The marvelous growth of the Church in Asia

If you want to see an important part of the future of the Church, come to Asia.

I stood in a meetinghouse lobby in Hong Kong this morning watching people stream into the chapel to watch General Conference. There were missionaries from around the world, and there were members from around the world. The electricity, the feeling that something extremely important is happening in the Lord’s kingdom, was tangible.

Wasn’t conference last weekend? Well, yes, but Sunday’s broadcasts were early Monday morning Hong Kong time, so members got together a week later to hear from the prophets.

I work for an Asian company and have the good fortune of visiting clients in India, Singapore and Hong Kong at least once a year. I have been fortunate to see some of the Church’s dynamic growth first-hand.

India is a fascinating story. The Church has been active in India since the 1850s, but membership did not really take hold until the last decade. In fact, according to this article, the first Church-built meeting house did not come along until 2002. The Church has grown from a few hundred members to 8000 in the last few decades. Now, there are two missions, in Bangalore and Delhi. I did my small part by giving away a Book of Mormon when I was in Mumbai, where the Church presence is minimal.

As you can read here, there are also Church members in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Indonesia. Elder Nelson recently visited members in many of these locations.

It is worth pointing out that much of the Church’s expansion in these countries is taking place in areas where there is very little knowledge about Christianity. I spoke with several Indians who really had a very vague sense of who Jesus is. They generally felt that Christians were not monotheists (similar to the Hindus) because they felt that Catholics venerated both Jesus and Mary. It is also worth pointing out that Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia are overwhelmingly Muslim countries. There are significant contacts between people in these countries and Middle Eastern Muslims (many of the servants in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, for example, are from Asia). It will be interesting to see over the next few decades if the Church spreads to the Middle East through Asians from Muslim countries who convert to the Church.

Singapore and Hong Kong are serving as laboratories for Church growth throughout Asia. There are many meetinghouses in both locations (and a temple in Hong Kong). One of the most fascinating things is that people from nearly everywhere in Asia come to Singapore and Hong Kong either on vacation or to work. Many of them meet missionaries there.

Missionaries in Hong Kong told me that they teach people in many different languages, from Cantonese, to Mandarin to English. There are people from Nepal who got exposed to the Church in Hong Kong and then took the gospel back to their small mountain country.

Hong Kong and Macau are officially the only places in China where the Church allows missionaries. However, it is interesting to note that there are 10 Mandarin-speaking missionaries in Hong Kong. Many mainlanders come to Hong Kong to work or on vacation and get baptized. So, it would not surprise me if the Church grows quickly once it is recognized by the Chinese government.

One of the fascinating aspects of Chinese culture is the emphasis on genealogy. Many Chinese keep track of their ancestors going back for centuries. In practice, this makes temple work go pretty quickly: I did ordinances for a large group of Chinese people from the 1st century AD when I went to the temple in Hong Kong recently, and the temple workers told me this is pretty common.

If you step back and look, you can see clear signs of the Lord’s hand at work in Asia. The Church is spreading quietly (a still, small voice) throughout the region, which holds half of the world’s population. A person from Nepal goes to Hong Kong and gets baptized, and brings the Gospel back to his country. Another from the Philippines goes to work in Singapore and helps the Church spread there when she returns. Former Muslims get baptized and then go to work in Arab lands. Chinese visit Hong Kong and get baptized, preparing the way for the eventually officialization of the Church there.

This might be a good time to remind readers how the Church came to Korea. You can read about it here. To summarize, one of the first members in Korea was Ho Jik Kim, who was baptized while studying in the United States. He later moved back to Korea, became a government official and helped pave the way for the Church’s growth there.

Slowly but surely, the Lord’s work marches on in Asia.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

21 thoughts on “The marvelous growth of the Church in Asia

  1. I just came up for air after working on my mid-term paper and was glad to read something not related to physiological or psychological resiliency!

    Great post, Geoff. I would love to experience the Church in Asia, but will have to do so vicariously through your post. Thank you for sharing your travels and observations with us!

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  3. I’m so jealous of your trip to Hong Kong Geoff. I spoke Cantonese on my mission and would love to someday visit the place so many of the people I talked to are from.

  4. I’m jealous you can speak Cantonese. I speak several language, but Cantonese seems far, far away. It is really tough to get the tones right.

  5. Europe is another gateway for the Church’s progress into Asia. While in Belgium I taught a man from Shanghai who had been sent there by the government to learn computer science. He had never heard of Jesus Christ before coming to Europe, but he was very anxious to learn more. (I don’t know what happened to him after I transferred out, but I’m sure his scenario won’t be unique when all is said and done.)

    There’s also a significant Muslim population in Europe; I met people from Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and a few other countries over there. Some wouldn’t talk to us, and most of my companions were leery of approaching them (this was pre-9/11), but I wouldn’t discount the possibilities there.

    LDS servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan might even play a role in bringing the gospel to those countries, not unlike how they did in Japan, Korea, and the Philippines.

