Pearls of the Orient

By Kellene Ricks

Assistant Editor

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    Hong Kong blends old-world wisdom and modern-day technology with stunning natural beauty. But the real pearls in the colony are its people.

    Tony Wong’s parents fled from Communist China into Hong Kong before he was born. His father was unable to find work in the British colony, so his parents “switched roles,” Brother Wong recalls. “My father fed us the bottles and changed the diapers while my mother worked.”

    She worked for a few dollars a day—just barely enough to put food on the table and pay for the tiny makeshift hut the family lived in. “We didn’t even have enough money for an electric fan,” observes Brother Wong. And in a land where summer temperatures reach 90 degrees with nearly 100 percent humidity, a fan is almost a necessity.

    All that changed when the missionaries came to visit.

    The family listened to the gospel, and eight-year-old Tony, along with his parents, was baptized in 1960. (A younger sister followed on her eighth birthday.) Although money was tight, the family paid tithing. “And within two months my mother found an extra job, and we had enough money to buy a fan,” Brother Wong says, humble gratitude shining in his eyes. “The Lord has continued to bless us through the years.”

    Hong Kong was, and is, a unique place to grow up. Dubbed the “Pearl of the Orient” by early visitors who recognized the natural beauty and unusual potential of this tiny Oriental nook, the land offers a rare blend of old-world wisdom and modern-day technology. The countryside is quiet and lush, the cities bustling and growing.

    But the real pearls in the colony are its people, polished and refined by a history rich in values and tradition and a future gleaming with challenges and potential.

    The Chinese civilization is one of the oldest in the world, stretching back almost four thousand years. Family, obedience, and respect are basic tenets for this people, so gospel teachings based on those same principles are not strange to them. Most Hong Kong residents practice some form of Taoism, Confucianism, or Buddhism, with strong elements of ancestor worship.

    First-Generation Converts

    The story of Tony Wong, reared in the Church with family support, is uncommon in Hong Kong. Most Church members are first-generation converts, often with families who don’t understand this “new” religion.

    “It was difficult,” acknowledges Camel Lok, who was baptized as a teenager. Her family tolerated her weekly church attendance, but Camel often felt alone in her quest for spiritual growth and learning.

    “I couldn’t have done it without my friends in the ward,” she explains. “Meetings on Sunday really strengthened me for the upcoming week.”

    Now married, Camel and her husband, Gary, both returned missionaries, find support from each other and look forward to rearing their daughter with a strong gospel foundation and the full support of her family.

    Other couples are doing the same thing. Chan Yue Sang and his wife, Kit Fong, have four children and are deeply grateful for the gospel and the difference it has made in their lives.

    Seventeen years ago, Bishop Chan, then a 24-year-old police constable, first heard about the gospel when he attended English classes taught by LDS missionaries.

    “The gospel was beautiful to me,” he remembers. “At the time, I didn’t even believe in a God. But when they taught of being with your family forever, I thought I would give up anything in order to have that.”

    His life changed a lot after his baptism. Within six months he had received a promotion at work. He also spent time that summer working with the full-time missionaries and teaching the gospel to others. One of the investigators he taught wrote him a letter two years later, asking for a contribution to the chapel they were building in her ward. He sent some money, renewed his acquaintance with her, and married her a year later.

    “The biggest reward the gospel has given me is my family,” Bishop Chan says.

    Sharing the Reward

    One of Bishop Chan’s goals is to share that reward with others. Last year, he invited the missionaries to a monthly police training meeting to give a family-focused presentation. The training included instruction on family education, the welfare program, family council meetings, and one-on-one interviews with children. The family home evening program was also introduced. As a result, one of Bishop Chan’s colleagues joined the Church, and others have shown interest.

    Lih Hang, the Chan family’s oldest son, will be nineteen in 1997. He is already saving money and planning to serve a mission. One of the challenges of missionary work in Hong Kong is the Chinese language. Many dialects are spoken here, with Cantonese being the most prevalent. All the dialects have varied sounds and tones and are difficult to learn, making native speakers the most effective missionaries. Numbers over the past few years have varied, with one-third to more than one-half of the missionaries serving in Hong Kong coming from the colony. Hopefully, as Church membership in the colony grows, that number will increase.

    Another challenge, not unique to this area, is retention of converts and reactivation of less-active members. Two years ago, Stanley Wan was called as regional reactivation coordinator. Working with stake mission presidents and ward mission leaders, Brother Wan keeps close tabs on all new converts, tracking them as they hear a series of lessons for new members after baptism and as they become involved in their new wards.

    “We’re trying to keep track of people, not just numbers,” Brother Wan explains. “We keep the name of every newly baptized person in our files. We check to see whether these new members have received the priesthood, whether they’ve been given a calling, and whether home teachers are visiting them.”

    Each priesthood quorum and auxiliary organization is also assigned to check up on one less-active person every month, and leaders report on their contact with that person in ward council meeting.

