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Mormon missionaries teach New Yorkers about family history using chalk-drawn trees (+video)

Published: Tuesday, July 15 2014 7:58 p.m. MDT

A chalk-drawn tree in Union Square last month quickly grabbed attention of those who passed by. With the statement "find your family" written on the ground, many stopped to see what the message was about.

Russell Parrish

MANHATTAN, N.Y. — A chalk-drawn tree in Union Square grabbed the attention of passersby last month. Intrigued by the statement "find your family" written on the ground, many stopped to investigate.

Missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the New York New York North Mission, under the direction of President Tom Morgan, created the drawing. After having success last year with a chalk drawing of the plan of salvation, missionaries used the same medium to teach about family history.

Throughout the day, missionaries encouraged people to write the name of the country their family was from in the chalk tree while they explained how visitors could learn more about family trees on familysearch.org.

Russell Parrish, a graphic designer and an LDS Church member who serves as the social media coordinator in his Manhattan ward, filmed the day's events.

"There are so many people who have so much pride about where their family is from that we were in conversations with people for several minutes, and we’d start to get into groups of people. So we’d be talking to someone who was writing about it, and then they’d want to talk about where they are from, so we’d have circles of four to five people who were not members of the church who were just off the street talking about it and a missionary was in the mix," Parrish told the Deseret News.

"Near the end, they would find a way to segue for the missionary to talk about the key gospel principle, which is eternal families."

Parrish has participated in other video projects with the missionaries. On Father's Day, Parrish and the missionaries placed a megaphone in a park along with a sign prompting passersby to say something kind about their fathers, and Parrish filmed the responses.

"The whole purpose of (my calling) is to create content of very high quality that has a central theme to the (LDS) Church and is very creative and uplifting and nonconfrontational," Parrish said.

Parrish, who served an LDS mission in the West Indies, enjoyed the interactive teaching opportunity in Union Square.

"Doing this sort of activity ... people are more open because it's more intriguing, so they're more willing to engage in it. ... It kind of retains them more because other people are walking up and they're talking to people who aren't missionaries, and people are taking photos and posting to Instagram," Parrish said.

"After the activity, I went and saw a movie with my wife, and I came back and people were still around us because after ... the event, we still left this artwork on the ground that lingered and grew for a couple of days afterward."

When Parrish was first called to be a social media coordinator, he distributed a survey to members of his LDS ward. In the survey, Parrish asked questions about the members' sharing habits on Facebook and other social media sites.

"I think it was 50 percent of the ward who said they do not usually post anything religious on Facebook because ... they don't want to sound preachy or they just don't know what to post," Parrish said.

"So by making something that is professionally done and is central to everyone's beliefs, we've seen lots of people in the ward sharing these videos."

To make the content more accessible for local church members, Parrish created accounts on Instagram, YouTube and Twitter under the name Inwood Mormons, with Inwood referring to the neighborhood where they live.

"I've had a lot of different callings that are very traditional callings," Parrish said. "And this calling, it's both fulfilling as a creative outlet, but also spiritually as well. This has a great impact on my life."

Email: spetersen@deseretnews.com | Twitter: @Sarah_DNews

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