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Cover Story: Gospel's common thread binds members of many cultures in Vancouver

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — When Weldon Kearney moved here some 34 years ago, he had a gravel pit for a back yard. His home was in a then-developing area of Vancouver, so there was little landscaping.

Then a neighbor built a fence adjoining his property.

"Birds landed on the fence, and they had been eating seeds from off nearby trees," recalled Brother Kearney, now 75, of the North Shore Ward, Vancouver British Columbia Stake. The birds scattered many seeds, and "the seeds grew up along the fence and that's the line of trees where the fence was," he added, speaking of a resulting small grove of trees about 100 feet tall. "There are Douglas fir, spruce, hemlock, cedar — all in that batch right behind our house."

The Kearney backyard is now a beautiful garden, with the trees providing a green backdrop to bushes and flowers, with a little stone path winding through.

The development of Brother Kearney's yard may be analogous to the development of the Church in Vancouver and its suburbs. When missionaries arrived after the turn of the century, they found four members. Today, nearly a century later, the gospel seeds planted by those early members have grown to three stakes — Vancouver, Surrey and Abbotsford — and the Canada Vancouver Mission.

Vancouver city seems to rise from the tree-covered coastal mountains. The Vancouver stake borders the coast of the Strait of Georgia off the southwest corner of Canada, with Surrey between Vancouver city and Abbotsford, which borders the coastal mountains to the east.

And just as the Kearney garden displays flowers and trees of all kinds, the Church here — like the population of Vancouver itself — has a wide variety of cultures and ethnic backgrounds.

"It's really becoming a cosmopolitan city," said Surrey stake Pres. Alan Herrington during a recent Church News interview. "We have a lot of different ethnic groups."

Indeed, there are members from the South Pacific and South America, and from Japan, China, Hong Kong, India, Vietnam, Taiwan, Italy, and the Philippines — along with Caucasian and indigenous Canadians. The Surrey stake has a Chinese branch and the Vancouver stake includes a Spanish branch, but there are no other units according to language.

Despite cultural and language differences, the members in Vancouver have one common thread — the gospel of Jesus Christ. "They love the Lord," Pres. Herrington continued. "They love His servants. They are full of faith, full of love."

The great strength of the Church in the Vancouver area, he explained, is the youth. "We take our hats off to the youth. They are really trying to do their best. There is strength in numbers, and more and more are attending local colleges [rather than going to school elsewhere]."

Seventeen-year-old Karen Inouye of the Vancouver 1st Ward, Vancouver stake, loves living here. "I love the multi-cultural part of the city," she said, adding that it actually creates unity in the Church and among the people.

Karen was born here, but her parents, Akihito and Kanae Inouye, were born in Japan. They immigrated to Canada in 1980. From 1987 to 1992, Brother Inouye served as bishop of the Vancouver 2nd Ward, which at the time included 27 nationalities.

He said this blend of peoples taught him: "You have to really understand others because what they mean and what we understand are totally different things. To understand them, we have to get into their cultures and understand what they really need."

To promote this cultural understanding — within the teachings of the gospel — Brother Inouye held cultural nights in his ward. Ward members invited non-LDS friends and the activity became a strong missionary tool. "We had 50 to 60 baptisms every year. Visitors felt they were welcome."

Bishop Robert Binstead of the Vancouver 1st Ward enjoys the cultures of his unit. He related how one Sunday he heard some Vietnamese members practicing a hymn to sing in an upcoming sacrament meeting, in their own language.

"They were singing 'Nearer My God to Thee.' They are good. They love to sing," he added. He wants members to feel part of the ward. To help with some language barriers — many of the older members don't speak English — full-time missionaries teach English classes during the week at the meetinghouse.

No matter the culture, members in Vancouver are a warm people and tend to reach out to their neighbors. For example, when Wayne and Dawn Lavender and their children of the North Shore Ward, Vancouver stake, moved into their neighborhood, they started a neighborhood tradition. On holidays, they made treats and, with the children, began visiting. "Now all the neighbors send goodies to everybody else," Sister Lavender recalled. "We feel closer to our neighbors."

This is a normal reception to visitors here. Just ask Brother Kearney. In 1965, he moved his family here because of the warm welcome he received while visiting the North Shore Ward.

Today, he's the director of the bishops storehouse, is the ward clerk, a stake family history consultant and — in his spare time — rebuilds old computers and gives them to members so they can do their family history in their own homes.

Like he said, Vancouver members are a "friendly bunch," indeed.

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