SINGAPORE — As rain began to fall in the Republic of Singapore, AC and Helen Ho welcomed visitors to their home in this prosperous, multi-cultural city. Located in the heart of Southeast Asia between Malaysia and Indonesia, high-rise buildings and a harbor filled with massive cargo ships loaded with containers and freight boxes hinted at this island nation’s flourishing economy.
AC Ho described his “fast-moving, progressive” city, where people of “different faiths, different cultures, different races, live in harmony.”
It has been 50 years since missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints knocked on the Hos’ door. Thinking they were book salesmen and knowing of her husband’s desire to read, Helen Ho invited the pair to return.
The couple, who had very little Christian background, joined the Church six months later on Jan. 25, 1970 — just months after then-Elder Ezra Taft Benson offered a prayer of “peace, prosperity and freedom” on the land and people of this nation.
In the early years, a handful of Church members met in temporary locations across the city, AC Ho said. “In those days, we were just trying to learn about the doctrine and how the Church functions, and today we are a full-fledged stake with strong leaders. … We have grown. We are known to the government as being a supportive church who goes out of our way to make friends with other religious groups. We have come a long way.”
Excitement for the future
In contrast to those small, humble gatherings 50 years ago, Latter-day Saints filled the chapel and overflow rooms in the Bukit Timah Singapore Stake center here on Wednesday, Nov. 20, to welcome President Russell M. Nelson to Singapore during his Southeast Asia ministry, which included visits to four countries in seven days.
“Now is not only a time for us to look back, but it is also a time for us to look forward with excitement to the future,” said President Nelson.
President Nelson was accompanied to Singapore by his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson; Elder D. Todd Christofferson and his wife, Sister Kathy Christofferson; Elder David F. Evans, Asia Area president and a General Authority Seventy; and his wife, Sister Mary Evans; and Elder Peter F. Meurs, a General Authority Seventy.
President Nelson first visited Singapore in 1966 as a heart surgeon, just after the nation became an independent republic in 1965.
In his prayer on the nation — which President Nelson said became a hinge-point for Southeast Asia — Elder Benson hinted at Singapore’s future. “Father, we feel to ask a further blessing upon this land, that in due course this nation may serve as a center from which the gospel may be directed to other lands that will be the means of spreading even beyond this nation the truths of the everlasting gospel and the building up of Thy kingdom among Thy children.”
Earlier this year, AC and Helen Ho organized a 50th anniversary reunion “to remember what we have done in the past and what has happened since the early days.”
The Hos’ grandchildren attended the meeting with President Nelson. His visit gives members here the “confidence that what the Church is teaching is true, that each of us is important.”
AC Ho said President Nelson is someone who loves the people as Christ did. He is grateful for the time it took him to travel to Southeast Asia “to give us your presence, and your presence means a lot to us.”
“By being here today with us, [Church leaders] are assuring us that we are a family.”
In a small room in the back of the Bukit Timah Stake Center, two three-generation families represent the great strength of the Church in Singapore.
Hailey, age 7, Robin, 5, and Danielle Lim, 3, sit with their parents, Lim Yi and Germaine Yee, and both sets of grandparents, AC Lim and Lilian Lim and Yee Wing Kong and Jean Yee, to meet President Nelson.
Ian, 6, and Tate, 3, Chan also wait with their parents, Paul Chan and Jermaine Chua, and grandparents, Charlie and Sarah Chan, to meet the prophet.
When he enters the room, President Nelson immediately scoops Tate Chan into his arms. As the children gather around them, President and Sister Nelson invite them to sing, “I Am a Child of God.”
Many in the room talk about the blessing of the restored Church in their lives and the lives of their posterity.
As a young man, Lim Yi temporarily lost his way on the covenant path. It was his grandmother, a Christian, who invited him to “put Jesus first.”
“I promised her I would go back to Church the next week,” he said.
He returned to Church on a day marked by the Chinese New Year. His future wife was in the congregation. Their children are now enjoying all the fruits of the gospel, he said.
“I can feel President Nelson’s love,” said Jean Ye. “He is so far away, yet he has us on his mind. He traveled so many miles to Asia to give time to us.”
