BRIDGING BELIEFS An American Perspective on Faith in Europe Wed, 05 Jun 2013 23:54:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Opus Dei: Work of God Tue, 06 Jul 2010 17:13:50 +0000 Alex Reese BY ALEX REESE

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St. Bride’s: The Church of Journalists Tue, 06 Jul 2010 16:44:23 +0000 Alex Reese The Church

In the heart of London, just off Fleet Street, a tall white steeple resembling a wedding cake soars above St. Bride’s Church. Surrounded by iron gates and shrubbery, the stone structure remains a place of worship for the journalists who once worked in the area.

Inside the church, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, light pours through the windows. Choir stalls line the center aisle. Behind each stall, a plaque honors the news organizations and journalists who have exposed wrongdoing and informed the world for decades.

In the back corner, just to the left of the main altar, a smaller altar displays pictures of journalists who have been held hostage or killed while reporting. A wooden plaque reads: “At this altar, day by day, we pray for all those who face danger, persecution, and death in bringing the truth in word and pictures to a troubled world.”

One such picture shows Kate Peyton, a 39-year-old BBC senior producer who was shot and killed in 2005 while on assignment in Mogadishu, the Somali capital.

The People

Few BBC journalists have been killed on duty. When they do lose their lives, an investigation examines the cause and what was done. “With Kate’s death there was an inquest,” said Sam Whipple, BBC’s change coordinator. “The courts will have a look at it, and they make various recommendations and investigate everything that we did or didn’t do.”

Kate Peyton

BBC reporters and correspondents take special training to prepare them for the harsh conditions they could face overseas. “There’s a hostile environments course that if you go abroad, you go on,” Whipple said. “They take you hostage in the middle of the course. They take you through what it’s like and teach you all sorts of things, like hiding behind a brick wall isn’t a good idea if bullets are flying around because bricks don’t stop bullets. Basic things like that. So safety and security is really important.”

But sometimes things go wrong. And when they do, counseling is available for those who need emotional support. “You try to do it with a human touch,” Whipple said. One death is too many, but sometimes it is unavoidable.

The Press

St. Bride’s has been the church of journalists since the first printing press was brought to the site around 1500. According to the St. Bride’s website, the church holds weddings, baptisms and memorial services for those affiliated with the media.

In the early 1990s St. Bride’s held a vigil for the hostages held in Lebanon, especially the journalists John McCarthy and Terry Anderson. A plaque above the memorial altar commemorates this vigil.

Just below that plaque is one that reads: “In memory of those who lost their lives while covering the war in Iraq. AD 2003.” A list of names and their corresponding media outlet follows. A quote by Wilfred Owen rests at the bottom: “My subject is war, and the pity of war.”

“I think it’s one of those careers where you can’t eradicate risk all together,” Whipple said. “If you’re going to cover the news, you have got to go into dangerous areas. But sometimes things happen.”

And when they do, St. Bride’s Church will remember those who pursue the truth.

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Finishing Up Tue, 06 Jul 2010 16:35:45 +0000 Alex Reese My St. Bride’s story was quite an inspirational one and was the perfect final story on my excursion. The story refers to the hard work that goes into the journalism occupation. Sometimes journalists are so dedicated to a story that they risk their life. These people are memorialized at St. Bride’s Church in the heart of London.

The story of St. Bride’s is a great one—built by Sir Christopher Wren, the Great Fire of London, bombed and rebuilt after World War II, the ancient crypt’s discovery, etc. But I chose not to elaborate on the history as one might do in a research paper. Rather, I decided to reflect upon the people who are honored at St. Bride’s by its memorial altar. That story seemed more relevant and relatable.

The atmosphere at St. Bride’s alone can provide great inspiration. But I was also inspired by the words of BBC staff member Sam Whipple. He said that news-gathering can be quite dangerous, but the danger comes with the job title. He said the BBC takes extraordinary measures to make sure nothing happens to its reporters and crew, but no guarantees can really be made.

It really made me think: Am I ready for that kind of a commitment to journalism?

