Europe, 1910: Christianity thrives. With approximately 600 million adherents worldwide, the majority living in Europe, no one imagined the impact Christianity would soon have on the world nor that within the next 100 years that number would more than triple.
Today the number of Christians throughout the world has reached more than 2 billion, the largest population of which is now found in America (including Central and South America) rather than Europe. Now, at less than 26 percent, Europe shares its dominant faith with its neighbors, including sub-Saharan Africa and Asia Pacific.
Of all the regions now practicing Christianity, sub-Saharan Africa has grown the most rapidly, exploding from 8.5 million in 1910 to more than 516 million today, according to a report by Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life. With such rapid growth in the last century, many non-Christian lives and cultures are changing.
“I was raised in Judaism but became LDS when I was 18,” said Jason Olson, 26, from Boston. “I did not believe in Jesus Christ at all.”
At 14, Olson attended Hebrew High where students would often meet at the local synagogue to hear from a special speaker. One speaker in particular discussed some of the “deceptive techniques” missionaries would use to try and convert Jews to Christianity.
When the meeting was over, Olson was confused and unsure what to believe.
“That set me off to have lots of questions about religion and about Christ,” Olson said. “I couldn’t accept that all Christians were wrong and we were right.”
Olson continued over the next several months, studying for himself the teachings of Christ in the bible. After receiving and reading a copy of the Book of Mormon from a friend, Olson decided to be baptized.
His request wasn’t received positively, however, and his parents refused to give him permission to join the LDS Church. They thought he’d been tricked by his Christian friends and insisted he study more with the rabbis at the synagogue.
“It was insulting because I’d studied it out on my own and decided for myself,” Olson said.
Despite his own family’s disapproval, Olson remained firm in his decision. A few years later, at the age of 18, he was baptized a member of the LDS Church, served a 2-year mission to New Jersey and later married in the LDS temple.
For many, having the courage to defy the family and culture they know to make such a change is no easy task. For Kay Nguyen Morrison, a Vietnamese graduate of BYU, making the choice to join the Church had big cultural implications — some that, for her, were hard to accept at first.
“In my culture, ancestor worshiping is common, ” Morrison said. “My family practices it and expected me to do the same. It made me ponder and actually try to investigate and gain my testimony before I made my decision.”
However difficult the decision may be, conversion from one’s own religion to any other religion seems to be an ever more common occurrence.
“I think the growth of Christianity is bringing different cultures together,” Morrison said. “Now they all have one similarity, which is faith in Jesus Christ, and that faith continues to grow as Christianity is expanding across the world.”
Just like those in 1910, Christians can only imagine what the future holds, but they hope it will be promising.
“The world is getting more united and becoming better,” Morrison said, “as least, that’s what I hope for.”