Being first means different things to different people. First may mean crossing the finish line just ahead of the nearest competitor or being the first child in the family, the first to leave on a mission, or the first to graduate from school.
For the past couple of years, the lives of Latter-day Saint youth in Malaysia have been filled with a different kind of firsts—gospel firsts. The Ipoh Malaysia District was organized in 2003. And since then youth here have planned and participated in their first-ever youth conference and attended their district’s first seminary graduation. There are only three branches in the Ipoh Malaysia District, but the youth are determined to share their testimonies with others so they can help the Church grow. They hope they will one day belong to the first ward in western Malaysia.
“You don’t always get to be first in everything,” says Malvinder Singh, 16, who joined the Church in 1998. “But we are pioneers here.”
At a youth conference last year, the air was filled with cries of excitement as the teens experienced yet another first—baseball. Only two or three of the youth who attended the conference had ever played the game before, so they were asked to explain the rules to the others.
“It was a brand-new experience to learn how to play baseball, since soccer and badminton are the sports we play here,” says Malvinder.
In addition to baseball, youth conference was filled with other fun games and activities. Although the youth enjoyed the activities, they say what they will remember most about the experience was the opportunity to meet people with similar beliefs and to draw courage from knowing they are not alone.
Ariana Dabier, a Mia Maid, says, “It was great to see so many Malaysian youth who are just like me—faced with similar trials and temptations—yet they stand firm in their faith. I now know that no matter where I go on this earth, the gospel will be the same.”
Another gospel first the youth recently experienced was the opportunity to attend their district’s first seminary graduation ceremony. Three Malaysian youth—Kelvin Anand Kumar, Aun Luck Tan Ernest, and Hamish Steven Parsons—earned seminary diplomas.
Kelvin, who was baptized in 1999, attended seminary during the first four years he was a member of the Church. He says the knowledge he gained there increased his testimony. “I am glad I graduated from seminary,” he says. “Seminary helped me to make correct decisions and plan my education. Because of the things I learned in seminary, I know someday I will marry in the temple.”
The youth say the examples of Kelvin and other graduates encourage them to attend seminary faithfully. Attending seminary is difficult for Malaysian teens because studies and homework take up most of their free time. They go to school six days a week, and most students also study with a private teacher after school ends for the day.
Jaslinder Kaur, a Mia Maid in the Ipoh Second Branch, says most of her friends don’t understand her decision to attend seminary. “When I told my friend I was going to church early in the morning to learn more about our Heavenly Father and His Son, she told me I was crazy and my grades would drop,” she says. “But seminary helps me do well in school because I have sacrificed my time for our Father in Heaven. When I go to school, my mind is fully awake, and I can concentrate better on my studies.”
Malvinder Singh also says attending seminary has helped him succeed in school. Malaysian students must complete rigid testing twice during their school careers. Test results determine which colleges students can attend and which professions they can pursue. Although this year was an important exam year for Malvinder, he still chose to go to seminary. He says he knows Heavenly Father blessed him for this decision by helping him do well on his tests. “Faith is the most important thing I have learned in attending seminary,” he says.
Missionaries have been a permanent presence in western Malaysia only since 1980, so there aren’t many members there yet. In fact, only 1 in 12,015 people in Malaysia—or .01 percent of the population—belongs to the Church. Like the early pioneers, the young men and young women in Malaysia know that many of their peers have not had an opportunity to hear the gospel. These youth know they can help the Church grow when they share their testimonies with their friends.
The youth also know that before they will be prepared to share the gospel with others, they must work hard to develop testimonies of their own. Aun Luck Tan Ernest’s parents taught him the gospel when he was young, but he always knew he needed to find out for himself if the gospel was true.
“I wanted to learn more about Jesus Christ when I was baptized,” Ernest, 17, says. “I knew He was the Son of God when I first bore my testimony in sacrament meeting. It was the happiest moment in my life, and I am still trying my best to strengthen my faith and grow in my testimony of Christ.”
Ernest and the other youth in the Ipoh district know that their testimonies will grow as they are shared. There are approximately 10 young men and 10 young women in the Ipoh Second Branch, and when possible they share their testimonies in testimony meeting. Young Women president Liew Siew Ling Chris says, “Hearing their testimonies is the greatest blessing I have.”
Youth in western Malaysia have been blessed with many gospel firsts. Through experiences like youth conference and seminary, they have learned they are not alone in their beliefs. And now they are determined to develop lasting testimonies of their own and help spread the good tidings of the gospel throughout Malaysia.
A country in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is almost completely covered with dense, green jungle. The Ipoh Malaysia District is on the western side of the country, nestled on the end of the peninsula south of Thailand. The western and eastern halves of Malaysia are separated by more than 400 miles (650 km) of sea. Malaysia escaped widespread damage from the December 2004 tsunami as the nation was protected by the island of Sumatra.
Malaysia is home to more than 60 nationalities. Most of the youth speak at least three languages, including Malay, Chinese, and English. Some of the youth speak as many as four or five languages.