December 05, 2010

Good heavens, the Mormon church finally stopped hassling me

Every Chinese who comes to the U.S. or Canada soon or later encounters missionaries who try to convert him/her. Some Chinese receive baptism. Others view churches as a place to network (or where they can receive freebies). Still, there are some who never convert, and a subset write about their experiences. Here is one of the blog articles recounting such experiences.

Translation: 天呢, 终于摆脱了摩门教的纠缠 by 美国进步中国女青年 on Wenxuecity

On a beautiful summer day in 2010 (Saturday), I held a yard sale by my house, trying to get rid of the numerous stuff I had accumulated.

After noon, the number of interested buyers dropped to almost zero. As I was resting in the cradle1, two young, handsome, and cheerful white American men approached. I quickly stood up to say hi. One young man introduced himself as Edward, and the other Joshua. Both belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have heard about Mormons before but never met any believers. Out of curiosity, I chatted with them and thus stupidly torched myself, because when they perceived my interest, they became really enthusiastic.

They asked if I believed in God. I answered no. (My husband has been trying to convert me for the last 10 years with pitifully little success).

They asked about my beliefs and ambitions. I told them that I have no beliefs. Being born in China, all I knew at the beginning was Chairman Mao. God? Who is that? Besides I am old, so it is hard for me to suddenly welcome a God into my life. What I want from this life? Pot roast used to be the extent of my aspirations because I was frequently hungry as a young child. Now that hunger isn't an issue anymore, I just wish my houses could double in value. Yes, I am of those who are hopeless.

Amazed to find such a philistine as me, The fires of these young men's work zeal burned even higher. Edward said, It's okay, God has sent me to bring you salvation. I felt highly amused. Someone who isn't old enough to know anything is trying to save me!

They showed no signs of leaving. I mentioned that it was getting late, and I must clean up. Without needing another word, they started putting everything back in place. Since it was a hot day, I couldn't very well ask them to leave right after they helped me. I invited them to come inside. The polite young men drank some water and left. Before going, however, they asked for my phone number, promising to come back next week when I wasn't so tired. I pondered, here are 2 people who lent me a hand. Sure, I don't mind giving them my number and my email. That same evening, an email from Edward arrived. He expressed the pleasure of meeting me and wrote I was a good person. He hoped to have a chance of saving me. The letter ended with proverbs from the Bible. I replied out of politeness. Then Edward began emailing me once in the morning and again in the evening. I stopped responding. On Thursday, he called to say they would like to drop by. I thought that was totally not necessary--I mean, hadn't we just seen each other? But he expressed strong desire to see me again, so I had to agree. When he came, he was clearly in an elated mood, probably thinking he was doing God's great work and he wasn't far from victory. (Knowing this passion came from not being paid, I am very impressed). Edward came with Bible in hand and stayed for more than an hour, explaining the Bible the whole time. I basically spaced out and didn't hear a word. Finally, he stood up to go. He inquired about my thoughts, to which I replied I didn't have any. I said the Bible was written in ancient English, and I barely understood modern English. I told a lie just to get them to stop coming, but they already have a plan for the likes of me. Edward told me it was okay, that there are people in his church who speak Chinese.

The weekend after, 2 boys who looked like they could be members of the F4 visited my house. One was Malaysian Chinese. The other had Chinese-English ancestry. My, were they extremely good-looking. This made me revise my estimation of the ability of the Church that was able to recruit so many good-looking people. They arrived speaking awkward Chinese. I mentioned that I was busy. They indicated a willingness to wait. So, while I did chores, one taught my daughter piano, and the other taught my son how to draw. Two hours later, my guilty conscience finally drove me downstairs to sit through another Bible session.

This marked the beginning of a deluge of emails, phone calls, inquiries, and weekend visits. Eventually, I had to say I was going on weekend vacations, but that was no use because they had time on weekdays too. I couldn't do it during the day. They said they can come at night. I was occupied in the evenings. They said they can visit during the day. They were so polite and so nice that I didn't know how to refuse.

