During his recent assignment to Asia, President Russell M. Nelson visited some of the most densely populated regions of the world. His travels included various stops in China (population 1.3 billion), India (population 1.2 billion) and Sri Lanka (population 20 million).
In each country, the president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles witnessed the massive growth and development that have been subjects of countless news headlines. But President Nelson also took notice of individuals — the men, women and children who are each known and loved deeply by their Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
Even amid the historic changes, President Nelson can trace the hand and workings of the Lord.
“The Church is going to bless people in these Asian countries because the people need the hope, strength and truth that the gospel brings,” he told the Church News.
President Nelson’s 12-day trip (Oct. 19-Nov. 1) included several meetings with members and government officials. A key highlight was his Oct. 23 visit to the Shandong University School of Medicine, where he taught open-heart surgery and performed operations in the 1980s.
(See story in the Nov. 8 Church News about President Nelson’s rich history and ongoing friendship with officials at the Shandong University School of Medicine.)
He was accompanied in his Asian travels by his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, and, at various times, with members of the Asia Area Presidency — Elder Gerrit W. Gong, Elder Randy D. Funk and Elder Chi Hong (Sam) Wong of the Seventy — and their wives, Sister Susan Gong, Sister Andrea Funk and Sister Carol Wong.
President Nelson said his visits with Chinese officials in past Church assignments to that country have always been cordial — but he was especially impressed in this most recent visit by their warmth and graciousness.
On Oct. 21, President Nelson and his group met with Madam Li Xiaolin, president of China People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. Their visit marked the second time the Church leader had met with Madam Xiaolin, the daughter of a former Chinese president. He first met with her in 1988.
The next day they met and enjoyed lunch with Madam Dai Chenjing, the head of China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA). At the conclusion of their time together, Madam Dai pulled on her coat and walked with her Latter-day Saint visitors to their cars waiting outside in the cold. That kind gesture, said President Nelson, was evidence of the growing relationship between the Church and China.
“They know us, they respect us and they trust us,” he said.
The Apostle added his own admiration for many of the cultural characteristics of the Chinese people, including their deference and respect for the elderly.
He was also uplifted and inspired by the strength of the Chinese members. His meetings with them left him hopeful for their future. The Church is small in China. There are not many members. But they are faithful and united.
“I’m proud of them,” he said. “They are wonderful Latter-day Saints and they are very committed.”
Despite their small numbers, the Chinese members work together and serve in their communities. President Nelson, for example, met with members in Shanghai participating in a Church-sponsored humanitarian project to provide school supplies and other provisions to migrant children in need.
“Our Chinese members are reaching out to those who are less fortunate,” he said. “It is sweet to see.”
As in many Asian nations, the Chinese members are writing the maiden chapters of their own Church history. The Lord, said President Nelson, is preparing the way.
“The Church will continue to bless the people in China. The members will be faithful, and their Chinese leaders will lead the Chinese people. That is the genius of the organization of the Church.”
President Nelson shared that same enthusiasm for other Asian nations he visited.
On Oct. 27, he presided over a district member devotional in Colombo, Sri Lanka. His assignment there marked the first time an apostle had been in Sri Lanka since Elder James E. Faust, who dedicated the nation in 1979.
More than 300 members gathered inside a Church-owned meetinghouse in Negombo to hear words of love and counsel from the president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“They were so happy to see an apostle,” he said. President Nelson also met with a member of Sri Lanka’s Parliament, Minister Lakshman B. Kiriella.
The nation of India is, like China, continuing to stake its claim as an emerging global economy and power. And, like China, the Church in India is still quite young and small.
But President Nelson caught a glimpse of India’s vast potential during his time with the members, young adults, missionaries and local leaders during visits to New Delhi and Hyderabad. Hundreds attended members meetings in each city.
President Nelson marveled at the capacity of the Indian priesthood leaders. “They are as good as any we have elsewhere. ... I was amazed at the depth of their understanding of the scriptures and history of the Church.” The India tour also included a meeting with a key official in the Indian government’s department of external affairs, Mr. Munu Mahawar. He greeted President Nelson warmly and offered his help and service. The Church leader also paid a visit in New Delhi to the United States Ambassador to India Richard Verma.
Asia’s promise and potential
The Church in dynamic Asian nations such as China, India and Sri Lanka “are at a hinge point in history” said President Nelson.
The future there is rich in promise and potential. The message of the gospel will bring hope and happiness to the people.
“The members in Asia can know that their families can be forever,” he said. “They can know that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is real. They feel that it is such a blessing to have the gospel.”
[email protected] @JNSwensen