Global Histories

Ryan Saltzgiver, Global history specialist
5 November 2019

In this post Ryan Saltzgiver, head of the Global Histories project, describes what he and his team have learned as they have gathered information about the growth of the Church around the world.

In June 2018 the Church History Department began publishing Global Histories, a new section on and in the Church History section of Gospel Library. The Global Histories project is a collection of brief histories of the Church in various countries and is the first attempt by the department to publish a broad survey of the history of the Church throughout the world. Each global history contains a brief overview of the history of the Church in a region or country, statistical data, a chronology, and a selection of key stories of faith from the Saints in that area.

While many members of the Church have some sense of the Church’s global reach, few know how the Church became a global faith. For generations, the assumption has been that the Church’s focus on a massive force of missionaries speaking hundreds of languages was singlehandedly responsible for carrying the gospel throughout the world. A survey of the previously published literature on the global Church reveals that this has been the primary focus of scholarship. While it's true that increased missionary work was largely responsible for spreading the gospel worldwide, our work on Global Histories revealed—very quickly—that this is an incomplete narrative.

Traditional missionary work indeed played a crucial role in spreading the gospel. The first preaching of the gospel in Europe, the South Pacific, and Asia was carried out by men and women called by Church leaders to travel to distant unknown places, learn foreign tongues, and invite others to come unto Christ. However, the increase in global migration has been equally important in bringing the gospel to new countries. In the late-19th century, British Latter-day Saints seeking economic opportunity or serving in the military preached in Australia, India, and South Africa. German Saints seeking economic opportunity in the aftermath of both World Wars carried the gospel to Argentina, Brazil, and the Middle East and established the first major presence for the Church in Dublin, Ireland. U.S. servicemen serving in Korea and the Philippines established the first branches in those nations. Likewise, many people from Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa found the gospel while living in Europe and the United States. After joining the Church, many of these faithful Saints felt inspired to return home and preach to their compatriots.

The Global Histories project has renewed our appreciation for the importance of the voices of local members in telling the story of the Church. Whether it was missionaries, servicemen, or local people who first preached the gospel, it was the local converts whose sacrifices to serve, preach to their neighbors, and build the Church in their homelands provided a permanent foundation for the Church to remain and grow.

We have learned that when we focus on the voices of the local members and attempt to understand what it means to be a Latter-day Saint in the social, political, economic, and cultural circumstances particular to each location, we find a people of faith and devotion. The “stories of faith”—the centerpiece of Global Histories—share the personal narratives of Saints from around the world who have accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ and become Saints through the power of the Atonement. Many of these Saints—like Philippe and Annelies Assard, who left their comfortable lives in Germany to return to Philippe’s native Côte d’Ivoire to share the gospel with his countrymen—have sacrificed to spread the gospel.1 Global Histories includes countless stories of Saints from Brazil, Japan, Tonga, Guatemala, and Ukraine who made long journeys to attend a temple.2 There are stories of lone members remaining faithful for decades with little contact with the Church,3 miraculous healings,4 dreams and visions,5 and scripture translations.6 And there are the simple stories of faithful Saints finding ways to serve one another, overcome pain and loss, find joy, and live godly lives.7 (Links to all of these faith-building stories can be found in the footnotes.)

Philippe and Annelies Assard with early members of the Abidjan Branch

Japanese Latter-day Saints preparing to visit the temple in Hawaii

Local perspectives can be difficult to find. Because the Church History Library houses the institutional records of the Church, and because it was the primary location for gathering documents of historical significance for many years, many of our collections are specific to the Intermountain West or focus on Church operations and statistics. This is changing through projects like Global Histories and as more record preservation centers are opening around the world. We have taken great pains to find the voices of local women and men who have built the Church in their homelands. Often this has required that we pay close attention to branch, mission, and membership records for mentions of converts by name. We have also created a growing network of international members—through social media, personal interactions, and other correspondence—who are helping us to better tell their stories.

We have frequently partnered with members of the Global Support and Acquisitions Division to acquire records, record oral histories, and collaborate with members in sharing their stories. These collaborations between the Global Histories team, Global Support and Acquisitions, and local members have informed current and future collection development to better document the history of Saints throughout the world.

Global Histories in general and the stories of faith in particular highlight the mercy, patience, and grace of God in His loving care for all His children. As we have thoroughly studied the history of the Church throughout the world, searching out the voices of local members and learning of the ways God has stretched out His hand in the lives of His Saints, His love is evident everywhere. We have seen that while there are certain core principles—the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the reality of the Restoration, the requirement of repentance, and the need to serve—that all members accept and act upon, the way the gospel is preached, accepted, and lived is unique to the location, circumstances, and cultures of all God’s children. God truly speaks to us how, when, and where we are best able to hear His voice and follow His word.

Here are three ways to check out all the new histories that have been added:

On your mobile device in the Church History section of the Gospel Library app.