Mormon missionaries target Iqaluit

"In Iqaluit there's a warmth in the midst of the cold"

Belmont Citizen-Herald/October 6, 2004
By Sara Minogue

Several months ago, Iqaluit resident Brian Higgins made a trip to Ottawa, where he joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Now that he's back home, two young missionaries have followed him, hoping to bring the Book of Mormon to the Eastern Arctic.

It was June when Higgins was browsing for a book on Mormonism at Chapters book store in Ottawa. By coincidence, a clerk at the store was a member of the church. The clerk invited Higgins to attend a church service, and on Sunday, picked him up at his hotel.

A week and a half later, Higgins became the first Nunavut convert, thereby alerting church officials to a new part of Canada thirsty for religion.

"He had studied it on his own for a number of years, so it wasn't a new thing for him" says Elder Gamble, 21, of Preston, Idaho, who is one of the two young men from the American church now roaming Iqaluit, neatly dressed in suit and tie.

"There's a branch of the church in Whitehorse," Gamble says, "but when he came up here we realized there was nothing for him to come back to, no network of the church."

David Ulrich, who is taking time off from the University of Michigan to serve as president of the Quebec mission, says it was the experience of meeting Higgins that "opened my eyes to what we might do."

Two months ago, he made the decision to send the missionaries to Nunavut.

"As I thought about that, and frankly, as I prayed about that, I felt like it might be a good time to have our missionaries go up there and complement the great missionary work that's been done by other churches," Ulrich said from his headquarters in Montreal.

Mormon missionaries typically spend two years, and their own money, spreading the word before returning home to their work or education. Young male missionaries, who make up about 75 per cent of the missionary force, take the name "Elder," the honorific that signals their ordination to the post of missionary.

"The overall goal is to bring people to Christ, through baptism," Gamble says. "Up here, more so we're just kind of introducing the church to the North, just to show that it's more than the TV commercials."

Neither of the young men expected to find themselves in the Arctic when they were assigned to the Quebec region, but both have been pleased since their arrival on Sept. 3.

Over coffee at the Navigator Inn last Thursday - or hot chocolate for the missionaries, whose church eschews coffee, tea, tobacco and alcohol - two people said hello to the missionaries as they walked in, one of whom they were already scheduled to visit at home that evening.

"I would say the response here is more open than the towns I've been to in Quebec," says Gamble, who previously spent time in Quebec City, Chicoutimi, Valleyfield, and downtown Ottawa.

Gamble, along with Elder Marsh, 19, of South Jordan, Utah and the taller of the two, made one of his first appearances at Mass Registration at the Arctic Winter Games complex on September 11, manning a booth stocked with pamphlets and videos, and making balloon animals for young visitors.

They also volunteered to serve hot dogs at an Anglican barbecue, and have appeared on local radio.

Last Friday, they visited the young offenders at Isumaqsunngittukkuvik, to talk to the inmates "about choices," Gamble says.

Ulrich hears reports from the missionaries two or three times a week and is also pleased with the response.

"Religion is not always an easy thing for people to accept, and yet it seems like in Iqaluit there's a warmth in the midst of the cold, there's a warm spot for religion."

Last Sunday, 11 people met for a small church service, including two newcomers to Iqaluit who were church members before moving here from elsewhere in Canada.

"That's not a lot, but that's pretty good," Ulrich says.

He himself is hoping to visit Iqaluit next spring, and is considering keeping missionaries here all winter. He is not ruling out future missions across Nunavut that would treat Iqaluit as a base.

In recent months, Nunavut has been a magnet for religious groups.

The Arctic Bible Conference held in Iqaluit in April attracted crowds of up to 800 people, and filled every hotel room in town.

In August, over 200 people in the Kivalliq region met in Arviat for a conference hosted by the Promise Keepers, an evangelical group dedicated to helping men put family first.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a Christian church that emphasizes the importance of family.

Members study the Book of Mormon as well as the bible. Church founder Joseph Smith is credited with discovering the book inscribed in gold tablets in New York State in 1823.

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