Eugene

September 6, 2012 | 41 comments
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Eugene came from the Congo and accepted the gospel while studying in Belgium. After having obtained a doctorate in economics of developing nations, he returned to Africa.

During the years with us, Eugene fulfilled many callings, willingly responding to the recurrent changes in positions our branch and district demanded in the relentless cycle of convert baptisms and inactivation.

He served in positions from counselor in the Sunday school presidency to usher, from chapel cleaning supervisor to district activity leader, and more. He did it graciously, enjoying the spur of yet another call. He was so apt at helping a handicapped brother move from his car seat to his wheelchair and back, a ritual he performed every Sunday, that we teased him with the supplementary title of transfer coordinator.

As I had worked in the Congo for several years, I enjoyed sharing with Eugene some mannerisms I had picked up from my friends in Kinshasa. Between us, in the amusing connection we immediately felt, he would call me boss and I would call him chief. We would greet each other, our hands swinging lightly against each other and each of us looking aside. But also when greeting others, Eugene could not alter residues of his childhood upbringing, such as gazing down as a sign of respect and responding with a fluffy touch to an extended hand, as a token of meekness.

One day the mission president asked me to suggest a few names for a task in the mission. I recommended Eugene. He called him in for an interview, which lasted less than one minute. Eugene came out a little confused as to why the interview was so short and without content.

Much later the mission president told me: “Did you know that Brigham Young could immediately see what kind of person was standing before him? The spirit of discernment. There is a problem when someone avoids eye contact and gives a weak handshake.”

41 Responses to Eugene

  1. Wilfried on September 6, 2012 at 7:17 am

    I’ll make a first comment myself to clarify what I hope to get from this thread. Not a bashing of cultural myopia – which is the evident problem here –, but a discussion of cultural misapprehensions from any side in order to improve our Mormon intercultural communication. No doubt church members in other countries misinterpret certain “American” behavior, while manners of these members may convey messages other than what Americans would understand.

    For general background information, I would refer to the wikpedia article on intercultural communication.

    Of course, it is not the aim to accomodate all little cultural differences between us. The point is rather how to avoid painful misunderstandings like the one I relate in this post.

    The more specific issue here is whether the American corporate communication style, characterized by firm handshakes, strong eye contact, and smiles (which American church leadership usually displays) unwittingly becomes an additional criterium in order to be considered for leadership callings, not only abroad, but perhaps even also in the U.S. And, if so, what could be done about it?

  2. J Town on September 6, 2012 at 7:42 am

    I am in complete agreement. And I will go further. In many cases in the U.S., not only is the American corporate communication style almost mandatory, I would submit that there are other “unspoken” criteria that are considered (whether consciously or not) before someone is called to a leadership position as well.

    More and more I am seeing a person’s level of “success” (which is often apparently defined by how much they earn) as an indicator of faith and personal righteousness. The attitude appears to be “If this person is a strong, successful leader in the business world, then they have faith and a strong work ethic and would necessarily be a strong, successful leader in the church. If this other person lacks success in the business world, then he does not have the faith or diligence necessary to serve in a leadership position in the church.”

    It doesn’t appear to be an absolute requirement yet, but it’s getting more and more prevalent everywhere I go. And there are other facets of the church that I feel are impacted by this increasingly common viewpoint, which I will not go into here, so as to not digress too much from the topic. In any event, I continually am led to read and ponder 3 Nephi 6.

    I don’t know what the answer is, but I pray that someone has one.

  3. JKC on September 6, 2012 at 7:45 am

    Imposing these cultural quirks as an additional requirement for service is troubling, but to me the more disturbing issue is how easily the mission president apparently attributed his own cultural misunderstanding to a divine communication.

    Seems like the “spirit of discernment,” ought to work in the same way that other divine communications work: “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right.”

    The cultural myopia is a problem, but what makes it more disturbing is that attributing it to the spirit enthrones such myopic attitudes and creates the problem you call attention to: that cultural quirks become enthroned as markers of worthiness when they are anything but that.

