new review – The Best Two Years

Director: Scott S. Anderson
Release Date: 2003
Rating: 3/10

Summary: Elder Rogers is nearing the end of his mission and he’s not working hard at all as a missionary. The reason he has given up: one of his former companions – who he really liked and worked hard with while companions – hooked up with his girlfriend when he got home and then married her. This crushed him emotionally and somehow destroyed his testimony as well. On top of that, Elder Rogers is from Salt Lake City but his parents divorced since he left on his mission, he doesn’t know what life is going to be like when he goes back home, and no one is writing him anymore (nor is he writing them).

The Mission President, in his infinite wisdom, decides that what Elder Rogers needs to spur him back to action as a missionary is to train a new missionary. The new missionary, Elder Calhoun, is a recent convert from Oklahoma. His parents and girl-friend (just a girl who is a friend) are all Catholics (in Oklahoma?). He’s an extremely naïve hick who knows no Dutch, doesn’t know much about Mormonism or life in general, but is an expert chess player (he’s kind of like a Mormon Forrest Gump). What he does have going for him is faith and his naivete passed off as innocence. He really believes everything Elder Rogers says (even going so far as to write it down – which becomes the longest running joke of any movie I’ve ever seen). He also believes that Mormon missionaries convert people to Mormonism in Holland.

Elders Roger and Calhoun live with two other Elders – Van Pelt, whose parents have a lot of money (I got this from his clothes and his reference to Lake Powell) and who seems to only be serving his mission because he knows he can “get the ladies” when he returns. He writes to lots of girls back home and lots of girls (and his family) write to him. He’s junior companion to Elder Johnson, who is the district leader. Elder Johnson has a girlfriend back home and even has a date set for marrying her.

The movie opens with Elder Calhoun traveling to Holland then traveling to his assigned area to meet up with his new companion and district. Rogers, Johnson, and VanPelt all ride their bikes to the train station to meet him. Based on the experience of a close friend of mine who served his mission in Holland, it is accurate that missionaries travel alone when they change companions and areas (that was not accurate in my mission – we were never alone). They meet Elder Calhoun then Rogers takes him back to their shared apartment. Rogers hasn’t done any tracting or missionary work in months and isn’t about to start. Instead he spends his days taking pictures of scenic Holland (flowers, windmills, etc.). So, on Calhoun’s first day, Rogers takes him to the park and lets him chase people with a Book of Mormon while he shoots pictures.

Calhoun’s very first contact in his new area (he tried on the train and the person threw the BofM he gave him away) is, surprise, surprise, an American (from the U.S.) named Kyle. He’s an optometrist who recently moved to Holland for some unknown and never mentioned reason. Nothing really comes of this first visit, but it sets up the obvious – Kyle is going to convert (this is also given away by the fact that Kyle is Scott Christopher, who is in almost every Mollywood movie I’ve seen). Kyle beats a hasty retreat after meeting “Edgar Calhoun.” Calhoun, on the other hand, thinks he’s made a contact.

The next 30 minutes or so of the movie is really just fleshing out the characters – which is an admirable idea as so many Mollywood movies don’t bother with this. Unfortunately, it’s really pretty boring. Elder Calhoun is gung-ho about converting people, Rogers sleeps in and doesn’t try at all, Elder Johnson receives a tape from his fiance but can’t find a tape recorder (the second longest joke in movie history), and Elder VanPelt continues to be his shallow, whore-mongering self.

Eventually Elder Calhoun decides that he knows what they need to do – they need to fast. This coincides with Elder Rogers deciding he wants to do something nice for his new companion. He got up early and made breakfast for Elder Calhoun and himself (setting up the third longest joke in movie history when the other elders steal their breakfast). So, they fast. It doesn’t help, until Elder Rogers stops at a store on the way home. Inside, Elder Calhoun runs into… Yep, you guessed it – Kyle. He proceeds to tell him about the Book of Mormon while Kyle tries to ignore him. He eventually gives Kyle a copy of the Book of Mormon (in Dutch, which Kyle can’t read) and Kyle agrees to call him.

