One of the temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will reach a significant milestone this month.
The Hong Kong China Temple, which serves LDS Church members from Mongolia in the north to Indonesia in the south and as far west as Pakistan, was dedicated by President Gordon B. Hinckley 20 years ago on May 26 and 27, 1996.
“This temple represents one of the great dreams of my life,” President Hinckley told missionaries shortly before the dedication, according to a 1996 church magazine article.
In a region that includes half the world's population as well as multiple languages and non-Christian religions, the inspiration received by President Hinckley to build a temple in Hong Kong has blessed many lives. Former temple presidents, missionaries and temple workers shared remarkable accounts of faithful members of simple means making tremendous sacrifices to travel to the temple at least once in their lifetime.
“There is remarkable spiritual strength in the leadership and membership of the church there which has been greatly influenced by this precious house of the Lord,” said Susan Bishop, who served in Hong Kong as a missionary and later as a temple worker with her husband. “It was inspiring to see people come from surrounding countries to partake of the blessings of the temple.”
In 1898, the British government signed a 99-year lease with Chinese authorities to make Hong Kong a British colony; the city would return to the People’s Republic of China on July 1, 1997.
In 1992, President Hinckley and other church leaders spent days scouting possible locations for a temple, but many were too small and overpriced, according to “How the Hong Kong Temple Came to Be,” which was published in the Ensign in 2006. The decision weighed on President Hinckley, according to "Go Forward With Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley," by Sheri L. Dew.
After a rigorous day of touring sites, President Hinckley awoke in the middle of the night with an inspired idea, according to the biography. Why not build a multistory building on property already owned by the church in Kowloon, then occupied by the mission home and a small chapel? The location was also ideal for transportation purposes.
It worked. (The multipurpose design of the Hong Kong China Temple was later used for the Manhattan New York Temple.)
The Hong Kong China Temple was announced by the First Presidency on Oct. 3, 1992.
In late May 1996, President Hinckley returned to dedicate the temple. It was an emotional event for the prophet, who first came to Hong Kong as a young general authority in 1960.
“This temple represents the fulfillment of a dream and an answer to many prayers,” he said in the first dedicatory session, according to his biography. “I first came here 36 years ago, when we had tiny branches that met in rented rooms. I remember trying to explain how the church operated, diagramming it out on a chalkboard to a handful of leaders. In those difficult days, I scarcely dreamed we would have what we have here today. But with this temple, the church has now reached maturity in Hong Kong. If ever I felt the inspiration of the Lord at any time in my life, it was in connection with this building.”
Lowell and Susan Bishop of American Fork served as missionaries in Hong Kong about 45 years ago, with Susan Bishop spending part of her mission in the mission office. The Bishops attended the temple dedication and later served as workers in the Hong Kong China Temple. They now live in American Fork.
“The dedication of the temple was one of the spiritual highlights of my life,” Susan Bishop said. “The spirit was so strong, and there was no doubt this is a heavenly inspired building.”
In the dedicatory prayer, President Hinckley prayed: “We thank thee for the freedom granted by this government in permitting thy servants to labor here. Under the influence of thy Holy Spirit, they have found souls willing and ready to listen and receive the gospel. Thy church has grown and blessed the lives of many of thy sons and daughters in this place. We thank thee for all who have accepted the gospel and who have remained true and faithful to covenants made with thee. Thy church in this area now comes to full maturity with the dedication of this sacred temple.”
The late W. Brent Hardy and his wife, Elaine, both served missions in Hong Kong in the late 1950s. In the late 1960s, they returned to preside over the Southern Far East Mission, which was headquartered in Hong Kong. From 1998 to 2001, the Hardys presided over the Hong Kong China Temple.
Before his death in 2012, Brent Hardy wrote how 12-hour days in the temple “passed quickly and left a warm spirit lingering in (his) life.”
In a journal entry shared by his wife, who currently lives in Las Vegas, Brent Hardy described overcoming language barriers and other challenges while assisting Saints from several countries, including India, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Mongolia and Pakistan, to receive temple ordinances.