  4. Howard on September 6, 2012 at 8:36 am

    The LDS culture depends heavily on cultural markers; garments, modest dress, white shirts, behavior, hand shaking, countenance, WoW, Mormon speak, etc. Acceptance and even worthiness interviews depend far too much on “like me/us” vs. “not like me/us” bias often mistaken as inspiration. This approach even substitutes for clear doctrine as a definition of LDS orthodoxy.

  5. Michael H. on September 6, 2012 at 9:06 am

    Even more than just *American* behaviors, I think members that are simply better at being corporate and bureaucratic are favored with church positions because the church’s organization structure is, in essence, corporate and bureaucratic. It’s not common to see a pensive introvert as a church leader.

  6. Paul on September 6, 2012 at 11:29 am

    I remember meeting Elder Neal A. Maxwell after a regional conference in Hiroshima. We were expats in Japan at the time and we lingered to go to the stage and shake his hand. I introduced myself and shook his hand, thinking I would move on quickly so that he could meet my wife and children and others who were waiting.

    I was surprised that the took my hand in his and held on to it, even as I tried to pull it away and continued to look at my face as he spoke to me. It was momentarily uncomfortable for me; I did not know what was happening. But I relaxed into his firm grip on my hand and enjoyed those few seconds with an apostle, feeling (right or wrong) that he was — for that moment, anyway — focused only on me.

    It is a shame that that mission president behaved as he did and that he so grossly misunderstood what happened. How easy it would have been for him to have a pre-interview with someone else who could tell him a little about the brother in question (part of the “studying it out” phase of inspiration mentioned in #3 above). A missed opportunity, to be sure.

  7. Wilfried on September 6, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Thanks for the interesting comments thus far. To what extent the “exterior look” influences our perceptions, and may even infiltrate what we feel as “inspiration”, seems an interesting topic for further study, though I have no idea how psychologists could go about measuring that.

    It reminds me of the following. Some years ago in Belgium a new stake was organized from a district, meaning a number of elders had been ordained for the first time as high priests. In the chapel hallway I met one of the newly called members of the high council. He told me, with an innocent pride, that he was also wearing a new suit, “tailored after the style and color of the General Authorities’ suits”. I don’t think there was misplaced ambition in his words: somewhat naively he wanted to emulate the G. A.’s role model, up to the material detail of their clothing. But, as I noticed later, with the suit came also some stereotype managerial behavior. As such this should not be a problem. But over the years I have seen, with some concern, leaders on stake level adopt a kind of role playing, in contrast to the familiar men they used to be and the way they used to interact. Could it be that with the corporate management style there is a risk of losing some empathy for those of “lesser” circles, while trying to earn the appreciation of higher ups?

    Perhaps that’s why it is useful to timely release stake leaders and see the local bishop call them to work in the nursery …

  8. Kerry on September 6, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    I have the same view about wearing a suit while in a Bishopric. My limited understanding of the origin of the suit comes from Western European royalty. I always had great difficulty wearing a colonial symbol in front of non-European members.

  9. Will R. on September 6, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    So, a touching story leads to another round of church-bashing. Good job, Wilfried.

  10. Paul on September 6, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    Will, which part of that story was touching?

  11. Wilfried on September 6, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    Will R. (9), what I try to do is to bring a problem under the attention in the hope that we become sensitive to some issues in the international church and perhaps try to improve things. I agree that some commenters basically confirm the existence of the problem, which is valuable to know, but I would not interpret that as church-bashing unless the style and wording would become offensive. If a commenter would go into that direction, our rules at T&S would put that comment into moderation.

  12. Paul 2 on September 6, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    Wilfried, How do things go in the other direction? How do Belgian members think of US mission presidents? Do they think of them as high ranking, important people? Most French members seem to think of the mission president as a guy who you only see at stake conference who gives a talk on missionary work. They are notable ( but not admired) for their wealth and creaky French. In the last 6 years and I can only recall someone mentioning a mission president 5 or 6 times. I have never heard a positive comment about a mission president.

  13. Suleiman on September 6, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Mormon cultural markers often serve to give away people who make assumptions about those markers .

    Yes, I wear a white shirt and tie on Sunday. I don’t swear. I am a disciplined person, devout, a BYU fan.

    Recently, there have been a rash of ward members engaging in partisan speech in my presence. They assume I am a conservative Republican (There are a few in Utah!).