They go home and Elder Calhoun refuses to break his fast hoping Kyle will call. They wait, and wait, and wait and then, finally, Kyle calls! (I bet you didn’t guess that would happen…). Kyle agrees to come over, but it’s initially just to give the book back. But Rogers and Calhoun basically won’t let him leave. Rogers then proceeds to teach the first discussion, during which he realizes that he does believe Joseph Smith saw supernatural entities (while alone, in the dark, with no witnesses) and found gold plates (alone, in the dark, with no credible witnesses). He tears up, Kyle tears up, and Elder Calhoun tells the first funny joke in the movie, “I also believe Joseph Smith was a pamphlet.”

This encounter is Elder Rogers’ character arc. He decides he wants to be a good missionary now. Kyle, of course, agrees to keep meeting with them. But Rogers and Calhoun are now on fire. They start working hard – teaching lots of discussions and giving out lots of “Books of Mormon” or “Book of Mormons.” (This serves as another running joke in the movie, with the allegedly correct version being “Books of Mormon.” But I’m not convinced that that is the correct version. The complete title of the book is “Book of Mormon.” The plural of that would not be a change in the title but an added ‘s’ to the end, “Book of Mormons.” This doesn’t mean it is the “Book of Mormons” but rather that you have multiple books of the “Book of Mormon.” Anyway, this is another almost funny joke in the movie.) While Rogers and Calhoun catch a metaphorical fire and start working like crazy, Elders Johnson and VanPelt fall apart. Elder Johnson’s tape turns out to be a Dear John and they aren’t getting along. Their companionship gets so rocky that they end up fighting only to have the Mission President make an appearance and reprimand them all (giving out silly “spiritual prescriptions”).

Eventually Kyle agrees to baptism, and it’s just in time for Elder Rogers to baptize him before he goes home. Kyle gets baptized, Rogers goes home feeling successful and wise, and the other missionaries are all inspired. The end.

As far as the story itself goes, it was actually somewhat credible, but utterly uninteresting. The movie fairly accurately portrays what missionary work is like in Holland – lots of walking around with basically no one showing interest in Mormonism. The movie also hints at the “prestige” associated with training a new missionary, which is also accurate. There is also a scene in which Rogers tells Calhoun that numbers don’t mean anything, which is arguably true in the grander scheme of things (if there is a god, why would he/she/it care about numbers?). But in the mission field, numbers are the key to promotion, and promotions (and the accompanying prestige) are what missions are all about. So, this is kind of accurate.

There are also a bunch of cliches that are more irritating than funny. The missionaries break their alarm clocks when they go off in the morning (no one actually does that). Elder Johnson says “flip” all the time (ultimately leading to the fight with Elder VanPelt). And, I forget who said it, but one of the missionaries tells another at one point that you should “never wrestle with a pig because you both get dirty but the pig likes it.” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that from my parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles. There are a bunch more, but these are the ones that really stood out as I watched the movie. I don’t mind a few believable ones here and there, but these were just annoying.

While mostly credible, there are clear credibility problems. The biggest one is that Kyle, a doctor liberal enough to move to Holland, is actually interested in talking with Mormon missionaries. If Kyle worked for a large company that transferred him to Holland, I might buy it. But an optometrist who moved there willingly? Yeah, not credible. Also, the Mission President showing up just as all hell breaks lose with Elders Johnson and VanPelt was ridiculous. Though, I have to admit that what he did once he showed up was both cliché (“spiritual prescriptions”) and credible: he told Elder Rogers that he had promised his mother that Elder Rogers would write every week from then until the end of his mission then said, “You wouldn’t want to make a liar out of me, would you Elder?” I actually grimaced at the manipulation, but wasn’t very surprised.