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From Punjab to Southall: Learning to be a Sikh in London Mon, 05 Jul 2010 01:27:25 +0000 David Olson From Punjab to Southall: Learning to be a Sikh in London

By David Olson

Welcome to West London
A small group of boys and girls sit cross-legged beside an open window and bow their heads. Men wrap lengths of orange or blue fabric around the boys’ heads to make turbans. It’s Friday night at the Sikh gurdwara, or temple, in Southall, a suburb west of London. The men are teaching the youths to tie and knot a turban properly. Because Sikhs don’t cut their hair — hair is regarded as a gift from God — the turban keeps it in place. It’s also a symbol of Sikh identity.

Preserving one’s identity is important in a town as multicultural as Southall. The streets here buzz with conversations in languages from Europe and Asia, underscored by the hiss of air brakes on double-decker buses and the strident wail of police cruisers. At High Street and South Road an open-front store called A Bollywood Corner sells CDs and DVDs of Indian entertainment. Next door is a food shop, Chhapara Bhog, with “Pure Vegetarian” under its name. Across the street, signs at The Three Horseshoes pub proclaim “Welcome to a Traditional Free House” and “Pool and Darts Played Here.” The words, in elaborate silver cursive, mostly go unnoticed by passersby in turbans or hijab headscarves, white caftans or colorful saris, jackets and ties or blouses and skirts.

Southall is largely a suburban area, with long, neat rows of little cottages spreading out beyond the shops and railway station. The buildings are two or three stories, four at the most, of red brick or wood or stone painted white, looking weathered and tired under the cloudless June sky. The streets beyond South Road are shaded by enormous trees, with some leaning over the dingy cottages and sari shops.

One of Southall’s most visible religious groups is the Sikhs. Almost 400,000 live in the United Kingdom, according to the 2001 census, making it the largest Sikh population outside India. London itself is home to about 104,000. Sikhs make up about 10 percent of the population of Ealing, the borough Southall is part of, and Hounslow borough to the south, according to the Museum of London. White British make up about 45 percent of Ealing’s population, according to the Greater London Authority.

At the heart of this tight-knit Sikh community is the largest Sikh temple outside India — Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara. Here, Sikh children come to learn the tenets of their faith and celebrate their culture.

A Sikh Community
The gurdwara, a large, white boxy building topped with a row of bulbous white domes, overshadows the neighboring houses and a Christian church offering services in both English and Hindu. Built in 2003 with a price tag of £1.87 million, the temple was paid for with money donated by the Sikhs of Southall.

This temple is both a community center and a place of worship. Inside, Sikhs pray before the Guru Granth Sahib, a collection of holy texts considered the 11th and final guru — the Living Guru. Sikhs bring their children here to language and religion classes. Downstairs, anyone is welcome to eat free vegetarian meals in a community kitchen called the langar.

Sikhism began in 1469 with the birth of the first guru. It is not so much a religion as a way of life; the word “Sikh” comes from Persian and means “student” or “learner.” For Sikhs, the whole world is like a university campus, and the experiences of living are their classes. They spend their lives learning spiritual truth and seeking union with God.

About 200 children attend classes to learn Punjabi, the native Sikh tongue from the Punjab region of northwest India, near Pakistan. The children, all pre-teens and teenagers, learn Punjabi the same way as English — first with letters, then basic words and finally whole sentences. They practice writing and reciting with older Southall Sikhs fluent in Punjabi.

A group of parents started the classes in 2009. “The kids were just mucking around, and we thought we’d teach them something,” said Jugpred Kaur, a mother of two. “And the classes just got bigger and bigger.”

The classes run from 6 to 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The parents reward the students for their hard work with fun days in a nearby park, where the children play games and romp on inflatable pads and slides. On a Thursday afternoon in early June, parents kept a watchful eye or served pizza and juice. Behind the play area a group of young men sat around a DJ playing CDs through speakers.

One of them was Benraj Singh, who teaches Punjabi and Bani, the ceremonial reading of the holy texts. For him, the classes let the children celebrate their Sikh identity. “They can learn about their region and roots,” he said. “They can recognize they’re unique and learn their identity…. It’s all practical. You do it, you put it through your life, for all your life.”

Class Time
The children were back in class Friday night, gathered in a high-roofed hall at the gurdwara to practice Punjabi and read the holy texts. At one end of the hall, a curvy dome on four pillars capped a white-and-gold altar upon which the Guru Granth Sahib lay. Above the dome a pink-tasseled shade hung from the ceiling. A large stained-glass window dominated the room. Long strips of white sheets lay in parallel rows over the dark blue carpet.

