Following in Romney's footsteps: A Mormon missionary in France
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At age 19, Mormon men typically leave home to do voluntary mission work for two years. France24.com caught up with one young Mormon, Taylor Johnsnon (pictured), who is doing his mission in France, as Mitt Romney did nearly 50 years ago.
Taylor Johnson is a 20-year-old Mormon from Orem, Utah, currently doing two years of volunteer missionary work in France, as per Mormon tradition. First placed in Vannes (in the Western coastal region of Brittany) and then closer to Paris (in Torcy and Antony), Johnson had never previously met the other Mormon missionaries – an international group including other Americans, French, Finnish, and British – with whom he found himself working in France. In accordance with the Mormon Church’s recommendation, he will not return to the US during the two-year mission, or have his family visit him in France.
Johnson opened up to France24.com about his experience as a foreigner in France, his approach to converting people, and his thoughts on Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney.
FRANCE 24: How did you end up in France?
Taylor Johnson: First, I filled out papers, medical forms, the foreign language I’d studied, and sent the application to the Mormon Church headquarters in Salt Lake City (Utah). Two weeks later, I found out that I was chosen to go to France. We say it’s by revelation. A group of Mormon leaders has the list of the future missionaries and they gather together for prayer. They talk and pray to God, and one or several of them receive a message from God about where each missionary should go.
I got my calling in October 2010 and left home in January 2011.
F24: What is a typical day for you here?
TJ: I wake up at 6:30 am and work out until around 8. Then I study scripture until 10:30, when we leave to talk to people in the street. We generally ask them if they believe in God, in Jesus Christ, or if they know who we are. We do that until around 5 or 6 pm. At 6, we go knock on doors and talk to people. We want to share with them this message that has helped us, and we hope it can bring them the same thing. We invite them to activities and events, or to come to church to read the Book of Mormon, to become baptised, or even just to become friends with people in our church. If they don’t want to, we don’t bug them, and that’s it. It’s all up to them. If they say at any time that they’re not interested, we stop. We’re not here to force people; we’re here to help them on their quest to find God.
Monday until 6 pm is our weekly day off. We go to monuments and museums and do sight-seeing.
F24: What has been the French response to your trying to recruit them for conversion to Mormonism?
TJ: Some are open, some are not open. People are people; it’s not because they’re French or not French that they’re going to be open or not. It’s not a cultural thing, it’s just whether that individual person wants to hear it or not hear it. Not a ton of people in France have said yes, but some have said yes and come along and listened to what we had to say. People in the Paris area seem more open [than people in Brittany]. I think they like to listen to things more.
F24: How much do you integrate into French culture and society?
TJ: We don’t drink wine and we don’t party, but other than that we mix with the people here. We’re not here to bring America to France. We’re here to talk about the gospel, learn about French culture, and speak the French language.
F24: What has been your favourite thing about living in France?
TJ: My favourite thing has been learning all about the history of France, and getting to see the buildings and all the monuments.
F24: As a Mormon, how do you feel about Mitt Romney’s candidacy as a potential Republican presidential nominee?
TJ: It’s cool! I like him because I believe in his principles politically, not just because he’s a Mormon. Just because he’s a Mormon doesn’t mean I’m on his side.