    But in the last few days, in several instances from only a few, the speech has turned intensely negative and even racist about the current U.S. President. I then inform them that I am actually a Democrat. You should see their faces. I am not sure if they are embarrassed for their speech or if they resent my “treason.”

    It is so interesting to me that members cannot overcome political barriers, much less the more subtle cultural barriers. We all probably have a long way to go.

  14. Wilfried on September 6, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    Good question, Paul 2 (12). It all depends: is there only a mission in that region or do we have stake(s)? Without stakes the mission president is very visible as he is also responsible for the members. He calls district presidents (or branch presidents if there is no district yet). He is directly involved in training leaders and preparing parts of the mission to become a stake. He is the firefighter for all the major and minor member incidents that erupt, as well as the role model people look up to. During my five decades of Mormon life in Belgium (Durch speaking part), the first 30 years were all “mission”. The “old folks” still talk about the mission presidents they knew and whom they greatly admired — for the most part. Indeed, mission presidents have different personalities and some left lasting impressions. Over the years I worked closely with more than a dozen mission presidents and I would say only one lacked the empathy and cultural understanding one would expect.

    The relation totally changes when a stake is organized and the mission president disappears from the front scene and just supervises missionaries. Stake presidents report to the regional authority.

  15. wowbagger on September 6, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    Wilfried

    Merci beaucoup.

    I noticed the unusual handshake of the Zairois people in Belgium when I was a missionary there 30 years ago, but was completely unaware of its cultural significance. This was informative. I wish I had known at the time that this was a sign of respect.

  16. Wilfried on September 6, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    Suleiman (13), you raise a related issue that I have much experience with – the assumption many Utah Mormons make that good Mormons are Republicans. It ties with the sensitivity we should learn to have for each other, whether on local or on international level.

    First, we sometimes see this assumption even abroad among missionaries and older missionary couples from Utah who innocently continue to live in their bubble and are at a loss when they discover (at least if they notice) that they are surrounded by Mormons who loved Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and now are pro-Obama. That’s usually the tendency among most Europeans (and elsewhere in the world), though political talk as such is avoided in church.

    Second is Utah itself, where my wife and I have spent most of each year these past 13 years. Well, we always preferred to shut up and let the political remarks in church (“the present-day Gadianton robbers are the Democrats”, “George W. Bush is a man of God” …) pass over us, though such remarks made us cringe. But to react would only create tensions and widen the divide. Being only “converts” and moreover “with an accent” is sometimes hard enough to be accepted as part of the tribe.

    So yes, there are some issues to discuss here. But it is difficult when even attempting to do so is labeled church-bashing.

  17. Amira on September 6, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    I think it’s unfortunate that a discussion about an entirely real problem in the church (and many other organizations) gets dismissed as church bashing.

    I’d like to see more application in the lessons we teach and the talks we give on how to be a more effective international church. We talk so much about improving ourselves and trying to help the people around us, but we hardly ever have a worldwide focus. I don’t think it would be inappropriate for a 5th Sunday discussion to be led by a ward member with experience in intercultural communication. Even in the most of the traditionally white wards in Utah there is significantly more diversity than there used to be and that would be a worthwhile topic. We could do so much more to make this church truly international, no matter where we live.

    I love it when you post, Wilfried. Thanks for the great discussions recently.

  18. jennifer reuben on September 6, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    These cultural difference cause problems within the US too. I met a Relief Society President who was having a very difficult time relating to her Bishop. She found his eastern manners harsh and off-putting against her southern softness. Having lived in both cultures I could see the problem areas. As two sincere and hard working members a little discussion of their cultural differences would have helped. Taking my own advise Now that I live in Utah I need to let the ward members know that because of my cultural backgroud I am put off by uninvited physical contact including hugs. Just saying that a little education and willingness to accept differences would solve most of these issues. I would also love to discuss why my Aspie kid wouldn’t look you in the eye either.

  19. Pensive Introvert on September 6, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    Michael #5 – That’s the way I like it!

  20. Paul 2 on September 7, 2012 at 2:23 am

    Wilfried, I think you are right about the stake/district thing. Only people who have been around for a real long time have mentioned a mission president. Younger people don’t.