The students sat cross-legged on the sheets and wrote in their workbooks. The children wore white shirts and pants, with turbans on the boys’ heads and scarves on the girls’. Most head coverings were orange or white, with a sprinkling of black, red and gold. The choice of colors is largely a personal preference, although some have deeper meanings. White is for a person’s aura, dark blue for spiritual knowledge, orange for wisdom.

Voices filled the room as students recited Punjabi words and expressions at the direction of teachers sitting at the ends of the rows. Mothers reclined against the wall by the doors, chatting and keeping an eye on the toddlers. Men with prayer books sat in the far corners and recited their evening prayers alone.

Near the front doors a small group of older children sat in two rows around a single sheet, learning to recite the Guru Granth Sahib. At the opposite end of the hall, other children took a break from writing to engage in question-and-answer sessions with their teachers.

Balsharon Kaur, 10, has been learning Punjabi for a year. She prefers speaking to writing. “It takes some time to memorize,” she said. “At home, when you speak it, you get confident [from] using it outside, and want to practice more.”

Learning how to speak Punjabi, read the holy texts and knot turbans or headscarves is part of living proper, Kaur said. Being Sikh means “not eating meat or cutting my hair. My brother is a proper Sikh. He doesn’t eat meat or cut his hair. The tenth guru said not to.

“Don’t eat meat, yeah. How would you feel if someone ate you?”

Learning Discipline
Arshdeep Singh, 11, sat cross-legged at the end of a row. “I’m proud to be a Sikh,” he said. “I can protect myself. I’ve been learning gatka for four months. It means ‘martial arts.’”

He paused, and then nodded. “It you start it, you don’t give up. You don’t stop doing it. My teacher has been doing gatka for nine years, and he’s still doing it. It’s not about just learning, but also to serve, to learn discipline.”

This form of martial art is intended to improve self-discipline and improve physical fitness. Although Sikhism emphasizes peaceful living and respect for other ideas and religious beliefs, Sikhs resort to force to fight oppression. In the past they battled the Mughal Empire—Islamic rulers who oppressed their ancestors in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Gatka originally involved sparring with wooden sticks, although Sikhs in the British Indian Army added swordplay in the late 19th century. Today, practitioners train with sticks before using swords or other weapons, such as the katar, a short sword shaped like a dagger and used to punch through armor, and the chakar, a spinning weapon that looks like a wagon wheel with weights on the end of each spoke. Sikhs often perform gatka at Sikh festivals throughout the United Kingdom.

Gatka techniques emphasize balance and rhythm. They also build confidence. “My oldest son was shy. He wouldn’t talk to anyone,” Jugpred Kaur said. “I think he needed to focus on something,” she said. “When I introduced gatka to him, he was so happy. He’s much more disciplined now.”

The gatka class had less than an hour to go. The children would be back Saturday evening. On Sunday they could attend a gatka demonstration at the park—a reward for their hard work this week.

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Sleepless Nights Sun, 27 Jun 2010 06:05:35 +0000 Richard Keever Sleepless Nights
How St. Mungo’s is battling homelessness in the United Kingdom

By Richard Keever

It’s cold, dark and raining. Imagine that your hands are dirty, your pants are ripped and you’re wearing an old, beat-up jacket. You find a place to lie down in an alley across the street from a train station, but the only thing you have to cover yourself is a soaked newspaper. Such is the plight of many homeless people in the United Kingdom.

For hundreds of them, a charity known as St. Mungo’s offers an alternative — about 1,600 beds and meals every night all over the United Kingdom. In a city as big as London, with 7.1 million residents, the number of homeless is relatively small. The St. Mungo’s website claims that only about 265 people are homeless in London on a given night. Broadway, another London-based homelessness charity, reports about 3,500 “rough sleepers,” as they’re known in the United Kingdom, between April 2008 and March 2009. These low figures can be attributed to government support and the dozens of organizations that help the homeless.

St. Mungo’s began in 1969, when a Scot named Harry Stone began feeding the homeless who wandered the streets of Battersea, an inner-city district of South London. He and a group of volunteers bought soup and gave it to the homeless, provided companionship and helped as best they could. In an interview with The Guardian, Charles Fraser, St. Mungo’s current CEO, said that when the police began to investigate Harry Stone, he called himself St. Mungo because “a Christian saint’s name would stop police hassling workers on soup runs — they thought they were reverends.” St. Mungo is the patron saint of Stone’s hometown of Glasgow, Scotland.

