Trent Toone, Deseret News
Weldon Kitchen figured it was lost forever.
While he was serving as one of the first Mormon missionaries in Taipei, Taiwan, in the 1950s, pollution forced the elders to find a clean river in a mountain paradise to use as the location for their first baptismal service.
But the picturesque setting, which seemed like the "waters of Mormon" (see Mosiah 18:5) to the missionaries, was only a temporary solution, and the location was eventually forgotten.
Returning to Taiwan more than 50 years later, Kitchen and his wife, Donna, used old photos to eventually find the historic site. The discovery not only brought Kitchen's missionary service full circle but also inspired an increase in missionary efforts and a renewed appreciation of LDS Church history among the Saints in the area.
Knowing what their efforts have meant to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Taiwan has meant everything to the Kitchens.
“It brings me a feeling of emotional happiness,” Kitchen said in a recent interview from their Highland, Utah, home. “I’m so thrilled to be able to be a part of it, to be an instrument in the missionary work in Taiwan. ... They love hearing the story.”
Opening up Taiwan
The 21-year-old Kitchen had just finished his junior year at Brigham Young University when he received a three-year call to the Southern Far East mission in 1955. He and five other missionaries received their passenger ship tickets and some words of counsel from a young Gordon B. Hinckley of the church’s missionary department in Salt Lake City before traveling to San Francisco.
Once there, they boarded a boat for a monthlong ride to the mission headquarters in Hong Kong. The mission president, 26-year-old Grant Heaton, and eight other missionaries greeted the new missionaries upon their arrival.
Shortly thereafter, four elders, including Kitchen, were assigned to open up missionary work in Taiwan.
Unfortunately, Kitchen said, it took eight months to secure visas. Some of that time was spent learning Mandarin Chinese while everyone in Hong Kong spoke Cantonese. At one point, the missionaries hired students at a local university to tutor them. One of the tutors later joined the church.
“(Learning the language) was a challenge,” Kitchen said. “When we asked how do we learn the language, they told us to get out on the street and learn it.”
In 1956, President Heaton visited Taiwan and met Stanley Simiskey, a Latter-day Saint convert stationed with the U.S. military in Taipei. Simiskey and a few other LDS servicemen began holding church meetings. When the four missionaries arrived in June of that year, a branch was established in Taipei with Simiskey as president.
Even with two serviceman-taught convert baptisms in the Taipei branch in 1956, missionary work was slow and challenging for most of the first year, Kitchen said.
Most Taiwanese practiced Buddhism or Taoism and the country would not be dedicated for the preaching of the gospel until Elder Mark E. Petersen of the Quorum of the Twelve did it in June 1959. Investigators were unable to read the Book of Mormon in their language until 1965. The American missionaries struggled without senior companions to turn to.
“It was not an easy mission; it was very difficult,” Kitchen said. “But that made it interesting.”
Then a missionary died.
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