SALT LAKE CITY — Chi-on Leung scrambled to get a ticket to the Saturday morning session of LDS general conference because he had an idea an old friend from their native Hong Kong might speak.
Leung managed to get a ticket from another friend, then listened in his native Cantonese as Elder Chi Hong (Sam) Wong delivered the first talk in a language other than English in 184 years of the twice-annual conferences of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"It was a historic moment," Leung, who attended BYU-Hawaii with Elder Wong and now lives in Australia, said afterward in the Conference Center. "I was very excited. It makes a difference. More and more general authorities will be speaking in their languages. It carries a power when you speak in your own language. And those listening in their language will feel additionally touched in their hearts.
"There's no doubt I did."
President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the church's First Presidency, appeared delighted as he gave Elder Wong a special introduction.
"We will hear from Elder Chi Hong Wong, who will deliver his address in his native language of Cantonese," President Eyring said. "English subtitles will be shown on the screen in the Conference Center."
Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles followed Elder Wong and also appeared to enjoy the moment. Beaming as he reached the microphone, the apostle who served a mission as a young man in Argentina gave a greeting in Spanish, "Buenos dias."
Elder Wong, 52, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, spoke about lessons from the Bible story on the man with palsy and those who brought him to Christ, as found in Mark 2:1-5.
The title of his talk was "Rescue in Unity."
"In order to assist the Savior, we have to work together in unity and in harmony," Elder Wong said, according to the English subtitles of the talk on the big screens in the Conference Center. "Everyone, every position and every calling are important. We have to be united in our Lord Jesus Christ."
Elder Wong imagined a contemporary version of the story of friends lowering the man with palsy and his bed through a roof so Christ could heal him.
"We can all help one another," Elder Wong said. "We should always be anxiously engaged in seeking to rescue those in need. When we assist (Jesus Christ) in his mission of saving souls, we too will be rescued in the process."
On Saturday afternoon, Elder Eduardo Gavarret, who was born in Uruguay and was serving as a bishop in Peru when he was called to the First Quorum of the Seventy in 2008, spoke in Spanish.
Elder Gavarret, 58, quoted another Bible scripture about each nation teaching Christ's word in its tongue.
"Today this scripture is fulfilled once more as I have been given the opportunity to express my feelings in my native tongue."
As Elder Gavarret sat down, the next speaker, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, "What a wonderful new element introduced into our general conference format."
A unique pair of LDS sister missionaries from Hong Kong serving on Temple Square missed Elder Wong's talk, even though they had received tips that they should pay special attention to the Saturday morning session.
They guessed that meant there might be a talk from Elder Wong, who was called to the First Quorum of the Seventy in April, when he came to Salt Lake City and sought out Sister Lok Jing Yim so he could say hi.
"I know Elder Wong," Sister Yim said. "He is from my home ward. He was my bishop and stake president. He was like our dad. When I was 8, when my brother and I were baptized, he gave us both a 'Follow the Prophet' keychain that taught us about the importance of covenants.
"I really remember that about him."
As a teenager, Sister Yim attended seminary classes in Elder Wong's home.
"Sister (Carol) Wong was my seminary teacher," Sister Yim said. "Every morning I went to their apartment to be nourished and go to school."24 comments on this story
Sister Yim's companion is her cousin, Sister Tsz Hei Lau, who knew Elder Wong through Sister Yim's family. But though the mission companions and cousins — their mothers are sisters — attended the Saturday afternoon session of conference together, they missed the morning session while working on Temple Square.
"We were giving a tour of Temple Square to a group from a Chinese hospitality bus," Sister Lau said. "It was really special; they were so happy."
While Elder Wong was speaking in Cantonese, the cousins from their Hong Kong home were giving the Temple Square tour in Mandarin.