A key to Europe
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FRANKFURT, Germany The growth and preparation of the young single adult members of the Church in Europe are important, said Elder L.Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve, because the young people hold the key to a strong and vibrant future of the Church.
To meet the needs of young single adult members in Europe, a initiative called Outreach was organized to provide young single adult members a place of refuge from worldly activities where gospel-based socializing could take place.
The initiative is an extension of the institute program. Where there is a meetinghouse near a concentration of young single adult members, an Institute Outreach Center is organized. Senior missionary couples are called to oversee the 23 centers now organized.
An Institute Outreach Center provides a cultural hall for activities and a lounge where friends can congregate for spiritual and social activities.
"The Outreach program began before I got there," said Elder Perry, who arrived in 2004 to serve as president of the Europe Central Area until August 2005.
"There is a strong base of young single adults in Europe," he said. "They are devoted to each other. They develop relationships and keep contact.
"They are developing a sense of responsibility for the future of the Church."
In the three years since the Outreach effort has been organized, it has "proved to be effective in activating the less active," Elder Perry said. "It has been a shot in the arm. It's been very encouraging to see them come back with great spirit. They needed more than a place for spiritual gathering."
At the heart of the effort, he said, are the senior missionary couples who offer friendship, counsel, assistance and encouragement.
Today, centers are organized across Germany, Austria, Denmark, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden and Poland. Additional centers are planned for Finland, Hungary and Croatia and for other countries of the Central Europe Area.
The goal is for young single adults and missionaries to reach out to young adult-aged members, non-members, and priest-age young men and Laurel-age young women. As Elder Bruce Hafen of the Seventy and president of the Europe Central Area said, the purpose of outreach centers is "to create lively centers of missionary activity."
During the first two years of the Outreach effort, about 450 young single adults were reactivated or joined the Church.
Last year, there were 160 baptisms, 117 reactivations, 120 mission calls extended and 129 temple marriages.
An Institute Outreach Center is based on four aspects: A student council that plans, develops and holds programs and activities with the purpose of reaching out to others; an institute curriculum that provides the program and forms the spiritual foundation; full-time missionaries who are effective in working with peers and are assigned to the center; and finally, senior missionary couples who are called to provide balance, insight, uplift and counsel.
An example of a successful Institute Outreach Center is found in Kiel, a city in far northern Germany. Elder George Niedens and Sister Nancy Niedens are the senior missionary couple from Santa Maria, Calif., who oversee the center. Now serving their sixth mission, they said, "Working with young single adults in an Institute Outreach Center brings us great joy." An older Church building is dedicated for the use of the Kiel Institute Outreach Center. It is close to the five universities and trade schools in the city.
Matthias Brocker, 26, is an English and French student at a Kiel University studying to be a teacher who expects to graduate in 2008. He served a mission to Montreal, Canada, from 2000 to 2002, and now attends the Kiel Institute Outreach Center.
The reason Elder and Sister Niedens are so successful, he said, is that "we trust them. They are always with us, not just there, but with us. We can feel their love.... They help me see things in a way I have never thought or felt before."
Another successful center is in Hannover, Germany, directed by Elder Thales Smith and Sister Laura Smith from Glide, Ore. Their time away from the center is spent feeding, motivating and teaching missionaries. Elder Smith said he has witnessed more baptisms in this mission than during his first German-speaking mission as a young elder.
Many of other faiths come to the centers to attend English classes, but most investigators come at the invitation of young single adults. Recently, in Hannover, 15 young people of other faiths attended the English class, with six remaining for the meal and a missionary discussion. Elder James Jurgens and Sister Rona Jurgens contributed to this report.