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Spanish and Latino Studies

From Mormon missionary to MSU classroom: SLTS Professor Unveils New Memoir

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“My [Mormon] mission impacted me as a teacher in every possible way in that I’ve built my entire career out of my time in Spain. . . .My two years in Spain are replete with endless examples that fuel my in-class teaching. [I] fell in love with the culture, people, food, architecture and history,” explains Adjunct Professor Zachary Balog who recounts his experience in late 1990s in the Canary Islands through his new memoir Saving Souls in Paradise: A Mormon’s Failed Mission in the Canary Islands. Professor Balog teaches Spanish for Healthcare Practitioners at MSU.

While providing some background about the Mormon church, the memoir details why he decided to become a missionary, which is considered a rite of passage for Mormons according to Professor Balog. The book is about the daily life of a missionary, key cultural topics including semana santa, his encounters with local food such as papas arrugadas and paella, as well as wine traditions. In addition, the mission introduced him to the picturesque novella Lazarillo de Tormes. He also explains why the mission was a “failure” and how it affected him going forward.

“[The experience] required exiting my comfort zone, reaching out to strangers in the streets, and finding ways to share new ideas. As a professor, I live in front of students daily, but also communicate with them [digitally]. [My time as a missionary] gave me a better understanding of people in general and helped me improve my communication skills,” notes Professor Balog.

Since the memoir covers travel, culture, language, religion and philosophy, Professor Balog hopes the memoir will “appeal to all sorts of readers.”

“I think I am most proud of the book because it first entertains through stories, reveals the secrets of missionary life, but is also full of lessons. Everything I learned and experienced as a missionary that was relevant I tackle in the book. I like to think that it has depth because it delves into age old questions about religion and the purpose of life,” he states.


Link to the book on Amazon: