Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Formula, part 1. Chinese Restaurants.

My goal in keeping this blog/journal is to encourage others to give out copies of the Book of Mormon. I realize that the concept of giving out foreign language books to strangers is just plain weird to many people, so here are some hints if you are intrigued by this and wish to try it.

The goal of the book placement effort is to provide, in a friendly non-threatening way, gospel material to someone who is willing to receive it in their native language and English. Of course, do not force contact on someone, or try to force a referral, or ask for personal contact information unless they explicitly express a positive desire to receive the missionaries, or receive more information.

I suggest starting with Chinese, for two reasons. First, almost every town, even small towns of 3,000 people, usually have at least one Chinese restaurant. Second, recent Chinese-speaking immigrants are usually very happy to receive bi-lingual material. To me, the missionary nature of this work has taken 2nd place to bringing people happiness in finding bi-lingual material in their native language.

There are two styles of Chinese writing. Simplified Chinese is used by people in and from China. Traditional Chinese is used by people in and from Chinese-speaking countries other than China, such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

It doesn't matter if they speak Mandarin or Cantonese, the written symbols are the same, even though the spoken words are different. IE, the written symbol for 'cat' is the same for all Chinese dialects, even though the spoken word for 'cat' is different.

You won't know where the people working at the restaurant are going to be from, so I recommend taking at least one Simplified Chinese Book of Mormon, catalog #35607-266, and at least one "regular" Chinese Book of Mormon, catalog #33572-265, and at least one English Book of Mormon. Since more than one person or family is likely to work there, I take a minium of 2 each in a small laptop computer case.

You can buy the books at the Salt Lake Distribution Center at 1-800-537-5971, or online at www.ldscatalog.com. Twice a year the Ensign magazine includes a Distribution Center catalog. You can order from that. They take mail orders if you want to pay by check.

Since they are for missionary purposes, you might be able to talk your ward mission leader into buying them from his budget. I think if you make a donation on the "Other" line on the LDS donation slip, and you can write in "Ward Book of Mormon" next to "Other" to specify that the amounts goes to the Ward Mission Leader to purchase books, and then get the books from him. I believe that is kosher, but check with your bishop.

The next thing is to prepare contact information to put in the books. I include my calling card with my name and phone # and email address. And an 8.5" x 11" info-flyer with the following information:

name of the church, city, state,
mission office's phone # and address,
church web site (www.mormon.org), and
"For a free Bible & Book of Mormon call: 888-537-1212.
A list of local chapels, with addresses and meeting times.
If a chapel has a Family History Center, I specify:
"Genealogy Library (Family History Center)" with hours of operation.
If you know what missionary area you are in, include the missionaries'
phone #, but check with them first.

Not everyone knows we call genealogy "Family History."

You can use the chapel locator at www.lds.org or www.mormon.org to get the exact addresses and meeting times for all wards/branches in your area. You can get the hours of operation for Family History Centers at www.familysearch.org.

This is all PUBLIC information, so you shouldn't need anyone's permission to distribute the above information.

You don't have to list all the ward names that meet at a chapel. Just the chapel name or city/neighborhood name will suffice, along with the meeting times.

And you can include any pass-along cards that you deem appropriate. I used to include pass-along cards, but as long as the info-flyer was there, I thought it a duplication. (But I generally do include pass-along cards in English Bibles that I give out.)

Back to eating:

If it's a sit down restuarant where they take your order at the table, I put out one each of the books (1 traditional, 1 simplified, 1 english) on the table before ordering, or right after ordering. If you order at the counter and then sit down, I order, sit down, and then put out the books.

I usually try to let the waiter/waitress make the first comment. Sometimes they do. If they don't, then I ask something like "Do you like to read in Chinese?"

Of course they can tell immediately by the sub-title that the book is religious in nature. But you can also say "These are from my church."

I believe it also important to say "They're free". It's almost always okay to engage restaurant employees in conversation, but it's not good to solicit them or try to sell them things. So it's important to let them know they are free and you're not selling them.

Sometimes the waitress or waiter will pick up a book on their own and start flipping through it. Or you can hold one out to them, and offer it, "I'd like to give this to you, it's free."

People from Taiwan and Hong Kong generally realize that China's writing system is different, and can distinguish between the two books. But, sometimes, young people from China don't realize that there is a "traditional" style of writing. In other words, once you grasp the concept of two writing styles, you may know something that your young waiter/waitress doesn't know.

Another way to inititiate conversation is to ask "Where are you from?" People from China don't generally say "mainland", just "China." The vast majority of people I've met are from either China or Taiwan, with just a few from Hong Kong or Indonesia. Once you know where they are from, you can focus on presenting the appropriate book.

(Other languages spoken, but less often, at Chinese restaurants are: Vietnamese, Indonesian, Korean, and Spanish.)

The more recently the person has immigrated, the higher the likelihood they will accept the book. People who've been here a long time and are Americanized don't seem to be as interested, but some are.

An important key to placement is to offer them in pairs. Always offer the English. I believe it important to convey that the English is the "same thing", or "English translation." Often the waiter/waitress will say they don't read English, and I respond that they can use the books to learn or improve. I am a little bold in pushing the English copies. I sincerely hope that they read them in parallel and use them to improve their English, and to keep alive their mother tongue.

Children of immigrants generally speak their parents' langauge, but, if there is not readily available literature in it, they generally can't read it. I believe that giving out books in pairs like this gives the parents an opportunity to perpetuate their language better. How wonderful it would be for immigrants to read the Book of Mormon to or with their children to teach them to read their mother tongue.

If I have trouble getting the point across about the bi-lingual nature, I will open both books to the first verse of 1 Nephi, pointing to the verse in Chinese with the finger of one hand, and pointing to the verse in English with the other. Then I'll read the English, while moving my finger along under the Chinese verse. The chapter/verse divisions make comparison and parallel reading easy.

In the Simplified Chinese version, you should be able to easily tell where 1st Nephi starts. And with a little detective work you can figure it out for the Traditional Chinese too. Maybe bookmark them beforehand.

More than once the wait staff started reading the Chinese, or both, back at their station, while I was still eating. One waitress who turned down the English came running up to me and asked for the English, just as I was leaving. She finally figured out the bi-lingual thing when she saw the hostess reading them in parallel.

I try to give out books to everyone who wants them, and not limit it to just one pair per restaurant. So take extras, or be prepared to bring back extras. The prophet said "flood" not "sprinkle."

Some people start asking golden questions right there. I've had people ask me "What do Mormons believe?" or hold up the chapel list and ask "Which church has Chinese people?" That happened while I was travelling out of town, and I gave them the mission office #, and then reported to the mission office that they needed to follow up at that restaurant.

I believe many immigrants from non-Christian countries, such as China, are genuinely curious about Christianity, at least with an intellectual curiosity, if not a spiritual curiosity.

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