Today, St. Mungo’s has a good track record. “Ninety percent of people we help are never homeless again,” says Katie Chowienczyk, 20. St. Mungo’s hires many of them for administrative positions, as janitors and as helpers in soup kitchens.

Chowienczyk raises funds for St. Mungo’s. She travels all around London, talking to people and asking them to donate money. One day she was at the Bond Street Tube stop in front of a Rolex watch store selling £4,000 watches. While others walked past in business suits or tailored dresses, she wore jeans, a T-shirt and a blue windbreaker that says “St. Mungo’s” on it.

St. Mungo’s provides counseling, housing locator services and programs for drug and alcohol abuse. According to Chowienczyk, “Seventy-five to eighty percent of homeless people have mental health issues. Drugs and alcohol problems result from being on the street.” These problems “can often be a form of self-medication,” says Judith Higgins, St. Mungo’s media manager.

As many as 200 volunteers serve St. Mungo’s by raising money, doing office work, serving food and cleaning the shelter. Funding comes from donations and government contracts.

St. Mungo’s has expanded its shelters throughout England and into Scotland and Wales. Since its humble beginnings in 1969, the charity has helped thousands of people escape a life on the streets.

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Musically Connected Fri, 25 Jun 2010 09:20:23 +0000 Leigh Anne Zinsmeister Musically Connected: Music in two different faiths

by Leigh Anne Zinsmeister

Sikhism and Anglicanism appear to be polar opposites, and in many ways they are. Sikhism, born in India 500 years ago, is a relatively young presence in England, whereas the Anglican Church has been the nation’s established church since the 16th century. One thing that ties these two religions together is their reliance on music as part of their worship and faith.

Sikh Music: Spiritual Connection

Sikhs of all ages come to worship in the peaceful prayer hall of the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara, a temple in Southall, a suburb west of London. They walk quietly up to the front to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, their holy scriptures, which rests on an elaborately decorated altar. Men, women, teens and children make an offering, kneel and touch their heads to the floor. A man waves a short silver baton topped with soft white material over the holy scriptures, keeping the air pure.

The worshipers then sit on the floor, bare feet tucked under so as not to show disrespect. They pray and reflect. Some leave before long, while others linger.

In the corner, three men sit cross-legged on the floor, singing softly and playing string and keyboard instruments. The melodic sounds carry throughout the temple over loudspeakers.

Sikhs are a fairly new, yet dominant presence in Southall. They arrived in masses from northwest India in the 1920s, 1950s and 1960s, seeking work in the textiles industry. The spot where the temple stands was a milk dairy before becoming a place of worship in 1967. The current temple, which is the largest gurdwara outside India, opened in 2003.

Sikhism means “disciple,” “student” or “learner of truth.” Sikhs are expected to earn an honest living, meditate daily about the word of God and be charitable. According to Navraj Singh, who works at the temple, Sikhism is more a way of life than a religion, and its basis is in seeking the truth.

Sikhs value equality and reject discrimination. According to Surinder Singh Purewal, general secretary at the temple, anyone may recite the scriptures. “Women sit side-by-side with men,” he says, emphasizing that there are no gender differences within Sikhism.

Music is an integral part of their worship. According to Navraj Singh, Sikh scriptures are written in poetry. Expressing them vocally through music helps connect them to the mind, body and soul.

Different types of music are played, depending on the day and time, with jubilant sounds for joyous occasions and more subdued notes for somber ones. Although there’s no Sabbath or distinction between days of the week spiritually, musical recitation of the scriptures replaces the instruments from sundown Friday until sunup Sunday.

Traditionally, Sikh music was played on string instruments such as sitars, but today it is mostly played on harmoniums, or small keyboards. “It’s easier to learn,” Navraj Singh says. “People have gotten lazy.”

But traditional string instruments are hardly a thing of the past. Only two blocks from the temple stands BINA Musical, a small store that specializes in making and selling traditional Indian instruments, particularly those used in the Sikh and Hindu faiths. Customers drift in and out of the building, where instruments, music books and religious figures crowd the many shelves lining the walls.

