The courageous steps Latter-day Saints in Asia are taking to build the Church and strengthen their families

Following a group of people dressed in colorful, handmade tribal clothing up the stairs in a small Church meetinghouse in Hualien, Taiwan, Wen-hsiu Chen squeezed her way through the crowd for a chance to say a quick goodbye.

Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary general president, had visited Chen and her family earlier in the day, prior to speaking at a devotional for Church members in the evening, and Chen hoped for a chance to say goodbye before Sister Jones left for the next stop on her visit. Hoping to get home to put her children to bed, Chen said she waited for just a small moment when she could catch the Primary general president’s attention and bid her farewell.

“I told her, ‘Sister Jones, I just want to say a quick goodbye, I know that you are busy,’” Chen said. “But she told me, ‘No, we are not going to say goodbye. I want to say see you later.’ And she emphasized that.”

It was a small gesture, Chen said, but it was also a genuine one.

“I knew she was not joking. I knew she meant it. And that means a lot because I am little,” she said. “Of all the people there, I am not the most important one, but she just made me feel that I am really important.”

Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary general president, hugs a youth member following a devotional in Taitung, Taiwan, where she danced with members during a visit to the Asia Area from Aug. 17 to 14, 2019.
Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary general president, hugs a youth member following a devotional in Taitung, Taiwan, where she danced with members during a visit to the Asia Area from Aug. 17 to 14, 2019. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

In that moment, Chen felt sure that not only did Sister Jones really love her, but also Jesus Christ — the person Sister Jones is called to represent — truly loves her, Chen said.

Watching Sister Jones ask simple, gospel-centered questions to a group of children gathered in his home made Chen’s husband, Yung-Chun Li, feel the same way.

“That was a real opportunity to have the Primary general president teach my kids in my home,” he said. “I know (she is) representing God and the prophet.”

For many members in the Asia Area, the eight-day visit in August from Sister Jones and Sister Michelle D. Craig, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency, marked the first time a General Authority or general officer of the Church had visited their area.

Sister Michelle D. Craig, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency, poses with a group of young women following a youth devotional in Miri, Malaysia, during a visit to the Asia Area of the Church from Aug. 17 to 24, 2019.
Sister Michelle D. Craig, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency, poses with a group of young women following a youth devotional in Miri, Malaysia, during a visit to the Asia Area of the Church from Aug. 17 to 24, 2019. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

From Aug. 17-24, Sister Jones and Sister Craig — along with their husbands, Brother Robert B. Jones and Brother E. Boyd Craig — went to various parts of Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan, meeting with missionaries, members and leaders in the area for devotionals, trainings and ministering visits. The general women leaders also met with government officials and leaders of well-known charitable organizations in the area and were accompanied throughout their visit by Elder Peter F. Meurs, General Authority Seventy and first counselor in the Asia Area presidency, and Elder David P. Homer, General Authority Seventy and second counselor in the Asia Area presidency.

After meeting all together in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, the general women leaders and the area representatives split paths to visit members throughout Taiwan and Indonesia. Sister Jones was accompanied by Elder Meurs to Taiwan while Sister Craig and Elder Homer visited various parts of Indonesia.

The Church is still relatively new in much of the Asia Area, said Elder Meurs. Many of the members there are first generation members and are still in the early stages of learning and applying the gospel to their lives. But it was exciting to visit members’ homes and see firsthand the “powerful, strong families and wonderful children that are experiencing the Church in their homes and really understanding the gospel,” he said.

Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary general president, interacts with youth following a devotional in Taipei, Taiwan, during a visit to the Asia Area from Aug. 17 to 14, 2019.
Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary general president, interacts with youth following a devotional in Taipei, Taiwan, during a visit to the Asia Area from Aug. 17 to 14, 2019. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

In Malaysia and Indonesia, “the people really appreciated the effort (of the leaders) to get there and to see them, and we had full chapels everywhere we went,” Elder Homer said.

Sister Craig “is very warm, and she’s very easy to approach and her ability to love crosses cultural boundaries,” Elder Homer said of watching her interact with the members. “There was an instant bond between her and the sisters that she met. She just teaches from her heart and people listen from their hearts.”

It was also a great blessing for the people to see the example of Sister Craig and her husband, he said.