  21. Amanda in France on September 7, 2012 at 5:58 am

    Wilfried, I always appreciate your posts, precisely because they are euro-centric. I love reading about Utah, but I’ve never lived there and have never experienced total immersion in Mormon culture, so some of those posts feel foreign to me. Just as I enjoy reading about the Utah experience, I think it is great that you write about the Euro experience, and, unfortunately, the clashes that can arrive between the two.

    Someone asked how the French (for example) see mission presidents and, I’m assuming, other American transplants. The mission president and his wife happen to live in our ward and they have always been well-appreciated (the current president comes from the north of France, but this goes for his American predecessors as well). The problem usually is with the few American families who come for only a year or two and proceed to take over operations, telling us that we are doing it all wrong. Unfortunately, these bad examples create the stereotype of culture-ignorant know-it-alls, and the French are notoriously quick to dislike Americans. The problems come from both sides, so I think it is good to talk about culture difference and accepting and embracing that difference.

    I think we are still getting used the idea that we are an international church and that despite the fact that “the Church is the same wherever you go”, the people are not and they bring their own flavor to Church worship.

  22. J Town on September 7, 2012 at 7:22 am

    Amanda,

    Out of curiosity, who is your current mission president? Just asking because I served all over the north of France and would be interested to know.

  23. Wilfried on September 7, 2012 at 8:49 am

    I see I have some catchup in comments to do. I’ll be working on them – in order received. Thanks for your patience.

    wowbagger (15), good to hear from someone who worked in Belgium some 30 years ago. Yes, at that time the Congolese were Zairois, because Mobutu had changed the country’s name from Congo to Zaire in 1971. I was working in Kinshasa when it happened and everyone had to change their Christian first names to “authentic” African names. Now that was a cultural change deeply affecting individuals. Most of the Congolese abroad did not bother much, as there were out of reach of the repression.

    Interesting also that you noticed the different way of shaking hands but did not know the significance. These indeed are good-to-know things that could be part of intercultural education for missionaries and improve the relations and mutual understanding between people.

  24. Amanda in France on September 7, 2012 at 9:42 am

    J Town, President Poznanski. I believe they come from Lille.

  25. Wilfried on September 7, 2012 at 10:16 am

    Amira (17), indeed. You made some constructive suggestions:

    “I don’t think it would be inappropriate for a 5th Sunday discussion to be led by a ward member with experience in intercultural communication. Even in the most of the traditionally white wards in Utah there is significantly more diversity than there used to be and that would be a worthwhile topic. We could do so much more to make this church truly international, no matter where we live.”

    A regular lesson on intercultural communication would be very helpful. That is something quite different than the “international” moments some well-meaning wards organize, such as a display of foreign folklore or a meal with “ethnic” food. To celebrate diversity in such a way alone is often more alienating than inclusive, as it tends to identify the Other as a primitive curiosum. Teaching about intercultural relations and communication requires much sensitivity to ensure respect and equality. But it is feasible and would make a positive impact.

  26. Lisa D on September 7, 2012 at 11:00 am

    I am an American in an very diverse London ward and have noticed many of these different cultural markers, but do not always know what they mean, although it is usually obvious that those I find unfamiliar are well-intentioned. Thank you for shedding light on a few of them!

  27. Wilfried on September 7, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    Jenifer Reuben (18), thanks also for the constructive remarks. Indeed, much can be clarified with some more information and discussion when obvious cultural differences create tensions. I myself failed in the incident I relate in the post for I could have informed the mission president beforehand about the background and the interactive pattern Eugene used.

    You mention physical contact and hugs — indeed an area of delicate cultural differences. It’s interesting to see how this somewhat typical “Mormon hug” in Utah is speading to area’s where it is unknown or even discomforting. US expats and returned missionaries, as well as foreign visitors to Utah who pick it up, contribute to its dissemination. It sometimes leads to awkward moments where people find themselves hugged and do not really know how to respond. Nor is their a clear timing when it is appropriate or not. Moreover it tends to create some kind of discrimination between those who are hugged and those who are not. Better would be to reserve hugging for good friends of the same cultural background and outside the church realm.

