Joseph (Alpine German Speaking Mission)
–Paraphrased from Joseph’s mission interview–
Geography of the Mission
The mission itself is a little bit of a conglomerate. There was a Swiss mission with a German speaking part of Switzerland. Then there was the Munich mission which had Germany and Austria. That all got put together to form the Alpine German Speaking Mission. That included the German speaking part of Switzerland, the western border, Bayern in the South, and all of Austria. The entire country of Austria is in the mission. Down south they included the German speaking portion of northern Italy. Squeezed in the middle is a tiny country called Lichtenstein. That’s five countries. They all spoke what each of them would call the perfect language. I agree with most of them.
BYU and Karl G. Maeser
I started in Austria and was in the section that includes Vienna and the surrounding area. I went to Vienna for district meetings. It was really interesting. The history of the church as it is now is very concentrated in the big cities, because the stake in Vienna has five wards and one of them is international and English speaking. A lot of the member population is actually in the cities themselves. There is a lot of stuff that happened with WWII that caused people to leave the country. Regardless of if they were members of the church or any other group that had reason to leave, a lot of people just got up and left because that was the best thing to do. It’s interesting because Europe was one of the earliest missions that Apostles were sent to. England is a big famous one. Germany was one of the early places as well to receive the LDS missionaries. Here in Provo we have BYU and Karl G Maeser has a building named after him. He helped found the school and he was an early German member. He was an educational reformer and a very important guy. I think there is even a statue of him up in Saxony.
That’s a big deal because you don’t get a lot of the patriotism, but they have those same feelings of love for their land and fellow countrymen, but they can’t express it the same way we do. When they’ve been united under a single banner it’s been a time of war. The last one was WWII and that didn’t go very well for them. The world recognizes that it was a very evil thing that was being done by the Nazis. It is a good thing that they fell and everyone recognizes that. They were very patriotic during that time and were very into waving flags and going to rallies. They have this love of who they are, but they express it very differently.
Alcohol and Culture
Alcohol is a very big thing. We actually served in a city in Bavaria and many years ago there was a purity law that decided what was allowed nutritionally. It specifically had to do with what was allowed and what was not allowed when making beer. It goes back throughout their entire culture. There was the water filled with the risk of disease, or there was beer filled with alcohol that you could drink safely. It was carbonated and had flavor and so it was like heaven’s gift to man for them. It was a big deal and there is a lot of pride that goes into their brewing. It’s part of their national identity and is one of the ways that it is okay for them to show that love of land. I think it was Paul that said that to the Jews I became as a Jew, to those in prison I became as one in prison, just talking about how he was a messenger of Jesus Christ, but he wasn’t there to simply tell others that their lifestyle was wrong. He was there to show them that they were great people and there was a lot of good in what they do. He accepted and applied to himself everything he encountered and understood it at least. With the Word of Wisdom we aren’t going to go out and drink so we can understand the people, but we can learn more about it and try to understand who the people are and actually connect with them.
Steven (Alpine German Speaking Mission)
–Paraphrased from Steven’s mission interview–
The Alpine German Speaking Mission covers all of Austria, Southern Germany primarily Bayern, and most of the German speaking parts of Switzerland. I personally never served in Switzerland because of visa problems.
They speak a different language there, and we were trained in high German, but you learn to understand the dialects wherever you served, such as the Austrian dialect among others. They can be difficult to understand. I had a companion that came out of Switzerland and he tried to teach me a little bit of that German dialect and I had no idea what he was trying to say. The more you learn of high German, the better it will be for you switching from dialect to dialect. In my first area, there was one time where I heard three guys speaking pure dialect, and my training who was only a couple transfers from going home said he understood maybe 10% of what they said. There is a different dialect for every area you serve, but in school they speak high German so everyone will be able to speak and understand high German so it isn’t that big of a deal. The areas more in the countryside has the older generation that will only speak dialect.
Ward and Branch Sizes
Each of your areas will cover a ward. The church is reasonably small. You will switch between wards and branches. The wards are usually 150 average attendance. Don’t quote me on those numbers, but they will be a lot smaller than the wards in Utah. A lot of the active wards will be the size of your average student ward. Austria is a little slower than Germany I think. I served in Vienna, the biggest city in Austria, and I served in the least populated area of Austria as well. I saw where the church started in Austria and where the first baptisms were. There are a lot of older families that have been in the church for a while.
Changes in Missionary Work
The growth was slower, like it is in most of Europe, but I think that will change significantly in the next couple of years. I got to see an interesting change from traditional way of doing missionary work to the switch of focus to working primarily with the members to find people to teach. Working to reactivate members more and having members invite their friends to come to church was hard because Germans are very private people. It is very strange to just talk to a stranger on the street about personal subjects, especially religion. For a strange American to stop you on the street and ask you what you think about God is a little weird. Most of the time they said they didn’t have enough time or weren’t interested becuase it just isn’t very comfortable for most Germans. When they are talking wiht someone that is their friend that they know is a Mormon, they have a greater opportunity to talk about the Gospel and that opens doors. Of the people I taught, the most effective teaching was when the investigator was introduced to the church by a member. Those are general the teaching records you find that lead to baptism and activity. That is probably one of the hardest things out there, keeping someone active. You live in a world that is a lot different than Utah. Religion isn’t a huge thing out there. Most people in my mission are Catholic. They are born and raised Catholic and most of them die Catholic, but it is more of a tradition than anything else for a lot of the people out there. There are a lot of good people that are Catholics that were an example to me, but in general I feel like throughout Europe there is a turn away from active religion. I’m pretty sure it just comes from the history of what Europe has been through in the past hundred years.
