Monuments of Faith
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“Monuments of Faith,” New Era, Apr. 1986, 20

Monuments of Faith

In a land full of memorials, the greatest monument may be the faith of young Latter-day Saints.

The memories that linger the longest are memories of color. The greens of a public garden, softened by the gray haze of city smog until the whole scene becomes an impressionist painting. Flowers seen as purple splashes through a rain-splattered window. The bright yellow of a school girl’s cap next to her jet black pigtails.

Brightly patterned parasols, violet and pink, warding off sun, not showers. Foil pinwheels twisting madly in a breeze at the city zoo, spinning rainbows as they twirl. Tree trunks painted white as the city prepares for a parade. The turquoise tint of old iron grillwork. The green of star fruit, hanging like paper lanterns at a snack stand where school children buy balls of rice, gooey and sweet.

There are memories defined by other senses, too, equally potent. The shrill whistle, like a referee’s whistle, that bus girls use to announce each stop. Taxi drivers polishing their cars clean after even the slightest rain. Melons, peeled and carved, presented in a fruit salad that looks like a sculpted bird. Banners of white writing on a red background, stretching stories upward, announcing in detail the construction of a new building. Sheets upon sheets of red paper tacked to a bulletin board, a non-newspaper form of classified ads. Mandarin orange juice, cold and sweet on a hot afternoon, so full of pulp you chew as you swallow.

Visit Taipei, Taiwan, and colors and sounds like these will paint your memory. Stay here and they will weave like a bright thread through the fabric of your life.

All the magic of China is here. Scroll paintings of ancient landscapes. Jade and pearls. Cork and coral. Buildings with curved and angled roofs, where dragons perch as symbols of power. Open-air markets where vendors spread tables with pears and yellow apples, pale and round like the moon. Restaurants serve dumplings, duck with crackling skin, and vegetables spiced with ginger. Dancers with faces like porcelain dolls bow ceremoniously, wrapped in robes of crimson silk. Laborers in blue uniforms wear bamboo hats. Bicycles battle cars and trucks for their own space on the city streets.

In the midst of it all are monuments. Memorials to men and leaders. Reminders of freedom. Tributes to art. Statues and buildings with marble so white it hurts the eye. Ceramic tiles of blue or green, or golden tan the color of a lion’s mane. Lacquered pillars, maroon or orange red, as tall as the sky. Brass polished like a mirror. Windows shaped like lotus blossoms. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, protected by chrome-helmeted sentries who never move until the changing of the guard. The National Palace Museum, home of the world’s largest collection of Chinese art. The Grand Hotel, decorated with more than 13,000 dragons. The Historical Museum. The Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. New Park and Presidential Square. If a city is judged by its monuments, Taipei is among the great cities.

But in the center of town, within walking distance of the huge memorial dedicated to Taiwan’s founding father Chiang Kai-shek, there are buildings of another kind. Straightforward in design, they are beautiful in simplicity. To those who understand their purpose, they, too, are buildings to be revered.

One is the meeting house where Latter-day Saints from the Taipei East and West stakes hold worship services and activities. The other is the Taipei Taiwan Temple, itself a building of white with towering spires, a place of sacred promises, of vicarious baptisms, of eternal marriages and family life, of hearts turning toward hearts turning toward hearts. It is the house of the Lord.

No wonder young Latter-day Saints are drawn to the block on Chin Hua Street, where the two buildings stand. The stake center is home to stake conferences and youth conferences, and for the wards that meet in the building, Sunday School, priesthood meetings, Young Women, Young Men, Scouting, sacrament meetings, missionary discussions, ward parties, and, in addition to all that, it is simply a place to be around other Church members.

The temple, right next door, is a constant reminder of blessings that last forever, of the importance of reaching for eternity. It is no longer a remote dream in a far-off place. The temple is here and now. It is attainable.

During a combination talent night/standards night sponsored by the Young Men and Young Women of both stakes, some of the youth of Taipei took time to talk about the temple and the Church. They also told of sharing their knowledge of the gospel with schoolmates and friends.

“I come here almost every day,” said Ch’eng Jui-kuang, 17, of the Taipei Second Ward. “Coming to the chapel is different from going to other places. You gain a lot by coming here. Church leaders are very nice to me, especially my bishop, who understands how much pressure there is on me at school. The priesthood is especially important to me because I can do things that I couldn’t do in the past. For example, I can pass and bless the sacrament. Before I joined the Church, I had no idea that I could be trusted with so much responsibility. And to think of someday going to the temple—that is a great opportunity, a great blessing from God.”

“Whenever I come to the stake center, I look at the temple because it’s right next door,” said Chu Mei-ling, 17, of the Yung-ho Ward. “It gives me a great feeling of peace. It is nice to know that I can go there and do baptisms for the dead, an act of kindness for those who came before. And I dream of being married in the temple someday. When our Young Women leaders talk about that now, I think, ‘It could really happen!’ Having a temple in our own land, in our own city, is a blessing beyond imagination.”

Li Hsiao-lung, 17, of the First Ward, said having a temple in Taipei continues a history of conversion in her life. “When my brother was baptized, he recognized that the gospel is precious. He decided to share this sweet fruit. He invited me to church, and I heard the missionary discussions. He got me excited about reading the scriptures. He taught me how to pray. Since I’ve been in the Church, I feel like my understanding keeps growing and growing. I think that when I go to the temple, it will help me to keep growing and understanding.”

After Hsiao-lung was baptized, she shared the excitement she found in the gospel with her friend Chu Chih-t’ao.

