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Monday, August 5, 2013

Guest Post: The Straight and Narrow on Being Nomadic and Global

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Melissa Dalton-Bradford is a mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend, writer, independent scholar, professional soprano, avid reader, and a serious avoider of all things mathematical. She is also the author of GLOBAL MOM, an intimate and colorfully-narrated peek inside the life of a family of four traversing across eight countries, 16 addresses, and five languages. Buy Melissa's book here.

Recently, I stood in a circle of dear friends. We were maybe sixty active LDS, all gathered to hike in what many consider to be Zion's gravitational center, Utah's Rocky Mountains. While we went around the circle sharing who we were and where we were from, I counted six languages and even more countries of current residence. It was a big globally mobile round, a round that is emblematic of my family’s life for over twenty years, a life spent, some might think, on the farthest edges of the Church's geography. A life, however, planted squarely and deeply in the heart of the restored gospel.

My husband Randall and I have spent over two decades raising our four children in eight locations some might consider to be the nethermost edges of the Church's geographic sphere: Hong Kong, the New York City/New Jersey area, Oslo, Versailles, Paris, Munich, Singapore and Geneva.

However "remote" those locations perhaps seem to be with respect to our Church's solar system, we haven't felt flung into oblivion. On the contrary. We've always been drawn into a circle of awaiting members, locals who have taught us their languages and how taught us how to parallel park in an impossibly narrow one-way and how to bow to our elders and pick a decent truffle and eat raw shrimp and play the alphorn. How to run in stilettos on cobblestones. How to kayak, snowshoe, catch a gecko bare-handed or how to ice fish at night. And how to live our shared religion within the context of their culture’s peculiar norms and traditions.

We've done this global thing deliberately. It is all our children know. We don't foresee it changing. And though such a lifestyle comes with some high personal costs, I consider the demands and sacrifices worth the gifts of exposure, solidarity and spiritual solidity.


Along with living in the countries I noted above, we've been able to crisscross continents, visiting and worshiping with LDS congregations in their chapels and temples. Warsaw, Poland. Arusha, Tanzania. St. Petersburg, Russia. Cebu, Philippines. Istanbul, Turkey. Bali, Indonesia. We've sung Silent Night in Swahili, He is Risen in Polish, and Come, Come Ye Saints in Italian, Swedish, Tagalong, and in (some mumbled desecration of) Cambodian.

I recall a particular visit to the temple in The Hague, Netherlands. Randall and I stood in a circle of what seemed like a small United Nations of fellow worshipers (The Hague is, in fact, one of the seats of the U.N.), and everyone in the circle wore headsets through which a dozen different languages were piped. Praying out loud with a circle of several brothers and sisters, each speaking a different tongue, was profoundly moving for me. "This," I thought, "is my family. This is a church I understand. And this is heaven."


Another U.N. city is Geneva, Switzerland, our current home. Within our stake, there are French, German, Filipino, Spanish, Italian, Mongolian, Nigerian, Ghanaian, Russian, Chinese, British, American and Swiss members. Dalton and Luc, our two youngest boys still at home, realize that because they speak French, they will have the chance to serve as a bridge between local and expatriate youth.

At a large activity, Dalton was asked to be the bilingual emcee. I choked back some emotion watching this son (born in Norway, but raised in France, Germany and Singapore where he's conquered his innate shyness and slogged through nine different school systems) pull everyone into a big circle and sing together. Extroverted by constraint (you have to be able to make friends easily when you are making new ones every few years), he flung his soul into the situation and his arms around the shoulders of whoever was at his side, making certain to include everyone in one unifying moment.


And what about the son was on a class trip in the heart of Paris when he drew a crowd? It had begun with just a few casual questions posed by a new friend who was curious about The One Mormon Guy. He began answering more and more questions, this time coming from a growing circle of classmates until there, in front to the Opéra Bastille, and in just a few minutes, he had drawn a big circle students, all of whom wanted to know more.

"I laid out the Great Apostasy," he told us later, "then explained about the necessity of priesthood and its restoration." For an hour and with growing animation, he shared openly what his beliefs were, beliefs that are enough to make those kids' jaws drop. (European norms are that drinking, smoking, drugging and experimenting sexually begin in the early teens.) "It's all here," The One Mormon Guy announced while he produced from his pocket a miniature-sized pamphlet of Jeunes Soyez Fortes (For the Strength of Youth), and added, "it's not restrictive. It's a blessing to have guidelines."

To have opportunities to analyze one’s belief system in the stark context of being a minority has been how our children have gained a solid identity of who they are and, most importantly, why.

Our membership in the Church is one of the few constants in what can sometimes feel like a spinning, spiraling lifestyle. Standing in that circle of membership offers real cultural exposure, chances to work and serve, and a family nearly anywhere on the planet. The solidarity one can experience across cultural fences, and the solidifying of personal testimony are worth of every effort and sacrifice.

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