The Mormon Land newsletter is a weekly highlight reel of developments in and about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whether heralded in headlines, preached from the pulpit or buzzed about on the back benches. Want this free newsletter in your inbox? Subscribe here.

A Latin ‘Title of Liberty’

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Gary Doxey, associate director for the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University, greets Congressman Jonathan Prendas Rodriguez in Costa Rica. A delegation from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints joined interfaith, academic and government leaders in Central America in late October.

A church delegation joined academics, interfaith leaders and government officials in signing a “Title of Liberty,” of sorts, to promote and protect religious freedom in Central America.

“With rising militant secularism and a decrease in religion generally, there is a critical need to put in place — working together — rules and statutes that protect the freedom of religion and belief space for believer and nonbeliever alike,” Gary Doxey, associate director at the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University, said in a news release. “ ... In recent times, 71% of the government[s] of Latin American countries have increased restrictions on religious freedom.”

Doxey and others attended a weeklong religious freedom conference, with meetings in Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panama, capped off by the signing of an interfaith accord to work together on issues.

Give, said the little machine

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) A girl looks at the many options available for purchase in a Giving Machine in Gilbert, Ariz. Gilbert is one of 10 locations this year where donations can be made during the Christmas season.

Those #LightTheWorld “giving machines” — like Salvation Army red kettles, Toys for Tots gifts and Sub for Santa presents — have become holiday charity staples.

This yuletide, the vending machines — which allow people to buy and donate food, clothing, medicine, hygiene supplies, sporting equipment, even livestock — will be available in 10 cities across the globe.

“These giving machines are an example of the big things that can happen when many people give just a little,” Young Women general President Bonnie H. Cordon said in a news release. “That is what it means to Light the World one by one — when we each give what we can offer, our little light adds to a brightness of hope.”

The machines will open in the following places:

  • Manila, Philippines — Nov. 8 (TriNoma Mall).
  • Las Vegas — Nov. 14 (Downtown Summerlin).
  • Laie, Oahu, Hawaii — Nov. 20 (Polynesian Cultural Center).
  • Gilbert, Ariz. — Nov. 20 (Water Tower Plaza).
  • Salt Lake City — Nov. 26 (Joseph Smith Memorial Building).
  • Orem — Nov. 26 (University Place mall).
  • Denver — Nov. 26 (Writer Square).
  • San Jose, Calif. — Nov. 29 (Christmas in the Park).
  • New York — Dec. 3 (Manhattan New York Temple).
  • London — Dec. 3 (Hyde Park Visitors’ Centre).

The church reports the effort raised more than $2.3 million last year for charities.

This week’s podcast: Where growth is fastest and slowest

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Latter-day Saints in the Democratic Republic of Congo celebrate their new temple in the capital of Kinshasa.

A recent Pew Research report reaffirmed a rising trend: Americans, especially younger ones, are abandoning organized religion. It’s a phenomenon that cuts across denominations and is expected to continue.

But what about in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? How is this missionary-oriented faith faring in its efforts to recruit and retain members?

Turns out, says independent demographer Matt Martinich, the Utah-based church is still growing, though the rate has been dropping for decades. He says the faith continues to boom in West Africa, for instance, but is stagnating in Northern Europe.

Martinich’s latest survey shows retention of new converts is improving — 50% in the U.S. and 49% outside of it — but country-by-country rates vary wildly, ranging from 80% in Congo to 33% in Uruguay.

Martinich discusses those findings and more in this week’s podcast.

See it, read it

(Photo courtesy of MagicSpace/Broadway Across America) First national touring cast in the "Book of Mormon" musical.

Borrowing a proselytizing page from the script used in previous locales where the Tony-winning “Book of Mormon” has played, missionaries greeted theatergoers outside Indiana University’s Auditorium with free copies of the faith’s signature scripture.

Dallin Smith, a missionary from Boise, said he sees the mocking musical’s run as a help, not a hindrance.

“I don’t feel very offended,” Smith told the Indiana Daily Student. “Our church has done a great job of turning this so-called ‘negative’ into a great opportunity to share the truth and what the real Book of Mormon is about.”

In New York, Chicago, Salt Lake City and elsewhere, for instance, the church placed ads in playbills that stated: “You have seen the show, now read the book.”

In England, elders and sisters from the church’s Manchester Mission took up positions earlier this year outside the Palace Theatre before and after performances to answer questions and discuss their faith.

Said Smith of the pretend missionaries on the stage at IU: “Not all of it is accurate. If you want to learn what a real missionary does, we can definitely tell you.”

