Five-year-old Jill Lam giggled nervously when her mother asked her to bless the food. She wasn’t used to praying in front of guests. Hesitantly, she stood up to offer a brief blessing.
She stumbled over the first few words, self-consciously aware of the strangers in her home. “We’re thankful for the food,” she mumbled quickly. “Please bless it.”
Then Jill paused. Despite her eagerness to end the prayer, there was another desire even stronger, one her family shared and had uttered in every prayer in their home for the last year. “And Heavenly Father, bless that the temple will be finished quickly and that we can live worthy of going there someday,” Jill concluded breathlessly.
Jill’s poignant prayer was one shared by thousands of Church members in Hong Kong since October 1992 when President Gordon B. Hinckley, then First Counselor in the First Presidency, announced the building of the Hong Kong Temple. Those prayers were abundantly answered when President Hinckley, as President of the Church, dedicated the Hong Kong Temple on 26 and 27 May 1996.
Hong Kong, a British territory dubbed the Pearl of the Orient, is located on the southeast coast of mainland China at the mouth of the Pearl River. It is a unique land bustling with more than six million people. The territory came into being almost a century ago when China leased the New Territories, a nearly 960-square kilometer wedge of mainland China, to Britain for 99 years. Together with Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula, two pieces of land totaling approximately 90 square kilometers that Britain had obtained in earlier treaties with China, the package became known as Hong Kong. In the beginning, the area, which includes one of the world’s deepest natural harbors, served as a port for British trade with China. Since then the Pearl of the Orient has developed into an international trade and finance center.
This year, on 1 July 1997, the tiny pearl will be turned over to China as the 99-year lease with Britain ends, effectively closing one era and opening another—an era that will join the approximately six million inhabitants of Hong Kong with the more than 1 billion people living in the provinces, regions, and municipalities of China.
The Saints in Hong Kong share many similarities with other Latter-day Saints around the world. They strive to be obedient, to pray, to read scriptures, and to serve others. However, the Chinese culture presents unusual challenges. The vast majority of people in Hong Kong are Buddhist and Taoist. Until just a few years ago, many Chinese in Hong Kong hadn’t even heard of Jesus Christ.
Another challenge Chinese Saints face is the demands placed on their time. Children begin school at age three, and once they graduate from high school, they face fierce competition if they desire to continue their education. Many students study three to five hours a night and even longer on weekends.
Upon entering the workplace, many people in Hong Kong work six days a week; it’s not uncommon to work seven. Although the economy is improving, earning a living and trying to obtain necessary possessions and job positions are still primary concerns.
The gospel, which teaches principles of eternal importance, provides helpful insight to Chinese members. This perspective can provide peace and guidance as members in Hong Kong prepare for their uncertain future.
Because of the Church’s relative newness in Hong Kong, a majority of members are first-generation converts, and many of them are the only members in their families. These members, who often feel alone, unite together, sharing a bond as pioneers in this land and in their own families.
Two such pioneers are Linda Choi and Castle Chan, one of the first couples married in the Hong Kong Temple. Brother Chan joined the Church six years ago after missionaries stopped him during a street display. His parents and siblings had always been extremely important to him, and as he listened to the missionaries, he desired the eternal family they spoke of. Unfortunately, no one at home was interested in listening to the truth he had discovered.
Three and a half years ago, however, he met Linda. She agreed to listen to the discussions and attend church with him. “Right from the beginning I was impressed with Castle’s attitude toward his family,” she says. “He was so unlike other men I knew who worried about material things, money, and possessions. Castle focused on things that mattered. He often spoke about an eternal family unit, and I wanted that. If this religion was where he’d found it, I was willing to listen.”
As a student nurse, Linda observes firsthand the reactions of spouses and families during times of illness, disease, and other hardship. “Some patients go their entire stay at the hospital with no visitors,” she says. “They have no one in their lives who cares. Some people I work with have been divorced and place no importance on families. Sometimes playing and possessions are first priorities. I yearned for more than that.”
