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There’s much more to Mormonism than this

The truth of Mormon

As a Mormon living in Japan, I would like to take a moment to comment on John Spiri’s article “Against all odds, Mormons in Japan soldier on” (Zeit Gist, Oct. 23).

It is nice to see more written on the church, although I am not sure I appreciate how it was presented. Starting the article with references to Bill Maher, Robert Jeffress and even including the Broadway satire “The Book of Mormon” really set the tone for the author’s take on our religion. It is obvious that we are considered a joke to Mr. Spiri, as he tries to portray us as a deluded “cult.”

Of course, we Mormons are rather used to being spoken of in such a manner, and many critics point to those things spoken of in this article as proof that we are a “weird” religion, as Mr. Maher so eloquently put it. I just wanted to take this opportunity to talk about our beliefs in a different light.

I did serve a mission when I was 19, in southern Chile. Where are you going to find a church that sends young men in their prime to serve for two years without any form of payment? Was I brainwashed? Was I threatened? Never! I truly believe that any man can find out the truth of these things for themselves if only they would ask God. That is about as basic as I can put it.

Members are always challenged to pray and meditate on what we teach and see for ourselves if what we teach is true. As a 19-year-old at that time, that was all I could do. I didn’t have years of experience in theology or any sort of training in persuading people. We only ask people to try this for themselves and find their own answers.

My mission prepared me for my future in a way I think no school could have ever done. It prepared me to speak in front of hundreds of people, gave me the confidence to walk up to total strangers and strike up a conversation. It has been invaluable in my lowly job as a teacher here in Japan. I am truly grateful for that experience.

Many people, including (former Mormon) Yuko Cardon, say that we ask too much of our members, but we are not required to do anything; we are only asked to find out for ourselves, through prayer, if we should or should not. That is it. That is why so many people join. Some do leave, and they are free to do so.

So the question comes down to this: Do you believe that God answers prayers? If you do, you can find out if the Book of Mormon is true. If you don’t, that’s cool — we can still be friends.

Even in Japan, where it might be considered rude to turn down tea if offered, that refusal brings its own chance to share in what I believe. Do I want to baptize everyone I meet? That would be nice, but no. I think refusing opens the door to a very meaningful conversation, where I can share something truly personal with my host, instead of relying on the usual boring small talk we use and forget every day. I get a chance to reveal something very sacred and special to me, and that is more important than being afraid of offending my host by refusing tea.

Being Mormon is tough. We are different. We do stand out. But let one thing be clear: Our motivation, our goal, is to serve. To live a life as Jesus did. To give of ourselves for our brethren, all of mankind.

Thanks for writing about us, Mr. Spiri. Thanks for sharing about our contributions to the events after 3/11. I hope you can see us for what we are trying to be — true followers of Jesus Christ, and not a group of crazy people weaving “Star Wars” into our beliefs to appease everyone else.

NICOLAS DURAN

Satsumasendai, Kagoshima

Confusing the Latter-day Saints

John Spiri’s excellent article was a great pleasure to read, very skillfully written with occasional displays of rare and wonderful wit, informative without being pedantic or meretricious — I hope we will see more of this talented writer. And, if I may say so, less and less of the moans and gripes of dissatisfied part-time teachers in the “community” of Tokyo.

Occasionally I am visited by these friendly and unassuming missionaries of Mormon. From a second floor window I see them standing at the gate, shut but not locked, and note the clean white shirts, the dark trousers and very large shoes.

I walk downstairs and greet them. Polite, sincere and nice-minded, we exchange our views. Alas, they appear not to understand the claims of dialectal materialism and are somewhat vacuous when it comes to defining one’s personal gods or goddesses, even though there are hundreds of them.

Nevertheless, I suggest giving these cheerful representatives a pleasant time and perhaps offering them some of that St. Valentine’s candy, guaranteed to send them off happy and a little confused.

ALLAN STOOPS

More than one superpower

I quote from your story on Mormonism: “And a Mormon, Republican Party candidate Mitt Romney, is now only weeks away from potentially taking the reins of world’s only military and economic superpower.”

Really? The USA is massively in debt — to the tune of trillions of dollars — to communist China, which has a huge army and is quickly accumulating a vast blue-water navy. It survives solely on its government-subsidized defense industries and therefore prospers only when on a war footing.

ROSS LEE

Aldinga Beach, Australia

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