Evangelizing Utah… Mission Impossible?

Our recent trip to Manti, Utah (discussed in the last newsletter) was an incredibly exciting, faith-strengthening experience. One of our goals was to become better acquainted with Chip Thompson, Pastor of Ephraim Church of the Bible (ECB). The town of Ephraim is five miles north of Manti. Every morning ECB hosted a two hour training session for the believers who came to witness at the Mormon Miracle Pageant. We conducted an interview with Chip and discussed various topics that we thought would interest and inspire our readers.

Chip was raised by wonderful Christian parents but did not accept Christ until his last year of Bible College. His first area of ministry was as a lay youth pastor in Iowa. He later moved to Phoenix, and it was here that he had some Mormon neighbors. He took an interest in researching Mormonism so that he could witness to them. His four children had also been attending a Christian camp that ended up moving to Utah, so they started going to Utah every summer as a family. The people in leadership at the camp challenged Chip and his family to consider moving to Utah in order to live among the Mormons and share the gospel with them. Chip knew that if he left Phoenix, someone else would take over his job as youth pastor, but knew that no else one was willing to go to Utah. The Thompsons decided to take the challenge, but had never dreamed of pastoring a church. They just wanted to have a Bible study in their home and open it up to the Mormons. As more and more people heard about the study (strictly through word-of-mouth), it led to the beginning of ECB.

Even though the town has existed for over 100 years, ECB is the only Christian church the town of Ephraim has ever seen. They have a membership of 100, most of whom are former Mormons. Many of their members are from “split” families (Christian with a Mormon spouse.) ECB has a thriving prison ministry where six have been saved in the past six months. The inmates are all Mormons from the area. This year was the first year that a college ministry was begun at Snow College, the local community college. There is great need for someone to take over this ministry, because there is much interest at the College. In addition, Chip mentioned that a Spanish speaking pastor could have a thriving ministry in the area, because there are many Spanish-speaking people who have no Christian church to go to.

When asked what it was like to live in a Mormon community, Chip said it is just like living anywhere else. The Thompsons have not felt persecuted for being Christians and have been able to get very involved in the community through the PTA and sports. This has had a wonderful effect on their witness in the community, because the Thompsons are the first Christians most of the people in Ephraim have ever met! The Mormons respect their love for Jesus Christ. Chip never mentions Mormonism from the pulpit, but will not compromise his stand against Mormonism either. ECB does not do things in cooperation with the LDS church that could appear like they were in any kind of doctrinal agreement. Chip recognizes the difficulty of the mission he is on, because Mormonism is not just a religion, it’s a culture. There is a HUGE cost to becoming a Christian in Utah because when people leave Mormonism, they leave everything they have every known and they get treated that way. There are many Mormons (whose roots go back to the beginnings of Mormonism) who know the Christians are right and have told them so, but will not leave Mormonism because of the great cost.

During our interview with Chip, we discussed the fact that some Christians wonder why we “waste our time” trying to reach out to Mormons. Chip stated very emphatically, “Mormons need the Lord as much as any non-Christian does. Just the fact that they’re harder to convert doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t reach out to them. That’s crazy…otherwise Jeremiah would have quit. He didn’t reach anyone that we know of , but God had him reaching out to people that needed reaching out to and we’re doing the same thing. But it’s not impossible to convert Mormons, because our whole church is full of converted Mormons. It’s just difficult.” He was also grieved by the way most Christians try and witness to them without learning anything about what they believe. He said that when Christians ask Mormons, “Are you saved?” or “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal savior?”, “every Mormon you ever talk to will say yes. Most Christians don’t have a clue where to go from there.” The irony of the situation is that Chip assured us that there is huge dissatisfaction in Utah with the Mormon Church and estimates that 50% of devout Mormons are totally dissatisfied with their church, so there is great possibility for a harvest if they could just be exposed to the gospel. According to Chip, “America should be ashamed. A Christian nation where there are communities that are 150 years old that have never had a Christian witness and we’re sending Christian missionaries to Africa and we’ve got people right in the middle of the U.S. who have never had a Christian witness in their community.” These were some very difficult statements to hear, but that obviously need to be heard. Chip’s love for the Mormon people and his compassion for their situation was very evident and he asked us to remind our readership that they are just following their leaders and being led astray. He refers to them as just people, or “Sheeple.” Sharing this time with Chip and also getting to meet and spend time with his family was extremely enlightening and encouraging. Please pray with us as we work on planning other short-term mission trips into Utah to help support pastors such as Chip, who are truly missionaries in a foreign land.

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