    In addition, an emphasis is being placed on home teaching. “This is a challenge for us,” Brother Wan observes. Because space is limited and several generations of one family may live in the same small living quarters, home teachers often find themselves visiting a member in his or her home while relatives watch television or play mah-jongg just a few feet away. Alternatives include visiting members in nearby parks or at the meetinghouse.

    As the converts in Hong Kong grow and progress, so does the Church, notes Patrick Cheuk, an instructor for the Church Educational System. “It’s like the development of people,” he explains. “Children are dependent on their parents for many things, but as they grow, they are more able to do things on their own.

    “The Church in Hong Kong is reaching its adult stage. Many of our young people are returning from studying abroad, and there is also an increasing number of returned missionaries. The Church here is going to benefit from that commitment and experience. People are being prepared for the future.”

    Brother Cheuk himself is a good example of an experienced and committed first-generation convert. After joining the Church and serving a mission, he studied at Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho, and later graduated from Brigham Young University. He planned on working in the United States but felt compelled to return to his homeland.

    “When Heavenly Father wants you someplace to do something, he has a way of getting you there,” Brother Cheuk says, chuckling. “I wasn’t excited about coming back, and it’s been a difficult few years. But I have no doubt that I’m supposed to be here, doing what I’m doing.”

    Balancing Old and New

    One of the things Brother Cheuk does is work with the youth in Hong Kong, who face special challenges as they strive to find a balance in a society caught between the old and the new. In a society with an ancient tradition of family loyalty, young people almost instinctively defer to their parents’ wishes. Yet they are torn by an almost-equal desire to keep up with what they perceive as a growing and changing world.

    Church leaders strive to help young people find a balance. Seminary and institute classes offered through the Church Educational System, available only since 1969 in Hong Kong, help youth and young adults find others who share their values and beliefs. In these classes young people learn that the gospel is not just a Sunday religion, explains Kwok Kam Tin, acting associate area director for CES.

    “They are able to learn and study throughout the week and enjoy the friendship and support of others,” Brother Kwok says. “In the classes we also try to help them understand the purpose of life, the reasons we are here. We all work toward obtaining an eternal perspective and enough strength to obey the commandments, support and love each other, and share the gospel with others.”

    Power in Each One

    These things are not always easy to do in a world that sometimes seems preoccupied with the importance of money and possessions.

    “Money and all it can buy are also highly visible here,” comments Caroline Kwok, a Brigham Young University graduate. “I’d say materialism is one of the biggest challenges we face as members. The media is constantly giving the message that we could all be happy if we had the right clothes, the right possessions, enough money.”

    And yet, although there are large private homes in Hong Kong, the vast majority of its residents struggle to make enough money to pay for a small apartment in the high-rise concrete communities springing up all over. “Most of our members fit in the lower- to middle-income bracket,” Sister Kwok points out. Sister Kwok, who has a doctorate in education, feels that a key to helping Church members deal with economic challenges is education. Hong Kong children receive a free nine-year education, but admission to schooling beyond that is highly competitive. Sister Kwok opened a night school that caters to members who work during the day but want to further their education. The school’s curriculum balances secular knowledge and gospel principles, with an emphasis on thinking skills. “The power to progress and grow is in each one of us,” states Sister Kwok. “We just have to gain access to it with the Lord’s help and with belief in our own abilities.”

    Map of Hong Kong

    The 1997 Transition

    Hong Kong residents, members and nonmembers alike, face another unique challenge—a major change in their government in the coming years. Leased from China for the last ninety-three years, this small British colony is scheduled to revert back to Chinese rule in 1997. (See accompanying sidebar, p. 34.)

    “This is a major concern,” admits Bishop Chan. “Many are nervous, worried, fearful. I was worried, too.” Wondering whether to try to apply for passports and emigration approval for himself and his family, Bishop Chan turned to the Lord for guidance.

    “There’s a verse in Ether 2 that helped me,” he explains. “It’s verse 12. ‘Behold, this is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ, who hath been manifested by the things which we have written.’

    “I realize that promise was given to the people living in America at that time, but I believe that the people in Hong Kong can find comfort and peace in it, too. If we continue to worship Jesus Christ, I believe he will be with us.”

    Others share Bishop Chan’s conviction. Caroline Kwok recalls watching the 4 June 1989 newscast that reported the Chinese government’s response to students demonstrating in Beijing.

    “I immediately went into my room, knelt down, and asked the Lord if he knew what was happening in China. Of course he did. I got a great deal of comfort and peace from that confirmation.”

    Brother Tony Wong was assigned to speak during a stake priesthood meeting. “I think the stake presidency wanted me to talk about whether emigration was right or wrong. But I didn’t know,” he says. He read books, checked references, and prepared for two weeks, but the night before the meeting, he still had no idea what he was going to say.

    “I decided I’d better do something, so I knelt down and prayed. Then I opened up the scriptures.”

