finances would permit. Yet more often than not, come Sunday, off they would toddle to their Catholic mass to satisfy their spiritual inclinations, free of any burden of a bad conscience.  I held out a good year and a half, before succumbing to the same social ideals and once I had, attending church felt way too hypocritical after participating in the same sinful activities throughout the week.

For many Mormon teenagers in this boat, the alternatives appear to be ‘all or nothing’. ‘All’ meaning full adherence to the ‘strength of youth’ booklet and ‘nothing’ meaning everything to the contrary. With those two options before me, I turned my back on Mormonism and chose ‘nothing’ for the next 10+ years– much to the sadness of my family.

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International Series: Egypt, A New Adventure

We are thrilled to feature new voices and new perspectives, many from women who are posting for the first time in English. Their voices have been missing from the conversation about gender and Mormonism, and their posts highlight the diverse experiences of LDS women throughout the global church.

Today’s post comes from Dorothy, who is a retired middle school teacher, and who got to go to the place where author Elizabeth Peters set her Amelia Peabody stories.  It was her first chance to live in a foreign country although she had traveled throughout Europe during the summer.  She was born and raised for the most part in the Los Angeles Area, so these six years in Egypt were an opportunity to make a dream come true.

The Kahn, or ancient marketplace in Cairo.

The Kahn, or ancient marketplace in Cairo.

I had the opportunity to move to Egypt when my husband took a job with an Egyptian company in 2005. Being in a Muslim country was quite an experience since we could not talk about the Church in any manner. If questions were asked you answered briefly and left with the comment that we were Christian.

Egypt is a country where you could hide from the church since it was a difficult process to contact the Middle East Desk to find information about the branch or talk to someone who had been there or find a new friend who was already there. Members knew of military and embassy people who were not interested in attending Church, but they had to be careful talking to them about the gospel and or inviting them to attend church.

The branch population averaged between 45-100 members depending on who was posted there. The numbers increased when the BYU group came in the summer. Unfortunately this is no longer the case because of the unrest in the country. The branch was fully organized with a branch presidency, priesthood quorums (small but mighty), Young Women, Primary, Young Single Adults, extra Sunday School classes such as temple preparation, family history, marriage and family and of course Early Morning Seminary. The Boy Scouts worked with the local school, Cairo American College (college is K-12th grade) to advance towards an Eagle award.

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