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Latter-Day APAs

AsianWeek, Andrew Chow And Evan Kelley Posted: Mar 27, 2002


Since the founding of the church in 1830, Mormons have traveled the world to study foreign languages and cultures, said John Blood, president of the Latter-day Saints California San Francisco mission. We have continually worked with all peoples who have shown any interest in religion, regardless of race or creed, he said. The church, in turn, has spread knowledge of the Book of Mormon to those peoples.

Translated in the 1820s by a New York farmer named Joseph Smith Jr., the book describes what Mormons believe to be a record of the earliest inhabitants of the American continents.

According to church history, Smith saw God and Gods son, Jesus Christ, in a vision in 1820, when Smith was 14. Three years later, a heavenly messenger named Moroni appeared to Smith and led him to the discovery of gold plates buried in a nearby hill, from which Smith translated by divine inspiration the Book of Mormon. Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, based on the Mormon scripture, in 1830.

Intolerance of the new religion soon surfaced in New England, and Smith, recognized as the churchs living prophet, led followers westward to settlements in Ohio and Illinois. In 1844, Smiths revelation of his idea of celestial or plural marriages caused a great schism in the church, which led dissident members to start publishing anti-Mormon literature. Smith led his followers to destroy a printing press, landing him in jail for the violation of First Amendment rights. During a struggle between Mormon supporters, militiamen ordered to keep Smith in jail and Smith was shot to death. In the same year, Senior Apostle Brigham Young led his fellow Mormons westward. They settled in the valley of Utahs Great Salt Lake in 1847.
Modern-day Mormons continue to find themselves on the defensive when it comes to questions regarding polygamy, racism and sexism. Though early Latter-day Saints, including Smith and Young, did enter into plural marriages, church leaders officially ceased the practice in 1890. (God had similarly sanctioned plural marriages for Abraham, Moses and David, a statement on the churchs official website points out.)
More recently, the church has changed its policy on the priesthood, which had been reserved exclusively for white men. Church leaders did away with the racial requirement in 1978.

But church doctrine regarding gender roles in families has not changed. The church does teach that the main role of women is to raise children and hold a family together, said Elder Hsiuh-hua Wood Chiang, a 20-year-old missionary from Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, who has worked out of San Franciscos Sunset ward and is currently assigned to Redwood City.

We believe the role of men and women are slightly different, Chiang said. Thats the way we were created. I dont have any problem with it.
Nor did Chiangs parents, who accepted an invitation by American missionaries in their native Taiwan to learn more about the church when Chiang was only eight years old. Especially my dad, he talked about our church, how they emphasized family, Chiang said. Later, when his family moved to Canada, church members in his new hometown made the transition much easier, he said.

Now just six months into his own mission, Chiang feels he is returning the favor of those who invited his family to share the Mormon gospel. And in the San Francisco Bay area, about 140 other missionaries feel exactly the same way.

Feel the Blessing

The Bay Area missionaries include several of Asian and Pacific Islander descent who hail from churches in Canada, Tonga, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and Malaysia, mission president Blood said. The missionary group consisting mainly of young men aged 19 to 27 continues in the tradition of other Mormon missionaries who arrived at the San Francisco peninsula even before the Gold Rush of 1849, he said.
Today, about 60,000 Mormon missionaries are proselytizing in the United States and abroad, spokeswoman Farah said. We only have missionaries in countries where were invited, she explained. For example, no Mormon missionaries exist in China, though church officials continue to discuss the idea with Chinas Communist leaders.

Blood explained the missionaries objectives: One, we hope that during this period of time they will have influence upon helping other people feel the blessings we feel our church can uniquely provide, [and that] missionaries themselves will gain a stronger conviction of the truthfulness of those things we teach.
A missionarys typical day begins by waking up at 6:30 a.m. and spending two hours reading scriptures. Thats followed by 30 minutes of language study, after which missionaries go door to door to spread the word before returning to their homes by 9:30 p.m.

It allowed me to forget about myself, Mao said about his mission in Houston, where he served in a Chinese-speaking branch. Youre only in the service of God.

In addition, missionaries put in at least four hours a week in non-proselytizing activities. Chiang spent time at a San Francisco senior center, where he played mah-jong with elderly residents. Mao taught English every week for two years. And Elder Tiew Chuan Ting, a Malaysian Mormon who wraps up his mission in San Franciscos Chinese branch next month, will help out next week with a Chinese genealogy seminar that his church is proudly sponsoring. (Hear more of what Ting has to say about the Mormon church in Man on a Mission on page 20.)

Missionaries who learn about new cultures take home with them a great love for that culture, Blood said.

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