When Elder Anthony D. Perkins and his wife, Christine, say home is “wherever you are,” it’s not just a cliche. It’s the story of their life.
At the moment, they are in Taipei, Taiwan, where he is serving as mission president. Prior to that they lived eight years in Beijing, China, because of Elder Perkins’ employment. Pressed, they say that is the closest they have to a place called “home,” though, being Americans, that doesn’t seem quite right, either.
Elder Perkins, sustained to the First Quorum of the Seventy in April general conference, was born in Cortez, Colo. His family moved to Farmington, N.M., the hometown of his future wife, Christine D. Abbott, when he was in junior high. The two of them attended BYU. He served a mission in Taiwan. After marriage and graduation from BYU, they moved to Vancouver, Wash., for work, went to school in Pennsylvania, and then spent seven years in Dallas, Texas. Shortly after building their “dream home” there, his company asked him to open its management consulting office in China.
The Perkinses liked Dallas, they said, and after building their dream home, “we were going to live there forever,” Elder Perkins said in a Church News interview. But when the career opportunity arose, “We went to the temple and felt like we got very clear direction to abandon our house and go to China.”
How did Sister Perkins handle such a dramatic move?
“You be a wife and mother; it doesn’t matter where you are,” she answered. “That doesn’t change — just the shopping changes,” she said with a laugh. She added, “I had my own answer. I knew that was where we were supposed to go. I trusted not only my husband, I trusted the Lord.”
Elder Perkins said he had an inkling of the way his life might go when, while watching April 1979 general conference at BYU, he heard President Spencer W. Kimball mention China in a talk about taking the gospel to the world.
“I really felt the Spirit hit me,” he said. He wrote in his journal that day that he thought he was going to have something to do with China. “Then three months later, my call came, signed by President Kimball, to Taiwan.”
One of the many blessings of serving his mission, he said, was hearing for the first time of University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. A companion, current Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., told Elder Perkins his father attended that prestigious business school.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from BYU, he investigated Wharton and found that not only could he pursue an MBA there, but also a concurrent master’s degree in international studies with an emphasis on East Asia from the University of Pennsylvania. Those degrees opened the door for his continued involvement with China.
Sister Perkins admitted the move to Beijing was difficult. “It was frightening, not as far as physical harm; I was never afraid for my life or anything like that. It was frightening to be illiterate. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t understand, I couldn’t read and it was frustrating.”
But the challenges were softened because they lived among other expatriates, many English speaking.
Elder and Sister Perkins also emphasized that the trials were exceeded by blessings.
For their children, “The education they got, not just in the (international) school, but in life in general,” was a great blessing, Elder Perkins said. The children all learned to speak, read and write in Chinese.
Members of the Church from other countries were given approval from the government to hold meetings in China, and Elder Perkins served as the president of their branch in Beijing. “We were always very clear that we were going to follow every rule that China issued,” he said.
Under those conditions, the branch of foreign nationals flourished with about 200 members.
In 2003, while their son Derek was serving a mission in Taiwan, Elder Perkins was called to be a mission president there. This summer, just as their daughter Nikki is completing her service in the China Hong Kong Mission, they will finish their mission and establish a home in the United States.
Their children have lived most of their lives in Asia and the three youngest have never attended a U.S. school, Elder Perkins pointed out, so they’re a little nervous about the move. “This is a foreign country for them,” Sister Perkins noted.
Neither Elder Perkins nor his wife anticipated their life would go down so many and exotic paths when they met as teenagers living in the same ward.
Of interaction between him and his future wife, Elder Perkins said that, as an eighth grader, “I unfortunately listened to a school teacher convince me that I should run for junior high student body president and she also ran. She killed me in the election.”
But still friends, they dated in high school and while attending BYU. Ten weeks after his mission, they were married in the Salt Lake Temple, beginning another sort of mission, primarily in Asia, that will continue through his service as a General Authority.