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.