“I think for the members to see husbands and wives living as equal partners and to see the strength of her testimony and her teachings was instructive and uplifting,” he said.

Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary general president, and her husband, Brother Robert B. Jones, interact with a baby while visiting a family in their home in Taitung, Taiwan, during a visit to the Asia Area from Aug. 17 to 14, 2019.
Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary general president, and her husband, Brother Robert B. Jones, interact with a baby while visiting a family in their home in Taitung, Taiwan, during a visit to the Asia Area from Aug. 17 to 14, 2019. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

In Taiwan, there was great evidence of the strength that comes through multigenerational families in the gospel, Elder Meurs said. With each of the ministering visits he accompanied Sister Jones on, multiple families showed up to gather in the homes and meet the Church leaders. In some cases, they met with as many as five families packed into one home, Elder Meurs said.

As families stick together and strengthen one another in the gospel, teaching their children and sharing the gospel with the next generation, the Church will continue to grow immensely, Sister Jones said.

The children are the future of the Church, she said, “And I just keep hoping and praying that (families) will keep implementing ‘Come, Follow Me’ in their homes. There is great strength in the family.”

“We can live on opposite ends of the world, but we’re united in our faith of Jesus Christ.”

The members are very mindful about the eternal aspect of families, Sister Jones said, and whether they are doing the temple work for their ancestors or planning for how to best strengthen their children in the gospel, the focus on the Savior and the plan of salvation in their lives is very apparent.

Emphasizing the importance of counseling together as families, Sister Jones said she was impressed by the number of families who had determined not to have their children attend cram schools — specialized schools meant to help students meet particular goals, such as passing an entrance examination, and often require students to attend in the evenings. These families, Sister Jones said, opt instead to have their children at home in the evenings.

“That’s a courageous step,” she said, noting the cultural importance placed on cram schools. “But they’re feeling the strength of the gospel and it gives them courage. They’re receiving revelation and inspiration to know how to help their families progress.”

Sister Michelle D. Craig, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency, speaks during a leadership training meeting with members of the Church in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, during a visit to the Asia Area of the Church from Aug. 17 to 24, 2019.
Sister Michelle D. Craig, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency, speaks during a leadership training meeting with members of the Church in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, during a visit to the Asia Area of the Church from Aug. 17 to 24, 2019. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Sister Craig said the youth are equally engaged in learning the gospel and strengthening their families.

Stepping into the hall of a meetinghouse between two devotionals in Solo, Indonesia, Sister Craig saw a group of youth gathered together, many of them sitting on the floor, with their scriptures open. The dedication and engagement of the youth as they participated in an impromptu seminary class in the hall prior to the member devotional that evening was impressive, Sister Craig said.

“I was so touched by these youth, and as I walked out and saw them, I could feel the Spirit,” she said. “I don’t know what they were talking about, but to me, this highlighted their strength.”

In a worldwide Church, some needs are the same from country to country and some are different, said Sister Criag. But the commonalities of members of the Church from around the world far outweigh their differences, she said.

Sister Michelle D. Craig, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency, takes a photo with members following a devotional in Surakarta, Indonesia, during a visit to the Asia Area of the Church from Aug. 17 to 24, 2019.
Sister Michelle D. Craig, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency, takes a photo with members following a devotional in Surakarta, Indonesia, during a visit to the Asia Area of the Church from Aug. 17 to 24, 2019. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

“One thing that struck me was how unifying the gospel is,” said Sister Craig. “We can live on opposite ends of the world, but we’re united in our faith of Jesus Christ. And the Church is just the same no matter where we go.”

No matter where people live or what challenges they experience, all are God’s children and part of His eternal family and are united by a knowledge that they are part of an eternal family, Sister Jones said.

“Where we live might look different, but what we live is the same and where we are headed is the same,” she said. “And to me, that is the message that draws us together most. Even when we can’t speak the same language, our hearts speak to each other. And I felt that there. We’re all on the same page. We’re all headed in the same direction.”

Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary general president, interacts with youth following a devotional in Taipei, Taiwan, during a visit to the Asia Area from Aug. 17 to 14, 2019.
Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary general president, interacts with youth following a devotional in Taipei, Taiwan, during a visit to the Asia Area from Aug. 17 to 14, 2019. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.