July 07, 2011
Burrowing further back into my memories, I find another reason that made my "weirdest two years" so strange.
Shortly after arriving at the MTC, all the new missionaries headed to Taiwan, Japan and South Korea were shown a film (pretty sure it was 16mm, that's how old I am) featuring Spencer W. Kimball. In it he outlined the proselyting strategy in the Far East for the decades to come.
The impression I took away is certainly stronger that my recall of the precise details. The general idea was that the church would pour thousands of missionaries into those countries, baptize zillions, and then an army of Japanese and Taiwanese and Korean missionaries would invade China.
It was world conquering time. Hoorah! (Being a Mormon missionary reminds you why nineteen-year-olds make such good cannon fodder.)
Okay, not in those exact terms, but that's what the Risk board graphics implied. Including Korea and Japan in the equation was culturally naive, to say the least. And politically, China--which would be welcoming the church with open arms any day now (thirty years ago)--obviously didn't get the memo.
But as Oddball says in Kelly's Heroes: "Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves?" So thousands of missionaries were sent to Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. Missions divided and subdivided like bacteria in a petri dish.
Thinking about it now, it was exactly the same earnest spiel that every multi-level marketing business plan spells out: exponential growth is only a lot of hard work away. So when missions started delivering the big numbers, everybody was primed to believe it, proof that God was on our side.
Nobody wanted to know how. Caught up in the heady good times of any bubble, nobody does (except the cynics with the negative waves). Until the whole thing went pop and plop. And then came the inevitable Emily Litella moment: "Never mind."