“By small and simple things are great things brought to pass,” as the scripture from the Book of Alma says. In the case of “Dendo: One Year and One Half in Tokyo” by Brittany Long Olsen, 545 individual journal entries — each about one to two pages and drawn as goofy, lighthearted comics — all add up to one of the most unique, humorous and genuinely insightful glimpses out there into what it means to be a full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Olsen (née Long), who studied English and illustration at Southern Utah University before receiving her mission call to Japan, puts the reader right in the middle of things, starting with her very first day at the Missionary Training Center in Provo.
Panel by panel, page by page, each little vignette builds on top of the last to show the daily trials and triumphs that come with being a missionary assigned to a country where they use backward syntax, eat mayonnaise on spaghetti and are predominantly not Christian.
That includes all the unfun bits, too, because life in the mission field isn’t always sunshine and baptisms.
That said, Olsen manages to keep things light. Her optimism, self-deprecating wit and ability to always find the spiritual silver lining are just a few reasons this book is a joy to read. Equally impressive, though, she also finds a way to present a frankly staggering amount of information — about the gospel, about missionary life, about Japanese language and culture — in a way that’s relatable and easy to understand, regardless of whether someone has spent time riding a mountain bike around Tokyo in a skirt during rainy season.
“Dendo” is an easy recommend to anyone with an interest in missionary work, the gospel or even just life in Japan.
Jeff Peterson studied humanities and history at Brigham Young University and served a mission in Japan. He currently lives in Richmond, Virginia.