Intriguingly, there were also a couple of elements that stuck out for different reasons. After Elder Calhoun runs into Kyle in the grocery store, he asks Elder Rogers what led him to stop there. Elder Rogers says, “indigestion,” which Elder Calhoun interprets as “inspiration.” I know it was intended to be funny (which it wasn’t), but it was actually kind of revealing in a sense. What often passes as “inspiration” to Mormons is usually just some other feeling misinterpreted. I may be giving the writers of this movie too much credit for throwing in this subtle jab at Mormon “inspiration,” but I thought it was funny. In that same sequence, Elder Calhoun revealed something else interesting about the writer of the movie. While describing the Book of Mormon Calhoun describes it as the record of god’s people in the new world, which belies a hemispheric model understanding. Apologists will probably just dismiss this as ignorance. But I love the fact that it does represent what the majority of Mormons believe about the Book of Mormon.

There was one final statement in the movie that I found funny. Near the end when Rogers and Calhoun are “on fire,” Elder Johnson is reporting their numbers. He says they had 97 baptismal challenges, “but that’s because Calhoun challenges everyone.” That is actually an illustration of good writing – Elder Calhoun’s character (naïve Forrest Gump) was maintained throughout the movie.

In the end, I can see how this movie would appeal to Mormons – it is basically one big pep talk about working hard as a missionary, having faith, and believing you can baptize people. Of course, all of the actors are Mormon, which means it’s not really believable, but Mormons can have their folk tales, too! I, on the other hand, had a slightly different interpretation that my wife found funny. The real lesson from this movie is that “the only people Mormons can convert in Holland are Americans.” I also got a real kick out of the baptism scene. It takes place in a river and there are maybe 20 members watching from the river bank. I couldn’t help but say out loud during that scene, “Amazing, they got every Mormon in Holland to be in the movie!”

Overall, this isn’t the worst Mollywood movie I’ve seen. There are funnier ones, but they are more ridiculous. This isn’t “God’s Army,” but it’s a semi-accurate – if boring – portrayal of Mormon missionaries trying to figure things out in Holland. I wouldn’t recommend it for non-Mormons, but it might be a good teaching tool for Family Night for Mormons.


I'm a college professor and, well, a professional X-Mormon. Thus, ProfXM. I love my Mormon family, but have issues with LDS Inc. And I'm not afraid to tell LDS Inc. what I really think... anonymously, of course!

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41 Responses

  1. Seth R. says:

    The parallels between me and Elder Rogers are kinda scary actually.

    I hated tracting and eventually flat-out refused to do it, despite being publicly reprimanded by both Mission President and Zone Leaders over it. I was terrified of it, and can be one of the most stubborn people you’ll meet.

    My last area in Japan, I was given a new greenie to train who actually was DANG good at Japanese chess. We’d play each other on our free day each week.

    I was a little burned out on active proselyting at that point, and certainly did my share of photos. But most of the time I spent with existing non-member friends and church members, and re-activation efforts. I also flatly refused to participate in the mission’s hand-out-old-Book-of-Mormons drive. I’ve mentioned it in the comments section on some bloggernacle blogs before, but I’ll have to do an actual blog post on it sometime. You guys would probably get a kick out of it.

    In fact, my last name happens to be Rogers.

    But aside from that, it doesn’t describe me or my last companion very well at all. Still slightly creepy though…

  2. profxm says:

    That is intriguing. Must speak to the generality of the movie – represents the experiences of many people.

    I was actually just the opposite. I was a gung-ho, never say die missionary. I followed the rules almost to a T – the one exception was reading material. I read anything and everything I could get my hands on. Other than reading “unapproved” literature, I followed every rule and worked hard from day 1 to the day I left.

  3. Guy Noir, Private Eye says:

    I (was terrified of it, and) can be one of the most stubborn people you’ll meet.

    Gee, Seth…. I don’t even have to meet/know you to agree with you on some things you post!
    Have a Great Day, God is Love 🙂

  4. Seth R. says:

    Guy, I guess we can’t disagree about everything…

    As to reading material, I learned a large portion of the Japanese language by reading Dragon Ball comic books (to this day, my Japanese is still a bit inappropriately informal). They’re written at an elementary school level. I still have the entire set sitting on a shelf downstairs. My father was utterly appalled when I shipped them home. I got a stern letter about misusing “the Lord’s funds.”

