A new Broadway musical called The Book of Mormon Musical is getting a lot of attention. Reviewers who don’t get religion seem to think it is kind to religion, but the reviews I’ve seen don’t show me that this is true.
One comment made in most reviews is that the missionaries arrive and see all the poverty and hardship the people face. They “realize” all their knowledge and training are useless against this situation. Any person who believes in God and Jesus Christ knows this is not true.
There are several problems with the attitude that faith in God can’t solve the serious problems of the world, or that a church can’t make a huge difference in the world. The first is that faith brings hope and can also bring about important changes in a person’s life that help them overcome their trials. The second is that churches themselves—not just the Mormons, but many churches—spend a great deal of time and money helping people in struggling nations to improve their lives. They also spend time and money improving conditions for the villages as a whole.
Let’s start with the first problem. As a teenager, you have to make a lot of tough decisions and handle some serious problems. If you believe in God and/or Jesus Christ, you know how much that faith helps you. It can comfort you when you’re scared, give you the courage to do something hard, and get you through the really bad days. When you have a decision to make you can ask God to help you make it so you have advice from the only source of complete truth. If you need someone to talk to, you know God is always right there, ready to listen.
If you don’t believe in God yet, this may be harder for you to understand. A teenager who believes in God sees Him as her loving Father in Heaven, someone who loves her unconditionally and is always there for her. Unconditional love doesn’t mean God gives her permission to do anything she wants to do. Any parent knows that is the worst thing you can do for your children. Good parents—and God is the best parent—set high standards for their children and then put rewards and consequences in place to help the child learn to keep those standards. God is like that.
At the same time, though, He understands that people will make mistakes in their lives. He put into place ways to move past all them by sincerely repenting—not just going through the motions but being truly heartbroken that we have let God and ourselves down and trying to undo the damage as best we can.
It’s comforting to have guidelines and standards. Teens who don’t often feel overwhelmed. While a lot of freedom sounds good in theory, in reality it is exhausting. Not only do you constantly have to stop and figure out what is right or wrong in every single situation, you end up suffering the consequences of bad choices much more often than necessary. While we do learn from our mistakes, who wants to make thousands of mistakes a day and deal with all those consequences? God knows how to create a balance between structure and freedom and how to keep us safe while still letting us learn and grow. We just have to pay attention to what He is teaching us.
So, how can that help a person who lives in a really difficult situation, who maybe doesn’t’ quite have enough to eat or who lives in a dangerous or minimal home—or no home at all? First, they can know God has a plan for every one of us—a general plan that covers everyone and a personal plan just for us. Our plan is designed to let us learn exactly what we need to learn. Everyone has trials and it might seem like some have more than others, but every trial, even though not caused by God, is allowed because it helps us—if we use it correctly—to become everything God knows we can be. Our trials are personalized to our needs, which is why we don’t all have the same trials. God loves us the same, but He knows we are not clones. We are individuals with different needs.
So, believing in God gives us a reason to get through our trials with faith, courage, and hope. It can tell us we matter, even if the world doesn’t, and can motivate us to improve our situations.
Mormons offer a lot of help to their members who choose to take advantage of them. This help can even make it possible to escape poverty. For instance, they have a free literacy program so people can learn to read and write. We all know how important that is for getting out of poverty. There are classes on managing your money, no matter how little you have, preparing for times when you don’t have enough food or money, parenting classes, gardening classes…if you need to learn it, someone at church will be happy to teach it to you. In developing countries, older retired people, called Senior Missionaries, are often sent in to help teach people the skills they want so they can improve their lives.
Jesus talked a great deal about poverty and hope. He took his gospel to the poor and the suffering–shouldn’t we?
There is one other way Mormons, like many other faith groups, help in places like Uganda. We’ll learn about that next time.