“Everyone in the Church was so friendly to me,” Chih-t’ao, 17, now a member of the Second Ward, said. “But in the beginning my faith wasn’t strong. I read the scriptures when the missionaries taught me, and I prayed. I received an answer from God that the Church is true, so I decided to be baptized. But it was after I joined the Church that my testimony really grew, thanks to help from other members who showed their love and concern. Now I have a very strong faith.”

Ting Li-wei, 13, of the Fifth Ward, also knows about sharing the gospel. “At first my friends were leery about it. But I told them if they would come to church and hear the lessons, they would find that our church is different from other Christian churches. They did come, and they listened to the missionaries. One girl was even baptized, and now she has become an example to many people.”

“The rest of my family is Buddhist,” Chung Wen-yi, 17, of the Second Ward, said. “But among the students at my school, there are many who believe in Christ. I became interested in Christians. I saw many churches. But they all seemed to just read the Bible from the pulpit and give some explanations. They didn’t seem to care whether the congregation got the message or not. Then they asked for donations. I felt like I didn’t learn anything from them.

“Then a classmate gave my name to the missionaries. They came to my door. What they said was all so orderly, so logical and right. They helped me understand my Father in Heaven as a loving father, and his son Jesus Christ as my friend and brother. After several discussions, they asked if I would like to be baptized. I prayed about it. Sometimes I felt so happy I couldn’t even sleep at night. I knew it was right. I joined willingly, not being pushed or forced.”

“The Church in Taiwan has progressed greatly and is growing fast,” said Wu Nan-ping, 17, of the Second Ward. “I am so happy to be a part of it. I even feel different when I’m just walking down the street. I feel like I want to let everyone know what I have, how kind the Lord is to us all. When I have problems during the week, I save them up and bring them to church to find the answers. And it seems like every Sunday I hear my particular problem mentioned and solutions given. I learn so much.”

“Our country is a beautiful, wonderful land,” Li Ch’iu-hsüeh, 17, of the Fourth Ward, said. “Most of the people are pretty well off. But our purpose as member-missionaries is to help people lead a happier life. We need to bring the blessings of the gospel to them so they can become like our Heavenly Father. If they could all know about the Church, that would be super!”

And Chou Yung-ti, 16, of the Yung-ho Ward, isn’t satisfied to see the Church grow just in Taiwan. “I would like to go as a missionary to Japan or Singapore. Singapore, because it is a place where lots of Chinese live. Japan, because it is an advanced country.”

What would he do as a missionary?

“I would share what learning I have of the gospel,” he said, “my knowledge of the scriptures, my own experience with the Church. What I like to do most is to open and read the scriptures. There are many revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants that greatly inspire me.”

Taipei is a city where plants are as sculptured as the buildings they adorn, where crew cuts and white shirts have never gone out of style, where each character written on a poster or a billboard is a work of art in itself. It is a city of industry, with its dirt and grime. It is a city choked with traffic, where commuters wear surgical masks to keep from breathing exhaust.

But most of all, it is a city of people, two million of them. A girl who runs a bakery shop, reading poetry in the doorway as cars and trucks rush by in the street. An 80-year-old aborigine reminding relatives that once this island belonged, not to the Portuguese, who called it Formosa, not to the Japanese or the Chinese, but to her Indonesian ancestors called Atayals, Paiwans, and Bununs. Some of these same tribes still live in the hills.

There are young children who smile and point and laugh out loud, chasing each other in a game of hide-and-seek. There is a vegetable salesman on a side road, embarrassed when a camera is pointed his way. In a limousine, a businessman dressed in a custom-tailored suit rushes on his way to close a million-dollar contract for electronic goods.

And Taipei is a city where, all through the town, young Latter-day Saints are learning and growing and sharing the gospel. Talking with them at the stake center, you feel good. They may not be numerous, but their testimonies are strong.

Listening to and watching the talent program, it’s hard not to be amazed. A 13-year-old young man plays the violin like he’s a soloist with the symphony. The Young Women of the ward sing in a chorus of perfectly blended voices. There are choral readings, plays and skits, talks from leaders, a presentation from the Young Men about their standards, piano concertos, and Oriental dances presented with style and grace.

You know these same young people will be back again on Sunday, in this building or in other buildings where their own wards meet. They will be youth speakers in sacrament meeting. They will read scriptures in priesthood and Sunday School classes. They will be planning service projects, Seminary Super Saturdays, and firesides.

In a city full of so many memorials, these brothers and sisters are building what may be the greatest monument of all. Their lives are a monument of faith given as a living example, a tribute to the joy of righteous living.

Photos by Richard M. Romney

Constantly rushing, often serene—Taipei presents contrasting faces. Commuters queue up for a mad dash through a congested intersection, while nearby a student buys lunch at a stand selling refrigerated fruits and drinks. Throughout the city, parks are a welcome oasis.

Gleaming jewel of white, the temple is known for its beautiful simplicity and straightforward design. “It gives me a great feeling of peace,” one young Latter-day Saint said. “I dream of being married in the temple someday, and I think, ‘It could really happen!’”

Although Taiwan boasts a heritage built on centuries of tradition, it is also a country where faith shines like the promise of a bright tomorrow. Here young priesthood holders dream of going on missions, of “sharing my own experience in the gospel with others.”

The temple isn’t far from a number of impressive statues and monuments, and youth from the local wards often visit the surrounding sights. “Our country is a wonderful land,” said Ch’iu-hsüeh. “If everyone here could know about the Church, that would be super!”

Land of symbol and tradition, Taiwan delights in paying tribute to leaders and laborers alike. Even lions are honored as a symbol of power. But the most important tribute young Latter-day Saints receive is to be recognized for leading righteous lives.