Saints in Hong Kong Commemorate Mission's Beginnings

Contributed By Elder Paul Richard Sullivan, Church News contributor

  • 16 July 2014

Missionaries currently serving in the China Hong Kong Mission pose on Victoria Peak with Hong Kong in the background. (From left) Elder Kho, Elder Mikesell, Elder Little, and Elder Tong. (In front) Sister Law and Sister Garlitz.  Photo by Janet Cheong.

Article Highlights

  • Since the mission in Hong Kong was opened, the Church has expanded to include over 850,000 members meeting in 1,500 congregations in 18 countries in this region.

“The Spirit of the Lord is moving over this vast area. It would be undeniable, it would be impossible not to grasp, not to feel that there is a great work unfolding here.”
—Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve

On July 12, 2014, 1,500 Saints gathered in several chapels in the Church’s 12-story Wan Chai, Hong Kong, building to commemorate a quiet beginning involving seven people.

It was a typical humid Hong Kong summer day on July 14, 1949, when Elder Matthew Cowley of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Sister Elva Cowley, President and Sister Hilton Robertson and their daughter Carolyn, and President and Sister Henry Wong Aki found a secluded place on Victoria Peak to pray.

Said Elder Cowley, “We went upon what is known as The Peak, the highest eminence overlooking the beautiful city of Hong Kong, and on to the mainland of China, and there we officially opened the mission by a brief service, each of us praying in turn.” Elder Jeffery R. Holland, who took part in the recent celebration through a recorded video message noted, “Elder Cowley’s reference to President McKay already having dedicated the Chinese realm is a reason some believe Elder Cowley did not dedicate Hong Kong but simply opened the mission there.”

In the 65 years since the mission in Hong Kong was opened, the Church has expanded to include over 850,000 members meeting in 1,500 congregations in 18 countries in this region. Although initially interrupted by a lack of regional stability, missionary work began to rapidly expand when H. Grant Heaton was assigned as the first mission president of the Southern Far East Mission in 1955. At that time, this mission based in Hong Kong included Guam, Mongolia, Taiwan, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, and “everything in between.”

In a seminar at BYU in the fall of 1971, Grant Heaton spoke of the gathering that took place in those early years. “We had a map on the wall in the office in Hong Kong onto which we would put a pin whenever we got a new baptismal record. On that baptismal record it

Elder Matthew Cowley, who opened the mission in Hong Kong on July 14, 1949.

Boy Scouts and younger brothers help prepare for the Peak service. Photo by Pak Yu Leung.

The Hong Kong Regional Choir performing in the Hong Kong 65th Anniversary Peak Service on July 12, 2014. Photo by Woo Kam Tong Photo.

would list the place of birth. We had members of the Church from every major city in China, from Tibet, from up in the Russian Steppes, and from Mongolia. We had them from the northern parts of India, from Burma, and from Indonesia and Laos. We had people joining the Church in Hong Kong and Formosa (Taiwan), covering the entire area of Asia.”

Not only did the Lord gather His elect, He also taught them through the Spirit. Grant Heaton explained, “In 1955 we didn’t have anything printed in Chinese, no Articles of Faith, no song books, no Book of Mormon, no tracts, nothing! I listened to the Elders try to give the lessons (that) I wrote in Chinese, and I still couldn’t understand them; and yet people started coming into the Church.” He went on to explain, “I listened to sermons in testimony meetings and conversations by members of the Church that far exceeded our ability to teach. They taught back to us principles of the gospel that were instilled in them spiritually.”

By 1957, the Southern Far East Mission led all missions in the Church in convert baptisms per missionary, and the work continued to expand. The first four missionaries were sent to Taiwan in 1956. Four others were sent from Hong Kong to the Philippines in 1961, which became a separate mission in 1967. In late 1967, six elders left Hong Kong bound for Thailand to open missionary work in the “land of smiles.” In 1968 two missionaries were sent to Singapore, which became the seat of the South East Asia Mission a year later. In 1973 four missionaries were sent to Vietnam and the mission in Hong Kong was renamed the Hong Kong-Saigon Mission for a short period in history. Thus the restored gospel of Jesus Christ began to roll forward in this region of Asia.

By 1993, when the India Bangalore Mission was opened, there were already 1,150 members and 13 branches in that country. That same year, Elder Neal A. Maxwell dedicated Mongolia for missionary work. (Learn about the 20th anniversary celebration of this event.)

The pace is accelerating. Thailand, which just added a second stake and a district in June of this year (see related story), experienced 50 percent more convert baptisms in the first half of 2014 then they did in all of 2013. The first two stakes of the Church in Cambodia were created in May of this year (see related story), just 20 years after missionary work began. Recently, the Church received formal recognition in Vietnam (see related story).

The Lord is bringing forth His work as Isaiah prophesied and Nephi felt to again record for our day: “And then, O house of Israel, behold, these shall come from far; and lo, these from the north and from the west; and these from the land of Sinim.

“Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; for the feet of those who are in the east shall be established” (1 Nephi 21:12-13).

During a recent visit to the Asia Area, Elder Holland noted, “The Spirit of the Lord is moving over this vast area. It would be undeniable, it would be impossible not to grasp, not to feel that there is a great work unfolding here” (see related story).