Bonding with Muslims

(Courtesy of Muslim World League) LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson greets Mohammad Al-Issa, secretary general of the Muslim World League.

An international Islamic leader brought his push for worldwide peace, tolerance and moderation to a meeting with church President Russell M. Nelson and his counselors this week.

Mohammad Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League, told The Salt Lake Tribune that the group aims to work with those of all faiths on “common objectives until peace and harmony will prevail among humanity.”

Trumpeting love as the “true message of Islam,” Al-Issa also toured the church’s Welfare Square in Salt Lake City.

“What I’ve seen here is a great example of the true meaning of mercy and love to humanity,” he said in a news release. “We, all around the world, need to follow this humanitarian [approach].”

Latin American fiesta

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Los Hermanos de los Andes, an Andean folk music ensemble, performs traditional music in “Luz de las Naciones: A Home for All” (“Light of the Nations”). The multilingual production included contemporary Latin American music, colorful clothing and an 18-foot-tall piñata.

Colorful costumes, a mariachi band, even an 18-foot-tall piñata — yep, no one would confuse this spirited Conference Center gala with a staid General Conference session.

The songs, dances and storytelling were all part of the multilingual “Luz de las Naciones (Light of the Nations)” Latin American cultural celebration.

The program, with the theme “A Home for All,” featured a cast of 1,000 volunteers and drew more than 20,000 attendees.

“A home for all means that although sometimes we ... feel a little alone or lost, in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is always a place for everyone,” Jorge T. Becerra, an area Seventy who works with more than 140 Latino congregations across Utah, said in a news release. “Through music, dance and Latin traditions, we send a symbolic hug to all attendees who celebrate with us our cultures and our love for Jesus Christ,”

Added Israel González-Nieri, the event’s music director: “We want to bring a little piece of our home to the audience.”

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Dancers in “Luz de las Naciones: A Home for All” (“Light of the Nations”) practice choreography in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City. This year, the annual program focused on family, cultures and stories from Latin America.

Temple updates

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The iconic, white-plastered St. George Temple rises in southwestern Utah city of St. George, where a second Latter-day Saint temple will be built.

In a few years, St. George will have two Latter-day Saint temples. For now, though, the southern Utah city has none.

• The city’s 1877 edifice, the faith’s first temple in the Beehive State, closed this week to undergo extensive renovation.

“This is one of the beautiful, premier temples in the church,” Brent Roberts, managing director of the church’s special projects department, said earlier this year in a news release. “ … However, the building has worn out over time, and it is once again time for us to refresh and strengthen this historic structure for future generations to enjoy.”

The three-year overhaul will include “limited seismic upgrades” to the iconic white-plastered temple, with steel being added to the structure’s original wood trusses, along with installation of new heating and cooling systems, and partial demolition and rebuilding of the temple annex.

The structure is the first of four Utah pioneer-era temples that will shut down to undergo extensive renovations.

In April, the church detailed plans to strengthen the landmark Salt Lake Temple against earthquakes, a project that will begin Dec. 29 and is expected to take four years.

Two other historic Utah temples, in Logan and Manti, also will be renovated.

• St. George’s new Washington County Temple — announced a year ago by President Russell M. Nelson — will go up on a 14-acre site “northeast of 3000 East 1580 South,” according to a news release this week.

Exterior and interior renderings are not yet available, but plans call for a three-story, 88,000-square-foot temple.

With temples also planned in Saratoga Springs, Orem, Taylorsville, Tooele Valley and Layton, Utah will be home to 23 temples.

• In South America, Paraguay is once again home to a dedicated Latter-day Saint temple.

Apostle D. Todd Christofferson rededicated the renovated Asunción Temple on Sunday.

“I’m convinced that a temple in any place, in any country is a blessing and is a source of continuing blessing not only to the Latter-day Saints but to all the people of the nation . . . where a temple is established,” Christofferson said in a news release. “It blesses the lives of the Latter-day Saints directly, of course, but it also is a spiritual fortification that brings the Lord’s spirit and presence into a place and benefits directly and indirectly everyone.”

Quote of the week

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Elder Alan R. Walker of the Central America Area presidency speaks in a live broadcast across the Central America Area in October. He encourages civility while defending religious freedom.

“Be respectful of the law, be kind citizens and follow the teachings of Jesus Christ — always being firm in your beliefs. But be loving of all others and respect freedom of religion and belief.”

Alan R. Walker, general authority Seventy.

Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.