    One of the elders in one of my apartments had an entire collection of Jackie Chan fight scenes that we spent an afternoon at the church watching. He also had the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction that he’d listen to on occasion. I recorded the soundtracks to Star Wars off of him.

    A couple of my districts, we’d blow about 5 bucks every P-Day on a local arcade playing martial arts games and car racing games. We wrote it off as “district bonding time.”

    My mission really wasn’t the most straight-laced bunch in the field, it seems. A lot of mavericks with highly unconventional methods. And to an extent, our mission presidents actually encouraged that attitude.

  5. Guy Noir, Private Eye says:

    I can secondhand top that:
    A MP (according to friend) who winked at his mishies going swimming…
    that was late 60’s (Yeah, Im old as Dirt), before written mish rules.

  6. profxm says:

    Seth… Which mission in Japan and when did you serve? I have a brother-in-law who served there (1997-1998) and a good friend as well (1997-1998). I know one was in Nagano, but I’m forgetting where the other was.

  7. profxm says:

    My mission wasn’t as straight-laced as I was: we had missionaries running around and sleeping on beaches naked (Elders and Sisters together). While I was in the office an Elder joined us with a broken arm, leg, and skull fracture. He fell while climbing a waterfall and nearly died. Not sure why he wasn’t sent home, but he stayed with us in the office for about 5 months while he healed. My favorite: zone leaders rented Striptease for p-day then rented a truck and drove to another country (clearly outside the mission) – and they did all this as a zone (all 15 or so of them). None of this was condoned, but it was pervasive.

  8. Guy Noir, Private Eye says:

    (Wanting to say SOMETHING positive here)

    I hope all readers here …give themselves a chance to break out of the (what I call, anyway) the routine of LDS ‘worship’/ culture into a Christ-centered organization, regardless of the name on the door.
    Worship & culture in Morland are so highly-scrpited, highly predictable… they’re Totally Boring.
    that, with correlation which takes all spontanity out/away from activities AND worship… it’s all so dry, so painful to endure… adds up to Yuchyness. (sorry)
    I worship (midwest) with Mennonites, I NEVER experienced such genuine ppl, who are not concerned about crawling their way up the hierarchal ladder; most are happy where they are, not overcome with guilt/sorrow ( 2nd Corinthians 2:3)…that accompanied the extreme judgmentalism of LDS culture…
    We pay & hold our pastor responsible…another concept / POV alien to MoCulture. We make decisions LOCALLY about our worship modes & peripheral matters like the sound system, etc. thru my LDS lens, these things are sometimes tedious, BUT: ppl grow by decisions rather than being shut-out of them….
    Focus is DEFINATELY on the Core Essentials of Christ-Like living, not on details/trivia…. How REFRESHING!!!
    now back to your regularly scheduled thread….

  9. Wayne says:

    It’s odd to me that, even when threatened with eternal damnation, Humans bend the rules or ignore them. Maybe, missionaries being young, ultimately will be forgiven for their indiscretions. I am always shocked when I read about what some missionaries do, it makes me wonder if I would have had more fun on a mission than I did living in an Ashram.

  10. Guy Noir Private Eye says:


    Those male mishs… Must have either been eunichs -or- hormone deficient…. If i’d seen a naked female (near my age) nearby…Whoa Nelley!
    (sorry abt the sexism)
    just my 2 cents…

  11. Seth R. says:

    Japan, Fukuoka Mission. 1994-96.

    It was central mission in that “Ammon Project” experiment thing you might have heard about.

  12. dpc says:

    Ah…the “Ammon Project”.

    I think it was a good idea, but very difficult to run. We had some success in Hokkaido following copying the project, but on a smaller scale. It had fallen out of favor by then.

  13. Wayne says:

    Please, Seth

    What is the “Ammon Project” ?

