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Church hosts strive to 'warm hearts'

They are not called as "missionaries," but directors, assistant directors and hosting couples in Church Hosting are that in nearly every sense of the word.

As President Spencer W. Kimball once stated, their Church service calling is to "open doors and warm hearts."And the directors and those who work with them are endeavoring to do that.

"This is a very exhilarating job," said Mary Ellen Smoot, who along with her husband, Stanley M. Smoot, has served since April 1993 as a director of Church Hosting in the Church's Public Affairs Department. "There is nothing more satisfying after having been in the mission field. It is a continuation of missionary work." The Smoots were a Church hosting couple for seven years before being called as directors.

In 1983, Brother Smoot was called as president of the Ohio Columbus Mission, where he and his wife served for a year. He was then called as president of the newly formed Ohio Akron Mission, where they served until 1986.

About two years after returning to Utah, Brother Smoot was called as a regional representative, serving in the Roy and Weber regions, and Sister Smoot served one year with the Public Affairs Department on Temple Square. Earlier, Brother Smoot was a member of the Young Men General Board.

The Smoots and those who work with them have found that people from all walks of life, including many political, religious and other leaders, often come to Salt Lake City not fully understanding the Church and seeking answers to the world's problems. Many others say they are impressed with the work of the Church and want to know more about it.

"All visitors will not join the Church but all could be our friends," President Kimball once said.

Making visitors and others feel welcome is an important part of a calling to work in the Church hosting program.

Church Hosting is a way by which visitors can be introduced to individuals and places that testify of the work of the Lord.

Visitors say they greatly enjoy their stay in Utah and are impressed with the work of the Church.

Most groups usually attend a Tabernacle Choir broadcast, tour Temple Square, attend a family home evening, see the movie "Legacy," visit the Family History Library, the Museum of Church History and Art, Brigham Young University, Welfare Square, the Sort Center (where donated materials, including clothing, medical and dental supplies, are gathered and sorted before shipment throughout the world) and attend a ward sacrament meeting.

During the past year, people from more than 50 countries and 20 ambassadors or consul generals have been guests of Church hosting.

Vince Chiarello (pronounced Keyarello), a foreign service officer for 24 years and assigned to the Foreign Press Center in Washington, D. C., brought a group of western European writers to Salt Lake City in August 1993. The writers all work for newspapers that have offices in Washington.

Mr. Chiarello said he wanted the group to get a chance to see how religion in America works and its impact on American life.

"I wanted to demonstrate to western Europeans how powerful a force religion can be. That's why we chose Salt Lake City," he said in a Deseret News interview. The group also visited Denver.

Mr. Chiarello said he was also interested in visiting Utah because of the number of Mormon families he has known during his Foreign Service career.

"The extent of (Mormon families) participating in the program is very noticeable overseas," he said.

He said he was grateful to see a family-oriented church and community. He said most of the writers who visited Utah commented that their visit with a Mormon couple and their family in a family home evening was an unforgettable experience.

Without hesitation, the writers said their visit in the Mormon home was the "single most memorable event" of their stay in Utah.

"I am not Mormon, but I was very impressed with the Church and its organization," he said.

Last year, a former minister was converted to the Church in New York state. He first visited Salt Lake City two years ago and obtained books and other literature about the Church. He and his wife, who also joined the Church, now live in the Salt Lake Valley and are thrilled with their experiences.

A businessman in New Delhi, India, and friend of the Church, visited Utah during May after being a host to two General Authorities. He was referred to Church Hosting by the area president.

During his visit to the Beehive State, the New Delhi visitor wanted to know more about the Church. Among other things, he was given a tour of Welfare Square, the Sort Center and viewed "Legacy."

"Your Church is amazing. I could feel the difference in this city from the time we left the airport," Brother Smoot quoted the New Delhi visitor as saying.

"Each week we watch as officials come to Salt Lake City searching for answers," Brother Smoot said. "After all we show them, their comments are always: `How do you get the missionaries and others to serve without pay? We cannot pay our young people to serve. Your volunteer service is amazing.' "

Five congressmen from Mexico visited Salt Lake City as guests of the Church last year. They came to Utah before voting on a constitutional amendment that would give churches more freedom in the acquisition of property in Mexico. Referring to what he had seen in Utah, the senior congressman was quoted as saying he "didn't know there was a place (or people) on Earth" like the Salt Lake Valley. "Mormonism will be regarded differently in Mexico because of our visit than it has in the past." Weeks after the officials' visit, the constitutional amendment passed.

During a recent visit to Utah a non-member of the Church and chief executive officer of a major corporation that hires many returned missionaries was asked by a Church official what the Church could do to help America.

His answer was, "Continue to do what you're doing - but do it faster. You have answers to this world's problems," he said.