The store is a chain throughout England and India. The owner of the Southall location, K.S. Sura, says that for him, music is as much about religion as it is about entertainment. In modern times, when people are more hesitant to discuss religion in daily life, music helps connect believers of different faiths. “There’s only one Lord,” he says. “We call him by different names, but they’re all one.” He and his store seek to spread this message by selling instruments to complement the sung scriptures and by teaching lessons in drums and harmonium.

Anglican Music: Historical Tradition

Fifteen miles from the Sikh gurdwara, in the heart of central London, sits St. Bartholomew the Great. This old Anglican church is tucked away on a side street, surrounded by a courtyard of plants shaded by centuries-old trees. Inside, in a room off to the side of the incense-filled sanctuary, Peter Foggitt practices the piano on a Sunday afternoon. The heavy, intense sounds pierce the otherwise empty church.

A chorus student at Cambridge University, Foggitt plays for the same reason as the Sikhs—to express his religious beliefs. He also sings in the St. Bartholomew choir each Sunday and practices piano there between services. Foggitt had to audition to join the eight-member choir, which sings at two services every Sunday — a traditional mass in the morning and evensong in the evening. “You have to be approved by the director,” he says. “You have to be able to read [music] well, and you have to be able to sing in Latin and English and German.”

Since the choir is often more about the sound of the music than the meaning behind the message, not all members are religious. Foggitt says St. Bart’s is more high church than he would normally attend. High churches are more traditional and associated with Roman Catholicism, which Anglicanism grew out of in the 16th century. Low churches, on the other hand, are more liberal. “You don’t necessarily believe everything that’s going on, such as the niceties of the sacrament,” Foggitt says. “Sometimes your obligation is to forget what you personally believe and try to communicate what the service is about.” He receives a small amount for singing in the choir, although he says it’s not enough to live on.

In the Anglican Church, music is intertwined with its long history. The choral evensong at St. Bart’s blends vespers and compline — two ancient services of the Catholic Church. “There’s this theory that by hearing the choir singing, whether [the congregation] understood it[s language] or not, they would nonetheless receive some sort of spiritual edification,” Foggitt says. Foggitt thinks people attend evensong at St. Bart’s not because they’re passionate about the text or music alone but because they’re passionate about the combination.

For Anglicans, like Sikhs, music is an age-old way of professing their faith and enhancing their worship.

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The Dark Ages Wed, 23 Jun 2010 05:44:55 +0000 Alex Reese After having my computer stolen in London, I had limited computer access and, therefore, limited Internet access. But on June 11, I assumed all that would change as I ventured to Greece to visit my cousin at her house on the island of Mykonos. I was mistaken.

Mykonos is a small island of about 41 square miles that’s home to 9,300 people (not to mention the vast number of tourists who venture onto the island from cruise ships on a daily basis). The island is small but still manages to maintain a modern flair among its ancient history. My cousin’s house sits atop a small hill, overlooking the Chora (meaning town in Greek) where her father’s restaurant resides. Outside, from the patio, you can see the ocean touching the horizon. It is a beautiful place—tranquil during the day, boisterous at night. Lying on the beach is a daily activity before gallivanting into town to discover the amazing night life. But one thing was missing from my Grecian vacation … Internet access.

My uncle lives in the house only for the summer months, so Internet access has never been much of a necessity. This summer he decided to invest in the luxury when he realized how necessary it was for the three college students (me and my two cousins) residing in the house. After going to the phone store, finding an English-speaking employee and receiving set-up directions, we went home to find that his phone lines were not compatible with the Internet. Too old, we presumed. For the entire week, we went Internetless. It was somewhat invigorating, but at the same time I knew I had assignments to submit and people to contact.

I went about the week enjoying myself. When I finally returned home late Saturday night (June 19), I raced to the computer to check my email, Facebook, etc. But before I could even turn the computer on, my dad informed me that a huge storm had come through the area the night before, leaving us without cable and, therefore, without Internet. I felt as if I were living in the dark ages.

I went three more days without any Internet access that wasn’t from my iPhone. I felt limited and lifeless, and I realized how dependent we have become on communication through the Internet. Without it, we are at a complete loss. I am still ambivalent about this fact because although the Internet is incredibly useful, our dependency seems unhealthy!

I digress.

