California Mormon Mark Paredes knew he was heading into charged territory

when he embarked on a fireside tour to Europe — a mission designed to

answer questions and clear up misunderstandings about Mormons and Jews.Paredes has long been concerned about the misperceptions he

believes exist in the public's mind about members of The Church of

Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

So he launched a tour that included nine firesides in the

Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Slovenia and Austria from August

to mid-September. Earlier this year, he did a similar tour in Norway

and Sweden.

Paredes, the president of the Los Angeles office of the Zionist

Organization of America and a high councilor in the Santa Monica

California Stake, believes he is being spiritually urged to speak in

support of Jews and Judaism.

"I believe that Jews in Europe need to know who their friends are now more than ever," he said.

Upon his return to the United States Paredes said, "I've discovered

that many European members have spent a lot of time thinking about the

relationship between Latter-day Saints and Jews, and every

question-and-answer session featured very thoughtful questions.

"The most frequent query was 'I have a great deal of love for Jews.

How do I begin to reach out to them here?' Given the small size of the

Jewish and LDS communities in most of the countries, most of the time

members have to take the initiative, Paredes said.

Paredes met with chief rabbis of two countries and the executive

director of the Jewish community in another. All wanted to know more

about the LDS Church and were interested in cooperating on projects of

mutual interest.

"One of the most gratifying comments came from a sister in Finland

who stated that she realized for the first time that baptism into the

church confers not only membership in a ward or church but also the

House of Israel," Paredes said.

"It goes without saying that I learned much more from the members

than I was able to share with them. I was deeply touched to see how the

Lord has inspired very capable members in those countries to build

bridges to Jewish and other communities. In the Netherlands, for

example, both daughters of Area Seventy Chris Kleijweg have master's

degrees in Hebrew and Aramaic, and Rotterdam Stake President Jelmer De

Jonge studied at the BYU Jerusalem Center. In Finland, Jussi and Raija

Kemppainen have played a leading role in taking the gospel to Russia

and the Baltic countries."

In Stockholm, Sweden, 200 people came out to hear Paredes.

Rex and Vicky Lewis helped set up the event in Sweden and said he was very well-received.

"There were several people of the Jewish faith in attendance and

afterwards they spoke with Mark about the positive things he shared

regarding the Jews and the Mormons. He gave some important facts from

the Old Testament about how the Jewish temples parallel with the

temples we have in the LDS Church. He spoke of the positive

interactions between Jews and Mormons, as well as the desire to unite

in building relationships," Rex Lewis said. "We felt that the fireside

was a positive step in building Jewish-Mormon relationships. The

Stockholm Key City Council has a plan this fall to have a dialogue with

the Jewish community and the LDS church to establish a bridge of

understanding. It was evident that the people were very pleased with

Mark's comments as he had people wanting to talk to him, asking him for

a copy of his talk, and just visiting with each other about how

wonderful the fireside had been."

Paredes' future plans include finishing the final chapters of a book on LDS-Jewish relations for an LDS publisher.

He will also teach two courses at the American Jewish University in

Los Angeles: One deals with Jewish themes in LDS theology, and the

other is an interfaith dialogue series with Conservative Rabbi John

Borak, which they plan to take to stakes and synagogues around the

country next year.

He hopes to return abroad next spring to speak at more firesides.

In the interim, Paredes recommends members of the LDS Church and

others who are interested in fostering better relations with Jewish

people should read an LDS Church News article at:

E-mail: [email protected]