Devin Caywood and Dr. Bruce VanOrden, Religion
Basque Country is a relatively small region composed of three (arguably four) provinces in North Central Spain and two in Southern France. Statistics state that there are two million people in Spanish and French Basque provinces that claim Basque as their first language. 70-80 percent of those people also speak Spanish or French, although at varying levels of fluency. That leaves about 400,000 people who speak only Basque. These people can only be taught discussions in Basque, and can only read church literature in Basque. On top of those 400,000, there are many more (around one and a half million people) that speak Basque better than Spanish. They could also benefit from Basque-speaking missionaries and from Basque church literature. In the larger cities of Basque Country in Spain, Spanish is the predominate language. However, once outside of the city, Basque is more commonly spoken. The LDS church has branches established in each capital city of the three provinces of Basque Country where all meetings are held in Spanish. There are Basque members that attend church meetings in these cities, but they all speak Spanish as well as or better than they speak Basque.
In 1997, in an attempt to reach out and share the gospel with the Basque speakers of Basque Country, a program was initiated in the Spain, Bilbao mission by President Derk Pelton. Missionaries were assigned an area in the smaller towns of Basque Country and asked to learn the language. Basque is said to be one of the most difficult languages to learn for non-native speakers. It has no relation to Spanish or any other known language. To help the missionaries learn Basque, the help of Michael Morris, a local member originally from the U.S., was enlisted. Michael is a linguist who had learned Basque years earlier, and who now lives in Basque Country teaching English to Basque-speaking students. He helped the missionaries learn Basque, and he collaborated with the church on translation projects. A selection of hymns was translated, along with the Joseph Smith Pamphlet, Gospel Principles, the Family Proclamation, and the Articles of Faith. With limited language skills, and only a few proselytizing materials in Basque, missionaries struck out into the smaller towns. Although the work was slow and difficult, there were a handful of people touched and converted.
My involvement with the Basque people began in August 1999 when I was transferred to the Basque area. While a missionary in that area I studied the language, proselytized, working closely with the few members of the church that live there. Just after I left the area–in January of 2000–a meeting place was found and a small unit of the church was formed. The unit met biweekly for several months under the direction of the president of the closest branch. On Sundays the unit didn’t meet, members were to travel to Vitoria, about an hour drive. In February 2001, for reasons including lack of success, political conflict, and a declining number of missionaries in the mission, the unit was dissolved and the missionaries were taken out of the area. Currently there are no missionaries studying Basque, and no missionaries assigned to the smaller towns of Basque country. Of the eight members in the area, two attend church still. Because of limited resources, they are able to make the hour trip into the city only occasionally. The Basque missionary work was slow and difficult, but valuable. The church received positive publicity in the area from a local magazine and television station whose managers were impressed and intrigued by the missionaries’ efforts to learn Basque. The missionary work in the small towns of Basque Country also touched the lives of a handful of people from that area, and touched all of the missionaries that served there.
My purpose in this project was to compile a record of how the Basque missionary work came about and what efforts were made by those who pioneered the work. Also, I felt it was important to find out why it was discontinued. The background information above is a summary of my findings.
In order to gather the information needed to write the history, I arranged interviews with five of the people who were most important to the Basque missionary work. I also sent questionnaires to several other people who were involved. At this point I have gone through the majority of the tapes from the interviews I conducted, and used the information to write a history. As I go through the remaining tapes and continue to receive questionnaires, I will refine and add to what I have written. The history will be sent to the office of the Spain, Bilbao mission, the Europe West Area Office, and to several other people who have expressed interest in it. In addition, I would like to publish an adaptation of the history in a church historical journal such the Journal of Mormon History or BYU Studies. When I finish with the tapes, they will be turned over to Special Collections at the HBLL where they will be transcribed and available for future research.
Overall, I was pleased with the amount of information that came from the interviews. The information gathered, I feel, offers a complete review of the events that led to the initiation of missionary work in Basque, and of the efforts of the first Basque-speaking missionaries. I was also pleased to find a thorough explanation as to why it was necessary to discontinue the missionary work in Basque.
There were some challenges and disappointments associated with this project. It was difficult to coordinate busy schedules and find times to conduct interviews, particularly with the two mission presidents. I was a little disappointed by the fact that only one of the questionnaires I sent to the missionaries who served in the Basque areas has been returned so far. As a result, while the information I have gathered presents a thorough history of the beginning of the work in Basque and of the reasons leading to the discontinuance of the work, it doesn’t reveal much about what happened during the last year and a half that there were missionaries in the area.
This project was a good experience for me. I feel that it has been a valuable part of my undergraduate education. Being a science major, I feel that experience in the social sciences has served to balance my education. It is my hope that the interview tapes, questionnaire responses, and the history will be of value to those interested in the LDS missionary work among the Basque people, and that perhaps they will be of value to those who may attempt a Basque missionary program in the future.