Military Missionaries Deployed Abroad
When the media mentions “military” and “missionary” in the same sentence, it often causes a near cacophony of criticism from conspiracy theorists about attempts at religious world domination. Recent accusations of impropriety make the sensitivity of the subject evident.
A few decades ago, it wasn’t so.
General Douglas MacArthur, one of the few men to reach the nation’s highest military rank of General of the Armies, was the American face of reconstruction of post-war Japan. The self-proclaimed “soldier of God and the republic” famously encouraged the influx of “a thousand missionaries” into Japan in the hopes that Christianity would overcome Shinto Buddhism in the Japanese isles. Documents from the Truman library reportedly indicate the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary of the Army, and Truman himself supported MacArthur in this endeavor. (Most modern summaries indicate the “Christianization” of Japan largely failed.)
Such an emphasis was likely influential on military members themselves. A recent article in The Deseret News of Utah highlights the Mormon soldiers who “spread the gospel in post-war Japan.” Among those is the current President of the Mormon church, Boyd K. Packer, a World War II pilot in the Pacific theatre.
Yet, for LDS Army servicemen like C. Elliott Richards and now President Boyd K. Packer, their military experience became more like LDS missions as they dedicated themselves to teaching and testifying to former enemies about the love of Jesus Christ.
The LDS troops in Japan met locals, and witnessed to them, in much the same way American servicemembers might today. They talked.
When the three politely refused a warm drink of tea on the cold night stating they were Mormons, the Japanese man was intrigued, and invited them to his home to teach him more about their religion.
Packer would ultimately baptize the Japanese local into the Mormon church.