The Asian population within the city of Irvine has experienced significant growth over the past 10 years. With more than 200,000 residents in Irvine, the Asian, Pacific Islander group holds the largest percentage — 38 percent — of that population. Of those Asian residents, almost a third are Chinese. At University High School and University of California, Irvine, both within the Newport Beach Stake boundaries, more than 45 percent of the students are Asian. It is estimated that a language other than English is spoken in 58 percent of Irvine homes. There were already Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, Tongan, Samoan and American Sign Language branches of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Orange County.
“As I looked around this great city of Irvine,” said Daniel L. Rasmussen, president of the Irvine California Stake, “it was very clear to me that there are many that speak only Chinese Mandarin tongue. We needed a branch in order to help people further their gospel knowledge.”
The Yale Branch, the first Chinese Mandarin-speaking Mormon Church branch in Orange County, Calif., was organized by the Irvine California Stake on Nov. 22 in conjunction with the Newport Beach California Stake. Almost 100 people attended the organizing meeting.
President Rasmussen conducted the meeting. Greg Byers, who served in the Taiwan Taichung Mission, was called to be the branch president. Morgan Ying was called to be first counselor and Jared Ong second counselor. The Yale Branch will serve members in the Irvine and Newport stakes as well as the surrounding communities.
President Rasmussen quoted from Doctrine and Covenants 90:11, that every man shall hear the fullness of the gospel in his own tongue and in his own language. “What we do here today is a small step in a greater plan that Heavenly Father has for His work,” he said.
“So many years we have been waiting for this day,” said Carlee Ying, wife of the first counselor. Sister Ying expressed her joy for having the sacrament prayer spoken in Chinese. Since moving from Taipei to the United States, Brother and Sister Ying have attended local English-speaking wards, occasionally making the drive to attend a distant Chinese branch. Sister Ying expressed the blessing of having local wards for her children and to learn American culture but shared her gratitude for having Church meetings in her native tongue. “If I use my language, I feel comfortable to share testimony,” Sister Ying said.
She bore her testimony saying, “God listens to our prayers. He knows Chinese people and what we need.”
Sharing his testimony, Brother Ying recalled with gratitude the history of the Church in parts of Asia, beginning in 1853. Brother Ying’s father was the first of his family to join the Church in what was then the Southern Far East Mission with headquarters in Hong Kong. His father often bicycled long distances to visit members. At that time, the Taipei Taiwan Relief Society, in which his mother served, had only six members. “They grew every day, step by step,” Brother Ying said.
He shared his emotions for the new branch with the Chinese idiom, “Juan shin guo chang,” an expression of heart-felt exuberance, clapping and rejoicing. He encouraged all those present to be participants in building the new branch. “Guo chang nan min,” Brother Ying stated, meaning a single hand cannot clap. The building of the branch will take the efforts of all.
For Brother Ying’s mother, Afong Ying, who speaks only Mandarin, the organizing meeting was the first Sunday since she moved to the United States 18 years ago that she was able to attend Church in her native language.
Brother Ong was thankful to his parents, Ted and Amelia Ong, who were in attendance. They are, “a very good model to follow,” Brother Ong said. His father served as the first branch president of the Chinese Branch in Los Angeles and mission president of the Hong Kong Mission, 2003-06. Brother Jared Ong recalled that, when he was young, his father encouraged him to read the Book of Mormon. At first he hesitated, then later read and studied the Book of Mormon and gained his own testimony. “Our church is true,” Brother Jared Ong said. “The Book of Mormon has helped me come closer to Heavenly Father.”
President Byers said, “The Chinese members have sometimes felt misplaced in local wards. Some members have never given a talk or shared their testimony publicly because they do not feel confident or comfortable in that setting.”
In the new branch, President Byers has already seen the potential for growth. “I have seen members share their heart-felt testimonies of the Savior and the gospel. I know that this branch is necessary for those members to grow and flourish in the gospel and to not hold themselves back for the sake of a language barrier.”
In the past, Chinese members held weekly Sunday School and monthly family home evening. Those were times to talk and share testimony in their language. But as investigators came, it wasn’t enough to bring them the fullness of the gospel in a way they could understand.
“They wanted more. They were never satisfied with the one hour of Sunday School,” President Byers said. The new branch will provide the complete organization of the Church for these members.