As missionaries in France, Christopher Vincent and Jean-Charles de Ligne are not exactly preaching to the converted. But proselytizing for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this irreligious country has not left them defeated.
In fact, as they combed for converts here the other day - their conservative haircuts, white shirts, black suits, and lapel badges instantly identifying them as Mormons - Elder Vincent and Elder de Ligne were upbeat.
"I've never had a problem finding people who want to talk to me," said Vincent. "You smile, you're friendly, you introduce yourself, and you build on common beliefs with the person. Most people believe in something beyond our power."
That is true even in France, where a secular tradition permeates society: 61 percent say they believe in a God, according to a recent European survey. That does not, however, mean they are ripe for conversion to the Mormon Church, as the two young men have discovered in repeated attempts to talk to strangers and bear witness to their faith. A recent afternoon they spent evangelizing in front of City Hall illustrated the challenges they face.
Most often, they were met by polite brush-offs, even before they had a chance to spread their word.
"I'm a total nonbeliever and have no time to give them," explained Francois Le Lay, after ignoring the pair's approach. Some passersby listened for a while, but said later that they were not interested in the Mormons' spiritual message. An English couple visiting Paris for the day found them "quite sweet," and Steve Doherty, the husband, said he was happy that he didn't feel he was "being converted."