Garrett (Alpine German Speaking Mission)
–Paraphrased from Garrett’s mission interview–
LDS History In Switzerland
Switzerland has a really long history within The Church- that’s part of the reason the first temple built in Europe was built in Bern, Switzerland. I believe it was one of the first places after England where missionaries were sent to help bring people to The Church. I think the first member of Switzerland was a shoemaker and the Elders in the field in Switzerland had shoes that were totally destroyed. And they went to the shoemaker and when they were waiting for their shoes to be prepared they started talking to this guy about the Gospel. He learned about The Book of Mormon, read it and then you had your first member in Switzerland.
The members in Switzerland- even people in Germany or Austria- will tell you the members in Switzerland are the strongest. It’s one of those things- it’s very family oriented. I think the Members of Switzerland- once they’re members, they’ll be members for generations. So that’s what is really cool about bringing a family to The Church in Switzerland- there’s a higher probability that not only them, but their children and their children’s children will stay strong in The Church- it’s very family oriented there.
American Missionary Visa Issues
The situation in the Alpine German-Speaking Mission is a little strange- two years ago any American could serve in Switzerland- you’d just have to apply for a visa. You’d generally get it in a couple months, but now strangely enough they’re not allowing any Americans into Switzerland- they’re only allowing Europeans- they might change that in the future. Throughout my whole mission there were 6-10 American missionaries and we were missionaries from America who got our visas before the cut off and we just kept updating our visas and just stayed there until we went home. Today I don’t think there’s a single American missionary in Switzerland unless they have some family ties to Switzerland, like being a dual citizen or something like that. American missionaries are still allowed in Austria and Germany. That’s what caused a sort of segregation in the mission itself, because of these visa problems we were having. I think they originally decided to do that because there were huge immigration problems in Switzerland- I think France is trying to the same thing. So to cut down on people immigrating into the country via visas, they made it so not only Americans, but anyone who’s not European couldn’t get a work visa.
I think every mission has one of those ongoing problems and for our mission it was visas- it was difficult for the missionaries to move around as much, because of the visa problems.
Chloe (Alpine German Speaking Mission)
–Paraphrased from Chloe’s mission interview–
Church and Mission in the Alpine Area
Our mission actually covers 5 countries: Southern Germany from Munich down, all of Austria, the german speaking part of Switzerland, the northern part of Italy, and Litchensutein is actually in there as well, but we are not allowed to proselyte there. Everywhere we served speaks German, but each country has a bit of a different german. Austrians are very sing-songy, germans just speak normal german but it is slightly different. Swiss people don’t even speak german: they speak Swiss german which is totally different, weird and beautiful. In the part where we serve in Italy they speak german as well.
Something interesting about Switzerland is that they speak 4 mother tongues: French, German, Italian, and Romanian, so there’s an influence of all those languages, even in the “high german” spoken by the missionaries. I can speak more about Switzerland since I spent more time there and I understood more. I do want to talk about my first ward in Germany. Attendance was great, there were 200 or more of attendance, with lots of visitors. There was lots of work to do since I was in a huge city.
In Switzerland they have 3 german speaking stakes, with lots of districts and branches. I only served in wards. My ward in Zollikofen was huge, and it was right next to the temple. We had french and Italian speakers always there because they lived in the temple district. In Zurich there’s actually an international ward. It was nice because we had a lot of visitors including Americans
The main religion in Switzerland in Christianity, with as many protestant or catholic churches every where as there are LDS churches in Utah. The people are very religious; they say they believe in God but they don’t attend church outside of Christmas or Easter. They stay at home and worship as they want, and a lot of people say they believe in nature. That’s a huge part of their culture and they’re always outside.
Something very cool about the Bern Switzerland temple is that Karl G. Maesar, who was a convert in Germany, was kicked out because of his missionary efforts. He crossed over the border, and because of him the church was built up in Switzerland. By the beginning of the second world war, there were actually quite a few saints there. Unfortunately, because of the war they had to evacuate the missionaries overnight. The members were left feeling isolated, but everything worked out. It is amazing that the temple was eventually chosen to be built in Baron. Swiss saints are very strong, and they were ready. Another interesting fact is that many saints also migrated to the U.S. and continue to be proud of their heritage.
The German People
With the fall of the Berlin wall and the events surrounding that, many of the people felt very lost. My trainer told me how the German people have such a rich history, but they have experienced so many tragedies as well. Today, you can still feel a lot of pressure, especially on the older generations. A lot of people are even scared to hope or to believe in God, because they’ve seen and experienced so much. It was crazy for a 20 year old girl to tell them they could find peace through Jesus Christ, find hope in life after death and be saved. Sometimes they would just shut you down, but it was incredible to be a part of these people’s life when they would let us.
Living in Zurich
Zurich is one of the richest cities in the world. People wear Gucci and Prada and look down on us a little. You see no homeless people. They have a great medical system. The lakes are beautiful and they are very proud of their geography. There are a lot of beautiful churches. You can just see that it’s a very wealthy place. A lot of people work for the bank. Swiss banks are just really good. I don’t know a ton about it, but most people do work for the banks. There are a lot of immigrants from Africa and the Middle East because they have such a good health care system. It’s not uncommon to see ton of people from all over Africa. The people are so cool. The outskirts of Zurich have a lot more immigrants. The Swiss are more downtown.
Living in Switzerland
They have all four seasons. It rains a lot in the summer. Every house has to have a bomb shelter by law. There are these big cement safehouses with bathrooms and a lock. Not everyone goes to college or university. It’s different than Germany. Every store closes by 6pm. Some places stay open until 8 and on thursdays the malls are open until 10. Everything is closed on Sundays. In Germany every business has a day that it is closed in addition to Sunday.