  14. Seth R. says:

    Back in the late 1980s Cyril I.A. Figuerres did a ton of work for the Church’s statistics department trying to figure out why proselyting efforts in places like Japan and Korea were meeting with such resistance. Convert and retention numbers in Japan had always been really bad.

    After years of gathering data, Figuerres was called to serve as a mission president in Japan, reporting to Neal A. Maxwell directly (by-passing the Asia Area Presidency entirely). President Figuerres called it the “Ammon Project” after the BoM character Ammon’s unique approach to proselyting. It was apparently Elder Maxwell’s baby.

    Figuerres immediately began instituting some radical changes in the mission with full approval from Church headquarters. He pretty-much scrapped the standardized missionary training manual and substituted it with his own creation. The standardized missionary day planners were chucked and we were all required to used Franklin Day Planners using a prioritization system he made up himself. Our reporting system rejected the prior baptism-focused system of missionary reporting in favor of a system that tracked contacts, investigators, inactive member work, and work with church members in addition to baptisms.

    Missionaries where flat-out required to work with members. Notions that the members were a “nuisance” or “the enemy” were harshly condemned and we were told that a convert without member involvement was almost as good as inactive a few years down the road. The standard two month rotation system of missionary transfers (the theory was that missionaries weren’t supposed to get personally attached to people and places) in favor of a system that allowed missionaries to stay in one place long enough to form relationships with the local Japanese (who are notoriously slow to warm up to strangers).

    An emphasis was made on immersing ourselves in the culture and learning all we could about the Japanese people. At one Zone Conference Figuerres shocked all the missionaries in attendance when he told them their assignment was to schedule an appointment with a Buddhist priest at their local temple asking him to explain Buddhism to them. Seminars were given on Japanese culture. The idea was to reach out to their culture when proselyting. The standard schedule of demanding lessons for each visit was relaxed in favor of allowing missionaries to spend time just getting to know the people.

    We were given a huge amount of flexibility in how to gain new investigators. The emphasis was on means and ends type of thinking. If you saw a group of guys playing basketball, jump in and play with them. Then invite them over to the church for pizza or something. The idea was to naturally work in our message as people showed interest and let people move at their own pace.

    Another unique aspect was that a Japanese member was hired by the Church to do proselyting work full-time – Brother Wadda. He lived with the missionaries, he ran seminars and gathered data which he reported to Figuerres.

    Oddly though, although missionaries were given a ton of flexibility and autonomy in how to proselyte, the demands on them were even more intense. Bro. Wadda was incredibly cool, but he was really drill-sergeant at the same time. Missionaries were placed on a rigid program of discussion memorization and language development.

    The idea of “free English classes” taught by the missionaries was highly expanded to the centerpiece of missionary proselyting efforts. We ran hour long English classes on Wednesdays and Saturdays. After each class we did a non-mandatory activity that people could attend or not as they chose. Often it had a gospel focus, but not necessarily.

    At the same time that the missionaries were being altered, there was also a total revamping of the members approach. They were trained as well to work in tandem with the missionaries.

    The program was an immediate success and tripled baptism numbers in a rapid amount of time. The Fukuoka mission was the highest performing mission in all Japan and consistently doubled or tripled the numbers of the next high-est output mission. The expectation was that the program would gather data on how to proselyte in Asian, with the model being exported to Korea, Taiwan, and eventually mainland China, whenever it opened up. Espirit de corps skyrocketed among the missionaries. We considered ourselves to be the cutting edge elite in the mission field. Better-trained, with better ideas (typical nineteen year old sentiments).

    I arrived at the beginning of President Figuerres’ third year. His replacement was Dwight Pincock. Pres. Pincock was a believer in the project, but it wasn’t his baby, he got a lot of resistance from President Sorenson of the Asia Area Presidency who was outright hostile to the project (and I suspect, a little stung at being cut out of the loop), and the approach of the missionaries became increasingly undisciplined. Then numbers dropped.

    Eventually most of the project was scrapped.

