Over the past few years, I’ve been slowly digitizing a bunch of analog letters, keepsakes, and other things that I think are worth keeping a copy of in the Day One journaling app (and, more importantly, in a PDF export from Day One). My current project is copying over a bunch of old emails that I sent friends during the two years I served as a Latter-day Saint missionary, and in the email I was copying this morning, I wrote about a time when I was working as the legal secretary for the mission and had to do an audit of our legal documents because:
the Paris mission had goofed… and registered someone to an apartment that they’d already sold.
I have no memory of this incident, but it doesn’t surprise me all that much. Non-European Latter-day Saint missionaries in France would all apply for a carte de séjour that would allow us to legally live and work in the country. Part of that process was registering a specific address with the French authorities, but since missionaries could be transferred every six weeks (and, in our mission, potentially be transferred to Luxembourg or Switzerland, not just to another address in France), we played a little fast and loose with our registered addresses. In short, you got registered at the address where you first served in France, and no matter where you lived and worked after that, you kept telling the French authorities that you were at that same address. This led to weird scenarios like my driving 3 hours from Geneva, Switzerland (where I was posted at the time) to Dijon, France just so that I could have a 15-minute appointment at the local préfecture before turning around and driving 3 hours home. I remember thinking that I would have liked to complain, but doing so would reveal that I was actually living in an entirely different country despite keeping my legal residence there in Dijon.
Thinking about this also reminds me of Jake, one of the missionaries that I worked distantly with in Geneva. Switzerland is expensive, and Geneva is especially so, which led typically led us to do our shopping in France, a practice common enough that the E. Leclerc supermarket we went to accepted both Swiss francs and euros. We didn’t work all that closely together, but we did live in the same villa, so this missionary and I (and a few others) all worked together for our shopping and food preparation. Switzerland had rules about how much food you could bring over the border from other countries, and he and I had different views about whether or not to respect that. I, a deep-down rules-stickler, complained whenever we flouted the law, and he figured (perhaps rightly) that no one was going to search our trunk for illegal amounts of steak haché, so why not buy as much as we needed? If I remember the conversation correctly, he supported his argument with a personal anecdote. He shared that his Permis-L (his Swiss work visa) was expired, and he really shouldn’t be living and working in Switzerland anymore. Yet, Jake said, our mission president had felt that he needed to continue doing so, and so there he was, still in Switzerland despite an expired visa.
I rarely talked politics with Jake or with any of the other missionaries that I worked with. Yet, with Donald Trump’s nonsense about border walls, the GOP’s current attempts to distract from a government shutdown by fearmongering aobut migrants, and the sure knowledge that Mormons trend conservative, I’ve thought about this conversation a lot over the past several years. How does Jake feel about folks who overstay their visas in the United States? Does he feel like God might have called them to do the same thing that God apparently called him to do 15 years ago? How about our mission president, who assigned Jake to Switzerland despite the expired visa? Does he think a border wall is a good idea, despite playing fast and loose with immigration laws in France and Switzerland during his tenure?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, and I have fond memories of working with both of these men, so my purpose isn’t to criticize them based on an imagined scenario. Rather, whatever the situation with Jake and our mission president is, I’m confident that there are all sorts of American Latter-day Saints who flaunted immigration rules and regulations on their own missions abroad but would call for zero tolerance of anyone who did the same in their own country. That’s a problem, and I would criticize that attitude wherever it exists.
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