Two years as a Mormon missionary in Belgium.
Harline (European History/BYU; Conversions: Two Family Stories from the Reformation and Modern America, 2011, etc.) spends a good deal of this reminiscence clowning around in a charming fashion, like the harmless and naïve teenager he was when he accepted a two-year mission to proselytize the Mormon faith in Belgium. Unfortunately, Belgium was a land of Catholics, and Harline had been taught “that the Catholic Church was wicked. And weird. The Church of the Devil. The Whore of All the Earth….Wouldn’t all those Belgian people in Catholic darkness be glad to see me?” However, the Belgians were not in the market for Harline’s goods, and the author knew he was not cut from the proselytizer’s cloth. He did not like the doors shut in his face, the poor Belgian weather, the dogs sent out to investigate his presence, the occasional display of firearms and, probably most of all, the near misses. Furthermore, he had to conduct himself in Dutch, a language he found “close to alarming.” But he was not without faith and humor; he was not just a devout young man, but a searcher. He was open to the sublime, and he found it in Belgium’s timeless places, such as a forest near the village of Godsheide in the late-afternoon winter light, where “we knew we were in some other world, like we and every person, thing, and place we’d ever known, done, or been were all there too, at once…toujours vu, always seen.” Along the way, Harline learned a lot about being himself and had many profound experiences. In his memoir, he displays a fine mix of pathos and hilarity as he describes imagining what people made of his Dutch, laughing at his “stainless-steel suit,” and giving thanks for the virtues learned and the connections made.
An unvarnished, mostly bewildered and touchingly human memoir.