After a few months, Linda was baptized. Now, using D&C 88:119 as a guide, she and Castle are starting the “forever family” they both seek. “We want a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, learning, glory, and order—a house of God,” Castle explains. “When spouses are members of the same church, they share religious values; they share goals. There is a saying I like: If you share your happiness with one you love, you’ll double it. If you share your sorrows, you’ll lighten them by half. This is our goal: to share our happiness and share our sorrow.”
Sharing sorrow is what has strengthened Lee Hing Chung and his wife, Kumviengkumpoonsup. Six years ago, he lost an arm in an industrial accident. Sick and unemployed, he became despondent. Support from his wife, children, and other members pulled him through.
Today hope shines in his eyes as he speaks of the present and the future, including being sealed to his wife and children in the Hong Kong Temple. “Before we joined the Church, I was primarily concerned with making money,” he says. “Now I have different priorities. There are many people out there who have lots of money, but they don’t have love. We have found that.
“Many people at church are the only members in their families,” he continues. “When I attend church on Sunday with my family, I am so grateful that we are together and that we can be together forever.”
As he speaks, he gestures toward a picture of the Hong Kong Temple hanging prominently on a wall. “One day I was reading the scriptures and looked up,” he relates. “The first thing I saw was that picture, and I experienced such a strong, peaceful feeling from the Holy Ghost. We pray every night that we can be together as a family. The presence of the temple reminds me to be good, to be disciplined, to be worthy.”
Although still unemployed, Brother Lee is at peace with his circumstances. “There are challenges in life, certainly,” he acknowledges. “But I have faith in Jesus Christ. We will be all right.”
In addition to preparing for the temple, the Lee family has been busy doing missionary work. One neighbor family has already joined the Church through the family’s missionary efforts, and a second family is investigating. “The parents told us they were impressed with our children and asked why they were different,” Sister Lee explains. “They said the children were respectful, obedient, and cooperative with each other. We told them it was simply the Church.”
The Church in Hong Kong has changed much since the first missionaries arrived in 1853. Those elders stayed in Hong Kong only four months. It was not until almost a century later, in 1949, that a mission was actually opened. By 1950 there were eight elders preaching the gospel in Hong Kong, but they were all relocated after the Korean War began.
In 1955 missionaries returned to the territory, and by 1960 there were 91 full-time foreign and 12 full-time local missionaries serving. Membership numbered about 1,700, with eight branches.
“The temple is a dream for us, a dream come true,” says Elder Tai Kwok Yuen, a member of the Seventy. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Elder Tai serves in his homeland as Asia Area President. “Changes are happening now that the temple is open and operating. There will be a spiritual strengthening of the members as more members receive the blessings that come from temple attendance and as they learn the importance of sacrifice.”
“All temples are sacred and important, but this is a very important temple,” says temple project manager Alan Rudolph, who worked on the Johannesburg South Africa Temple and the restoration of the Alberta (Canada) Temple. “It’s a miracle that the building went as quickly as it did. Less than three years ago, we were on the ground floor. I know the hand of the Lord was involved in its construction.”
It is the scarcity of space in this crowded land that contributes to the unique design of the Hong Kong Temple. Built on property that had been the site of a complex comprising a stake center, the mission office, and the mission president’s home, the actual structure has six floors above ground, but only the top three are for temple use.
There are two entrances to the building. Both are located on the ground floor, and one has the recommend desk. After showing a current temple recommend, patrons take an elevator to the temple floors. The other entrance provides access to other facilities in the building, which include the mission office, mission president’s residence, the mission office staff residence, the temple president’s residence, a garment distribution area, a chapel, classrooms, and offices for two wards.
Much missionary work will be brought about by the Hong Kong Temple. Family, friends neighbors, and co-workers ask members about the majestic granite building that bears the name of their church.
Indeed, much was accomplished even while the temple was being built. “Initially the construction workers had no concept of this project,” observes Carl Champagnie, assistant project manager. “It was just a job to them. But as the building progressed, we saw the attitude of the workers change. They knew this was a building they could be proud of.”
