Friday, February 20, 2009

Baptismal Wave: Should Missions Have Special Practices to Celebrate Baptisms

President Reid Robison and Sister Diane Robison "Hurray for Israel" Wave

A couple of days ago I unleashed a violent reaction from a few of the West Indies missionary couples when I suggested that their mission president was a charismatic leader who used revivalistic practices. I had come to the conclusion after viewing multiple pictures of baptisms and reading all of the blogs (many on my sidebar here). Let me just say up front I have no problem with missions doing waves or being exuberant.

I had come to my conclusion after viewing the photos and reading posts about a motivational technique that was being done at most of the baptisms in the West Indies Mission called the Hurray for Israel wave. The mission experienced a wave of mass conversions and show great joy after each baptism to celebrate their success. They had a goal of 2008 baptisms in 2008, which they accomplished. All the missionary blogs talk about their goal and give numerous descriptions of many faith-promoting experiences that lead up to the celebratory wave. After many baptisms they held hands and did a unique mission wave. The purpose of this post is to present the evidence I viewed and let my readers make up their minds about whether or not missions are influenced by waves.

Every missionary will defend their mission president since most believe they are such exceptional leaders that they should go on to become general authorities. This mission president is actually quite good and he really motivates his missionaries. I was not demeaning Reid Robison since my favorite brand of mission president is a vibrant and dynamic leader just like him. I served under M. Russell Ballard who is a very fiery preacher and I judge mission presidents by how he acted. Robison in my opinion is cut out of the same cloth.

In a spirit of disclosure I have decided to let my readers decide if I did or did not misjudge this practice so I have found descriptions from their own blogs and several pictures for you to review. I will show you the pictures in a slide show below and take a poll after. Usually a picture or description gives a good indication of the practices but maybe President Robison is an extroverted introvert as he was characterized as having quiet dignity.

I don't dispute President Robison is a spiritual giant since I don't find any real fault with his using a wave as a technique to motivate his specific group of missionaries and members to produce more baptisms. I think we should call a spade a spade and that it is just a device he used effectively to produce results for his particular team of missionaries. I don't know if it will catch on in other places but who knows we could use a little more excitement in increasing convert baptisms.

I really think you can be dynamic and dignified and still charismatic. I personally think they were just being a wee bit oversensitive so I edited my previous post entitled Replicating Results from One Field to Another. I apologize if it seemed I was not respectful to the mission president. I was simply showed a cool practice that I thought was charismatic. I shouldn't have used the word "revivalistic" since that implies a fervor among participants.

If all the missionaries and members in the West Indies Mission have been saying absolutely nothing but quietly do the wave you see in the photo above and sideshows below than it is even more harmless than reported by me. After all appearances can be deceiving. In revival meeting people line the banks of the river or seas watching their friends and family go down in to the waters of baptism. I frankly don't see how that is any different than my slide show on the very bottom shows. The slides can go either way when viewed in their context. A lot of times in the posts they were just stuck in.

I am a little baffled since in my 35 years of membership I have never witnessed one baptism where everyone grabbed each others hands then bowed down clasping hands and stood up in a human chain while continuing to hold up their hands in unison or if a solo baptism making a fist and holding it in the air. I certainly have never seen a woman tossed up in the air after her baptism like I saw on a West Indies Mission blog slide show. I guess my confusion was thinking they might say something like Hurray for Israel or possibly "We done it" since sometimes it looked like their mouths were moving.

Some couple missionaries are spinning that nothing is said it is just a traditional conservative baptism with a song, a prayer etc. with nothing out of ordinary happening. I wonder how they explain the wave part or maybe they are suggesting it is a totally quiet wave just for photographic purposes. By the way I have no problem with this practice but apparently some missionaries are spinning something different for reasons I don't quite understand.

As earlier as 2007 in a post called Christmas in July, Sister Diane Robison declares that they missionaries do indeed say "Hurrah for Israel"!!!:
As your sons may have written, we have a tradition in the mission of saying “Hurrah for Israel!” It has become a fun way of reliving the experience of Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball as they said “farewell” to their families when they left for a mission to England. Here you see an image of our Elders and newly baptized members saying “Hurrah for Israel.” It is interesting to note that the mission was split on July 1, 2007. We gave 5 islands and 16 missionaries to the Puerto Rico San Juan East Mission. However, instead of seeing a decline in baptisms, we experienced a “White Christmas in July” and had 105 baptisms. The only other time the mission had over 100 baptisms was last December when we experienced a White Christmas of 111 baptisms. Hurrah for Israel!
It doesn't really matter if they say it with words or gestures it stirs up the participants and that is a technique to stir the hearts of those in attendance. It creates a sense of excitement and a desire to join in.

