Magazine article Foreign Policy

The Mormon Missionary

Magazine article Foreign Policy

The Mormon Missionary

Article excerpt

Being a Mormon missionary can be slow work. Over 16 months, Daniel Harlow, 19, has helped convert only three or four people. "Our purpose is to invite others to come to Christ," says the soft-spoken native of Leeds, England, whose mission has brought him to Kosovo. "We don't force anyone to try to do things. So it can be pretty frustrating when you're trying to help people and they're not helping themselves."

Harlow is among 83,000 full-time missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who serve in 405 missions around the world. The number of full-time missionaries has risen by some 40 percent since 2012, when the church lowered the minimum age for serving from 19 to 18 for men and from 21 to 19 for women. But conversions haven't kept pace; The church recorded just 3.4 baptisms per missionary in 2013, compared with 4.6 in 2012.

The church still struggles with its image, particularly the perception of Mormons as oddballs who shun fun and practice polygamy (which the church actually banned over a century ago). But this stereotype is virtually unknown in Kosovo, where the church has only hosted a mission since 2011. "[People] don't really slam the door like they do in England," Harlow says.

To be sure, work in Kosovo is not without danger. As of June, two alleged jihadists were being held in connection with a November 2013 attack on two women serving as missionaries in Pristina, the country's capital. (Although not particularly religious, Kosovo is predominantly Muslim, and radicalism is on the rise.) But Harlow says the incident hasn't given him pause about his work. "If something's going to happen," he says, "it's going to happen."

Harlow's life is highly regimented. After waking up at 6:30 each morning and exercising for a mission-mandated 30 minutes, he distributes pamphlets on streets or at front doors and follows up with potential converts. Bedtime is 10:30 p.m. Contact with home is limited to weekly emails and two calls per year-typically on Mother's Day and Christmas. Dating is forbidden.

In May, Foreign Poucy met with Harlow at the local church headquarters-a storefront space with some furniture, a piano, and a ping-pong table-to learn about what he takes with him for a typical day of preaching the Book of Mormon.

Shoulder bag

The American missionaries are not as keen about those shoulder-strap bags. …

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