Two Apostles recently toured several Asian nations — meeting with thousands of members and witnessing, perhaps, the Church's "pioneer" moments in a region of the globe that half the human population calls home.
"Everywhere we went there was a wonderful [spirit]," said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, who was joined in Asia by Elder David A. Bednar, members of Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. "The members in Asia are out on the periphery of the Church and don't see the visiting Brethren that often, but they were wonderfully courteous and responsive. We came home just thrilled."
The Church in Asia is young but growing, observed Elder Bednar, adding, "It's a thriving part of the world where the Church is influencing for good the lives of millions."
Despite the area's densely populated nations, the two Apostles agreed Asia stands as one of the great frontiers for the Church. It's a region defined by possibilities, potential and faithful members who are answering calls to serve missions, preside over districts and branches and raise their families in the gospel with eyes fixed and focused on the blessings of the temple. As a result, congregations enjoy an ecclesiastical and spiritual maturity despite being relatively small and new.
"It's always 1830 or 1840 somewhere in the Church," added Elder Holland, "and in Asia, it's about 1840" in terms of the development of the Church. "We are always beginning somewhere and parts of Asia are beginning beautifully."
The Church leaders traveled with their wives, Sister Patricia Holland and Sister Susan Bednar, to conduct an annual review of the Asia Area. Elder Jay E. Jensen of the Presidency of the Seventy also participated in the area review and in several meetings and devotionals in a variety of countries. He was accompanied by his wife, Sister Lona Jensen. The visiting Brethren were met at Asia Area headquarters in Hong Kong by the area presidency, Elder Anthony D. Perkins, Elder Kent D. Watson and Elder Carl B. Pratt of the Seventy.
Annual area reviews allow members of the Quorum of the Twelve to stay informed on all that's happening — both spiritually and temporally — in the region, including missionary work, priesthood leadership and development, family history work, Church education, temple worship and humanitarian service. The area reviews also offer opportunities for the visiting Brethren and area leadership to meet with thousands of members in priesthood leadership conferences, stake conferences, young single adult devotionals and missionary meetings.
Besides meeting with members and priesthood leaders in Hong Kong, Elder Holland visited India and Mongolia. Elder Bednar's travels outside of area headquarters included stops to Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan. Members of the area presidency also participated in many of the gatherings. The Brethren conducted question-and-answer sessions in many meetings, including some that were broadcast to distant congregations. Such exchanges helped the visiting Brethren learn of the specific challenges facing the Church in each country even as they shared welcome counsel with members and missionaries.
Despite the cultural, national and economic diversity of their many audiences, the Brethren shared those universal gospel doctrine and principles such as the divinity of Jesus Christ and the truth and power of the Book of Mormon.
"But each meeting is a little bit different," said Elder Holland. "What you say in one congregation isn't necessarily what you would say to another. You follow the impressions of the Spirit."
Elder Jensen observed that the message of the Plan of Salvation and the truthfulness of the gospel crosses over cultural practices and religious traditions. Such principles resonate with all people, even in areas where there is not a long Christian tradition.
"The more I travel the more I find that everyone is pretty much the same," said Elder Bednar. "The [members] are trying not to be seduced by the influences of the world. They want to live the gospel. They ask questions about how to resist temptation and how to make sure they are living in a way that the Holy Ghost can guide, assist and inspire them."
While the Church is young in many of the Asia Area nations, many members have served missions and are experienced in Church leadership and gospel knowledge.
Each of the visiting Brethren returned to Salt Lake City rich in memories from their Asia Area tour.
All noted the capacity of the Asia Area Presidency and the many Area Seventies serving in their homelands. "Where would we be in a Church this size if we did not have this era and season of the Seventies?" asked Elder Holland.
Elder Jensen was inspired by the actions of three daughters of a district president in India who, unbeknownst to the parents, set aside their daily snack money to save for a much-desired temple trip.
"Those daughters are now being raised under the covenants of the temple," he said.
Elder Bednar's visit to Indonesia marked his return to a country he first toured with President Boyd K. Packer, who was then acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve and is now president of that quorum, following the devastating tsunami of 2004. On this second visit to Indonesia, Elder Bednar participated in the organization of the Jakarta Indonesia Stake. "We found the members to be faithful, strong and loving everywhere we went," he said.
Meanwhile, Elder Holland was invigorated by the enthusiasm he witnessed in Church "frontier" lands such as India and Mongolia. Even in troubled economic areas, he met with members of all ages who were happy, looked good and loved to sing the hymns of the restored gospel.
"The 101-voice choir in Mongolia was as remarkable a choir as I've ever seen in a local congregation," he said.