LDS Chinese showcase fosters branch growth, community goodwill

What do you do when your branch is tiny and must somehow raise funds to achieve financial independence?

That was the situation with the Chung Hua Branch back in 1978.For them, it was a matter of getting creative and going to work. And out of their small beginnings grew a tradition such as one that culminated this year in an hour-long performance before 800 delegates to a world conference of top-level educators.

That's the way it happened with the branch - now the Bayview Ward of the Toronto Ontario Stake.

The Chung Hua Branch's 20 Chinese members cheerfully accepted the condition under which the branch was organized 15 years ago - that it become financially independent. But how? Extra dollars were scarce in the Chinese community. Why not put on a Chinese New Year dinner for the stake, someone suggested. Maybe people will come because it's different.

For 20 members, serving a full-course dinner with a Chinese variety show to follow was quite a task. But they did it, and people did come - and asked for more. A tradition was born. For the next decade, no Chinese New Year passed without the annual dinner/performance by what became known as the "LDS Chinese Showcase."

By the mid-1980s, the branch had grown to some 80 members, but the annual performances still required hard work and long hours of rehearsal from virtually every member. Out of such effort grew a remarkable spirit of unity and dedication.

"There's so much togetherness here, and the youth group is so strong and united despite real challenges of diversity," said ward member Czarince McIntyre.

Membership grew with emigration from Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China, plus Canadian-born Chinese converts, and in February 1991 the branch became a ward, the first Chinese ward outside the Far East. But that diversity means members speak three different languages - Mandarin, Cantonese, and English. Sacrament meeting requires two sets of translation equipment. Separate classes are offered in each language.

Over the years, fellowshipping and unity, along with pride in sharing Chinese heritage and culture, had gradually replaced fund-raising as the primary motives behind the annual event. But fund-raising was still the excuse, and when the Church announced its new budget program, the excuse was gone. The 1989 Chinese New Year performance was to be the last.

But something was lacking. Members missed the unifying fellowship of working together to create something special. Branch leadership missed the opportunity to involve less-active members or non-members. Stake members missed an annual event they had learned to enjoy.

So, after a two-year hiatus, the creative juices flowed again, and "LDS Chinese Showcase" was reborn in a different form, a different time frame, a different purpose. This time, the event would celebrate the Chinese Mid-Autumn festival, and the purpose would be the missionary effort.

"But our ward was still relatively unknown," Sister Mclntyre said. "So the main objective of this show was to bring the Church to the attention of the Chinese community."

"It involved the entire ward," Sister McIntyre reported. "Our sacrament meeting attendance averages 130 - many of them children. At least 75 people took part in the cast, building sets, providing colorful authentic costumes, handling sound and lighting," to say nothing of those who prepared, served, and cleaned up after a four-course dinner.

"A non-member Chinese dance teacher graciously gave her time to teach the skills required to perform the dances. Her only request was that we were to work hard - and we did! We danced so well she asked us to represent the Chinese community and dance on Canada Day at the Mississauga (a suburb of Toronto) City Hall. We did that, but had to turn down a request to perform at the Toronto Hong Kong Festival because it was to be held on Sunday."

That was one breakthrough. But the big one was yet to come. One of the hundred or so non-members who attended the Mid-Autumn Festival show told the Canada Cultural Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office about the group's excellence, and a request soon came: If we cover all your expenses, would you do your show for the Tenth World Congress on Gifted and Talented Education?

They would, and did - in the giant ballroom of the Royal York Hotel, Toronto's most prestigious. At the end of a five-day conference, at the President's Gala Dinner, 800 delegates and partners from throughout the world cheered the performance in a standing ovation.

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