Reid Robison explained the wave in great detail in a post entitled Hurray for Israel and how he came to make it the logo of his mission:
You have seen the mission slide shows. What is the story behind the missionaries and new converts raising their arms in the air?

The wife of one of the students in the Grenada branch commented on how she loved to see the West Indies missionaries and their converts in those slide shows saying "we did it!" as they came out of the water.

Early in our mission, I related the Brigham Young/Heber C. Kimball story in a zone conference and I started signing letters with Hurrah for Israel! at the bottom of the letter. Shortly thereafter, Elder Thomason and an elderly man raised their arms high above the head in the water on the island of Dominica and his companion captured the moment in a photo. At that instant, the mission logo was born. (A year later, Dominica was given to the Puerto Rico San Juan East Mission, but the image of that baptism stuck in our minds.)

Hurrah for Israel became the mission theme as we strived to foster a band of brothers feeling. It was on letterhead, zone conference printed orders of service, and training handouts.

Here is the actual Hurrah for Israel story:
In the October 2004 General Conference entitled "What is a Quorum?", Elder L. Tom Perry related the Hurrah for Israel story: "We have a rich tradition of the work of the Twelve as we have traveled throughout the world proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. For example, it was on Sunday, the 4th of June of 1837, that the Prophet Joseph Smith approached Heber C. Kimball in the Kirtland Temple and whispered to him, saying, "Brother Heber, the Spirit of the Lord has whispered to me: 'Let my servant Heber go to England and proclaim my Gospel, and open the door of salvation to that nation' " (quoted in Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball [1945], 104).

The account of Heber C. Kimball and Brigham Young leaving their homes for England certainly shows the sacrifice they were willing to make for the callings they had received. The account reads:

"September 14th, [1839], President Brigham Young left his home at Montrose to start on the mission to England. He was so sick that he was unable to go to the Mississippi [River], a distance of thirty rods, without assistance. After he had crossed the river he rode behind Israel Barlow on his horse to my house, where he continued sick until the 18th. He left his wife sick with a babe only three weeks old, and all his other children were sick and unable to wait upon each other. Not one soul of them was able to go to the well for a pail of water, and they were without a second suit to their backs, for the mob in Missouri had taken nearly all he had. On the 17th, Sister Mary Ann Young got a boy to carry her up in his wagon to my house, that she might nurse and comfort Brother Brigham" (quoted in Life of Heber C. Kimball, 265).

Heber C. Kimball's family were also ill. Charles Hubbard sent his boy with a team and wagon to help them on their way. Elder Kimball records: "It appeared to me as though my very inmost parts would melt within me at leaving my family in such a condition, as it were almost in the arms of death. I felt as though I could not endure it. I asked the teamster to stop, and said to Brother Brigham, 'This is pretty tough, isn't it; let's rise up and give them a cheer.' We arose, and swinging our hats three times over our heads, shouted: 'Hurrah, hurrah for Israel .' " Sister Young and Sister Kimball came to the door and waved a farewell which gave Brother Brigham and Brother Heber much comfort as they continued "without purse or scrip" towards England. (See Life of Heber C. Kimball, 265–66.)
At the time our oldest son, Justin, was getting ready to leave on his mission, the family gathered behind our home and did a Hurrah for Israel, without knowing that is what we would later call it.
I for one celebrate the success of this mission particularly the new members, missionaries, and the mission president. This mission's wave just signifies the entrance of a person in to the church and kingdom of God as being something worthy of cheering about. The Prophet Joseph and Brigham Young and others sang and danced in the Nauvoo Temple. There must be some reason they got upset with what I said earlier about baptisms appearing to be revivalistic. People clapping, cheering, and jumping in the air is not a traditional conservative Mormon practice and if you view the links in their entirety you might draw a similar conclusion.

Raising your hands and doing a special mission wave while saying Hurray for Israel is no big deal to me. I guess they could be worried a general authority who is a more reserved type might be offended and stopped the practice or maybe it reflects negatively on them in ways I can't even imagine. I think the practice would have been called in to question of the leaders in Salt Lake City had a problem because I have a few who occasionally peruse this blog. I am sure they read my posts on this particular mission as I have be enamored with their great work and accomplishments. If any leader was concerned about the practice and called the mission president I am sure he would have stopped using the wave.