    Again, the answer and comfort was found in Ether: “Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God.” (Ether 12:4.)

    “The reason for emigrating is looking for a better world,” Brother Wong explains. “People think it will be safer, nicer, or happier somewhere else. This scripture made me realize something. When I talked at that priesthood meeting, I didn’t talk about emigration—I talked about belief in God and Jesus Christ.

    “If you ask me if I am going to emigrate, I’ll tell you no. People are worrying and fearing, but we’re forgetting that we have the gospel, we have the Helper. The gospel offers hope and the assurance that Heavenly Father knows what is going on and he is in charge.”

    Hong Kong Highlights

    Land. At present, Hong Kong is a British territory occupying almost four hundred square miles on the south coast of China. Hong Kong is made up of several diverse bodies of land: a tip of the Chinese peninsula adjoining Guangdong Province, two large islands, and more than two hundred smaller islands.

    History. China ceded Hong Kong Island to Great Britain in 1842, after the Opium War. Kowloon, the peninsula, became part of the colony in 1860. In 1898, China leased the New Territories, extending from Kowloon to the Chinese border, to Britain for ninety-nine years. The lease expires in 1997. In December 1984, the two governments signed a declaration that will make Hong Kong a special administrative region of China on 1 July 1997. Essentially, the agreement calls for the continuation of Hong Kong’s social, economic, legal, and other systems for fifty years.

    Economy. Shipping, commerce, and industry are vital to Hong Kong, which means “Fragrant Harbor” in Chinese. It is a free port; no tariffs are levied on imports or exports. Per capita, Hong Kong is one of the top ten trading entities in the world, with 36 percent of its people employed in manufacturing. Tourism is also a significant source of income.

    People. During the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong in World War II, the population of the colony decreased to 600,000. After the war, people flocked to the area. Today, the population is approximately 5,800,000, with 11,182 people per square mile. More than 60 percent of those people live in the city. Approximately 98 percent of the population are of Chinese descent.

    History of the Church in Hong Kong

    —August 1852. The first LDS missionaries to serve in Asia are called. Three missionaries reach Hong Kong on 27 April 1853. They stay four months before returning to the United States.

    —14 July 1949. Elder Matthew Cowley of the Quorum of the Twelve stands on Victoria Peak in Hong Kong and offers a prayer for the success of missionary work.

    —25 February 1950. The first missionaries since 1852 arrive in Hong Kong and begin proselyting.

    —31 December 1950. Three people are baptized. Within a year, eight full-time missionaries are serving in Hong Kong. Political unrest and the outbreak of the Korean War prevent further missionary work.

    —1955. The Southern Far East Mission is organized. The new mission includes Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines, and all of Southeast Asia.

    —May 1959. The mission has 102 full-time missionaries, 12 of whom are local missionaries.

    —1965. Six of the eight Hong Kong branches are presided over by local Chinese brethren. In December, the Book of Mormon is printed in Chinese.

    —1966. The first local chapel built by the Church is completed in Yuen Long, a city in the New Territories.

    —1 November 1969. The Hong Kong–Taiwan Mission is created.

    —1 January 1971. The Hong Kong–Taiwan Mission is divided to form separate Hong Kong and Taiwan missions.

    —1974. The Chinese edition of the Doctrine and Covenants is printed.

    —August 1975. President Spencer W. Kimball visits the British province during an area conference.

    —25 April 1976. Part of the Hong Kong mission becomes a stake with a membership of 3,410.

    —May 1980. The Hong Kong Stake is divided. Membership in the two stakes is more than 9,000.

    —November 1984. Two more stakes are created, and Church membership reaches 13,000. Also during this year, the Taiwan Temple is dedicated.

    —1990. The Church continues to grow. Currently, there are approximately 17,000 members in Hong Kong with four stakes, twenty-three wards, and five branches.

    Photography by Kellene Ricks and FPG International

    Above right: Primary children participate in singing time. Above left: Typical Chinese tiger statue. Inset: Kwok Kam Tin and wife, Choi Wai Lan, with their daughter. Backdrop: Hong Kong Island from the harbor.

    Above: Modern apartment buildings rise behind a park with a traditional Chinese pagoda. Left: Ling Hoo Yin, one of the early converts in Hong Kong, has been a Sunday School teacher for thirty years.

    Above: Bianca Yuen (center), a returned missionary, discusses the gospel with two institute students. Left: Chan Yue Sang, a bishop and high-ranking police officer, is eager to share the gospel with his colleagues. Lower right: Hong Kong street scene.

    Above: In rehearsal, members of Hong Kong’s regional Church choir listen to director Caroline Kwok. Below: Peter and Monica Lee with their two sons. Facing page: Fishermen in a Hong Kong harbor.

    Above left: Farm scene. Center and lower left; Youth in Hong Kong strive to find a balance in a society caught between new and old. Youth activities and Church callings help youth find others who share their values and beliefs.