    However, I see a lot of rather interesting parallels in the approach we implemented in Fukuoka and the new, revised missionary manuals that came out a couple years ago…

  15. Guy Noir, Private Eye says:

    Seth: us apostates say….
    You can change the approach all you want; that won’t change ‘the product’ (that mishs are selling) at all.
    IF the church was transparent with the ppl (mishs & parents who fund them) effected, these things might be (GASP) discussed openly…
    No, that’s not the style of LDS, Inc.

    I would agree (if I “knew” that selling the product in different cultures would be/is a radically different ball game (How longs had mishs been in Japan BEFORE these changes?);
    LDS, Inc. ‘just can’t stand the light of day’.
    Compare the ’tisms & inactivity in central & south america for reference (albeit NO offical stats).

  16. Seth R. says:

    Guy, we altered the missionary discussions as well.

    Anyone ever tell you, you have a very one-track mind?

  17. chanson says:

    Seth — I’m not surprised that plan was successful. It sounds like it would work better than the standard system. Also, I think it’s crazy they don’t let mishies read anything but church materials for learning a foreign language. Local reading material can be hugely beneficial for learning the language as well as learning cultural information that will help you communicate. Comic books especially are good for learning conversation and dialog. I can understand if they don’t want to just let the mishies read any comic book they can get their hands on (cause some would surely end up reading this 😉 ), but in France, for example, they should at least have them read Asterix.

    So what’s the story about refusing to hand out copies of the Book of Mormon?

  18. Seth R. says:


    I decided to make my answer into an actual post over at Nine Moons. You can read the full story here:

    The Tower of Babel, The Book of Mormon, and the Pointy-Haired Boss

  19. profxm says:

    So, which is it?

    “Books of Mormon”


    “Book of Mormons”

  20. Seth R. says:

    Probably the first. But compared to one’s eternal salvation, who has time for such trifles?

  21. Guy Noir, Private Eye says:

    Seth R: my response to your otherposting:

    The ‘real’ tragedy here… and in other subjects-areas of LDS practice is that No One is given permission to Stand Up and say: BULLSHIT!

    all ideas/programs voiced by leaders are given automatic credence-authenticity; it’s like everything said comes straight to earth thru a pillar of light.

    That leaves the church and its members without a correction track like the runaway truck lanes coming down mountains… LDS are literally STUCK with items like the MMM, Hofmann, etc.

    just my 2 cents.

  22. chanson says:

    It’s “copies of the Book of Mormon,” but that takes too long to say, and “Book of Mormons” is more fun. 😉

    Seth — Great story!!! 😀

  23. Guy Noir, Private Eye says:

    ‘Hate to be nit-picky’, (Yeah right)but:

    with the different versions/editions/revisions of the BoM… I’m not so sure which would be appropriate…

    just my 2 cents, ya know…

  24. Wayne says:


    Thanks for the explanation! What little I know about Japanese culture comes from the priest at the Zendo I attend. It seems, from what he says about how the Japanese view religion, that since Mormonism is not as straight forward as Zazen practice is converts might not stick around for that reason.

    Of course, I am not closed minded enough to assume that no Japanese wouldn convert for the long haul.

    I am also very interested in reading what your impressions of “Buddhism” are.

  25. Seth R. says:

    Buddhism is not a very demanding religion, unless you want it to be really. My impression was that most Japanese were not all that religious, even if they were highly spiritual. Most would claim to be Buddhist, but didn’t really do anything particularly Buddhist – such as praying at temples or even maintaining a shrine to the ancestors at home. Buddhism proves useful for Japanese because it deals with the afterlife and death. Shinto, the native religion, has no real theology of death. So in Japan Shinto is about living and Buddhism is associated with death. Weddings are Shinto, but funerals, graves, and ancestor reverence are all Buddhist.

    Japanese didn’t connect with American-style proselyting on many different levels. For one thing, with the Japanese it’s all about the relationship. The primary way they would learn about your religion was not through lessons or books, but by observing the religion as it is experienced by the missionary, or by the church members.

