The Malaysian Latter-day Saint youth are model examples of gospel faithfulness. Many youth live in small apartments or terrace homes. Some live in pieced-together wood structures built in areas of Bintulu with no electrical service or waste water systems. They use generators for electricity or candles if necessary for light (generators and gas are expensive). Water is supplied from a network of small hoses fed off a main line from the highway. Water is also stored in barrels. Bathing with water from barrels can be challenging.
However, when they show up to Church, they are wearing their Sunday best.
Most of the youth attend double shift schools which begin early in the morning and end late in the afternoon. In their free time their favorite gathering place is the Church. Here they have access to the cultural hall for activities, the library and the Wifi Internet for study and the pianos (they love to sing and dance).
A recent effort to engage youth in East Malaysia in family history work has been instrumental in helping these youth overcome challenges and embrace an eternal perspective.
The family history initiative began when a senior missionary couple, Brother Orie Orien and his wife, Sister Ruth Orien, started visiting families. They learned that the history of members from the original tribes of East Malaysia was based on an oral language with few, if any, written records. And when the oldest member of the family died, they often took the names of their ancestors with them to the grave. Many with whom the Oriens met did not know the names of their grandparents. In a push to record family histories, the Oriens decided to use the Gawai'i Dayak festival ?— a festival of the rice harvest — to encourage members to harvest their family names. During this celebration, families return to what is called a longhouse — literally a long building that can house dozens of families. Each family has a separate door to enter their living quarters (called a "bilik") which are built next to each other in a long row under a common roof, and there is a covered veranda (called a "ruai") that extends the entire length of the longhouse. Here they can listen to their elders share the folklore of their ancestors and record their names. The Oriens enlisted the help of the youth from three branches in Malaysia and distributed family tree sheets. The youth went out to the homes of the members to help record the names of the families with the goal of eventually taking these names to the temple.
Shortly after they began family history work, some of the teens' schools gave them laptops that they have been able to use to further the progress of family history. Using the wireless Internet at their meetinghouse, they access lds.org and family history sites.
In the Tanjung Kidurong Bintulu Branch, President Ravinder Singh, known as "President Jack," has made an effort to keep the youth under his charge involved with family history.
"To start with, we [on the] Bintulu family history team love to do our calling as family history consultants because we know the importance of getting the names in for family history. ... We take this seriously because we know how important it is to get the names in for families and their ancestors so they will be given a chance to know the gospel of Jesus Christ," President Jack wrote in an email.
On Saturdays, Sungai Plan youth head to the Church, fire up their laptops and work on family history.
The youth began meeting regularly once a week at the Church for two hours for family history work, or to learn English or train as branch missionaries.
"They are a humble group of kids, [with far fewer resources than] many of the youth in the U.S., but President Jack has a good relationship with them and thinks up activities for them to be involved in," said Sister Kathryn Yeates, a senior missionary in Bintulu, East Malaysia.
The youth in the Tanjung Kidurong Bintulu Branch began bringing family history sheets to the homes of members of the branch.
Similar to an emergency action plan, President Jack encouraged youth under his leadership to enter their own family names first and then reach out to help others.
President Jack and the youth visit members of the branch and enter their ancestors' names into the family history site and have a goal to enter the names from their branch by the end of 2012.
An important resource for family history work in East Malaysia comes from the books of Benedict Sandin, who spent his life writing about the people who migrated to East Malaysia. In one of his books he details the genealogy of 50 different family groups. The youth in Bintulu were able to use this information for submitting names for temple work.
"The family history program was one way for the youth of Tanjung Kidurong Branch to both learn and give a valuable service at the same time," Sister Yeates said.
As within many cultures throughout the world, it is not always easy to be a member of the Church, Sister Orien said. However, the youth in the Church here are anxiously engaged in their faith and enjoy providing service through family history work.
"We hope the other youth in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [can] learn the importance of family history work in their daily lives," President Jack said.