This week in Mormon Land: Convert retention rates around the world, reaching out to asylum seekers, and disappearing Bibles

(Courtesy photo | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) A sacrament meeting in Africa.

The Mormon Land newsletter is a weekly highlight reel of developments in and about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whether heralded in headlines, preached from the pulpit or buzzed about on the back benches. Want this free newsletter in your inbox? Subscribe here.

Attention: retention

Getting converts into the font is one thing. Keeping them in the pews is something else.

So how is the church doing around the globe at retaining new members?

Matt Martinich decided to find out. The independent researcher surveyed thousands of returned missionaries to see how many converts remained active in the faith a year after their baptism.

“Fascinatingly, there is no significant difference in convert retention rates for missions outside of the United States versus inside the United States (49% and 50%, respectively),” he writes at ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com. “Also, many of the lowest baptizing missions have the highest estimated convert retention rates one year after baptism.”

The top five spots in his country-by-country breakdown:

  • Central Eurasia, Congo • 80%.

  • Ivory Coast • 74%.

  • Kenya, Liberia, Samoa • 70%.

  • Zimbabwe • 69%.

  • French Polynesia • 66%.

The bottom five:

  • Puerto Rico • 34%.

  • Uruguay • 33%.

  • Armenia/Georgia • 30%.

  • Poland • 29%.

  • Austria, Venezuela • 25%.

See the whole list here.

Hospital help

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Workers load more than 130 donated hospital beds into shipping containers in Melbourne, Australia. The beds will be used at Port Moresby General Hospital in Papua New Guinea.

Papua New Guinea will be getting its first Latter-day Saint temple in coming years. But this month the church gave the Pacific island country something more pressing and practical: hospital beds.

Partnering with Pacific Assist and Castlemaine Health, Latter-day Saint Charities supplied Port Moresby General Hospital with more than 130 hospital beds.

“Although we have 1,200 beds … some of the beds are really in dire need [of] repair,” Kone Sobi, the hospital’s director of medical services, said in a news release, “and some of them really need to be destroyed … because they’re so old.”

Sharon Eubank, head of Latter-day Saint Charities and first counselor in the women’s Relief Society general presidency, and Becky Craven, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency, visited Papua New Guinea, the release added, and will be traveling to New Zealand and Fiji as well.

Pray for U.S.

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaks at the North America Northeast member devotional in the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass., on Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019.

At a time when the American president faces impeachment proceedings and a potential constitutional clash looms, senior apostle M. Russell Ballard is urging Latter-day Saints to pray for the country and its leaders.

“Our nation was founded on prayer, it was preserved by prayer, and we need prayer again,” Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, told members at a devotional Sunday in Worcester, Mass. “ … I invite you to join in a new movement. Invite your neighbors, your colleagues, your friends on social media to pray for this country.”

Ballard quoted Latter-day Saint scriptures, warning that “when the wicked rule, the people mourn” and that “honest men and, I add, women should be sought for diligently.”

He said members “must stand boldly for righteousness and truth and must defend the cause of honor, decency and personal freedom,” according to a transcript of his speech.

Ballard delivered his address as part of a journey to the Northeast with fellow apostle D. Todd Christofferson that included a stop at the birthplace of Mormon founder Joseph Smith in Sharon, Vt., noted a church news release. Ballard is a great-great-grandson of Smith’s older brother, Hyrum, who was gunned down with his brother in Illinois in 1844.

The longtime apostle, who turned 91 this month, said in a video interview that he often reflects on his ancestors. “I hear them say, ‘Get going, boy, do something worthwhile. Tell the world what’s happened.”

For his part, Christofferson had a front-row seat during another pivotal time in U.S. political history. He worked as a law clerk in the 1970s to the federal judge who played a key role in exposing the Watergate scandal.

“Judge John Sirica and I listened to the subpoenaed audiotapes from the White House meetings that demonstrated clearly the complicity of President [Richard] Nixon in the effort to cover up who was responsible for the break-in at the Watergate [complex],” Christofferson said in 2017.

Southwest ministry

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) COO Denise Blok provides a tour to Latter-day Saint apostle Ulisses Soares of the Central Texas Food Bank in Austin on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019.

Two apostles took their ministering to migrants this month.

Ronald A. Rasband visited a multifaith shelter for asylum seekers in Phoenix, according to a news release, while Ulisses Soares went to a food bank in Austin, Texas, and met with a Catholic official about opening more welcome centers for refugees and immigrants.

“We support the laws of the country, we understand the laws, and we agree that we have to protect our borders,” Soares said in the release. “But once we have somebody by us, our neighbor, who is in need, we will act in love and help and support [these] people.”

Said Sally Nicholls, who serves as an immigrant services missionary for the church with her husband, Richard: “We are here to love everyone. We’re here to help everyone no matter where they stand — we don’t care what their background is. If they come, we will offer help.”

Cuban ties

The church’s governing First Presidency met with Cuba’s ambassador to the U.S. this week in Salt Lake City.

The top diplomat, José R. Cabañas, reaffirmed that the “church is welcome in his Caribbean country,” according to a news release, “... [and] spoke about the importance of solidarity after natural disasters and the church’s cooperation with social and community organizations in Cuba.”

Cuba has more than 350 members, according to Cumorah.com, and three branches (small congregations). The church reports that a district was created there in 2017.