I finally have Internet, and I am elated. I am trying to catch up on my work and communications, but I fear it will take me quite some time. I was never able to write a post with closing remarks about the trip, so I will take this opportunity to do so,

The trip was the experience of a lifetime. I learned about the media abroad, different cultures and religions, and even made some great contacts along the way. Every aspect of the trip will stay with me throughout my life and my future career as a journalist. I am grateful to have had such an opportunity and to have met such amazing people. I wish I could do it all over again.

My advice for future study abroaders: Be prepared. I look back now and wish that I had had more time to prepare myself for the reporting because there is limited time to accomplish tasks once you are on the other side of the pond. But regardless, I highly recommend this trip to those hoping to pursue a career in journalism (both international and domestic) because it simply provides a new perspective that can prove to be invaluable.

Thanks for the memories #cronkiteuro!

Now, off to write that research paper!

A beach on the island of Mykonos

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London Eclipse Sat, 19 Jun 2010 04:13:25 +0000 Bobby Brown For three and half weeks, eight students crossed four countries to study journalism and report compelling stories. There where plenty of busy days, boring days, stressful days, fun days. However one consistent every day was endless laughter from everyone. During the time we spent together, we adapted to each other’s personalities, likes and dislikes, because at the end of the day, for those three weeks we only had each other.

The last day approached quicker then I think anyone could believe. We all woke up as a group for the last time as eight students with a common bond.  One by one, everyone started going their own way to begin the next part of life’s journey.

Eight people turned into four, as half the group left on the bus to the airport. Four turned into three when another walked off into the distance, as the last thing you could see was a suitcase being pulled into the bright morning sun. Three became two as another person waited for a taxi to take her away. Two became three when that person ran back to the group, not because he didn’t want to leave but because he decided the Underground was a better form of transportation. Then again, three become two when the Underground split the group apart on a train transfer. Finally, two become one as I got off the train at Terminal 4 at Heathrow to began new challenges and set new goals in my life as Bobby Brown.

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Bangers and Mash Fri, 11 Jun 2010 02:41:37 +0000 Bobby Brown While  in London, I learned that there’s a popular English dish here called bangers and mash, which can also be referred to as sausage and mash. Basically it consists of sausage links topped with onions on a bed of mashed potatoes. How does that not sound amazing? Well, it’s no secret that mashed potatoes is one of my all-time favorite foods, so I just had to try this dish.

The group and I were hanging out at a pub after a long day of reporting ;) and I saw it sitting right there on the menu board, written in colorful chalk—Bangers and Mash 850. I wasted no time in placing my order, and then I sat down at the wooden table waiting for it to be ready, like a hungry 8-year-old boy.

When the plate was finally put in front of me, I was in Idaho heaven. WAIT. U.K potatoes probably don’t come from Idaho, do they? So I dove into my first bit, then another and another, and I even heard my colleagues saying my name to get my attention, but all my focus was on these delicious bangers and mash. It was the best meal I have had here in London.

If you haven’t had them, think of it as a mix between a football game with Johnsonville brats and Thanksgiving with large bowls of mashed potatoes on the dinner table.

As the English would say, “Brilliant”

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Point Men for the God Squad Fri, 11 Jun 2010 00:52:24 +0000 Richard Keever At 6:30 a.m., when many 20-year-old Londoners are still sleeping, their alarm clocks go off and they spring into action. Their morning starts with a plan for what they’ll accomplish this day. They think of various ways they can leave a positive influence on this tiny, mostly African community in southeast London.

After this brief pause for meditation, they exercise for 30 minutes to make them stronger and improve their mental health. Push-ups, sit-ups, dips, squats and an occasional run are all part of the daily routine.

By 9 a.m. they’ve showered, eaten breakfast and talked to their companion about any upcoming appointments.

They are missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). These four have come to serve the church by sharing the Gospel with the people of London for two years: Elder Anthony Ellsworth, 21, from San Diego, Elder James Allred, 20, from Alberta, Canada, Elder Brett Christensen, 21, from Delta, Utah, and Elder Garren Allred, 20, from Cedar City, Utah.

* * *

In 1837 seven missionaries were sent from America to Great Britain, just seven years after Joseph Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. At this time, Mormons were persecuted because of their beliefs. Some outsiders called their church a “cult.” In 1844, Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob in Carthage, Mo., before facing trial on charges of starting a riot that were later upgraded to treason against Illinois.

