When Elder Ree Lu received his mission call, he was surprised to see he had been called to serve a Mandarin-speaking mission in Washington state.
Around the same time Elder Lu arrived in the Washington Spokane Mission in June 2013, and was subsequently assigned to serve in Pullman, Washington, a Chinese group was organized in the Pullman YSA 1st Ward of the Moscow Idaho University Stake after approval from Elder Richard J. Maynes of the Presidency of the Seventy.
“The biggest benefit is just [to] give them some cultural significance together,” said stake president Steve Rigby. “More than anything, it’s given them the cultural attachment to each other through the gospel.”
Each Sunday, all members of the Pullman YSA 1st Ward at Washington State University begin meetings together to partake of the sacrament. The sacrament is first blessed in English and then in Mandarin, after which members of the Chinese group break off to attend their own meetings and receive instruction in their native language for the remainder of sacrament meeting and Sunday School. The group rejoins the rest of the ward for Relief Society and priesthood meetings.
“It definitely provides an environment for them to feel comfortable [where] they can learn the gospel in Chinese,” said Martin Ma, who was called as the Chinese group leader when the group was formed.
Brother Ma feels the group builds a foundation for those who attend. “Most of the Chinese members or investigators are fairly new to the country, and most of them don’t have a background in Christianity. It’s good for them to learn together and meet fellow Chinese members.”
Brother Ma said the Chinese missionary work has been moving forward in Pullman for years.
“We have seen a tremendous growth in the area for several years now. In the last two or three years, we’ve probably had well over 20 baptisms of Chinese investigators,” he said. “We searched a long time to find an appropriate way to bring this group together.”
One of the keys to the build-up of this group was the addition of Chinese missionaries to the area, which were specifically requested, President Rigby said.
Elder Johnny Chang arrived in Pullman in January 2012 as a new missionary and as the first Mandarin-speaking missionary in the area. Other Mandarin-speaking missionaries in Pullman included Elder Tony Hsieh (May 2012-December 2013), Elder Lu (June 2013-current), Sister Christina Huang (July 2013-February 2014) and Elder Weiyi Le (September 2013-January 2014).
“There has always been an interest in the Chinese missionary work in the area. When we started having Chinese missionaries in the area, that’s when it truly picked up and became very active,” said Brother Ma. “With them, they can achieve so much more than missionaries that don’t speak the language.”
Steve Wang, who joined the Church in Pullman about a year ago, said the Chinese group and missionaries have been instrumental in helping him to learn the gospel.
“The Chinese group helped me grow my testimony and understand the gospel better because I am much more familiar with my first language,” said Brother Wang. “I am very thankful this Church has elders and sister [who] speak Chinese to me.”
Brother Ma recently left to teach at Brigham Young University-Idaho.
“Honestly, when I found out I was leaving and that so many of our members are graduating, I was worried,” said Brother Ma. “But then we started seeing miracles. We found so many more investigators. With continued faith and prayer, this group will grow.”
Elder Hsieh, who recently completed his two-year missionary service, said the Chinese group does more than provide gospel instruction for the members.
“It helps the newly arrived Chinese students to learn the culture of the United States and broaden their international awareness,” he said. “It has brought rich diversity to the ward and opportunities for American students to learn about the Chinese culture.”
Many of the group members are spending their summer away from Pullman, so the group has not been meeting for the summer but will resume meeting when classes start at Washington State University again in August.
A group is the smallest unit of the Church and is not an independent unit of the Church. The ward has been instrumental for the building group, Brother Ma said. “The ward provides a lot of fellowshipping. We’re trying to get these group members to be more comfortable and to not be shy with their language skills.”
In the beginning, Brother Ma said, many of the members of the Chinese group struggled to be a part of the ward. “The first few months, they weren’t willing to mingle as much. The ward provides a lot of help in terms of providing people for giving talks or giving opportunities for the Chinese members to serve in the ward. Without the ward, they won’t have as many opportunities to learn and grow in the gospel.”
Brother Ma said that as the Chinese members have become more comfortable in the ward and taken on more responsibilities, they have been building strong foundations. “It did take a while, but most of our members are becoming solid in the gospel. These members will learn. They will learn the gospel and it will take roots deeper and deeper.”
Brother Wang said the group has given him the opportunity to deepen his testimony and understanding of the gospel and share it with others, too. “My favorite thing about the Chinese group is that I can share my testimony by my first language. I know the love of Jesus Christ for everyone is fair, no matter what language people use.”
Elder Hsieh knows the group was needed for these students. “Above all, the Chinese students are finding their own identity, not as students of WSU or as foreigners from Asia, but rather as children of God with unlimited opportunities in school and infinite potential in their personal growth.”
As for the future of the group, President Rigby said it will continue to prosper. “As long as we have some leadership, it will continue to flourish and grow.” President Rigby expressed his testimony that the Chinese work there will continue to be successful.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company