No matter how obscure the language - whether it is Maori tongues of New Zealand or unique dialects found only in the jungles of Guatemala - chances are someone somewhere in Utah speaks it, thanks to the tens of thousands of returned missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now living in the state.
Gov. Mike Leavitt has a message for them: Better brush up on your language skills by the 2002 Winter Games. Especially if your second tongue happens to be French, German or Italian.With 2002 Winter Games organizers expected to require thousands and thousands of volunteers, Leavitt predicted the Salt Lake Organizing Committee will be looking to the LDS Church for volunteers, not only for bilingual members to serve as translators but for families willing to host foreign visitors in their homes and to serve as guides.
"We need them (members of the LDS Church). The Games need them," said Leavitt, who is in Nagano observing the 1998 Winter Games. "And we need to acknowledge the unique asset they can be in the organization of the Games. We have the capacity in this state, given our eagerness to volunteer our hospitality and language skills, to welcome the world in a way they have never been welcomed before."
In that sense, Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve agrees with the governor, saying he hopes Utahns of all faiths will serve in some capacity during the Games. He emphasized that the call to service should be community-oriented and not something that is exclusive to members of the LDS faith.
"The community as a whole has to be involved," said Elder Hales, who is in Japan on church business and is attending the Games out of personal interest.
Does that mean returned missionaries should volunteer? "Absolutely. It also means serving as hosts and all of the other things the Games will require," Elder Hales said.
Leavitt agreed that a communitywide volunteer spirit is needed to make the Games a success, adding the sheer number of volunteers that will be needed mandates that members of every religious faith and service club become involved.
But he also acknowledged there is probably no other organization like the LDS Church when it comes to the way it is organized and able to motivate large numbers of people to serve as volunteers.
"They will be an enormous advantage to the Games experience," Leavitt said. "I think the church can and will step to the plate, and language is only one of the things they can provide. They have facilities, they have the organization, they have properties that can benefit the Games."
Leavitt emphasized that it is the responsibility of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee to build the facilities, sign the contracts and organize the events. But it is the people of Utah who will actually host the Games.
And because of the unique cultural assets that Utahns will bring to the Games experience, Leavitt says Utah is now positioned to host the world better than any other city in the history of the Olympic movement.
"We are a great community," he said. "We have the kind of cultural uniqueness that people love to see and experience and learn about. We spent two years celebrating our history. The world was fascinated by it, and we ought to tell it in 2002."