Elder Jacob Herr knew he wanted to immerse himself in the culture of Georgia, a country that sits at the intersection of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. But he never imagined his efforts would lead to a video of him going viral on TikTok and an appearance on one of the country’s morning talk shows.
And while Elder Herr may not have anticipated all the attention and was nervous to appear on TV, the results have blown him away.
“We have been getting so many texts and people interested in learning more about the gospel as a result of our publicity. We don't have enough missionaries or time to keep up with it all,” Elder Herr told LDS Living in an email.
Everything started on July 5, 2021, when the missionaries in Elder Herr’s area invited friends to a small potluck in celebration of Independence Day in the US. A woman named Magda Imerlishvili, who has a large social media following in Georgia, came to the party and took videos on her phone of the missionaries speaking in Georgian. When Imerlishvili posted the videos online, one of the most popular was of Elder Herr singing the Georgian national anthem.
Imerlishvili and Elder Herr at the potluck.
Months earlier, Herr had decided that in order to better connect with the people he was teaching, he would learn all he could about their culture. With his mission president’s permission, he read books and poetry and even watched episodes of a popular television series. He also memorized the country’s national anthem.
“My companion once mentioned something about the Georgian anthem, and I was immediately hooked on the idea of learning it. For the rest of that day in quarantine I stood on the porch practicing,” Elder Herr says.
All of that practicing paid off.
The video of Elder Herr’s performance at the potluck went viral on TikTok and was reposted by two major news companies in Georgia. Then, Elder Herr and his companion Elder Zachary Bennett were invited to be interviewed on TV.
“I was extremely nervous to go on the morning talk show. I am the kind of person who gets pretty nervous easily,” Elder Herr says. “I would have been just as nervous to be in a talk show in my native tongue let alone in a language that I have only been studying for two years. [But] a few minutes into the interview, I loosened up and the nerves just went away. I was able to be more myself.”
Elder Herr describes that first, the interviewers asked why they were living in Georgia and if they had ever heard of the country before coming. He explained that they were missionaries for their church, and that no—he had never heard of Georgia before, and initially thought he’d been called to the US state by the same name.
The group then discussed Elder Herr’s love for Georgian culture and how he has been able to learn the language. Imerlishvili also joined them for the interview and Elder Herr explained how she had met the sister missionaries.
“The [interviewers] once asked me what we preach as missionaries and only gave me enough time to say that we preach about Jesus Christ and we are tolerant of all religions before the next question was asked,” Elder Herr explains. “They then wanted to all sing the national anthem with my companion and I—it was quite the experience.”
As part of the interview, the elders also met a famous Georgian actor, Otar Tatishvili who told Elder Herr that he had once read the entire Book of Mormon.
The interview took place on July 16, and Elders Herr and Bennett have been quite busy in the weeks since.
“I would just like to [say] how much I feel that we have seen the Lord's hand in all of this,” Elder Bennett, who has been in Georgia for four months, wrote in an email to LDS Living. “There is no chance that this happened by accident. As a result of all the publicity that we have gotten, many people have contacted us, asking to learn more about our beliefs, which is pretty spectacular. . . . There are many people who now recognize my companion and I in the streets. I hope that it has helped soften the hearts of many others towards our faith, and what we are doing here as missionaries.”
Eager to take full advantage of buzz surrounding the TV appearance, the missionaries made a video of Elder Herr bearing his testimony and making a gospel analogy to running. The video quickly became number one among missionaries in the Europe East area and statistics show it has reached 72,000 people. And the opportunities haven’t stopped there.
“My companion and I [were] actually invited to another interview for a smaller university TV station [and] we were able to discuss a lot more about religion and the things that our church believes,” Elder Herr says. “Many opportunities have come as a result of this, and I believe many more are coming.”
Elder Herr will have to do all he can to soak up this experience, as he will return home to Hawaii on August 6.
“I have really fallen in love with [Georgia] in so many aspects. This country is really a hidden gem,” he says. “I love their language with all of my heart, their traditions, and especially their food. . . . The [people] are really rooted in a love for Christ. If you asked anyone on the street if they love Christ, probably about 90 percent would say yes, if not even higher than that.”
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