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IMB missionaries counter Mormon onslaught overseas

GUATEMALA CITY (BP)–George and Helen Hardeman arrived at the airport to pick up two new colleagues for Southern Baptist missionary work in Guatemala and counted 12 new Mormon missionaries getting off the same plane.
Unlike the Hardemans’ International Mission Board colleagues, the Mormons already spoke Spanish for a two-year mission in Guatemala.
Ken and Patty Sorrell, IMB missionaries in western Guatemala, opened their front door one day to find a pair of Mormon missionaries inquiring about renting a room from them. The Sorrells soon observed that Mormon missionaries were renting rooms in nationals’ homes as part of a strategy to learn the language and develop contacts.
IMB missionaries Gary and Lily Stone live in Ixchiguan, a village perched 10,000 feet high in the Guatemalan mountains near Mexico. They’ve had no encounters with Mormons there yet, but he’s convinced when the onslaught begins, it’s not going to be easy to counter. Stone, who wrote a doctoral thesis on how to counteract the Mormon offensive, notes that Baptists often are their targets.
In some parts of the world — especially Brazil, Chile, Mexico, the Philippines and Central America — Mormons are growing at extraordinarily high rates. Their missionary force dwarfs the number of Southern Baptist personnel.
“Mormons plan strategically,” said Phil Templin, regional leader for the IMB’s Middle America region. Templin quoted a Mormon leader in one area as saying they recorded the addresses of every door on which they’d knocked.
Mormon leaders report some 5,300 members of their worldwide missionary force work in a region from the Rio Grande to Panama. Southern Baptists maintain about 333 missionaries in the same area. Mormons say 40,000 of their missionaries serve outside the United States. By comparison, the International Mission Board assigns 4,200 missionaries.
One quirk in Mormon theology gives Mormons a slight emotional edge in Middle America. Mormonism teaches that Jesus visited the Mayan Indians there for a short period after his crucifixion. Mormon paintings depict him at ancient Mayan temple sites.
Gary Stone says he believes the defense against Mormonism needs to be twofold:
— doing a better job of theologically training Baptist lay people;
— creating a sense of community within the churches, including disciplingmembers better.
One without the other won’t do the job, he says. A friendly Mormon arrives at a Baptist member’s home with an interest in the well-being of the family and uses that — instead of theology — as the door-opener, Stone says. Baptists in the region are vulnerable because they don’t know basic Baptist doctrine and principles. They also know little about Mormon theology and naively accept some of their basic tenets without questioning the underlying theology behind it, he said.
“Mormons tell the people, ‘You are God’s chosen people,’ and that is very powerful. Then they tell the people, ‘You are going to reign for ever and ever (on their own planets),’ and that really captures them.”
The Mormons already have arrived in western Guatemala, where IMB missionaries Ken and Patti Sorrell work among the Kekchi Indians, who are part of the Mayan people group in Central America. Their city, Coban, has become a beehive of Mormon activity. “They promise the people the nicest churches in the area, and they also promise school buildings if they need them,” said Sorrell.
Mormon missionaries in Central America average 10 new converts into the church each year, said William Bradford, Mormon area president for Central America. Their one-on-one witnessing technique pays off in new converts, and also protects against the “back door, he said.
“We don’t just take someone in because they say they want to be a member,” he stressed. “Our missionaries teach six lessons in 20 to 30 sessions (with individuals and families). The individuals are then asked how they feel about it. They are interviewed about whether they truly believe the doctrine. They must not drink or smoke or take illegal drugs, and they must be morally stable. After all that, then they are baptized by immersion for the remissionof their sins, then confirmed by the laying on of hands.”

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  • Louis Moore