Mormon Missionary Impossible: Mitt Romney’s French education
To understand why Mitt Romney persists in the face of rejection, opposition and indifference from his own party, look no further than the two and a half years he spent in France, getting up at 6:30 a.m. every day to venture forth and have doors slammed in his face for 10 hours.
The fresh-faced Latter-Day Saints who came to France in the late 1960s to preach the message of Jesus Christ — of whom Republican presidential candidate Romney is the best known — discovered a secular and sceptical populace, and few willing converts.
On bad days, the young Americans were greeted with guns, or barking dogs chased at their heels. Romney has said his mission, which took him through Le Havre, Paris and Bordeaux, was testing.
But it was precisely this challenge that helped cement Romney’s tenacity and his faith, say current and former missionaries.
“Being a missionary was not an easy thing,” said Christian Euvrard, director of the church-run Paris Institute of Religion, who remembers Romney as outgoing and enthusiastic in his work. “You can’t go home without having learned a lot of lessons.”
David Wood, who served at the same time as Romney, called their experience “character-building” and “life-changing”.
“It was difficult work, we spent a lot of time going from door to door … It was tough going,” he said of the mission. “It solidified his beliefs in the church, certainly gave him ample opportunity to develop leadership skills, skills in motivating people.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or LDS church, today counts nearly 36,000 Mormons in France, many of whom are the product of the work of the missionaries who for decades have followed a similar path of rigorous proselytising.
Missionary work is a central tenet of the Mormon faith. Some 52,000 missionaries currently serve in 350 missions around the world, from France — where Mormon missionaries first showed up midway through the 19th century — to more recent, far-flung frontiers like Papua New Guinea or Madagascar.
Using missionaries to boost international growth — a goal wherever the political climate allows, regardless of the predilection of the local populace — has helped make the LDS church a 14 million-member global church with more Mormons outside the United States than in.
“The main focus of a mission is to go out and help people find the joy of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” said Kenneth Cope, a missionary in France in the 1980s. “But a very great by-product would be you grow into a man, you grow into a woman, you grow up.”