Weldon Kitchen and the baptismal waters of Taiwan's Wu-lai Canyon

Published: Thursday, Jan. 9 2014 8:00 a.m. MST

On Dec. 31, 1956, the missionaries were riding their bikes when Elder Keith A. Madsen hit a rut, was thrown from his bike and fell unconscious (there were no bike helmets in those days, Kitchen said). Elder Madsen died two days later in the hospital.

“He never did regain consciousness,” Kitchen said. “We were devastated by this tragedy.”

President Heaton came to Taipei to make arrangements to fly Madsen’s body back to Hong Kong. He was discouraged by the elder’s death and the lack of convert baptisms. The work in Hong Kong was productive, and the president considered pulling the small missionary force back to mission headquarters, according to Kitchen.

“We pleaded with him to let us stay. We didn’t want to go back. Finally he consented,” Kitchen said. “He said, ‘I will give you a little more time. If you don’t have any success in the next three months, you are all coming back to Hong Kong.’ It was shortly after that we found two golden investigators ... and continued to have success. The Taiwan missionaries would not be going back to Hong Kong.”

The waters of Wu-lai

The three-month deadline was just enough time for the Taiwan missionaries. Nine months after coming to Taipei, they had their first missionary-taught converts.

But there was another problem: where to hold the baptism. Pollution contaminated most of Taipei’s waterways. They couldn’t imagine holding a baptismal service in a sewer ditch or foul-smelling pond.

President Simiskey told the elders his family had found a beautiful spot in a nearby canyon, about 15 miles outside the city, where the water was clean and clear.

The mountain paradise, located in Wu-lai Canyon, became the location of the first missionary-taught convert baptisms. Kitchen baptized Tseng I-chang and then Elder Duane W. Degn baptized Chiu Hung-hsiung on April 27, 1957. The confirmations were performed at the water’s edge. The missionaries took photos and captured the historic moment in the majestic setting.

“The weather was calm that day. The water, our baptismal font, was warm,” Kitchen said. “That was a very special occasion.”

The missionaries continued to have success and returned to Wu-lai Canyon for other baptismal services until they built their own baptismal font.

“Over the years, that particular spot in Wu-lai Canyon was forgotten,” Kitchen said. “We remembered it but never had occasion to go there.”

Over the next several months, more than 50 people joined the church in Taiwan. Missionary work branched out to Taichung and Tainan as more missionaries arrived. When Kitchen was released from his mission in 1958, there were about 250 members.

Finding Wu-lai

In 2006, Kitchen and his wife, Donna, returned to Taiwan to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the missionaries’ arrival in the country. While there, Chin Tan Shu-hui, an early convert, and her oldest son, Steve Chin, offered to take the couple up the canyon to try to find the Wu-lai baptismal site. They searched and explored, comparing various locations with two photos from the original baptisms, but much of the land had been developed for homes and buildings, and they failed to find the original spot.

Five years later, in 2011, the Kitchens returned to serve in the Taiwan Taipei Temple. For fun one day, they looked again for the baptismal site but were unsuccessful.

“We kind of gave up," Kitchen said. "We thought we'd never find it."

Five days before they went home, Steve Chin prevailed upon the Kitchens to go back one more time. This time as they drove up the canyon, observing their surroundings, the Kitchens both felt an impression as they turned a corner. They felt they should check out a place they had just passed. There was something strangely familiar about it, Kitchen said.

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