Servicemen branch in Seoul offers 'a little bit of home'

Nestle among the fruit stands, grocery stores, noisy overpasses and congested streets in downtown Seoul is the Shindang-Dong meeting house, where the English-speaking Young San Servicemen Branch meets. One of the 12 units in heavy military - therefore transient - nature is greatly strengthened by several expatriate families living here.

The U.S. Forces Command is headquartered at Youngsan Garrison in central Seoul. The U.S. Forces work alongside United Nations and Republic of Korea troops to maintain the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953.A force of 37,000 U.S. soldiers, sailors, airment and marines are involved in the effor. The Demilitarized Zone, a mile-wide buffer dividing North Korea from South Korea is only 35 miles north of Seoul.

Adding to the flavor of the Young San Branch are members from the United STates, New Zealand, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, japan and CAnada, among other countries.

All auxiliary programs are flourishing and social activities abound in the 350-member branch. For many expatriates, this makes for a little bit of "home away from home."

The branch's spiritual strength, in spite of constant turnover of members, is due to a large number of priesthood bearers who formerly served missions here, finished their education in the United States, and are now back pursuing careers and raising families in South Korea.

Oxen and pony-pulled carts dotted the dusty streets of Seoul back in 1960 when young Elder Bruch GRant arrived from las Vegas, New., to serve a mission. Elder Grant assisted in translating the Book of Mormon into Korean while serving in Taegu and Seoul.

Active duty with the U.S. Army and subsequent employment with the U.S. Department of Defense brought him back in 1064, and he and his wife, Audrey, have raised seven children here.

They have seen enormous economic and social changes, most notably the emergence of a large middle class and recognition of "The Land of the Morning Calm," as South Korea is called, as a growing economic power.

Brother Grant has served as branch president twice and Sister Grant was the branch's first Relief Society president when it only had six sisters. She has since served twice in that calling. Today in the branch, Relief Society membership numbers 90.

Attorney Jeff Jones erved a mission here from 1971-1973, returning four years later to join a Korean law firm. Since tht time, Brother Jones and his wife, Janae, and their six children have immersed themselves in the Korean culture and dedicated their time and many talents to the branch.

He said that until 1980, when the Shindang-Dong meetinghouse was built (with effort and assistance from the Servicement District-Korea District), meetings were held in a quonset hut on Yong San Garrison. That posed a problem for the increasing number of civilian businessmen who did not have access to base facilities.

Brother Jones recalled the significant part that Yong San Branch members played in supplying the early temple workers who endowed and trained the first Korean Saints to work in the temple which opened in 1985.

he said he has seen many members regain a lost testimony through activity in the branch, particulary military personnel sent here on a tour of duty without their families. The branch is a haven for English-speaking Saints who work and live in Korea.

Eric Newman came to Seoul from Auchland, New Zealand, 13 years ago to work as construction manager for the Church has been involved in the construction of 34 Church buildings. Brother Newman and his wife, Kellani, recall their early days here when they rarely saw more than 50 members at Church meetings.

The Newmans, including their four children, involve themselves in branch prorams and regularly host an "open house" to welcome and bid farewell to missionary couples sent at temple workers.

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