“Conversation with the Asia Area Presidency,” Ensign, June 1995, 76–77
The Church is gradually expanding in Asia. To learn more about the Church in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Mongolia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, the Ensign talked with Elder John K. Carmack of the Seventy, Asia Area president, and Elders Kwok Yuen Tai and John H. Groberg of the Seventy, counselors in the area presidency.
Question: What can you tell us about the Church’s progress in Asia?
Answer: The work is going well in a number of nations while progress is modest in others. In some areas we are still path finding and building a foundation as we extend the frontiers of the Church.
We have hope of marvelous things ahead. There is much diversity among the nations of Asia—cultural, religious, economical, and political. The Church is dealing with the challenges of each nation in a specific and unique way.
Q: What are some of the nations where the Church is “path finding”?
A: Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos are good examples. In March 1994 the Church received official recognition in Cambodia, where we are providing a combination of proselyting and humanitarian service. A branch has been organized in Phnom Penh with about sixty Cambodian and Vietnamese members.
We have sent equipment, medical supplies, and lots of textbooks to North Vietnam, where our service is purely humanitarian. We are also providing humanitarian aid to Laos. We are preparing to send a shipment of used clothing, and last August we donated and helped distribute three truckloads of rice. The good things the Church is doing have been published in local newspapers and aired on television and radio stations (see “Church Donates Rice to Laos,” Church News, 27 Aug. 1994).
Q: Can you tell us about the Church in Hong Kong and Taiwan?
A: The Church has been in Taiwan and Hong Kong about forty years and is seeing steady membership growth. The size and strength of the Church in Hong Kong and in Taiwan are quite similar. We have about twenty thousand members in each area. Taiwan has four stakes, three districts, two missions, and a temple. Hong Kong has five stakes and one mission and will soon have a temple as well. Membership growth is steady, and the missions are prospering. The Church is solid, with many second-generation members who are growing in gospel knowledge and leadership ability.
For example, Taipei Taiwan Temple president Wei Wang is doing a superb job of overseeing work at the temple. Kent Liang, the regional representative for Taiwan, and his family are additional examples of solid second-generation Latter-day Saints. Brother Liang is a good example for his fellow Latter-day Saints and for his colleagues at a local university, where he serves as a department chairman. His brother, Carl Liang, is the country director of temporal affairs. Their father serves as a temple worker. We have equally dedicated members in Hong Kong, including people like Brother and Sister Ng Kat Hing, two of our first members there. Brother and Sister Ng have served the Church in many capacities since joining the Church in the 1950s, including as temple missionaries in the Taipei Taiwan Temple. All seven of their children have married in the temple.
Q: Latter-day Saints in Hong Kong must be pleased that they will soon have their own temple.
A: We have many endowed members who have been to temples in Taiwan, Hawaii, Manila, and the United States. Others, however, have been unable to travel outside the country to do temple work. They all are excited and looking forward to having a temple in Hong Kong. The local temple committee, composed almost entirely of local leaders, is busy preparing for the wonderful events associated with the temple’s dedication, set for spring 1996.
The temple complex, located on the site of the original mission home in Hong Kong, is going to be a multipurpose building, housing a chapel, a missionary office, and quarters for the mission president and the temple president. The temple will be on the three top floors and will also include part of the first underground floor, where the baptistry will be.
Q: Tell us about the Church’s presence in China.
A: The Church is not officially recognized in China, but we have a presence through foreign-born members living there and through a Brigham Young University program of sharing teachers with various institutions throughout the country. We have a branch of about eighty foreign-born resident members in Beijing. Some Chinese members, including a few from Taiwan, also meet together in Beijing. We have a branch of about thirty members in Shanghai and a branch of several families and single students in Guangzhou.
We have a cultural exchange program through BYU that has been going on for ten years. Groups like the Young Ambassadors, the Lamanite Generation, the International Folk Dancers, and the jazz band Synthesis have performed in China. They have made BYU one of the best-known universities from the United States.
We also have volunteer Latter-day Saint doctors going into China regularly to teach medical techniques, and the Church has sent medical equipment, earthquake and flood relief, and new textbooks. Of their own initiative, Church members in Hong Kong held a fund-raiser for flood victims in southern China following last year’s terrible floods.
Q: How is the Church progressing in Thailand?
A: Work is going very well. Thailand has been a successful mission. It continues to be fruitful, and we are working to develop more leadership. We have been in Thailand for nearly three decades. We have five thousand members, four districts, one mission.
Q: Can you tell us about the work in Mongolia?
A: The first year after missionary couples arrived was spent networking and building a foundation. Now we have about two hundred members in Mongolia, most of whom were baptized within the past two years. We have four couples and six companionships of elders serving in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, and we recently opened a second city, Erdenet. Our efforts so far have been a mixture of humanitarian work and proselyting. About 250 people attend sacrament meeting in Ulaanbaatar.
The Mongolian people are very hungry for gospel knowledge, and missionaries spend most of their time answering referrals and teaching discussions. The Lord is blessing our efforts.
Q: What are some of the challenges Asian members face?
A: Sometimes there is religious protectionism in the East. But there are people interested in the gospel, and they keep us busy teaching the basic principles of the gospel and how to make the gospel fully operational in their lives.
A concern of Church leaders in Hong Kong and Taiwan is the number of single members. Getting young Latter-day Saints together can be difficult, but we have several single-adult wards and branches that provide opportunities for people to work together in the gospel. The number of temple marriages is increasing, and we are gradually building a community of Saints that will provide stability, leadership, and long-term Church growth.
Q: How does the gospel and the faith of members anchor them against their challenges?
A: The gospel provides a wonderful perspective on life and a fresh approach about how to live. When Latter-day Saints, whether in the East or West, live the gospel they tend to become more like each other. The family assumes a much more important place in their lives. Families are intact in Asia, but the children become even more precious once their parents know that they come from God. Many fathers in Asia work very long hours and are not able to spend much time at home. As they are converted to gospel truths, they develop a tendency to put a higher priority on time at home with their families.
A great bridging of the gulf between East and West takes place when the gospel comes into people’s lives. People learn that men and women are equal because they are all children of God who need to repent, be baptized, and become part of the community of Saints. We are pleased to witness the change in the lives of the members who are faithfully living gospel principles. They are happy and are growing in the gospel.