    They are a highly intuitive people who are guided by emotion, relationships, and experience rather than by logic and reason. So a Japanese couldn’t care less about “20 Reasons the Book of Mormon is True” or conversely, “20 Reasons Mormons are Full of It.” But they would be very scrutinizing of how the missionary models Gospel principles in his own life. And they would also be highly attuned to the social dynamic at church.

    So the rapid transfer – relentlessly analytical approach of the US proselyting model was a REALLY bad fit. Missionaries would get transferred out before the crucial relationships could be formed. And the logical progression of the Plan of Salvation, Prophets-then-and-now, the Great Apostasy, and so forth was kind of a big ho-hum to them. And they didn’t start with the Christian assumptions that the old missionary discussions kind of assume. Line one, lesson 1 read: “most people believe in a supreme being.”

    Well… not in Japan necessarily…

    Once in, Japanese feel enormous social pressures. They get a great deal of social resistance from friends and family that is very hard for them to deal with – much harder than it would be for independent-minded Americans. The Word of Wisdom is a HUGE deal over there. Drinking is almost a ritual in the Japanese workplace. Peer pressure to drink with co-workers after hours is unrelenting. Japanese also tend to overwork at their job to an unhealthy degree. So church commitments are an even bigger imposition than they are here. And it is CRUCIAL that the new member be integrated into the social circle of the ward. Otherwise they really wither on the vine – much faster than Americans do. It doesn’t help that Priesthood holders are so rare that they are just incredibly burdened. In my mission it was pretty normal for a single Melkezedik Priesthood holder to have 30 households assigned to his home teaching list. It’s just impossible to do it all and a native Japanese sort of guilt complex soon kicks-in.

    Very difficult situation to deal with.

  26. dpc says:

    I have to echo what Seth said. I never had a single investigator ever question about the historicity of the Book of Mormon or things along that line. Of all the people we taught, I think that I only taught one person the third discussion (back when there were six discussions) who didn’t go on to be baptized. If you could get past the first two discussions and the person was keeping their commitments they would be baptized.

    Seth said

    relentlessly analytical approach of the US proselyting model was a REALLY bad fit.

    I remember a zone conference when Lionel Kendricks, who was the Area President at the time, spoke. He had just transferred from a North America area somewhere and you could tell. I can’t remember the specifics of what he said, but I do remember going back to my area at the end of the conference with the firm belief that he had absolutely no clue what was effective proselyting in Japan.

    By way of an aside, he was also the first GA to come to the mission and rail about the innumerable ways a missionary could “lose your mission and your membership!” (His exact words). This was ironic because the entire time I was there, not a single missionary got sent home early for any reason except illness. At the reunion a few years later, our mission president thanked everyone for not behaving badly and forcing him into a position where he would have had to send someone home dishonorably.

  27. Seth R. says:

    President Sorenson had a similar feel to what you describe of Pres. Kendricks. He served his mission in Southern Baptist country and seemed to have little understanding of what proselyting in Japan was like. It showed when he addressed us. I remember hearing him call on us to pray with those whose doors we knocked on.

    I and the other missionaries kept our mouths shut, but inwardly were just shaking our heads. Firstly, tracting was known in our mission as something you did when you absolutely couldn’t think of anything better to occupy your time with. The conversion stats from tracting in Japan were abysmal.

    Secondly, if we’d actually offered to pray on doorsteps, we’d have a really creepy reputation with the Japanese. We’d immediately be associated with the “hand-power” people who harass commuters at train stations trying to wave their hands in front of them and bless them. Not an image we needed. We were already weird enough in Japan without adding to it. Besides which, none of the Japanese would have known what the hell we were doing anyway.

  28. Wayne says:

    Seth- It seems to me that the best way to convert anyone to anything is to show how it works.

    If I had been presented with some of the core Mahayana teachings, I don’t know that I would have started practicing Zazen. But because I started the meditation first, then started reading the more accessible teachings, I have stuck with it.

    In Japan, from the way my teacher has presented it, you are not just dealing with someones religion, but a way of life.