    Very relevant you bring up your “Aspie kid.” People need to learn more about this. Tell us please. I know one characteristic of Asperger’s syndrome is the need to “look away” in a conversation in order to be able to concentrate on what is said. But that eye movement can be wrongly interpreted as a sign of disinterest.

    But “looking away” during a conversation, or concentrating on the mouth of the speaker rather than the eyes, is also something that can be culturally conditioned. As a matter of fact, I was brought up that way by my parents (who were born in 1906 in a very traditional Catholic environment). They impressed that “correct” behavior on me: “Be humble, look down.” To look straight in someone’s eyes is a sign of domination. The inferior person looks down to confirm acceptance of that relation. It is something not unknown in the world of primates, so it must be somewhere genetic. Up to this day, at age 65, I still have problems sustaining a conversation while keeping eye contact. It feels awkward and distracts.

  28. Wilfried on September 7, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    Amanda in France (21), always good to get comments from the Old Continent on our thread. You mention the interesting item of American expats temporarily attending church abroad as part of the intercultural communication issue. They can do a lot of good, but also some harm.

    Of course, first we need to recognize the challenges an expat family faces in terms of moving, adjustments, language barriers, and more. James Toronto has written an excellent study on Mormon American expats and the challenges and opportunities they encounter.

    The good part is when U.S. expats bring to us in their warmth of the gospel spirit, a tradition of service, and their church experience. Most important to achieve a positive effect from their stay is their learning the language and the willingness to integrate. I have seen wonderful examples of such people.

    But things can also go wrong when expats cannot limit their experience to what is official church procedures and programs and want to recreate what is familiar to them, according to their norms. Like you said, they “proceed to take over operations.” Or, conversely, they isolate themselves and spend their time in church silently “biting through” and ruminating on all the things the locals do wrong. I have seen the various scenario’s.

    Sounds like a good topic for a next post, how to make the U.S. Mormon expats’ presence the most rewarding for all involved.

  29. Sarah Familia on September 8, 2012 at 6:26 am

    My husband and I try to err on the side of going overboard when it comes to intercultural respect, but what we’ve encountered as American Mormon expats is mostly an expectation that we should know “how the church works,” and serve as a sort of receptacle of information for the holy grail of how things are done in Utah.

    When we moved to Italy, within a few weeks my husband was called into the branch presidency, and I was called into the relief society presidency. He was overwhelmed because he was still struggling with his Italian. I was overwhelmed because my previous experience in church callings was mostly limited to ward organist and choir director. Inevitably, everyone would turn to me during presidency meetings to settle a question of policy, and I would sit, racking my brain, trying to dredge up memories of what my mom did as relief society president when I was a kid.

    Amusingly enough, when we moved to Florida at the beginning of the year, our bishop called us into his office to tell us that he was new, and would really appreciate any input we had about how to run the church more like they do “out west.” With any luck, he’s now under the impression that “out west” church members are all feminists in egalitarian marriages who go out precinct-walking for the Obama campaign.

  30. Anon on September 9, 2012 at 11:37 am

    I had the opportunity to coach a basketball team that had a young man from the Phillipines on it. I learned a very valuable lesson on culture from that experience. When ever I talked to a player I expected him to look me in the eye to be sure that he was paying attention. But the culture where he came from forbade it as a sign of respect for authority. He would not look me in the eye and I grew a little upset with him. A couple of days later I learned from a teacher the difference between our cultures. I wish I had known earlier so that I could have returned that same level of respect, instead I thought he was being rude. It turns out my thinking was off base.

  31. Cameron N. on September 9, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    Wilfried,

    I am as shy as anyone and surely wouldn’t have contested the mission president’s remarks as a young missionary, but maybe the issue is more a cultural fear of correcting those in authority as much as zealous missionary coercion.

  32. Stephen R. Marsh on September 9, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    Wilfried, I can only remark about how in the Kaiserslautern Serviceman’s Stake my dad found himself in a meeting where a general authority remarked that he had interviewed every worthy high priest in the stake … which meant every officer who was a high priest and not one enlisted man who was …

    Lots of things happen. Which is too bad.

