Made in Hong Kong:
Youthful Converts

by Richard Stum

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    Eighteen-year-old Tam Sun-wan lives in Hong Kong. Four years ago he joined the Church after he was “tracted up” by missionaries. Today he has a strong testimony of home teaching.

    It was through the home teachers that Sun-wan was reactivated. Shortly after his baptism, he stopped attending his meetings; now he recognizes he “wouldn’t be active in the Church today if it weren’t for home teachers.” The follow-through concern of what Sun-wan calls “good members” helped him accept the responsibilities that Church membership entails.

    Like many other Latter-day Saints in Hong Kong, Sun-wan joined the Church in his early teens. Aaronic Priesthood-age youths work with their parents and other adults in Church callings as Primary teachers, Young Women secretaries, Sunday School choristers, district missionaries, priesthood pianists, and seminary officers. The large numbers of young people mean early leadership opportunities and an increased emphasis on preparing for responsibilities.

    This training has paid off. The Tse sisters, Ling-ling, 20, Wai-wai, 19, Mei-mei, 15, and Bing-bing, 14, know why members are referred to as “active.” Within two days of their baptism, the younger three sisters all had at least one position in the Lai Chi Kok Branch. (Ling had joined the Church when eight.) Even before they were members, they had “unofficial” responsibilities in the branch. Today Ling teaches the Gospel Essentials class for investigators and serves as a district missionary working with the full-time missionaries. Wai writes for the mission newsletter and fellowships inactive members. Bing is the Merry Miss teacher in Primary. And Mei is the Junior Sunday School coordinator. Her hardest job, she says, is convincing the children that they really can manage a short talk assignment.

    Ling was the first of the sisters to join the Church. Their uncle is a member and would take her to Church when she was a child. Shortly after she was baptized at age eight, her mother forbade her to attend her meetings. Several years passed before she was allowed to return. By then she was 14, and the missionaries had retaught her the discussions. Her first Church responsibility was taking care of the bulletin board. It was through Ling that her three sisters became interested in the Church. Their parents and two younger brothers are still nonmembers, and the sisters say their greatest desire is to see their entire family active in the gospel.

    The sisters already know what it means to see a dream come true. “I thought I would have to go to America to be able to see the prophet. I never thought that I would be able to see him in my own country. But last year I did,” said Ling.

    Another who expressed his gratitude for President Spencer W. Kimball’s area conference visit last year was Wong Kar-syew, who joined the Church four years ago.

    “I was surprised, but I was also really happy.” Kar-syew first became acquainted with the Church through a friend who was investigating. At first she didn’t want to listen, but eventually “what had seemed so strange became so special.” She joined the Church and was called as a Sunday School secretary within a month. She spent her first summer in the Church working as a district missionary, but she and her companion met with little success. After that experience Kar-syew realized that she would have to keep all the commandments to be able to teach others. She knew she should begin paying her tithing. When called to do missionary work again the next summer, the work went well: “I knew I was receiving the blessings of tithing in being able to reach investigators.”

    As a missionary Kar-syew found about two-thirds of her contacts were from mainland China. They were attracted to the street displays and stopped to inquire. “These people have never heard the gospel, and I had the opportunity to tell them about Jesus Christ. I feel the prophecies of the scriptures are being fulfilled—our message will go to every people, in every land, and they will hear it in their own tongue.”

    The young members in Hong Kong know the future of the Church in Asia will depend on their faithfulness. There are 4,000 members in the city, which has a population of 4 1/2 million. Nearly one-half of the active members are under 18, most recent converts in their teens. Beyond a narrow strip of land known as the “New Territories” lies mainland China—and 800 million people who will someday have the opportunity to receive the fullness of the gospel.

    Although just a small speck on the mainland China coastline, Hong Kong is a multibillion-dollar haven of free enterprise sidled against the most populated communist nation in the world. It is one of the leading commercial and manufacturing centers in Asia, with an efficient seaport. Sophisticated marketing techniques contribute to the gigantic exporting business that is the lifeblood of Hong Kong. For many young Latter-day Saints living there the textiles industry provides a way of life. Because wages are often at a minimum, many young people are forced to quit school early and work to help support younger brothers and sisters. Often families have home projects where the mothers and children, too young for factory work, fit plastic products together. It’s all an economically successful part of “Made in Hong Kong.”

    Because of family difficulties, Au Chi-keung found himself working 12 hours daily. At 15 he sacrificed his own studies to help support his family. But now he is considerably more fortunate. Instead of working until 10:00 P.M., he works only eight hours a day in a glove factory. His schedule now allows him to attend night school.

    “This present job is not what I really want. I hope to be an accountant or bookkeeper. The work I’m doing now, even though it isn’t what I like to do, will allow me to go to school and help support my family so I can continue my studies.” Brother Au Chi-keung is typical of many LDS youth in Hong Kong.

