NAUVOO CHRISTIAN VISITOR'S CENTER
Former Mormon hopes to guide people to Nauvoo Christian Visitor's Center.
By SHAWNA RICHTER
Burlington has a new billboard four miles south of town.
It's tall, deep blue and has a cross on it. The yellow words state, "Nauvoo Christian Visitor's Center. Defending Christianity from Mormon doctrine."
To Christian Visitor's Center directors Rocky and Helen Hulse the billboard is a step in the right direction.
"We put it up for a couple of reasons," Rocky Hulse said. "We put it up to advertise the center and the fact that it exists — a lot of people don't know it's over there.
"Also, the statement on the sign will draw people's attention," he said. "They'll say, 'Defending Christianity. Why would they say that?' "
Along the bottom, the billboard gives people the center's phone number and e–mail address, and the Hulses are hoping people use them.
"People may see the billboard, then go to the Web site, click it and see why we make that statement," he said. "The Mormon church is doing a tremendous job public relations–wise. They have really turned around their image in the last 20 years.
"But they haven't changed their doctrine."
All of that information is available on the visitor's center Web site, and all of it is based on Hulse's research.
Hulse was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter –day Saints for 20–some years. After marrying Helen, he tried to get her to join the faith.
She studied the Mormon religion, but refused to join and instead, convinced her new husband to read the Bible and join her faith.
Now the pair try to spread the word about inaccuracies in the Mormon religion, as well as their experiences with it. Rocky Hulse writes articles and newsletters showing how Christianity and Mormon beliefs differ.
"We don't make this stuff up," he said. "I don't have to. I just do a little research and put it up for people to read. ... Unfortunately, (Mormons) don't realize (I'm not making it up)."
The billboard is one step in steering people away from the Mormon faith, and the Hulses are concerned about what may happen.
"We took a picture of it (Thursday)," Hulse said. "Maybe by Monday it would be cut down. ... In reality, you can get an adverse reaction out of Mormons for different things. This could be one."
Elder Jon Larson, with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–day Saints public affairs office, didn't know the billboard existed.
"I think he is trying to stir things up, but I didn't even know about it," he said. "If he wants a billboard, that's OK."
The Historic Nauvoo Visitor's Center has a few billboards of its own in southeast Iowa. According to Ross Schmidt, the group has about 24 directional billboards in the area. All point the way to Nauvoo's historic district.
Hulses' one–and–only sign is four miles south of Burlington on the east side of U.S. 61. People driving to Fort Madison from Burlington will see the sign to their left.
"We were looking around trying to find an available billboard ... and that one became available and it was in our price range," Hulse said. "There is a tremendous amount of traffic on Highway 61."
The billboard is not lighted, so it cannot be read after dark, and though the Hulses would prefer it be lit, they'll work with what they can get.
"We aren't a bottomless pit of money like the Mormon Church is," Hulse said about the Nauvoo Christian Visitor's Center, "but this was money well spent."
The Hulses remain in the process of renovating the center, though it is open. Once Rocky Hulse retires in May, the pair will get to work on the displays, rearranging and redecorating the building.
For more information on their center, visit www.nauvoochristian.org.
Mormon temple a tourist mecca for tiny Nauvoo
NAUVOO, Ill. Tourism in tiny Nauvoo (naw-VOO') has surged more than fivefold since a new Mormon temple opened in 2002.
Church and tourism officials say about one-point-five (M) million tourists visited the western Illinois town of just 11-hundred people the first year the temple was open.
Crowds thinned slightly after the opening-year rush but still remain well above 900-thousand people a year.
Before the temple was built, the Mississippi River town had been drawing about 200-thousand people a year to other historic sites that include the grave and home of church founder Joseph Smith.
The lavish, five-story temple replaces one that was destroyed after the Mormons were chased out of Nauvoo in 1846 and headed west before settling in Salt Lake City.
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