A Call to Russia

Glimpses of Missionary Life

Book Notice

A Call to Russia: Glimpses of Missionary Life, by Thomas F. Rogers (BYU Studies, 1999)

Rather than using a traditional straight narrative, Tom Rogers, Professor Emeritus of German and Slavic Languages at BYU, effectively tells the story of his term as mission president in St. Petersburg, Russia, through a roughly chronological collection of short reflections and anecdotes. Many passages found in this account are taken from his own journal, with additional stories and observations contributed by his family and by the missionaries themselves. In these short passages, Rogers gives penetrating insights into his own soul, the strengths and failings in Russian society, the attributes of a good missionary, and the qualities that make Church organizations work. He writes with brutal honesty about his own failings, especially in the first section covering the beginning of his mission. It is revealing to see that the early months of a mission are full of many small embarrassments, foolish mistakes, and a general lack of comfort and that incidents such as those portrayed here can be and are experienced as much by the mission president as by the young missionary.

Rogers does not fail to mention the drudgery and disappointments of missionary work, including the guilt he and his missionaries felt because of their inability to help most of the numerous people they found drowning in alcoholism. Such discussion makes the joy over the miracles of the work, which he also details, that much stronger. Most satisfying are the discussions of how Russian districts and branches work. Rogers’s loving descriptions of the wisdom and foolishness of his local leaders are masterfully portrayed. And in that portrayal, important lessons can be drawn that are applicable even to readers in large, stable wards in the United States.

A Call to Russia is the best nonfiction book on missionary work I have ever read and is among the best LDS nonfiction–essay books put out in the last decade. It is on the level of the works of the best LDS authors in almost every way: intellectual depth, writing skill, and spiritual imagination. Many writers have one or two of those qualities, but few have all three. At the same time, the book is full of enough interesting stories to appeal to readers on a variety of levels. I especially recommend it as a gift for soon-to-be missionaries and mission presidents.


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