Over the course of its history, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has sent about a million believers around the world to spread the word of the Mormon faith. Most who go on mission are young people, like Tyler Davis and Megan Bills, who as teenagers were dispatched to Finland.
Davis and Bills are among the subjects of The Mission, directed by Tania Anderson, which is premiering at Sundance in World Cinema Documentary Competition. The film offers an intimate look at the emotional and spiritual journey of these teenaged missionaries as they try to convert people quite different from themselves.
“There’s a huge cultural difference between Americans and Finns, especially young members of the LDS church and Finns,” Anderson said during an appearance in Deadline’s virtual Sundance Studio. “Finns are reserved, they’re independent… They don’t want to talk to people that much — it’s a form of politeness, like giving people space… Here you’ve got LDS missionaries who really want to help with their whole heart and all of their love and enthusiasm and joy. And, so, there’s a lot of natural comedy that comes from the clashes of these two cultures.”
Bills and Davis and their fellow missionaries faced constant rejection. Most Finns wouldn’t give them the time of day.
“It was definitely hard, like there was times where… it was really difficult and draining,” Bills conceded. “It always just led me to question, ‘Why am I here and why do I keep trying?’ And that answer was always the same, that I felt I was doing everything I could to spread love and joy and teach people about something that has changed my life, the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Davis experienced mental health struggles in Finland, but considers his mission a rewarding experience.
“Going to Finland, it gave me the opportunity to understand myself more than ever before,” he observed. “I think the way that the Finns live — people calling them shy or being themselves more reserved — it gives them an opportunity to understand themselves more and be comfortable with self-love. And, so, I would say that how I coped, or how I dealt with the differences of Finland was that it transformed me to such a better person that I was able to love myself more. So, I’m really grateful for everything that Finland and the people did for me.”
Watch the full conversation with the director and her subjects in the video above.
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