The Asia Area consists of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Included in the Church’s Asia Area is the nation of Nepal, home to more than 18 million people.
LDS missionaries proselyted as early as the 1850s on what has sometimes been called the Indian subcontinent. But it is only in recent years that the Church has maintained a presence there. To learn how the gospel is spreading in India and some of the other countries of the Asia Area, the magazine editors talked with Elder of the Seventy, Asia Area President, and Elders and of the Seventy, counselors in the Area Presidency.
Question: Can you tell us about the progress of the Church in the Asia Area?
Answer: A major development in the area has been the creation in January this year of the India Bangalore Mission. The mission president is India-born Gurcharan Singh Gill, who is a professor of mathematics at Brigham Young University.
The Church faces many challenges in India, but the mission structure will better serve the purpose of reaching out to its 800 million people. The Church’s greatest strength is in its potential to grow. In the lands we serve, we’re about at the stage where the Church was forty or fifty years ago in South America. We have comparatively few members, but they are faithful and devoted and willing.
Q: How many members do we have in these countries?
A: In India, we have 1,200 members. They are scattered all over the country, although the bulk of the members are in south central India.
In Pakistan, the Church has seven units, with approximately 150 members. We have had nearly sixty baptisms there during the past year.
The first branch of the Church in Bangladesh was officially organized in Dhaka on 15 March 1992. There are nearly forty members in that country.
There is also a branch of the Church in Colombo, Sri Lanka; that island country has 112 members.
Q: Do people in these countries face special challenges when they join the Church?
A: Poverty is a great challenge to many persons in these countries. Also, because religious culture is so much a part of the life-style, peer pressure is sometimes a strong obstacle to those who would select a different religion.
Q: How are members doing in meeting these challenges?
A: Wherever the gospel takes root, regardless of the country or the circumstances in which people live, it has the same marvelous effect—to bless lives and bring joy.
Q: Can you think of people who are examples of this growth?
A: There is a young man in India, Ebeneezer Solomon. His mother, who speaks no English, learned about the Church some years ago through one of the many missionary couples we have had in India. She came into the Church, and she brought her two sons in as well. Ebeneezer served a mission in India a few years ago. He is now married and currently serves as a counselor to the president of the Singapore Mission. Ebeneezer’s brother Samuel is president of the branch in Bangalore.
There are many others we could mention. There is a family in Lahore, Pakistan, who came into contact with the Book of Mormon several years ago. They gained testimonies of its truth and were recently baptized. And there is a brother in Pakistan whose life was changed through reading a Church pamphlet, The Prophet Joseph Smith’s Testimony.
We should also mention the contributions of our expatriate members—people from North America or Europe or other places who are living in these lands because of positions in government or business. With their experience in the Church, they help strengthen the branches wherever they are, and they have been responsible for introducing many local people to the gospel.
We also have missionary couples recently called to humanitarian service in the Asia Area. For example, four couples from Utah arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam, in January to teach English to the doctors and staff at a major hospital. In addition, they will also teach English to the teachers, staff, and children of the Hanoi Children’s Palace.
Last fall, four former educators and their wives from the United States were called to serve in Mongolia as consultants and advisers to the Ministry of Education and to the five Mongolian universities and their colleges. They have been invited to serve as members of several important education committees and to teach English and business principles. These couples were warmly received not only at a professional level, but also by people interested in knowing more about the Church. Several investigators now regularly attend Sunday meetings.
Q: What do you see in the future of the Church in this part of Asia?
A: Continuing growth is the expectation, as the Spirit touches people and as we are able to reach them. In this huge vineyard, the laborers have been comparatively few, but they have served well.
We’re trying right now to keep the Church as simple and basic as possible in all of these areas, so that members won’t feel overwhelmed by organizational structure as they’re learning to grow in the gospel.
At one sacrament meeting in Bangalore, India, not long ago, a fourteen-year-old boy gave a fine sacrament meeting talk. His twenty-year-old brother conducted the meeting; it was as well prepared and organized as any Church meeting anywhere. In some of these areas where the Church is small and comparatively new, we’re developing strong leaders for the future.
There is another element that strengthens our efforts—families are still intact in these countries. This condition provides a natural tie to Church doctrines and principles, and it is one of the things that will help the Church to grow.