    About one-third of the population in Hong Kong are students. Packed in this city are over 2,800 schools, but only two are full-scale universities. The school system requires many stringent tests before a student may advance from one level to another. Many fail the tests and only receive the equivalent of an elementary school education.

    For the majority of Chinese youth, English is taught as a second language, Cantonese being the primary language. Students begin studying English their second year in school. Phonetic differences between Cantonese and English make speaking more difficult than reading and writing English. With the exception of Chinese history and literature, all tests are in English. In addition to these subjects, courses for a high school student might include world history, mathematics, physics, chemistry, Bible, economics, public affairs, art, biology, geography, music, and physical education. Students generally study an average of three to five hours daily outside of class.

    Sister Lai Sau-kyun’s heavy academic load helps her appreciate Church activities even more. “Before I joined the Church I spent any time I had after my studies were finished playing or watching TV. Now that I’ve joined the Church, I do much less of this and find Church activities and branch assignments fill the time.”

    For most young LDS members in Hong Kong, their greatest happiness would be seeing their entire family converted. The majority of youth join the Church as individuals rather than with their families. They want the knowledge of the Lord’s plan to reach those they love. They want to hold family home evenings, to offer each other support in keeping the commandments; they want to be sealed with their brothers and sisters and parents in the temple.

    In 1974 the Lai Hoi-nam family joined the Church. In the short time since they accepted the gospel, many changes have come into their lives. “Even though all four of our children are in school, their actions, as compared with before, are much better and we worry less about them,” said Brother Lai. “If we have any problems we bring them up at family home evening. If we can’t solve them, we pray and fast in all humility and ask our Heavenly Father to give us the strength to improve the situation.”

    When families join the Church, they receive great blessings. But when the Ning family was converted, the Church gained two future full-time native missionaries. Said Elder Ning Kong-lung, “If people first come to a knowledge of God, seek after his kingdom, develop faith in him, and obey his commandments, their lives will change. The Church gives us a method to obtain eternal life. When our family first joined the Church, it was tough. My brother and I were small. My mother had heart disease. I believe it was the most troubled period in my life. I know our family situation changed because my dad led us in obedience to the commandments.”

    His mother has since passed away, and his father, who owns and manages a small noodle factory, is now a counselor in the district presidency.

    “A change is taking place,” says Elder Ning. “Many of the young members have great enthusiasm to do missionary work. Before now most of the youth didn’t think about serving as missionaries—they thought it wasn’t their concern. As each branch has more missionaries called, the members within the branch are influenced.”

    The number of both district and full-time native missionaries in Hong Kong is constantly increasing. Currently nearly 28 percent of the full-time missionaries are native-born. These missionaries, as well as other young Latter-day Saints, know that Hong Kong is the gateway to China, the largest nation on the earth untouched by the restored gospel.

    photos by Richard Stum

    A tug pulls a boat dredging mud from the bay floor

    Fourteen-year-old Tse Bing-bing and her sisters all had jobs in the Church within two days of their baptisms

    A sha tin (fishing boat) is readied for a day’s work

    Different strains of rice

    A district missionary uses a street board to teach the gospel

    Brother Ning, standing here in the small noodle factory he owns, sent two sons on full-time missions

    Wong Kar-syew, who learned of the gospel through a friend, attributes her success as a district missionary to the payment of tithing

    At 15, Au Chi-keung dropped out of school to support his family. Now he plans to continue his studies

    A man selling newspapers on the street. Cantonese is the primary language of Hong Kong, but students also learn to read and write English

    Village children proudly display puppies. Children learn to work as well as play. Many families have home manufacturing projects

    Mandy Ning works for an export/import company. Hong Kong is an important commercial center

    Public buses at Kowloon.

    As kibitzers look on, two men play a game of Chinese checkers

    At night a downtown street market becomes a river of light and sound

    A boat in Aberdeen

    With mainland China in the background, two missionaries discuss the gospel with an investigator

    An aged Hong Kong resident offers the hospitality of his tiny home

    Tam Sun-wan, seen here at his factory job, credits effective home teachers with bringing him back into Church activity

    Simeon Ning Kong-king performs his duties as mission recorder. Twenty-eight percent of the full-time missionaries are native born

    Students such as Lai Sau-kyun make up one-third of Hong Kong’s population

    Four sisters—Tse Wai-wai, Tse Ling-ling, Tse Bing-bing, Tse Mei-mei—prepare a poster for a Church open house. Almost all young members fulfill Church callings

    Youth at an LDS gathering prepare to play a game

    Most Hong Kong residents do their shopping at street markets

    The face of a Buddhist priest reflects an inner strength born of a lifetime of meditation

    Sister Ling teaches an institute class, using the scriptures in both English and Cantonese

    The Star Ferry runs between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon

    Pedestrians pass in front of one of the highest office buildings in the Far East