In Provo, Utah, near the Brigham Young University (BYU) campus, sits the Missionary Training Center (MTC). Most new missionaries must report there before being dispatched to their assigned destination. At the MTC, missionaries receive a crash course in teaching the Mormon gospel, which differs significantly from the doctrines of other Christian religions. Mormons believe many of the same basic tenets of Christianity, such as the stories of Adam and Eve, Moses and Noah, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, Mary was his virgin mother, and that he was crucified for the sins of mankind. Mormons also believe that the Holy Bible (King James version), both Old and New Testaments, is the word of God. But after that, things get decidedly different.
Mormon doctrine posits that after Jesus was resurrected he appeared in the Americas to teach the indigenous people how to live in a manner that would allow them to return to the presence of God. The Book of Mormon is a historical record of those ancient Americans, beginning with the first book of Nephi, that tells the account of a man named Lehi who led his large, extended family out of Jerusalem shortly before it fell to the Babylonians around 600 years before Christ.
According to Mormon Doctrine, Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, translated a sacred text written on golden plates, or golden pages, that were given to him by an angel named Moroni in 1827. These golden pages were “The Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” Today, the Mormon Church has over fifteen million members worldwide, and is one of the fastest growing religions in the world, owing in large part to their unique missionary program.
Besides learning to preach the gospel, the MTC teaches missionaries assigned to non-English speaking areas the language of their host country. For Brig, that was Cantonese, a Southeastern dialect of Chinese. Although Cantonese and Mandarin share a few similar words, the dialects are mutually unintelligible. This is due to the differences in pronunciation, grammar, and sentence structure. Both languages are tonal. Cantonese uses seven phonetic tones, compared to Mandarin which uses only four. The written form of the languages is also different. Cantonese is written in “traditional Chinese,” which is more complicated and considered by many to be more artistic than “simplified Chinese,” the written form of Mandarin.
Brig’s days at the MTC were unexpectedly easy. Given his name, he was a star amongst his MTC peers. Because of his family history and his upbringing, Brig was already well-versed in Mormon doctrine, even correcting his teachers occasionally. Surprisingly, he seemed to have a gift for languages, or at least Cantonese. There were three other Elders (male missionaries), and one Sister missionary (female missionary) that had also been called to serve in Hong Kong and entered the MTC at the same time as Brig. Brig was older, smarter, and breezed through the Cantonese lessons at twice the speed of his fellow Hong Kong-bound colleagues. Though Brig was aware of the adulation, he did his best not to acknowledge it, and always made an effort to help any missionary that asked for his help. As the group departed the MTC for Hong Kong on a cold, wintery morning in January, Brig felt confident and ready to begin his adventure. His confidence wouldn’t last.
The next day, after a long, sleepless, fifteen-hour flight, Brig and company wearily deplaned. They had been instructed to retrieve their luggage and proceed to the reception area where they would be met by two missionaries designated Assistants to the President (APs) of the Hong Kong mission. The Hong Kong International Airport, built on the island of Chek Lap Kok, was only two years old. Although Brig had done his share of traveling, even he was awestruck by the airport’s enormity.
As the small group of missionaries walked, mouths ajar, through the massive airport terminal, Brig strained to hear somebody, anybody, speak Cantonese. There were plenty of Chinese people walking alongside them, but the language they were speaking was incomprehensible, containing no sound Brig recognized. As they waited for their bags to drop down from the conveyor belt onto the carousel, Brig was shocked when he realized that the people were, in fact, speaking Cantonese. Despite two months of intense study and training, Brig couldn’t understand a word. He shared this observation with his traveling companions, and they all agreed. They had studied the wrong language.
Chapter 3.8 (Coming 8/5) –>