“Taiwan Saints Eager for Temple Blessings,” Ensign, Nov. 1984, 107–9
Taiwan was once called Formosa, the Beautiful Island, by the Portuguese. Descendants of the Chinese who migrated there still think of it that way. But for Taiwanese Latter-day Saints, its beauty is about to be increased many-fold, in both the physical and spiritual dimensions, with the dedication of the new Taipei Taiwan Temple this month.
At last they will be able to enjoy all the blessings of the gospel. In the past, most Taiwanese have not been able to attend the temple due to the cost and difficulty of traveling to Hawaii or Tokyo.
The Church was introduced to Taiwan a little less than three decades ago. The first Latter-day Saints to arrive were American servicemen stationed there during the mid-1950s. One LDS serviceman sought out others, and eventually group meetings began. A branch was organized among them in 1956.
At that time, the Southern Far East Mission included Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines, and all of Southeast Asia. In 1955, missionaries arriving at the mission headquarters in Hong Kong began learning either Cantonese, which was spoken there, or Mandarin, spoken on Taiwan. In early June of 1956, four missionaries were sent to Taiwan, and in October, because of some initial successes, four more.
Growth of the Church on the island was slow at first, but later it mushroomed. By the end of 1957, there were about fifty members. In 1958, there were about eighty active members and thirty-one proselyting missionaries. By 1959, there were eight branches in Taiwan, and local members were augmenting the efforts of proselyting missionaries. On June 1 that year, Elder Mark E. Petersen of the Council of the Twelve dedicated the island for the preaching of the gospel.
In August 1960, the Taipei Branch, bulging with more than two hundred members, was divided into North and South Taipei Branches. Less than a year later, another branch was created by a division of the South Branch.
Local members were moving into leadership roles, the Church was growing, and it was evident that larger facilities were badly needed. When the opportunity came to build a district center in Taipei, using labor missionaries, so many eager members volunteered that it was possible to use only one-fourth of them.
A significant milestone was the printing of the Book of Mormon in Chinese, which began coming off the press in December of 1965. Some members had been waiting years to read the book in their own language. The translation serves members in both Hong Kong and Taiwan because, though there are differences between the two major dialects they speak, they share a common written language.
Plans for an excursion to the Hawaii Temple for members in Taiwan were kept alive by hope in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but the excursion did not come about. The major difficulty was the high cost of travel. A one-way airline ticket for the flight costs hundreds of dollars.
But in 1971, shortly after the Taiwan Mission was created by a division of the Hong Kong-Taiwan Mission, President Harold B. Lee, then First Counselor in the First Presidency, visited the island. Mission records report that he challenged members “to prepare themselves, that they might be able to receive the greater blessings of the Lord.”
Many Taiwanese Saints carry etched in memory the words of President Spencer W. Kimball just four years later as he spoke in the first Area Conference in Taipei. He explained the purposes of the temple that was to be built in Japan and promised, “You, too, can have one.” He went on to call them to greater service, then closed, “We leave the blessings of the Lord upon you, upon your posterity, and upon this land.” A prophet had pronounced a blessing upon them!
The next year, in 1976, Taiwan had its first stake, and a second mission was created on the island.
Growth has continued steadily. Now there are three stakes. The temple district, which also includes the two stakes and one mission in Hong Kong, has more than twenty thousand members.
The temple itself is opening many missionary doors in Taiwan, said Pan Kuang I, first counselor in the Taipei West Stake presidency and a Church member since 1961. Many Taiwanese, noting the care and quality that are going into the building, have become curious about its purposes. “Everyone is asking, ‘What is this building for?’ And when it is opened (for the public open house), everyone will want to go in.”
To members in Taiwan, he said, the temple is a constant reminder that their Father in Heaven and his prophet are concerned about them. “That is really encouraging to the people.”
Dedication of the temple will be “the greatest event in our Taiwanese LDS history,” President Pan said. “Everybody is so proud of it.”
Members are trying very hard not only to prepare the House of the Lord properly, but to prepare themselves properly to enter it. Many are attending temple preparation classes.
Spirituality has increased too. “We can just feel that warmth. Quite a lot of people are beginning to apply for their temple recommends,” said David C. H. Liu, a long-time member and local Church leader who will be the recorder for the new Taipei Temple.
He commented that the Lord must have carefully prepared the Taiwanese people and their ancestors over a period of centuries for the preaching of his gospel. “They love their families and have a good tradition of keeping the family genealogy,” he said.
Some twelve thousand names have already been submitted to the Genealogy Service Center in Taipei by members—nine thousand of them by just one individual. Sister Hu Chou Yueh Ying and her husband accepted a call last year to be genealogy missionaries serving in the Taipei West Stake library. After they returned from training sessions in Salt Lake City, Sister Hu found in a catalog a microfilm she thought might contain records of some of her own ancestors. She ordered it, and discovered it contained a treasure trove of information about her family.
Though their success might not be so spectacular, many other faithful members have been spurred to work on their own genealogy by the building of the temple, President Pan emphasized. One day soon, perhaps many more records will be available, he said, noting that members of his family who are not yet LDS have “genealogy books going back one thousand to two thousand years.”
The setting of the Taipei Temple is not typical of what many members elsewhere might expect. It is not on some hilltop prominence, or isolated from its surroundings by green acreage. A building belonging to another church, two colleges, and the building that houses LDS offices in Taiwan surround it. But the temple stands out because of its elegance, attracting the attention of passersby.
Douglas H. Powelson, president of the Taiwan Taipei Mission from 1979 to 1982, reflects that the mission home once stood on the temple site, next to the stake center. The mission home is gone now. But in its place the temple is strategically located where members can reach it easily and inexpensively so they will be able to visit it frequently.
“It’s the right place,” President Powelson affirms.
Reporters: David C. H. Liu, recorder, Taipei Taiwan Temple; Richard L. Jensen, Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History, Brigham Young University.