If there really was something amiss I am sure the bloggers including the mission president would have sanitized their blogs of offending pictures if there was even a hint of something wrong. I can't really see anything degrading in what they have been doing. Not to mention it fires up the missionaries and members and frankly it is just one small practice that is pure fun. I would like to see it done in other places. I really find it a refreshing practice.

We should celebrate not be worried that we are employing different methods. Albert Einstein said: ""Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Reid Robison is doing something different and is getting results.

Jan Meyers rebutted me by saying: "In reading this article, I took offense at the description of our work here as a "revivalistic process used as the participants cheer, chant and sing." We neither cheer nor chant, but we do sing the same LDS hymns sung the world over." Maybe she doesn't cheer nor chant but take a look at the pictures which obviously show something is happening. I think in some places they might do a quiet wave in other elders and members express themselves vocally.

In a post on her own blog We Hope They Call Us On A Mission is a description of what happens after baptisms maybe where she is serving elders which include her husband and her are a little more reserved and silently do the wave:
Elder Myers and I were the speakers at the baptism. After our talks, we all walked across the street, through the wood mill, balancing on the logs down to the river’s edge at low tide. It was a glorious site to see the four people all dressed in white walking into the water to be baptized just as the Savior was, accompanied by the Elders Owens and Kippen and another priesthood holder from the branch. We all waited at the river’s edge for them to complete the baptisms and then return to the shore, giving the “Hurrah for Israel” wave, a symbol in our mission.
Sister Robinson posted an actual Hurray for Israel slideshow that shows some missionaries having a good time on their missions including performing the wave and dancing. It looks like one elder's mouth is moving in one slide. One sister is being held up in the air acrobatically as she performs the wave.

On the returned missionaries alumni page Reid Robison himself posted another slide show Remembering 2008 which shows them engaged in the practice in some other baptisms. Also the same show was posted by Sister Diane Robison on the West Indies Mission blog. In multiple slideshows the wave is featured.

The Returned Missionaries from the West Indies blog in a post entitle Hurray for Israel explains why the wave was adopted and how it drives the results in the mission:

Like in the days of Heber C. Kimball and Brigham Young saying Hurrah for Israel as they left on their missions, so too do the elders of the West Indies Mission. Hurrah for Israel as every companionship baptizes a family every month in the West Indies Mission.

In a post entitled Picture of the Day Sister Di says:
Doesn't Elder Guy look determined as he and Elder Barton perform this baptism in Tobago? You see, there is no font in Tobago so baptisms are done in the sea. Occasionally, the water doesn't calm down and cooperate. But dedicated Elders always find a way to get the job done. They told me that the water looked somewhat calm when they walked out but just as they finished the baptism a big wave rolled in. They quickly moved to shield and steady the young lady and took the hit themselves.
At a missionary training meeting the following was reported in A Preparation Day to Remember when a group of elders spontaneously gave a loud Hurray for Israel cheer:
Then it was Trinidad South time. Elder Guy started off their part of the meeting by sharing inspiring scripture from the Doctrine and Covenants, rallying the Elders and preparing them for the speech of Elder Mundy. Following his remarks, the focus shifted to Elder Mundy. He read from D&C 123:17, loudly declaring that all should, "Stand watch the Salvation of God." He rehearsed to them the number baptisms that we need, as a Band of Brothers, to reach 2008 and be able to say, "All present and accounted for!" Then, he delivered his famous "Brave Heart" like speech, "Lying in your beds...many years from now...would you be willing to trade all the days? From this day to that, for one chance, Just one chance, to come back here, and tell the people, that in 2008 we baptized 2008!" During that speech, without notice, the Assistants (Elder Williamson and McDaniel) snuck off and around the luscious green hill that the Elders backs were turned to. With the blood pumping and the elders on the edge of their seats, Elder McDaniel then walked around the side of the hill and yelled, "My brothers..." Heads snapped to attention, facing the area from whence the voice came. He began describing the attributes of the great Captain Moroni and relating it to them as missionaries, called to serve here in the land of the Book of Mormon. His address was concluded with, "You are a chosen generation, a Royal Priesthood!" Just when everyone thought that the hilltop display was finished, Moroni, also known as Elder Williamson, appeared on the higher portion of the hill waving his Title of Liberty and exclaiming, "What say ye my sons? Will ye go to battle with me? Will you fight manfully for your Lord and Savior? Shake off the chains which doth bind you down to destruction, and we will baptize 2008! HURRAH FOR ISRAEL!!!" His shout was followed by a combined shout of every elder, "HURRAH FOR ISRAEL!!!" Following Moroni, the Band of Brothers stood and sang "Called to Serve." The spirit filled that little basin that day as all of the Elders remembered their call to serve and gained a greater excitement for bringing souls unto Christ in this great month of Thanksgiving, which West Indies Missionaries have decided to dedicate to the Lord as a month of gratitude. A Closing prayer was then offered by Elder Huntsman, who prayed fervently for the success of the mission. Not only was there a greater sense to go out and do the Lords work, but their was a greater sense of unity and love among all the elders gathered that day. Everyone wandered around the beautiful sight for a few minutes, taking pictures of the great beauty that surrounded them before heading back down the mountain.
I would find it hard to believe that elders after baptisms don't occasionally let a Hurray for Israel slip out of their mouths. I guess they must be rogue elders.

