BYU professors discuss history of missionaries in Europe

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Eric Dursteler, Cindy Brewer, Craig Harline and Nick Mason discuss the history of Christian missionaries in Europe in the David M. Kennedy Center (Brianna Vail)
Eric Dursteler, Cindy Brewer, Craig Harline and Nick Mason discuss the history of Christian missionaries in Europe in the David M. Kennedy Center. (Brianna Vail)

The David M. Kennedy Center held its monthly Café CSE event by holding a discussion panel with four BYU professors discussing the history of missionaries in Europe. The panel consisted of Eric Dursteler, Craig Harline, both history professors, Cindy Brewer, an associate professor in German, and Nicholas Mason, an English professor.

Mason led the discussion, while Dursteler, Harline and Brewer, who all served missions in Europe, discussed the gradual change the continent experienced in world history. The three discussed the difference each missionary era experienced throughout history and how certain areas of Europe had more success in baptizing.

Dursteler explained that in his era of serving a mission in Italy, there was very little diversity in the congregation. He said the percentage of immigrants today in Italy has drastically increased in the past 25 years and has changed the way missionaries are working.

“Missionaries work with immigrant populations, they probably have more success in those populations. Some of those immigrants are already part of the church and contribute leadership, perspective and linguistic issues,” Dursteler said.

He also said there has been growth in leadership and positive development in terms of rooting the church in Italy.

Harline supported Dursteler’s theory by explaining immigrants are target investigators because immigrants don’t have built-in relationships.

“The number one reason why people convert is relationships. The promise of friends, family and so on. It’s true in the Roman Empire, it’s true in early modern Europe, it’s true in the present as well. This helps to explain, why if you go on a European mission you’ll mostly speak with immigrants,” Harline said.

Brewer explained in her mission in Austria, the sister missionaries made up a large percentage of the mission, like today. Brewer said Europe grew to the idea of women in the mission field from Protestants and Catholics. She said women in the mission field were first seen as wives, nurses and school teachers, but eventually dominated missions.

“Missionaries were men. The idea that this is a man’s assignment, this is not what women do existed. But somewhere around the 1890s, Europe started to catch on to something, which something our church is also catching on to, is the value of women in the mission field,” Brewer said.

She explained the difference of only having male missionaries as compared to having both male and female was not just teaching and baptizing men, but women and families.

“If you had women missionaries, and they were teaching women, and the women converted and then those women taught their children. Then all of a sudden you have generational progress,” Brewer said.

The three professors agreed that serving in Europe has changed in today’s missions due to the emphasis of serving. They agreed their methods of finding investigators and teaching them has drastically changed over the past decades but improved to help the church grow.

“I think that is going forward but also looking backward,” Dursteler said.

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