  33. jennifer reuben on September 9, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    cameron has a valid point about correcting some one in authority but as the mother bear of a “differently able” young adult it is very difficult to not shoot from the hip when the leader’s interaction is based on their cultural background. The request for more information about dealing with Aspie kids or any other special needs members is addressed in teaching manuals and No Greater Calling . It would be a great idea to become familiar with those resources if you are in a position that might interact with any member with special needs.

    Sarah 29- a reaction to her statement of being asked to provide information on church policy and practices. I and my family have been in similar situations where we were asked about church policies and practices based on others understanding of our gospel background.
    We were also called to leadership positions in a foreign country and a foreign language. However, we learned to direct most inquires to the handbook of instruction knowing we are not in the prieshood loop on current standards and policies and that all our past experience do not translate well to another cultural. Although I am sure Sarah was being light hearted when she wrote her experiences, we have seen the results of member’s personal background and experience being used as a reference for establishing programs in the “mission” field and it is not always good. Some things are church policy and others adaptable to local situations and inspiration. Local leadership need to grow and learn to use their local councils. The best thing an American can do in a foreign church ward or branch is to become a sustaining member and support local leadership development. It is difficult and rewarding gospel work. This is also true of a Utah Mormon living where there are inexperienced local leadership. A senior leadership mission is a very good way to appropriately influence and help local units that need additional help.

  34. Wilfried on September 9, 2012 at 11:57 pm

    I see the thread continues to spark interest. Thanks! I’ll comment in order received. Thanks for the patience.

    Sarah Familia (29), that is certainly a pleasant account of your expat experiences. I agree that many local leaders with little or hesitant experience will look up at those who come from the Promised Land. No doubt your family did a great job. It would be fun to do a survey of some of the ideas that members abroad have of the Mormon West if they have never been there.

    “With any luck, [the bishop] is now under the impression that “out west” church members are all feminists in egalitarian marriages who go out precinct-walking for the Obama campaign.”

    LOL! That’s what I call appropriate intercultural education.

  35. Sarah Familia on September 10, 2012 at 6:04 am

    #33 “Although I am sure Sarah was being light hearted when she wrote her experiences, we have seen the results of member’s personal background and experience being used as a reference for establishing programs in the “mission” field and it is not always good. Some things are church policy and others adaptable to local situations and inspiration.”

    You are totally right, and thank you for pointing that out. My Italian branch mostly wanted ideas for ward activities that were WAY too complicated and work-intensive for our little branch. I had the nightmare of my life when I got put in charge of the very grandiosely planned branch Christmas party. I’ll have to post that experience here sometime. It was very culturally enlightening for me.

  36. Wilfried on September 10, 2012 at 8:56 am

    Anon (30), the incident you recall is telling. Eye contact or not is indeed one of the cultural behaviors that is easily misunderstood. In particular in our church interaction, where we have so much personal visual contact in interviews, talks, and lessons, the matter is important. I hope American leaders who visit saints abroad and talk with them realize that aspect. At the same time, local members must understand that the “straight looking in the eye” of the American visitor is not a sign of arrogance or domination. But, as mentioned earlier, there is a certain risk that relations will best “click” with those who best respond to the American behavioral expectations. Hence the tendency to call to higher leadership positions those who also best match a certain cultural behavior.

    Cameron N. (31) you are right to also draw the attention to authority relations. There is indeed a cultural fear of correcting those in authority, reinforced by the church culture of obedience. It does not make it easier to get helping messages across. A post like this and the constructive comments can help a little, we hope.

  37. Coreen on September 10, 2012 at 8:57 am

    What a great post, a tribute to an obviously great man. I must say, though, how insecure are we as a people and a church as a whole if any scrutinizing we do is taken as “church bashing”? My husband is an atomic physicist. He loves atoms, he spends an inordinate amount of time with them (I should know), he seeks to know everything there is to know about them. Does that mean he doesn’t take every opportunity he has to break them up and study them to learn more? Doesn’t mean he doesn’t love them? How can we improve the church if we don’t contemplate, make an analysis, and then do better? I always thought that was what D&C 98 was all about, line upon line, precept upon precept.

  38. Chadwick on September 10, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    I’m saddened by the description that you can really get to know somebody based on a handshake and the look in their eyes, but it probably explains why I’m either the ward organist or a primary teacher all the time.