Finally, they invited me to their Church. I replied that my car broke down. They said, no problem, we will pick you up. Backed to a hard spot, I couldn't help but go. And were they enthusiastic when they saw me. Everyone came up to say hi. "We are so glad to have you here." I didn't dare to stay too long. But before I could go, one person stopped me--the Bishop would like to see me. I thought to myself, heavens, this affair just escalated. I went to see the Bishop, who was also a mature, attractive man. He asked how I felt. I answered, okay, everybody was nice. The Bishop asked if I had a desire to join their Church. I answered, no. He wanted to know why. I finally said: "I dislike polygamy when it is one husband possessing many wives. I would consider Mormonism when I get to have a few more husbands." The Bishop immediately ordered me to leave. And I never heard from them after that.

1 She might mean a hammock.


sanchahe wrote on 2010-11-12 13:09:51
Mormons are very devout, and they conduct missionary work out of faith. If you are not interested, then you must make it very clear when you decline. A lot of people think they are badgering, but really it is because Chinese and Americans express themselves differently. Anything less than a point-blank "no" will convince Mormons that we are receptive and prompts more visits from them. We can choose not to believe, but I think it appears shallow and frivolous to talk sarcastically about these devout believers and a religion that we don't understand.

bighousee wrote 2010-11-11 20:57:46
All these Christian churches recruit good-looking men and women for missionary work. I have met several groups already, and one person in the group always turns out to be a pretty girl. This is their marketing strategy.

忘记你忘记我 wrote on2010-11-09 14:14:40
Hehe, the very last reply is awesome.

Mormonism has now become a name only. The church forbids divorce, but a lot of Mormons I have met are divorced. The church also prohibits pre-marital sex. How many really follow that?

jun100 wrote on 2010-11-09 16:28:03
This is what you get for liking beautiful boys too much and taking advantage of them, even letting them teach your children. Everybody who dared knocked on our door were scared away by Confucius. Next time, tell them: Saint Confucius ordered us to stay away from ghosts and gods. The saint didn't have the courage to say there are no spirits, only that he was already mired by the responsibilities of this world, which left him no energy to contemplate the spiritual. If the great Confucius could not manage both at the same time, what can we do?...I have never met an missionary who managed an repartee to this...One wife and several husbands? You are too crude...But anyways, keep on writing and making us laugh

mikecwu wrote on 2010-11-10 13:28:52
I have been to many churches, include Mormon ones. In the end, they are all Christians with minor differences. I have learned a lot about western history and culture. The experiences expanded my horizon. I have witnessed the great things Christianity does for the psychology of its believers, and I greatly benefit from it.

The most important Western holiday, Christmas, is a religious holiday, whereas the most important Chinese holiday, Chinese New Year, has nothing to do with religion.

Religion is a component of Western culture--people's lives revolve around their religious beliefs. Our religion is our Chinese culture--we live for a splendid culture.

新晴 wrote on 2010-11-11 15:33:12
Mormons send two men out on these trips. Jehovah's Witnesses send out two women. I forget which sects send one man and one women. I have also met Mormons previously. They asked me what are my goals in life. I said, I never thought about this question. They asked what I believe in. I didn't mention Communism, but I did say I am a believer of physicalism. I wanted to know if they know about physicalism. They replied no. So I made up some stuff, which caused them to look at each other silently. They soon left and never came back. They probably think I couldn't be saved.


  1. I usually say that I'm already part of a religion. You all can try this too, preferably one that's slightly infamous like Islam. A lot of these young missionaries are idealistic, energetic and have the right spirit but have to put all that into these type of activities (for Mormons, they are are required to serve 2 years I think). You don't really have to straight say no to their faces, just skillfully ignore them and give them the impression you have some type of strong belief, could be religion or atheism, and try not to engage in any productive discussion. It's worked for me.

  2. I was a Mormon missionary asked to speak with/teach Southeast Asian immigrants. I primarily learned Khmer but we ended up being the default resource for teaching anyone from an Asia-Pacific cultural background.