“So at the end of many 12-hour days, we are filled with gratitude at being here,” Brent Hardy wrote. “As I have watched the peoples of the nations of the earth come up unto the mountain of the Lord's house, I have learned a new appreciation of the workings of the Spirit in the lives of the Saints who come to the temple. There is an added burden upon our shoulders because for some this first visit may indeed be their only and last visit. We seek always and with all our heart to make sure that they take with them nothing but sweet memories and the Spirit of God.”
Faith and sacrifice
For John M. and Lydia Aki, of Kaneohe, Hawaii, serving as president and matron in the Hong Kong China Temple from 2010-13 was one of “the great spiritual experiences of our lives,” they wrote in an email to the Deseret News.
John Aki served as a missionary in Hong Kong from 1964-66, and his wife, a native of Hong Kong, joined the LDS Church in 1959. John Aki was serving as a mission president in Hong Kong when the temple was dedicated in 1996. Today, he marvels at how far the church has come since those early days.
“Hong Kong was poor, overcrowded and people were too busy making a living to find time to learn about the church,” John Aki wrote. “Yet, many who were taught had great faith to still join the church first, then wait for the Book of Mormon to be translated in 1966, and wait again for the temple to be built 30 years later. In our lifetime, we were fortunate to witness the blessings of a loving Heavenly Father poured out upon his faithful and patient children in Asia.”
While serving in the temple, the Akis observed members making significant sacrifices to travel vast distances in the Asia area to attend the temple. That's why many members near Bangkok, Thailand, rejoiced when President Thomas S. Monson announced in April 2015 that a temple would be built there.
“We heard of a farmer who sold the family cow to come to the temple. The cow was a vital source of milk for the family and a beast of burden in the fields,” John Aki wrote. “When asked why he sold the cow, he replied that by doing so he could be sealed to his wife, whereas he could never be sealed to his cow.”
Charles W.H. Goo, of Laie, Hawaii, served as a missionary in Hong Kong from 1965-68. He and his wife, Helen, later presided over the China Hong Kong Mission and as temple president and matron from 2007-2010. They shared several accounts of faithful Latter-day Saints coming to the temple.
On one occasion, more than 40 Mongolian members journeyed about 1,800 miles from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, to Hong Kong to receive their endowments and perform other ordinances. One woman in the group traveled from the outer part of Mongolia on a mail truck for a day to meet the group. From there, they boarded a train for a three-day ride to the temple. The woman came to be sealed to her deceased husband, Goo wrote in an email to the Deseret News.
“The peace and serenity in her countenance as she knelt at the altar brought to our minds the undeniable love of our Heavenly Father and his son, who commanded temples to be built so as to bless their children eternally,” wrote Goo, who is now serving with his wife in the New York New York North Mission. “For this elderly sister and many others who live far distances from the nearest temple, this would be the one and only time they would have to be in the House of the Lord. This experience was humbling, reminding us of the great blessing we have to live close to a temple.”
In one endowment session, five languages were in use: Cantonese, Mandarin, English, Thai and Indonesian. “Many language cards were necessary to complete the session, but all went smoothly and reminded us that all the children of our Father in Heaven are important,” Goo said.
One 88-year-old sister had attended the temple daily since its dedication a decade earlier. Temple workers figured out she had performed ordinances for more than 25,000 people, Goo wrote.
A woman from war-torn Cambodia arrived at the temple in a wheelchair, having lost her leg in a landmine explosion, Goo wrote. The woman, as well as the workers, shed many tears during their tender experience together in the temple, he wrote.
In 2009, a woman from Thailand came with three children. She had previously been sealed to her husband, but they didn't have enough money to bring the entire family. Her husband died before they could return. A district president at the temple acted as proxy for her husband so the family could be sealed together. The woman had a very spiritual experience and there was not a dry eye in the room, Goo wrote.
One of the most treasured memories, Goo wrote, came on Christmas Day in 2008. The temple, which is usually closed that day, was opened so 10 Filipino sisters who worked in Hong Kong as maids and rarely had days off could receive their temple ordinances. A Mongolian couple was also sealed before the temple closed that afternoon. Looking around at all the volunteers who had come to assist with the ordinances, someone commented that the experience gave a whole new meaning to the concept of “White Christmas,” Goo wrote.
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