Third in a Three-Part Series on the Worldwide Church
The gospel of Jesus Christ is more than a set of teachings. It’s a community of real people living in real places.
In the early years of the Church, during the 1800s, the Latter-day Saints gathered in one spot to build a spiritual community. They often called it Zion. Emigrating from North America, Europe and the Pacific isles, these converts left everything familiar for the rocky climes of Utah. Together they forged a new home but never lost sight of their own native lands. An old Mormon hymn captures the feeling:
O home belov’d, where’er I wander,
On foreign land or distant sea,
As time rolls by, my heart grows fonder
And yearns more lovingly for thee!
Tho fair be nature’s scenes around me,
And friends are ever kind and true,
Tho joyous mirth and song surround me,
My heart, my soul still yearn for you.
In recent generations, Latter-day Saints no longer gather in one place but instead foster community in their own homelands and congregations. No matter where we find ourselves, the people we love and the places we live are in our bones.
The Particular and the Universal
Much has been said in recent years about globalization and how technology and commerce bring different cultures closer together. But local ways of life have not disappeared. People appreciate the peculiarities of their own cultures all the more.
Latter-day Saints have a collective identity as members of a worldwide church but also have local identities as residents in their own countries and cities. They don’t have to reject one to be the other. They celebrate the customs and nuances of their unique cultures but let their lives be guided by the universal message of Jesus Christ. That message is taught in the Book of Mormon: “He inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi: 26:33).
In many ways we are the products of the people around us and the places where we live. The affections we share with our friends and fellow believers help form our character. The ancestors that came before us give meaning to our own walks of life. The personality of the lands we live in teach us spiritual lessons and help make us who we are. The vibrant music and bright colors of Latin America, the wet climates and sophisticated urban centers of Asia, the architectural wonders of Europe and the seas that surround the isles shape the spiritual horizons of those who live there.
Vai Sikahema, a Latter-day Saint born in Tonga and raised there during his early years, explains the spiritual character of the Polynesian people: “All throughout Polynesia, our people are known for our faith, our childlike faith, and it’s that way because our ancestors sailed the Pacific Ocean and had to rely on their faith. They prayed for protection as they sailed. And it served our people well. Now in modern times, that faith, and remnants of that kind of faith, still resonates among modern Polynesians.”
Elena Nechiporova, a Latter-day Saint from Moscow, sees a connection between her faith and the Russian soul: “When I’m away from home I begin to miss my family, the wide fields of Russia, as well as the deep forests and high peaks. There is such a thing as a wide Russian soul that contains a lot of wisdom and long suffering, even though it may appear as an enigma. In the vast space of Russia there are so many different nationalities and these peoples can be united through the fellowship and hope of the gospel.”
Zion at Home and Abroad
Mormon scripture describes the ideal community of the Saints as “Zion.” Such community always exists in physical environments, but also in the soul. Ultimately, Zion is a human association of “the pure in heart,” a spiritual state and attitude toward our fellow beings (see D&C 97:21). It doesn’t require the entire Church membership to live together, apart from the rest of society. Rather, members of the Church strive for Zion in the pockets of Mormon congregations around the world.
Wherever Latter-day Saints live, worship and care for each other, there Zion will be, a place of belonging and community.