    I thought I'd dispel a few myths and then give my two cents about how such encounters can be more satisfying or at least amicable. First, Mormons do not actively recruit good looking people to be missionaries or leaders, we have our fair share of ugly people :) The one place where the church could possibly be accused of being biased for pleasant appearance is the missionaries it uses at the major tourist destination of Temple Square in Salt Lake, it is even a point of fun teasing in Mormon circles when you meet someone who was a missionary assigned to Temple Square. Overall though I think what you are really seeing is two things: first Mormons have a high value, both culturally and doctrinally, for cleanliness, order, and even beauty without going over the top. I was able to observe many people convert to Mormonism and it has a noticeable effect on the cleanliness of their house, their appearance, their speech, etc. It is not demanded it just becomes intrinsically valued to a greater degree under the Mormon world view. The second reason is changing norms in religious dress while the Mormons have remained more conservative. In many churches in the United States it is now normal for people to go to church in jeans and t-shirts and otherwise not "dress-up" for church. The Mormons have maintained the practice of dressing up, looking professional, etc and because the Mormon church has its roots in America the dressed up, professional look is very Western-business, i.e. suits and ties for the men, blouses and skirts for the women.

    Couple quick points: Mormons are not required to serve two years but it is encouraged and culturally expected for all young men to serve two years, it is viewed as a priesthood responsibility, norm is 19-21 years of age. Of active families 80-90% of young men go. Of all baptized members only 30% of young men go. Young women are welcome and sometimes encouraged to serve but it is not viewed as a responsibility, norm is 18 months from 21-23. Wikipedia is a good source.

    Also, Mormons typically don't walk around looking to "save" people or use that language and mindset. It sounds more evangelical. Of course Mormons are expressly looking to share the message of Jesus Christ and the belief in the purpose of this life that would require the role of Jesus Christ as Savior.
    So that's it for myths.

    But I think the more interesting topic here is the cultural exchange. I think one main cultural clash that makes such encounters frustrating for both parties is that most young Mormon missionaries do not have a very good sense for the extent and nuances of the practice of savings face in many Asian cultures. The other main misunderstanding I think is how strongly philosophies such as Buddhism and Confucianism are deeply part of cultural identity and not really viewed as religious beliefs or practices. I also think many Asian immigrants struggle to understand what freedom of religion means to Americans and that religious persuasion is deeply personal but also functions much more like a marketplace in the United States than what they may have been accustomed to in their homelands.

    I do think it is a beautiful thing about America that you can have a garage sale and end up discussing deep philosophical and potentially controversial questions about the purpose of life, questions of happiness and the afterlife with complete strangers and even invite them into your house and when it came to the point that that you saw things differently it did not result in war or bigotry. America is a beautiful marketplace of ideas.

  3. Had to laugh when I saw this story - given what happened with the pair that came to my family's door back in about 1974 timeframe in Detroit. My family had a Norwegian Elkhound, who wasn't much keen on vistors, which usually kept from staying on the porch too long. One day, a pair of Mormons paid a visit, and launched into their pitch to my mother, who tried to politely shoo them away while the dog was sleeping. Of course, being on the mission they were on, they didn't take the hint.

    Cue the dog waking up, and realizing there were strangers on the porch and possibly harrassing "Mommy". In a scene straight out of the movies - the Elkhound decided to defend "Mommy" by running full speed into the metal screen/panel door - punching out the lower panel to arrive at the porch a ball of fur, metal strips, and teeth! By the time my mother got the dog to settle down on the porch, the two missionaries were spotted peering from around the corner of the house two doors down - most likely with a matching pair of soiled shorts. The Lord may work in mysterious ways, but a dog is direct and to the point.

  4. I've found that Chinese immigrants are REALLY polite with missionaries -- good evidence is the commenter to the original post above that says "Americans and Chinese express themselves differently." I don't think that's particularly true -- it's just that a lot of Americans already know the scam, so they treat missionaries differently than they would regular people. Having been targeted in Hong Kong and Macao more times than I can remember, I have a kind of way I hold my mouth now that causes missionaries to literally step off the sidewalk in front of me as I pass. I guess it's a snarl?

    Maybe it's because the religious have been persecuted in China, or because as new members of a foreign society they're trying to be kind and polite, but I treat missionaries more like I would (healthy, aggressive) beggars, and they treat them more like potential friends.

  5. @DStoke

    Thanks for your perspective

  6. @Matthew A. Sawtell

    The "soiled shorts" of which you speak were not ordinary underwear, but the magical "temple garments" as worn by adherents of this faith. These underclothes are considerably more expensive than non-magical underwear.


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