Sister Jan Meyers in her post Baptism in the River – Crabwood Creek, Guyana describes giving the Hurray to Israel wave at a baptism:
Elder Myers and I were the speakers at the baptism. After our talks, we all walked across the street, through the wood mill, balancing on the logs down to the river’s edge at low tide. It was a glorious site to see the four people all dressed in white walking into the water to be baptized just as the Savior was, accompanied by the Elders Owens and Kippen and another priesthood holder from the branch. We all waited at the river’s edge for them to complete the baptisms and then return to the shore, giving the “Hurrah for Israel” wave, a symbol in our mission.
She doesn't say anything about what is said just that the wave is done.

Sister Robin Bulloch has a detailed description of some baptisms performed with nice pictures but doesn't say anything about the wave in any of her posts entitled Baptism Bliss, What Makes a Missionary Smile and 2008 baptisms in 2008.

Carol and Truman Leishman in their post Our First Beach Baptism share an interesting mishap:
We finally had our first beach baptism in the West Indies on Thursday, Jan. 15th, 2009. Actually, most baptisms in the West Indies are in fonts now. But, every once in a while an investigator requests a beach baptism. Jessie, 20, and Latesha Ramnath, 22, brother and sister, were found in a new area that we helped open at the first of December. Their parents had been baptized over 10 years ago but quit going to church a few years later. Jessie and Latesha were too young to be baptized with their parents and eventually fell between the cracks. When we found them in December, Jessie and Latesha both expressed a desire to be baptized on the 2nd visit. They wanted a beach baptism so we went to the closest cleanest beach, Maracus Beach, a 1 1/2 hour drive away. It was so worth it. It was such a beautiful day! Check out the waves. They knocked Truman down and he lost his prescription glasses in the ocean. Thanks goodness he brought an old pair with him. Truman baptized Latesha and Elder Endemann baptized Jessie. Elder Endemann's new companion of one week, Elder Thomas, went out in the water as the 2nd witness.
Some of the best examples of people doing the Hurray to Israel Wave is in a colorful slide show in the Leishman's post More Joy in Trindad that shows multiple new converts and missionaries participating in the Hurray for Israel Wave.

In the Sherwood's Home from St. Lucia blog in a post entitled Wrapping It Up in Vieux Fort the mouths are definitely moving as it looks like words are being formed. Sister Robison also included a beautiful slideshow done by Sister Sherwood while on her mission showing baptisms performed in St. Lucia with the wave being demonstrated.

I am very much in favor of adopting this wave in other places. I think the Hurray for Israel wave defined the West Indies Mission and waves can be focus points for other missions. I hope other missions adopt waves. Take my brief survey at the end of this post and let me know what you think about the Hurray for Israel Wave and if you think waves should be initiated in other places. Also let me know if you feel the wave is inappropriate.

I have extracted all the pictures I could find of baptisms and anything involved so you can make you own opinion whether this is a quiet wave or vocal wave.

See my slide show here:


Ellis said...

I just stumbled upon your blog and it's very interesting. I am a West Indies RM, so maybe I can clarify. I think pretty much anywhere in the world people take a picture before or after the baptism. In the West Indies, instead of just smiling and saying 'cheese' we have a tradition of putting our hands in the air and (usually) shouting 'Hurrah for Israel' to express our excitement. I would have never thought that such a practice could be considered over the top or inappropriate, but I guess if all one sees is a picture, they could be misled into thinking it is a representation of the service itself.

Reid Robison said...
This comment has been removed by the author.