The New Face of Global Mormonism
Tech-Savvy Missionary Church Thrives as Far Afield as Africa
By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, November 19, 2007; A01
LAGOS, Nigeria -- Outside Zion Osandu Ndukwe's one-room apartment, a naked toddler ran up and down a filthy hallway lit by a single candle. The power in the overcrowded slum was off yet again. The stench of urine from the communal bathroom overpowered the fragrance of spices in the bubbling soup that a neighbor stirred in the dark passage.
But this night, the misery all around Ndukwe -- the crime, the uncollected trash, the bathtub-size potholes, the dilapidated cars belching black smoke -- stopped at his door. It was a Monday evening, and because Ndukwe, 39, had been baptized into the Mormon Church six months earlier, that meant it was time to be with his family and sing God's praises.
"I am a child of God!" he sang, as he, his wife and their 4-year-old daughter celebrated in loud, joyous voices a faith once known for its all-white, all-American membership.
"I'm a changed man," Ndukwe said, sitting on a bed that took up most of his apartment. "I used to drink. I had girlfriends outside my marriage. I don't do that anymore, and I feel better. The Mormon Church contributed 100 percent to the change."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as it is formally known, now has more members outside the United States than inside it. The church's rise from its roots in Utah to a steadily growing global faith in 176 countries and territories has been aided by the Internet, including the popular Web site http://www.mormon.org, which seeks to dispel the mystery that still surrounds the religion; by a satellite system linking 6,000 of its churches worldwide with the Salt Lake City headquarters; and by tens of thousands of missionaries knocking on doors from Lagos to Lapland.
As the world's largest faiths -- Islam, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism and Hinduism -- expand across the developing world, smaller faiths such as Mormonism are also gaining strength. The Mormon Church, which did not permit blacks to become priests until 1978, says it now has more than 250,000 members in Africa, including almost 80,000 in Nigeria.
Mormonism, which teaches that an American named Joseph Smith was a prophet who received visions from God about how to restore the true and original Christian church, had 1.7 million members in 1960. Today, according to church statistics, it has about 13 million, more than 7 million of them outside the United States.
The church's landmark six-spire temple in Maryland, along the Capital Beltway in the Washington suburb of Kensington, was its first east of the Rocky Mountains when it opened in 1974. Now there are Mormon temples in more than 40 countries, from China to Finland to Ghana, and more than 8,400 Mormon churches or meetinghouses abroad, with a new one built nearly every day.
As the church grows in numbers and diversity, it is gaining global recognition.
"A lot of people think nothing but polygamy" when they hear of the Mormons, said Rodney Stark, a religious studies specialist at Baylor University in Texas, even though that practice has been outlawed by the church for more than a century. But as more people acquire Mormon friends and neighbors, Stark said, Mormons "are no longer seen as a peculiar little sect. They are too big."
Jan Shipps, a Methodist scholar who has written extensively about the Mormons, said, "When a cult grows up, it becomes a culture."'Happiness and Peace'
Early Sunday morning in the dusty Oshodi neighborhood of Lagos, before the tropical sun pressed down like a heavy steam iron, the noisy streets were teeming. Women carried bundles on their heads -- cans of paint or a sewing machine. Creaking yellow buses, missing doors, were overcrowded. Wealthier people drove past in ancient Mercedes sedans discarded by faraway owners.
Amid the seemingly endless shacks and open sewers on haphazard Llesanmi Street, one lovely place stood out: a gated, cream-colored compound with a steepled church. Inside the spotless chapel, about 170 people sat in neat rows under whirring ceiling fans as an organist played quiet hymns. Almost every worshiper was black, and every male worshiper wore a white shirt and tie.
One after another, adults and children walked to the microphone and professed their devotion to the Mormon faith. Their reasons for joining it were diverse, but nearly all had once belonged to a larger Christian church they found lacking. Perhaps most of all, they said, they were initially attracted to the Mormon belief that devout families stay together eternally, not just until death.
Joshua Matthews Ebiloma, 40, a sales manager for a power generator company, said the Mormons offered him "peace of mind" he had not found anywhere else.
Nigeria is half Muslim and almost half Christian, and proselytizing foreigners, from the United States to Saudi Arabia, are pouring millions of dollars into the African nation of 135 million to expand their faiths.
Ebiloma has sampled a range of them. He was born into a pagan family and still bears the scars of tribal markings carved into his cheeks when he was young. After attending Muslim schools as a child, he tried various Christian churches before finding what he described as "happiness and peace" in Mormonism.
Now, Ebiloma nodded and smiled as fellow Mormons told their stories. One woman described the joy of having her family "sealed," a ritual that Mormons believe ensures that families stay together beyond death. Another said she believed that tithing -- the Mormon practice of members giving one-tenth of their income to the church -- "would bring great blessings."
A third woman praised Gordon B. Hinckley, the 97-year-old church president in Salt Lake City, who followers believe receives divine revelations. "I know President Hinckley is the living prophet," she said, just as amplified clapping and stomping in a nearby Pentecostal church began drowning out more testimonies.
"It is quiet and more organized in here," Ebiloma said later. "In other churches, people are shouting at the top of their lungs, sweating so much they need a hanky. One thing I know for sure: God is not deaf."there is more to the article, but i don't want this to take too much space. if you want to read the rest...click here.