    (I think I am just repeating what you have said)

    This Ammon project shows a lot of real insight into that, it surprising that they did not keep it going.

  29. Guy Noir, Private Eye says:

    Steven Weinberg “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil
    people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” (Nobel Laureate) physicist The New York Times
    April 20, 1999

  30. Seth R. says:

    Ever hear about that experiment a psychologist conducted where he had ordinary people administer supposed electric shocks to another person, just to see how far they would go.

    Not a hint of religion in there I’m afraid.

  31. chanson says:

    GNPE — What are you talking about? I thought you were a Christian…

  32. Guy Noir, Private Eye says:

    BIG DIFFERENCE between ‘religion’ and Christian living/Christianity/Christian values.
    Sorry, I was bored,
    I just wanted to add a kicker.

    May I ask a Question (too late to say no?):

    Can gals wear pants to church at YBU?

  33. Guy Noir, Private Eye says:

    What if a YBU student is of another faith?
    Does Big Brother send one of his minions to (gasp) the Catholic church to take attendance?
    just wanted to know….

  34. chanson says:

    GNPE — I don’t know if there’s a rule about girls wearing skirts to church at BYU, but I never saw any girl try to wear pants to church there. As for the Catholics (or people of any other non-Mormon religion) who attend BYU, they still have to get an ecclesiastical endorsement from their own clergy, but whether that includes mandatory church attendance probably depends on the religion and its local leaders.

  35. Seth R. says:

    Sure they can Guy. They’d probably get a lot of weird looks and some judgmentalism I’m sure. But nothing would happen officially.

    Personally, I’d be completely fine with it. Looks better than the ready-for-baby-to-puke-on denim jumpers that seem popular at the moment.

  36. Guy Noir, Private Eye says:


    what would happpen…If a (BYU) bishop counseled female students not to wear pants to church, but 1 (or more) persisted?
    Then, they could be disciplined for not following counsel, couldn’t they?
    Kinda like the SP who tells ‘GUYS’ not to wear Dockers slacks… at that point, it becomes a matter of “Compliance”, which LDS are Experts at!
    not to mention the cultural disapproval/judgmentalism… which is often just as devistating as official…

    these examples of zealousness could be reigned in..But they’re not.

  37. Seth R. says:

    I suspect it would just mean they wouldn’t get called into the R.S. Presidency.


  38. Hellmut says:

    Thanks for the review, Prof. Seth, may be, you should write a Sunstone essay about the Ammon project. I will check your post about it later this week.

    I am recovering from the Maryland primary and need to catch up with sleep.

  39. Seth R. says:

    Well, the post isn’t really about the Ammon Project. I ought to write something about it though…

    Problem is, this was back in the early 1990s and my memory of it is so sketchy. I’d be afraid of distorting the picture, or focusing only on the sensational (i.e. they allowed missionaries to play basketball as proselyting!). If I was really ambitious, I’d have to hunt down fellow Ammon missionaries, and probably my old mission presidents for interviews. And who knows if they’d want to talk about it, ESPECIALLY not for Sunstone, I’m pretty sure.

    As for official statistics from the Ammon Project, where would you get them? It’s not something the Church has exactly made public. Try Googling “Ammon Project” sometime. Aside from a reference on the Alumni page for the Japan Fukuoka mission, it’s almost non-existent. I’ve still got some of the official materials they gave us in the field, and I’ve got my weekly reporting sheets and letters to my family (both highly embarrassing reads for me). But I have little material to speak with an authoritative voice.

    I should still post something on Nine Moons about it though…

  40. Guy Noir, Private Eye says:


    as far as interviewing ppl, you might (honestly) tell your’re writing free-lance, even if Sunstone shows an interest.

    No sense in spilling the beans before the burner is on, eh?

  1. May 16, 2010

    […] account, albeit 15 years after the fact, of the “Ammon” Pilot-Project then go here ( read in the comments section from #11 on. There is some anti-Mormon sentiments in some of the […]

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