Throughout 2003, Latter-day Saints in all corners of the world celebrated local anniversaries of the first Church presence in their lands. Although it has taken time for the Church to take hold in some nations, members today honor the Church’s first steps as they commit to going forward.
150 Years Since First Missionaries Arrived in Hong Kong
Hosea Stout, James Lewis, and Chapman Duncan left Payson, Utah, on 24 October 1852 to serve as missionaries in Asia. They went to San Francisco, California, and found passage on a ship that stopped in Hawaii and the Cook Islands and finally in Hong Kong.
On 27 April 1853, 185 days after they set off on their journey, the three missionaries arrived in Hong Kong Harbor, “passing by Chinese Junks with people from all professions trying to market their skills or wares,” Elder Stout recorded in his journal.
The Tai-ping Rebellion, which began in 1851 and lasted until 1864, prevented the missionaries from traveling inland to China, so they stayed in Hong Kong. The heat and humidity were stifling, but it was the language barrier that would eventually send them home. Elder Stout wrote, “There are different meanings to the same sound distinguished by intonations of the voice as in music, … making the language very difficult to learn and utterly impossible without a teacher.”
Unfortunately, the three missionaries could not afford a teacher, and they returned home after four months.
Almost 100 years later, in February 1950, missionaries returned to Hong Kong, only to be evacuated one year later because of the Korean War. In 1955 the mission reopened, and missionaries have served in Hong Kong ever since.
Today Hosea Stout’s great-great-great-nephew, Adam Stout, is serving as a missionary in the China Hong Kong Mission. Elder Stout’s trip from the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, to his mission in Hong Kong took just 16 hours, compared to the 185 days of his great-great-great-uncle’s journey. Elder Stout also left the United States from San Francisco, just as his ancestor did so many years before.
More than 4,000 missionaries have labored in the Hong Kong area in the past 50 years. Some have returned to Hong Kong as mission presidents. Of the 17 mission presidents in Hong Kong since 1950, 12 of them served missions there as young elders, and two mission presidents’ wives also served as young sister missionaries in Hong Kong. The current mission president, Ted Hop Ong, is of Chinese ancestry, and his wife, Wai-Mui Amelia Yeung, was born and raised in Hong Kong.
Currently, there are more than 21,000 members meeting in 39 congregations throughout Hong Kong.
Russia Dedicated 100 Years Ago
It was 100 years ago, on 6 August 1903, that Elder Francis M. Lyman of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder Joseph J. Cannon, a missionary accompanying him, knelt in St. Petersburg’s Summer Garden and dedicated Russia for the preaching of the gospel. Three days later, on 9 August 1903, a second dedicatory prayer was offered outside the Kremlin walls in Moscow.
Recognizing the difficult circumstances of Russia at the time, Elder Cannon recorded his observations and hopes for the nation. “Freedom will come some day,” he wrote in the 27 August 1903 edition of the Millennial Star. “May that time approach steadily without the horrors of bloodshed and revolution.”
Unfortunately, the Russian people would endure much bloodshed and revolution before they would enjoy freedom. World War I sparked the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, which was followed by a devastating three-year civil war. Then came the 70-year Soviet reign, marked by Joseph Stalin’s purges in the 1930s in which tens of millions of Russians were executed or consigned to brutal labor camps.
But now, 12 years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Elder Lyman’s second dedicatory prayer, offered in Moscow, is coming to pass.
“[Elder Lyman] prayed that the hearts of the sincere and honest might be turned to seek for the truth, and petitioned the Lord to send servants full of wisdom and faith to declare the gospel to the Russians in their own language,” Elder Cannon wrote.
Today Russian-speaking missionaries preach in the country of the tsars, and hearts are being turned to the truth. There are about 15,000 members in Russia.
“I know that the gospel is true because you are all here,” said Vladimir A. Nechiporov, president of the Centralized Religious Association of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Russia (the Church’s legal entity) to a group of Utah athletes who recently competed in Moscow. “Nineteen or 20 years ago, no one would even have imagined that.”
When President Gordon B. Hinckley traveled to Moscow in 2002, he also expressed his awe about the Church’s growth in Russia. “I never dreamed I could come to Moscow and see a congregation of this kind,” he told nearly 2,200 members, missionaries, and investigators gathered in Moscow’s Cosmos Hotel last September. “You look so good.”
The Church has certainly taken hold. On a Sunday last July in Moscow’s Rechnoy Branch, Sergei Kozhemyakin, a counselor in the branch presidency, was teaching the Primary children about the Articles of Faith. Meanwhile, a few doors down, elders quorum second counselor Vagi Babayan was urging quorum members to do—what else?
“It’s the last Sunday of the month,” he said. “You need to remember your home teaching.”
South Africa Celebrates 150 Years
Brother C. Kenneth Powrie vividly remembers the first Church service he attended in 1950 in Krugersdorp, South Africa. There were six people there, and two were missionaries. Later that year, he and his wife, Philippa, were baptized, and they attended a district conference in Johannesburg. There were 50 in that congregation.
“Thus started a new life in a Church which, in its temporal appointments, showed very little sign of being the one and only Church of Jesus Christ, for we met in dingy halls and other humble surroundings in limited numbers and with very inadequate facilities,” says Brother Powrie, today a stake patriarch and formerly president of the Johannesburg South Africa Temple. “However, the true sweet Spirit was there to guide us as we, like infants, crawled, then toddled, then stood upright and walked with our heads high, yet humbled by the testimonies which we felt growing within our hearts.”
It has been more than 150 years since Elders Jesse Haven, Leonard L. Smith, and William H. Walker arrived by ship in Cape Town to begin missionary work in South Africa. They arrived on 19 April 1853 and officially organized the Church in the Cape of Good Hope on 23 May. Less than three months later, on 16 August 1853, the first branch of the Church was organized in Mowbray, four miles from Cape Town. By 1855, the Church in the Cape of Good Hope consisted of six branches and 126 members.
Since those early days, the nation of South Africa has weathered political strife and unrest. In addition, many Church members immigrated to the United States. But on the foundation laid by early missionaries and converts, the Church has grown to some 35,000 members in 10 stakes and three missions.
In recent months, members have commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Church in South Africa with activities and service projects, beginning with a gathering of 91 members of the Cape Town South Africa Stake on Signal Hill above the city on 19 April 2003. Members arrived at sunrise to share testimonies and hear remarks from President Mervyn C. Giddey, first counselor in the stake presidency.
In the Bedfordview Ward, Bedfordview South Africa Stake, members accepted a challenge to perform 150 hours of service at the Alex/Tara Clinic, which serves families, children, and the elderly affected by HIV/AIDS. In activities that lasted through July, Relief Society sisters packed food parcels for families; the priesthood quorums prepared a piece of ground to become a vegetable garden; and missionaries, youth, and Primary children hosted an Easter egg hunt.
The Mowbray Ward in the Cape Town South Africa Stake celebrated the 150th anniversary of the organization of the Church’s first branch in South Africa with a lunch and birthday cake.
“The future is bright,” said Elder Steven E. Snow of the Seventy, Africa Southeast Area President. “We are seeing a lot of good people of all races converting to the Church. … The gospel will be a great influence throughout the continent. To think it began with [the efforts] of three elders is just amazing to me.”
Church News contributed to this report.