Hong Kong Mission President John Aki says that a few workers even started investigating the Church, partly as a result of a luncheon for the construction workers hosted by young men and young women from the Hong Kong Kowloon East Stake. “Those men were impressed by the feelings they felt,” President Aki reports. “They knew the temple was a building of importance.”
Members in Hong Kong feel a special closeness to President Gordon B. Hinckley. They are well aware that he was instrumental in choosing the site of the Hong Kong Temple and was very specific about many of the unique aspects of the structure. They feel of his genuine love and concern for them. Speaking of the dedication of the Hong Kong Temple, President Hinckley said:
“To me that is a miracle. It is wonderful that we … have a temple of the Lord in the great realm of China wherein live one-fourth of the inhabitants of the earth.
“I have been going to Hong Kong since 1960 when I received an assignment from the Brethren for responsibility for the work in Asia. I almost weep every time I think of having a temple in the great Chinese realm. It will be a different kind of temple. I want to say that if I ever felt the inspiration of the Lord in my life, it was on the occasion of going over there to find a place to build a temple. And I think I can say that it became as clear to me as anything what should be done.”
Approximately 95 percent of Hong Kong residents live in urban areas, and cityscapes include literally thousands of tall, skinny apartment buildings darting up into the sky. Narrow streets fill with people often walking shoulder to shoulder on their way to work or evening appointments. In this mix of people and activity, the Hong Kong Temple is a reassuring, solid presence.
The temple will have been open more than a year by the time control of Hong Kong reverts to China in July 1997.
“As leaders, we are focusing on helping the members catch a vision of how important the temple is, not just now but in the years to come,” Elder Tai says.
Members seem to be catching that vision. In addition to daily prayers, Jill Lam and her family—three sisters, parents, and maternal grandparents—have more than 15 postcard pictures of various temples taped to the wall of their 35-square-meter apartment, an average-sized residence in this densely populated area. In addition, Jill’s mother and grandmother are making a concerted effort to prepare family names for temple work, an effort that has required several trips back to China, Indonesia, and even a trip to Taiwan.
“Doing family history sometimes means returning to one’s native province,” explains Peter Lee, the region’s family history supervisor. “Many members here are only first- or second-generation residents who fled their homeland during government upheavals; sometimes sorrow comes with their thoughts of the past and of their ancestors. Refugee members brought nothing with them, and many existing records were destroyed during various occupations and revolutions.
“As a result, we are teaching them what resources they have available here in Hong Kong and what information they need to be looking for,” he explains, noting that family history firesides have been held in all five stakes in Hong Kong. Every unit has also had a special sacrament meeting presentation focusing on the importance of family history work.
“We encourage members to write down all the information they already have,” he says, “and to visit one of the three family history centers here and to talk to their relatives. Finally, if they can’t find anything, they can at least start with themselves and their own families. We need patience, we need prayer, and we need time,” he concludes. “And then we’ll succeed.”
This focus on family history has also led to the calling of family history missionaries. Lo Chi Shing and his wife, Lo Tong Kwok Wan, were called as family history missionaries four years ago. Now they are serving as Hong Kong’s first area family history missionaries. Their responsibilities include training stake missionaries, conducting family history classes, and helping members fill out their family history forms.
“But primarily we want to be encouraging; we want to teach members to do this work with joy,” Brother Lo says. “Of course, it can be challenging, but we must understand that the numerous gifts of the Resurrection aren’t just for us; they are for our ancestors as well. We must take care of them.”
The fundamentals are the place to start, notes Sister Lo, who says that their goal as missionaries is to make sure every member can fill out a family history form. “If necessary, we’re committed to go over the forms with each individual member,” she explains. “We’ll take it one generation at a time.”
Certainly there is an added emphasis on family history work now that a temple is so accessible. But family history is not new to all the members in Hong Kong. Many members have been sending names to the Taipei Taiwan Temple for years. Those names are now being submitted to the Hong Kong Temple. “We are anticipating at least 50,000 names to be newly submitted in the next few months by members for work here,” said Stephen Lee, Hong Kong Temple recorder.