  6. I served my mission in Hong Kong (91-93) with a short time in Macau. I was living in the mission home when the Temple was announced. Later we learned it was going to be built It is such an international city. People come and go from all over Asia; Nepal, Vietnam, Philippines, Timor, India, Japan, and so much more. But when China finally opens up, we could send every missionary we have into China and it wouldn’t even make a dent in what would be needed.

  7. You are actively serving a mission right there in Hong Kong, Geoff!!! I’m SO excited (great article, I might add) and feel strongly how wonderful it is to be serving parallel missions with you :) See you soon!

  8. My ward in Maryland shares a building with a Chinese language branch. A counselor in the branch presidency told me they sometimes receive visits from visiting Chinese scientists for whom it is not only their first time in an LDS Church, but the first time in any church. (NIST is two miles away, and the branch president is one of the Latter-day Saints who work there.)

  9. Hong Kong and Macau are officially the only places in China where the Church allows missionaries. However, it is interesting to note that there are 10 Mandarin-speaking missionaries in Hong Kong.

    Your readers may not know _why_ this is interesting. It’s because Hong Kong is a _Cantonese_ speaking province (state, or whatever it’s called now.) Also, the mainland provinces on the communist side of the Hong Kong border are also Cantonese-speaking.

  10. This is a huge region of the world about which I confess I know very, very little. I’ve tracked some of the earliest members in Calcutta and Karachi, but don’t have much of a picture of the present. Thank you for this overview.

  11. E, that’s a good question. I am told by people in Hong Kong that they are at least as different as, say, Spanish and Portuguese, which are really two very different languages, although they share many words. Many people in Hong Kong can understand Mandarin because much of the TV is in Mandarin, but they have to take Mandarin lessons to be able to speak it at all.

    It is worth noting that the written characters are the same for both languages. A “house” looks the same in written form, but the Cantonese word for “house” is different than the Mandarin word.

    Somebody who actually speaks either of the languages may want to add to this or correct me.

  12. Ardis, if you read my link to the history of the Church in India, one of the interesting things is that the Church had some members in the 19th century, but the Church did not last in India and basically disappeared until the last 15 years or so.

  13. I speak both Mandarin and Cantonese. The Spanish vs Portuguese comparison is pretty good. But even though the characters are the same, the grammar is different so Cantonese speakers learn to read in “literary Cantonese” which is very very close to Mandarin. We ran into literary Cantonese all the time. Whenever investigators read the scriptures, they read in literary Cantonese.

    It would be as if in France peope spoke French but everything was still written in Latin. If they wanted to be literate they would have to learn Latin.

    So most Cantonese speakers understand Mandarin when they hear it, but can’t easily speak it with out some training. The reverse, is not true. Mandarin speakers can not understand Cantonese when they hear it.

  14. The church does a good job of producing audiovisual materials in both Cantonese (for members in Hong Kong) and Mandarin (for members in Taiwan).

    However, the church hasn’t gotten up to speed in producing _written_ material in the script (writing system) used in China proper (or what we used to call “Mainland China”).

    Both Hong Kong and Taiwan (and Indonesia), even though they speak two different languages, use the same ancient Chinese writing system called “Traditional Script”, and as Geoff B points out, the Chinese symbol for “house” is the -same- for both Cantonese and Mandarin (and all dialects of Chinese).

    However, in the 1950′s, the Communist Chinese invented a modified system called “Simplified Script” to make it easier to teach reading and writing the Chinese languages. (There are more than just Mandarin and Cantonese.) The new writing system reduced the number of strokes to make the characters. However, their change was limited to mainland China, and was not propagated to the independent governments of Taiwan and Hong Kong. In fact, the “free Chinese” of Taiwan and Hong Kong came to view Simplified Script as a symbol of the Communist government of mainland China, which they hated.

    But since Chinese church members are almost entirely in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Indonesia (or from there), the church has produced -written- material almost exclusively in the original “Traditional Script”.

    A few years ago, the church started producing material in Simplified Script. In the church’s cataloging system, written material ending in -265 is in Traditional Script, and material ending in -266 is in Simplified Script.

    Up until the 1970′s or so, most Chinese families in the US were either from Taiwan or Hong Kong, or had been in the US prior to the Communist take-over of China. However, since the 1980′s, most Chinese immigrants have been from mainland China. The immigration from China (both legal and illegal) has been so great that I believe that the vast majority of Chinese in the US are now from China. (We can say “China” now, instead of “mainland China”. Taiwan is still Taiwan, and Hong Kong is still Hong Kong. Though Hong Kong is now politically a part of China.)

    So, the end result of why I like to point this out, is that if you are going to provide written church materials (a Book of Mormon, JS Testimony pamphlet, Gospel Principles) to a Chinese speaking investigator or friend, you don’t ask if they speak Mandarin or Cantonese. You ask where they are from. If they are from “China”, you should offer them church material that ends in -266, which is Simplified Script. If they are from elsewhere (Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Indonesia) you should offer them church material that ends in -265, which is Traditional Script.

    Church audiovisual material in Chinese usually has both Cantonese and Mandarin editions. DVD’s have multiple audio tracks and accommodate several languages. The exception is “Together Forever”, which has a Cantonese audio track, but not a Mandarin one.

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