“Church Hosting Builds Bridges,” Liahona, Nov. 2002, 126–28
When Norman D. and Luana Shumway, directors of Church hosting in Salt Lake City, met a prominent Christian minister from the midwestern United States, he told them he didn’t know exactly why he had come to visit. Brother and Sister Shumway decided to take him on a tour of the Latter-day Saint Humanitarian Center and Welfare Square to help him find out.
“During the more than two hours we spent with him,” recalls Brother Shumway, “the words that he used over and over again were ‘incredible,’ ‘unbelievable,’ ‘amazing.’ And he kept saying, ‘Oh, there’s so much we can learn about how to be followers of Christ.’”
From Buddhist monks to military personnel to government officials, hundreds of leaders in business, politics, and religion visit Church headquarters in Salt Lake City each year. They are welcomed by the directors of Church hosting and taught about Church history and doctrine at sites such as Temple Square, the Family History Library, the Humanitarian Center, Welfare Square, the Museum of Church History and Art, and the Conference Center.
“We believe we can show these guests what the Church does, and we don’t have to explain very much,” says Brother Shumway. The First Presidency gave Lowell and Tamara Snow, former directors of Church hosting, similar instructions: “Don’t talk too much. Let the Church speak for itself.”
And speak for itself it does. At Welfare Square, guests see basic Church beliefs in action while they take a tour of welfare facilities. “As members of the Church we have a covenant obligation to care for the poor and the needy,” explains Mel Gardner, manager of the bishops’ storehouse located at Welfare Square. “But everything we do is designed to foster self-reliance. In turn, people who receive help can lift others through meaningful service.”
Brother Gardner leads guests through a grocery store with no cash registers, where those who are in need and who have been referred by their bishops receive food. “We say it’s the best food money can’t buy,” he quips.
Guests are often impressed by the multitude of volunteers from local stakes working at the storehouse, the bakery, the cannery, the dairy plant, and the Deseret Industries thrift store. A framed quote from the Prophet Joseph Smith explains why that spirit of volunteerism pervades the Church: “A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race” (History of the Church, 4:227).
“That’s what we’re all about”—blessing and serving, says Brother Gardner at the end of a tour, when guests are invited to drink chocolate milk and eat cheddar cheese produced by Deseret Dairy.
The nearby Latter-day Saint Humanitarian Center shows the international scope of the Church’s welfare projects. “We are followers of Christ, and in everything we do, we try to exemplify the things He taught,” explains Elder Jerry Brown, a full-time senior missionary, as he leads guests through warehouse rooms stacked from floor to ceiling with bales of clothing, shoes, medical supplies, and educational materials awaiting shipment. Sometimes guests meet trainees involved in a training program at the Humanitarian Center and Welfare Square, a program that includes employment and language training.
“It is so gratifying to see shipments of essential clothing, medical equipment, and other materials leave each week for the needy nations of the earth,” says William D. Reynolds, manager of the Humanitarian Center. “But equally gratifying is to see the joy in the eyes of the trainees as they gain more self-reliance through learning and applying job skills.”
At Temple Square, sister missionaries share basic gospel messages. Guests of the Church can usually receive tours from sister missionaries who speak their native language, and often the choice of tour guides proves inspired. Sister Shumway recalls a time when one guest antagonistically asked how Native Americans feel about the Book of Mormon. The sister missionary leading the tour responded, “Well, I’m part Blackfoot and Shoshone.” Then she shared her love for the Book of Mormon.
When the bobsled team from Monaco arrived for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, they had a request—a visit to the Family History Library. At the library, guests learn what “families can be together forever” means. “We believe we can be with our families for eternity, and part of that is identifying these people that we can be with,” explains Elaine Hasleton, supervisor of library public affairs.
Guests often begin feeling the excitement of family history work as they see hundreds of patrons searching four floors of genealogical records. During one memorable visit, a guest of Eastern European ancestry who had felt only lukewarm interest in family history was shown ships’ registers and immigration records of his ancestors. “Two and a half hours later,” recalls Sister Shumway, “we told him we had to leave, and he said, ‘Go ahead and leave. I’m staying.’”
Guests do eventually go on their way, and they take lasting impressions with them. “Guests usually leave Salt Lake saying, ‘I came not knowing about the Church, but I found warmth, friendship, love, and caring,’” says Brother Snow. And that, adds Brother Shumway, “is what we try to do first of all—create bridges of understanding between the world and the Church.”