Patrick Wong has already submitted more than 30 generations from his family line. Currently serving as an Area Authority, Elder Wong has frequent opportunities to share his testimony of the importance of temple work.
“I was baptized when I was 16,” he begins, “the first one in my family. Unlike many first-generation converts, however, most of my family joined, including my parents and a younger brother and sister. But despite their conversion, my parents were never sealed—my mother’s health prevented it.
“In 1988, while my wife and I were living in Australia, my father died. A year later my mother was gone. When I returned to Hong Kong for her funeral, we agreed that the work for our parents should be done. My younger brother volunteered to do it in the Taiwan temple.
“Two months later, my wife had a dream. She saw my mother, who seemed very unhappy. ‘Grandma, why are you so unhappy?’ she asked. ‘Patrick’s brother promised to take care of me, but he hasn’t.’ ‘Don’t worry, Grandma. Patrick will take care of you,’ my wife promised.
“Believe it or not, I didn’t understand what the dream meant when my wife told me about it,” Elder Wong says. “However, two weeks later she had another dream, a dream of my father. ‘Kathy, tell Patrick I need to get married as soon as possible.’ When Kathy told me about that dream I finally understood.
“I immediately called my brother and asked him if he’d been to the temple to do our parents’ work. He hadn’t. His wife had been ill and was having a difficult time recovering. ‘Go and do it, Patrick,’ he told me. So within days, we went to the temple in Sydney and had my parents sealed.
“I know this work is essential for our ancestors,” Elder Wong concludes emotionally. “My parents wanted their work done so badly. Other ancestors feel the same way. The Hong Kong Temple is part of Heavenly Father’s plan. It is a comfort to us, a symbol of the Lord’s confidence in the Chinese people here and all around the world, a symbol of the future of the Church.”
In 1956 Lee Wing Foon and his wife, Lee Kan Shui Tao, joined the Church. “I felt like an entirely new person when I was baptized,” Brother Lee remembers. At the time, however, meetings were held quite far from his home, and money was tight. The English Book of Mormon Brother Lee bought cost two days’ wages, and transportation to meetings proved costly. Gradually the Lees stopped attending.
“But I kept my English Book of Mormon,” says Brother Lee, who at the time was working as a civilian driver in the British Army. “It was a prized possession.”
Through the years missionaries occasionally visited, and three years ago two sisters issued a challenge. “They asked me to start reading the Book of Mormon,” he says. “They even came and read it with me once a week.”
However, attending Church was difficult. Eight years ago, Sister Lee had a stroke. She is unable to walk, and Brother Lee, now retired, spends much of his time caring for her. “It’s difficult for me to leave her alone,” he explains.
Missionaries continued to visit the Lees to read scriptures. And in September 1995, Brother Lee had a wonderful surprise. Jerry Wheat, the missionary who had baptized him four decades earlier, walked into his home with the elders. “I am serving as a public affairs missionary in Hong Kong,” Elder Wheat explained. “I had wondered what happened to Brother Lee, and when I asked and found out the missionaries were visiting him, I was thrilled to accompany them.”
The first time the two met, they hugged like old friends and caught up on each other’s lives. Elder Wheat returned again to the Lee home, this time to talk about the temple. “I challenged him to prepare himself to be sealed to his wife,” Elder Wheat explains. “He accepted.”
Since then, Brother Lee has made arrangements for neighbors or ward members to watch his wife while he attends church. With the assistance of ward members, he and his wife attended the ceremony celebrating the statue of the angel Moroni being placed on the top of the temple. They were sealed together in the Hong Kong Temple within the first few days of its opening.
“Being sealed is a great blessing, one that not everyone has,” Brother Lee says. “I am so grateful for the missionaries—those first elders that taught me, the sisters who showed such great compassion and love by reading the scriptures with me, and the missionaries who continue to visit me now. The gospel is true, and the Book of Mormon is proof of that.”