Chinese-Speaking Members, Missionaries Serve Following Boston Fire

Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer

  • 30 November 2015

Elders from the Massachusetts Boston Mission help unload supplies donated by members following a Chinatown fire that displaced dozens of people.  Photo by Ivor Lee.

Article Highlights

  • Chinese-speaking missionaries and members helped people left homeless in Boston after a large fire.
  • Missionaries provided translation service for several days, allowing volunteers to more effectively serve fire victims.
  • Members offered up rooms in their homes for folks left homeless by the blaze and brought food to the shelter.

Chinese-speaking missionaries and members recently helped ease the suffering of dozens of people left homeless in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, after their residences were severely damaged in a large fire.

On October 19, an electrical fire sent smoke and flames through a large apartment complex in Boston’s historic Chinatown. No lives were lost and there were only a few smoke-related injuries, but about 40 residents were forced from their damaged apartments. Most residents are elderly.

Many found refuge in a temporary Red Cross shelter organized at the nearby Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of New England. However, communication between many of the English-speaking Red Cross workers and the Chinese-speaking displaced folks proved challenging.

Jerry Hsieh serves as the leader of the Chinese-language group from the Cambridge Massachusetts Stake. When he learned about the displaced Chinatown residents, he began making calls to local Red Cross officials to offer assistance.

Their response: send help fast.

Brother Hsieh reached out to the four Mandarin-speaking missionaries assigned to the Chinese-language group. “Two of the elders were at a zone conference, but the other two were sick and had stayed home,” he said.

Members from the Chinese Group of the Cambridge Massachusetts Stake and throughout the Boston area donated pillowcases and other supplies to folks displaced in the Chinatown fire. Photo by Ivor Lee.

Despite not feeling well, Elder Jaiyoon Koo and Elder Todd Boychuk immediately left their apartment, hopped on the subway, and made their way to the Red Cross shelter. Elder Wei Cheng Chen and Elder Chris Liu joined them a short time later.

The elders’ Chinese language skills were put to good use. They provided translation service for several days, allowing the Red Cross and other community volunteers to more effectively serve the Mandarin-speaking fire victims.

Both the English and Chinese-language media covered the missionaries’ efforts.

“We couldn’t do it without them,” Red Cross official Brandan Stock said in a Boston Globe story.

Elder Chen told the newspaper he was thankful to serve. “I’m grateful that we can come to help. We realized that [some at the shelter] needed a change of clothes and help with medication, and we’re happy to be a resource.”

The Church’s efforts didn’t end with the missionaries. After visiting the Red Cross shelter, Brother Hsieh sent out an email to Chinese-speaking members in the Boston area to update them on the shelter situation. He noted that many of the displaced residents still faced many challenges.

“Within minutes of me sending my email, I started getting email responses from those in the area, including many who are not members of the Chinese Group but were wanting to help,” he wrote in an email to the Church News.

The members offered up rooms in their homes for folks left homeless by the blaze. Others brought food to the shelter and offered love, support, and additional translation services.

The Chinese Group Relief Society president, Sister Naisi Zhao, worked with Red Cross officials to identify and gather personal items needed most by the displaced residents. Members throughout the city helped her collect paper goods, pillowcases, and other provisions.

Sister Zhao and the others took particular interest in a displaced young woman who was expecting a baby. In the days following the fire, the woman learned she would be having a boy. The members bought her a cake—decorated with the words “It’s a boy!”—and celebrated the happy news.

“As soon as we presented the cake, the lady just cried,” Sister Zhao wrote. “It melted my heart.”