Vanishing Bibles

Most Marriott brand hotels, whose namesake founders are Latter-day Saints, continue to supply copies of the Bible and their faith’s signature scripture, the Book of Mormon, in their guests’ rooms.

But those once-ubiquitous Gideon Bibles are no longer finding much room at other inns.

The hospitality analytics company STR found that the percentage of U.S. hotels with religious materials in their rooms had plunged from 95% in 2006 to 48% in 2016, the Los Angeles Times reports.

This week’s podcast: Removing the stigma of depression

(Courtesy photo) Jane Clayson Johnson

During the recent General Conference, Reyna Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, gave a widely praised sermon about depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illness.

Jane Clayson Johnson has contributed to that conversation. A journalist known nationally for her work at CBS News, ABC News and NPR, she faced her own battle with clinical depression.

In her book, “Silent Souls Weeping: Depression — Sharing Stories, Finding Hope,” and in this week’s podcast, she describes her own experience as well as what she learned from more than 150 other Latter-day Saints who have dealt with depression.

Johnson emphasizes why these stories must be told and how Mormonism poses distinctive challenges for those suffering from emotional afflictions.

Listen here.

Swan song

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Temple Square organist Bonnie Goodliffe performs her final organ recital at the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. Goodliffe has been one of Temple Square's organists for 40 years.

Bonnie Goodliffe’s 40-year run as Temple Square organist was noteworthy not just for its duration but also for the key parts she played along the way.

In 1988, she became the first female organist to accompany the famed Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square on a broadcast. Besides her role in the regular organist rotation, she performed during General Conference and with the Temple Square Chorale and Bells on Temple Square. She taught at the Tabernacle Choir training school and served on the music committee that selected pieces for the church’s 1985 hymnbook.

On Oct. 21, she offered her final weekday organ recital in the Tabernacle — 40 years to the day after she played her first — to the delight of several hundred applauding admirers.

“I never dreamed about being a Tabernacle organist when I was a child. It wasn’t possible, since they were only men,” Goodliffe told The Salt Lake Tribune. “But I was at the intersection of events in history and happened to have the right training.”

Former Tabernacle Choir director Craig Jessop praised her as a “true trailblazer” in church music and beyond.

Former CDC doctor dies

(Courtesy photo) James O. Mason, former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

He battled prejudice against AIDS patients and helped Ryan White get into school. He oversaw the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and advanced medical care in the nation and around the world. And he rose through the ranks of Latter-day Saint leadership and became a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy, where he watched over his beloved Africa.

James O. Mason, who died Oct. 9 at age 89, did all that while raising seven children with his wife, Marie.

“Prayer, at critical times when I cared for seriously ill patients, often led to approaches and ideas that positively and significantly affected clinical outcomes,” the physician wrote in 2010 for FairMormon, a Latter-day Saint apologetics group. “Many significant professional decisions I was called upon to make in my work were based upon objective, well-controlled science and the confirmation of the Spirit. There is a spirit of truth. It acts upon people of all religious persuasions, living in every country, to improve the lot of mankind.”

Temple updates

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Latter-day Saint apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf, center, with members of the church's Europe Area Presidency after the rededication of the Frankfurt Germany Temple on Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019.

• Popular German apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf rededicated the enlarged and renovated Frankfurt Temple on Sunday.

“When you come to the temple, always think of Jesus Christ because he is the center of our doctrine. We are the Church of Jesus Christ and you are the Latter-day Saints,” Uchtdorf told German youths in a devotional. “You are a blessing to this part of the world. God loves you, he trusts you. Please, have trust in him, too.”

Germany is home to nearly 40,000 Latter-day Saints — though membership has been slipping there, according to Cumorah.com — and two temples. Uchtdorf rededicated the twice-renovated Freiberg Temple in 2016.

• Apostle Quentin L. Cook is scheduled to rededicate the renovated Baton Rouge Temple on Nov. 17 after a public open house from Oct. 26 through Nov. 2. The revamped building, Louisiana’s only Latter-day Saint temple, includes an enclosed portico and a taller steeple.

• Utah moved another step toward gaining its 18th Latter-day Saint temple when a groundbreaking took place Saturday for the Saratoga Springs Temple.

Craig C. Christensen, Utah area president, recalled visiting the temple site a month ago.

“After I had absorbed the prominence of this particular setting, I started to picture in my mind’s eye the construction of the temple over the coming months,” the general authority Seventy said in a news release. “[Then] I started to think about what will take place within the walls of the temple once it is completed and dedicated, the sacred ordinances and covenants that will be administered here. I realized, in a more profound way, how this particular temple will bless many individuals and families, including your children, your marriages, your families, and, especially, many of your ancestors.”

The three-story, 87,000-square-foot structure — along with those announced for Orem, Taylorsville, Tooele Valley, Layton and Washington County — will bring the total tally of Latter-day Saint temples in Utah to 23.

Missionary dies

A 21-year-old missionary laboring in his native Congo has died.

Hermann Keredjim Mwanken, who is from the capital of Kinshasa and had been serving in the Mbuji-Mayi Mission since November 2017, died after a brief illness.

“We pray that his family and loved ones will feel comforted and supported at this difficult time,” church spokesman Daniel Woodruff said in a news release.

Quote of the week

“America and the nations of the earth, as in times past, are at another crossroad. Where we go will determine our future and the future of our children and grandchildren.”

Apostle M. Russell Ballard, speaking to members in Worcester, Mass.

Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.