Gospel in its fullness
“Nearly 200 years ago — in the year 1820 — God the Father and His Beloved Son Jesus Christ appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith to inaugurate the Restoration of the gospel in its fullness,” President Nelson said. “Just imagine, those 200 years of amazing growth and progress started with that First Vision.”
Today, continued President Nelson, that restoration is still underway, still unfolding. “It is a blessing for each one of us and especially for our families.”
Looking forward, President Nelson spoke about the Church’s 166 temples across the globe. “The strength of the Church comes from great families. Good families come from the endowment and blessings from the temple,” he said.
Then, he added to the delight of the congregation, “Now you may wonder if the President of the Church is going to say anything about a temple in Singapore. That is all I am going to say, but I will tell you this: we yearn for the day that we will have a temple in Singapore.”
President Nelson asked the congregation to communicate with their Heavenly Father in prayer, to read the scriptures and to teach the importance of the restoration of the priesthood. He asked them to live the Word of Wisdom, pay their tithing and get an education.
“Heavenly Father has made the statement that His work and His glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of His children. Both of those objectives were enabled by the atonement of Jesus Christ.”
He asked the congregation to let the blessings of the temple be the supreme objective for your families. “I pray for the day when we will have a temple here in Singapore,” he said.
Family history work
Sister Nelson said in October 2012 she heard a general conference talk, “The Joy of Redeeming the Dead,” by Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that changed her life. The talk on family history spoke to her. “In fact it felt as though he were speaking only to me.”
At the end of his talk, Elder Scott said, “What about you? Have you prayed for your ancestors?”
She didn’t know how to do family history research. But she knew how to pray. She believed that family history work was a spiritual work. She started to learn how to feel who she should look for.
Elder Scott had promised a “sure way to eliminate the influence of the adversary” in her life by doing family history work. At the end of three weeks of doing family history work, Sister Nelson discovered she was having so much fun.
She also found other blessings.
“If you have questions that trouble you, if you have almost given up, never figuring out what is truth, I invite you to try an experiment. Prayerfully and repeatedly study Elder Scott’s general conference talk, “The Joy of Redeeming the Dead” (October 2012), and then follow through with every spiritual prompting that comes to you.”
Those that now live on the other side of the veil have a perspective that can be trusted, said Sister Nelson. “They now know the reality of the other side of the veil. They also know that they cannot move forward without you and me finding their qualifying information and taking them to the temple.”
She closed with her testimony of family history research. “It is my experience that family history will make any extreme sport or higher venture activity pale in comparison,” Sister Nelson said. “My dear brothers and sisters, these are the latter days. You and I have the privilege of participating in helping to gather scattered Israel on both sides of the veil.”
Living in ‘marvelous times’
Elder Christofferson spoke of living “in marvelous times,” the great and last dispensation of the gospel. “This is the first such dispensation that does not end in apostasy, but in success — the one dispensation that accomplishes fully the Lord’s purpose and prepares for His second coming. What a blessing to be alive at this time.”
Sister Christofferson told the youth and young adults that they will make decisions in their life that will affect their posterity. “The faith of your fathers will be what carries you on, it will be the thing you look to and say, ‘I know who I am and what my DNA is because this is what my family does … and I understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ because I have watched them.’”
Elder Evans said he hopes the congregation understands that the success of Singapore and the success of personal achievement — while wonderful — “will not ultimately bring the greatest happiness and joy in life.”
“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” helps Latter-day Saints realize that celestial marriage brings greater possibilities of happiness than does any other relationship, he said.
Sister Evans spoke about seeing, as a child, the prophet David O. McKay. “I don’t remember anything that was said, but I do remember how I felt when I saw the prophet.”
Elder Meurs spoke of the transformation having taken place in the Church in the area, where just five decades ago the Church was made up of mostly young single adults. It now includes beautiful multi-generational families.
That is something AC Ho also expressed. Looking out his window at the modern skyscrapers of Singapore and contemplating 50 years of the Church in this vibrant city, he said, “The blessings we have received as members of the Church have been tremendous.”