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In a time of fear Asian members coping with SARS

Church meetings held in small groups; missionaries use creativity to greet, teach

HONG KONG — With the outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome in Hong Kong, members here have held sacrament meetings in their homes and are contributing to one another's needs in a time of fear.

"We are very grateful that the members of the Church are reaching out to one another at this trying time," Elder John Dickson of the Seventy and Asia Area president, said. "Thousands of phone calls have been made and e-mail messages sent with expressions of love and concern.

"We have had many reports from families who mention having had the most spiritual and sacred moments of their lives during their home sacrament meetings. One of the greatest blessings, however, comes to us now in seeing the saints longing for the moment when they can be together again."

With the threat of SARS continuing here, missionaries have responded in creative ways. Since hand contact is one way SARS is transmitted, missionaries dropped the traditional Western method of handshaking and used the Chinese custom of greeting others by clasping their hands together and giving a slight bow or a verbal greeting.

When cautions were given by government and local Church leaders to avoid large crowds in confined places, missionaries began teaching lessons in outdoor parks or to one or two investigators in separate Church classrooms.

SARS is affecting all aspects of life in Hong Kong. Schools and universities have been suspended for three weeks in April. Some still remain closed. Most citizens go directly home after work. Tourism and catering trades have been severely affected with several companies closing their businesses. People wear masks when traveling on buses or trains. Television stations are running public service commercials reminding citizens to wash their hands frequently and to disinfect their homes on a regular basis.

The area presidency, acting under the direction of the Quorum of the Twelve and supporting the local government's actions, canceled Church meetings on a week-by-week basis during the month of April. Meetings are now again being held.

The temple was closed after the last session March 29, but re-opened April 24. Baptismal services are still being held, as well as after-baptism lessons, although fellowshipping is being conducted on a more personal level with only one or two members involved with the new convert.

During the closure, all Church buildings and offices have been thoroughly cleaned, including carpets. In keeping with the admonition to pay attention to hygiene, missionaries and members have been reminded to clean their homes and take sensible precautions when traveling.

Missionaries initially met in their zones to hold sacrament meeting, but soon changed to district meetings to avoid the need to gather in larger groups. With the approval of their bishops, member families held sacrament meetings in their homes throughout April.

Stanley Wan said that a very special feeling has come into his home as his family held Church services on Sunday mornings. He said, "This is the first time most Chinese families have ever had this very sacred experience."

Nancy Yam is the only member of the Church in her family. She and her visiting teaching companion, Pat Jones, use Sundays to visit their sisters and make sure they are doing well. After completing their appointments, Sister Jones invited Sister Yam to eat dinner with her family and have family prayer.

Home and visiting teaching are being conducted by phone in many cases. Branch presidents in the International District and bishops in the Chinese stakes tested their priesthood networks to see that each family was contacted during April, only to discover that many members were contacted each week.

Some families spent the Sabbath reading the scriptures or reading lessons from Church manuals. Where no priesthood holders are available to administer the sacrament, families studied lessons.

Elder Dickson expressed gratitude when he said: "At this point no missionary nor member of the Church in Hong Kong has contracted SARS. We hope to continue that trend."

An American Primary child, Michael Salisbury of the Sharon 3rd Ward, Orem Utah Sharon Stake, had been in the Tuen Mun Hospital in Hong Kong since contracting SARS while living in China with his father, James, who died of SARS, April 9. Mickey was released April 23 to the care of his mother, JiaHui Salisbury. "He is friendly and bright, but wants everyone to wear masks," said Dr. Francis Burton, the Area medical adviser for the Church.

Dr. Burton expressed gratitude to the staff at Tuen Mun Hospital for the extraordinary care and support they provided Mickey. "Without the tireless efforts of the U.S. consulates in both Guangzhou (China) and Hong Kong, we could not have assisted the Salisbury family at this difficult time," Dr. Burton concluded. "We are grateful to everyone who has helped Mickey and his family return to the United States."

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