In the early days of the church, people of African descent couldn’t serve as priests. They were thought of as “cursed” after God turned their skin black because they were “less valiant” during the time before Adam and Eve. In 1978, the historical practice of denying some dark-skinned men the priesthood was changed by a revelation that clarified the doctrine. Now all worthy men, regardless of skin color or race, could become priests.

Over the years, Mormon missionaries have been so successful in the United Kingdom that the church now counts about 200,000 members in a country with a population of roughly 61.4 million, according to the Office for National Statistics, a U.K. governmental agency.

Today, close to 800 Mormon missionaries are serving in the United Kingdom, according to Elder Christensen. The LDS church has one of the most active missions in the world. Mormons believe the Bible tells them to serve on a mission, citing Matthew 28:19-20: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

* * *

At 9 a.m. the elders begin Bible study. They read from the Bible, the Mormons’ testament of Christ known as the Book of Mormon and other LDS literature. This helps them feel the spirit and puts them in the right frame of mind.

Different reasons propel young Mormon men and women to serve the church. For Elder Garren Allred, his “brother coming back to the church was instrumental in me wanting to serve a mission.” He wanted to do the same service that the missionaries did to convince his brother. According to Elder Ellsworth, “The more you’re selfless, the more happiness and joy you receive.”

* * *

At 10 a.m. the missionaries hit the streets of southeast London to spread the message of God. They wear a crisp white shirt, a colorful tie and a name badge to identify themselves as representatives of the Mormon Church. Besides meeting and talking to people, the missionaries pitch in to paint fences, wash dishes or do anything else that will leave a positive influence on the community.

The people in this small, mostly African suburb hail from Sierra Leone, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Jamaica and various parts of Latin America. You could literally walk past five people, each from a different part of the Earth.

In this impoverished community, the LDS church is often referred to as the “rich church” because of the upkeep of the manicured church grounds and the cleanliness of the building. In a neighborhood with graffiti-tagged buildings, the Mormon Church stands proud as a symbol of what is good in the community. The residents of this community are open and kind to the God Squad—a nickname the locals have given the Mormon missionaries.

Often, the missionaries are welcomed into a home and offered food from whatever part of the world the homeowner is from. Most of the time, it’s traditional African food, such as fufu. This West and Central African dish is a thick, pasty starch pounded into a bowl and then molded into a ball. Soup is poured over it, and it’s eaten with a piece of flat bread.

On a typical day the missionaries have numerous appointments with church members, who invite them over for lunch, pray with them and look for an uplifting message in the scriptures. The missionaries also meet with investigators — those who want to learn more about the church or aren’t quite sure if the Mormon faith is right for them. Some investigators want to hear what the missionaries have to say.

Ellen Ray, a 29-year resident of this community, bumped into a couple of missionaries in December 2008. She “seen it built,” Ray said, referring to the new construction across the street from her house. “I wanted to see what it was.” She hoped it would be a church. “Then one day the missionaries came up to me … and I never looked back”.

But others challenge them, either physically or spiritually. One day Elders Ellsworth and Garren Allred ran into a rather large man on a bridge in London. They had spoken to him before and remembered that he was aggressive. He immediately began yelling at them, using quotes from the Book of Mormon. Eventually he pushed Elder Allred up against the wall. Somehow, the two missionaries were able to defuse the situation and quickly left the area.

Criticism is a part of their daily life. As Elder Allred says, “The two main things that people question are why were the blacks not given priesthood and why was polygamy accepted?” They handle the criticism with a scripted answer that basically says, “It was God’s revelation” at the time. In an e-mail from Elder James Allred, he states, “The only way to know spiritual truths is through the Spirit of God.” In other words, the best way to know answers is to pray.

When the missionaries don’t have appointments, they walk the streets of London, talking to people at random about anything from the weather to Bible stories. The day is a success if they can get one person to read a passage from the scriptures. If they build a relationship with people, Mormon or not, and ultimately become part of their lives, they believe they have furthered God’s work.

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At 9:30 p.m. the missionaries are home and can finally take off their shoes. They review their appointment book together and prepare any scriptures that might be read to people the next day. They also restock the box of Book of Mormon and prayer cards they keep in the trunk of the car. When all the preparation is complete, they write in their journals, wash up and then pray before going to sleep.

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