    When I was overseas my experience was quite the opposite. I usually sat back and let the ward run itself (though I did take over piano duty after the first verse being sung a capella and I don’t think any one minded too much). I was surprised at how much the members in India knew, to be honest, and thought it was awesome that they knew the details of the Mountain Meadow Massacre and knew all about Stephen Spaulding. They really had studied the theology as well as the history.

    There was one Sunday where everyone looked to me to answer a question. The Mission President’s first counsellor vehemently disagreed with me so I let it go. It was about something silly like grave dedications so I didn’t challenge his challenge.

    Then I moved to YM. I harped on them a lot about going to BYU, because I think the experience would be so rewarding for them. Maybe that was seen as pushy American. But otherwise I tried to lay low.

    The other expat families in this branch seemed to do the same, for the most part. From the sounds of it, though, we appear to have been in the minority in terms of expat style.

  39. Wilfried on September 10, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    Stephen R. Marsh (32), your remark shows how difficult it must be for a G.A. not to offend someone somewhere. It’s not only cultural sensitivity, but also vivid attention in the details of interaction. Part of the issue is also how much members look up at G.A.’s and expect from them that sensitivity and social attention. From my long experience in the mission field, and I know this sounds arrogant, it would have been nice if sometimes we could have briefed a visiting G.A. beforehand about some do’s and don’ts. As gentle suggestions…

    Jennifer Reuben (33), thanks for reminding us to be sensitive to special needs members. It is very much part of the general topic of sensitivity.

    Thanks also for drawing attention to the expats experience, to which Sarah Familia (35) and Chadwick (38) add from their perspective and experiences. This topic would be worth a separate post. US expats have a significant impact on many church units abroad. Would the church not have some guidelines to help both sides – expats and locals – gain as much as possible from the exchange?

    Coreen (37), we appreciate the support!

  40. David LaBau on September 17, 2012 at 2:33 am

    These are the times we hate it that church leaders are merely human like the rest of us. Fortunately, most of us learn in life that we are imperfect and that no matter our position, are perfectly capable of acting like an idiot. None of us are immune.

  41. mikkers on November 27, 2012 at 5:39 am

    Ik weet dat er geen volmaakte mensen bestaan. Ook weet ik dat een kerk door mensen wordt gevormd. Zonder mensen geen kerk. Maar een kerk waarvan wordt gesteld dat het de enige ware kerk van Christus is daar verwacht men ook dat de mensen die daartoe behoren zich inspannen om dit beeld van zuiverheid en oprechtheid maximaal tot zijn recht te laten komen.Ik ben 18 jaar lid geweest en heb in vele functies gediend en heb ervaren dat liegen, bedriegen, kwetsen, bedreigen, manipuleren, roddelen,bezoedelen van iemands naam,onrechtvaardig behandelen tot de orde van de dag behoren. Zelfs zeer hoog geplaatste autoriteiten binnen de kerk doen er aan mee.
    Ook als zij inzien dat hun handelen fout is of was dan kan er nog geen sorry van af.
    Is het dan vreemd dat je geloof aan een dergelijke kerk onmogelijk wordt gemaakt. Ik heb wel bewondering voor mensen binnen die kerk die onwetend van dergelijke zaken trouw blijven in het geloof dat deze kerk de enige weg is om terug te keren bij God. Tegen hen is ook niets van mijn verwijt gericht, doch juist tegen die leiders willens en wetens de hun verleende autoriteit en daaraan gekoppelde macht misbruiken, zoals omschreven in hun eigen boeken zoals bijv. Leer en verbonden 121.
    Het meewerken aan zo een institutie waarin dit wordt getolereerd is voor mij onaanvaardbaar en liet voor mij ook maar een weg open namelijk te breken met deze kerk, die probeert haar eigen fouten en disfunctioneren te verbergen naar buiten.
    Het breken met deze kerk heeft voor mij niet geleid tot het verwerpen van mijn geloof, meer dan ooit ben ik overtuigd van Jezus Christus als Zoon van God en Zijn liefde voor onvolmaakte mensen en Zijn zoenoffer voor hen en ook mij.