Posted by: 1of10boyz | December 5, 2011

Divide and Multiply

One thing that I have learned through experience in my life is that when you divide an LDS congregation and make two units, where there had been one, you end up with a greater number of people attending church than you had before the division. I have seen it happen many times in my life and have marveled at how; by making something smaller you actually end up making it bigger. It is something that is marvelous and wonderful when you consider that it represents the blessings of the gospel being in more peoples’ lives.

This Sunday we were part of a unique opportunity here in China. Our unit is the called the China International District Branch (English). It basically covers the entirety of the nation of China for English speakers that are not covered by a specific unit area similar to other more conventional Church units. We know that there are specific units in some of the larger cities in China such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin. We know because there have been members of the branch when District Leadership positions have been sustained from these units in our meetings. We have, on a typical Sunday, about 160-180 people attending our Sunday meetings via teleconference. The attendees are in about 25-30 locations with the average location having about10-20 people, with some as small locations with just 1 person. We also have some locations where there are 30 or more people attending routinely.

This week one of those larger groups that was officially organized as its own unit, the Chengdu and Surrounding Area (English) unit. It is now known as the Chengdu Second Branch.

Yup, the Chengdu Second Branch. You might remember from some of my earlier thoughts that as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here in China, we are not allowed to interact from a religious standpoint with Chinese Nationals. We are not allowed to actively or passively proselyte with Chinese Nationals; this means that we are not allowed to have doctrinal discussions with anyone that is a Chinese National unless they are married to a person that holds a foreign passport. We know that there are members of the Church here in China, but we don’t know where they meet for meetings or what activities they are having. We are strictly segregated, for lack of a better word, from our Brothers and Sisters in the Gospel that are natives to this country. We are not even aware of where they exist in this vast country. Well, I now know where at least one Chinese speaking unit of the Church is, Chengdu. The LDS Church is very organized and thorough if it is anything; it is quite obvious that if the English speaking unit that was created today from members of our CIDB group is officially known as the Chengdu 2nd Branch that there is already a Chengdu 1st Branch functioning in Chengdu.

I caught this as it was announced by the District President and whispered it to those in attendance with us today in Haiyang. It was also confirmed by the discussion that occurred just following the Closing Prayer, when the CIDB Branch President asked for clarification on the name and area assigned to the new unit. While no official mention of the other unit was made, there was sufficient innuendo and logical application for the new unit’s name and number to confirm the existence of the expected and required Chengdu 1st Branch. It does, however, raise another question in my mind, which would appear to be obvious; since the non-native Chinese are not allowed to interact with Chinese Nationals, the District Presidency is probably also not aware of these other units. Thus, logically, the entirety of China is covered by two district Presidencies, the one responsible for the unit that I and all the other non-native Chinese are a part of and the other which is responsible for the Chinese Nationals. Probably the ONLY location in the world that has two district Presidencies that are responsible for the same geographical area. No wonder the Chinese Government asked the Church to include their country into one of the areas covered by the Area Presidency. It is hard to imagine how to make something as simple as the LDS Church’s approach to managing their congregations so complicated. Leave it to my new Chinese friends to find a way to make something that seems so easy, difficult.

Today is a momentous occasion. My faith in Jesus Christ and his restored gospel has been increased. I certainly feel privileged to be in China at this time, I know that the Lord’s Kingdom will continue to grow and flourish. I don’t know if I will be given an opportunity to be a part of that kingdom’s growth here in this country as I have been able to in the other locations that I have lived. I know that having the experiences of living here and working here have been growing experiences for me and my family. I know that being here is not just about the work that I am doing, it is much more than that. I could have worked in many locations in the United States yet I am here and I know that I am supposed to be here. So I am certain that there is more to why I am here than just the construction and startup of nuclear power plants.

I wonder how the change will occur here in this country that will allow for the Gospel to be preached, as it must, in order for the inhabitants of the Middle Kingdom to have the opportunity to accept it. I have discussed with LDS friends here this topic and we logically don’t see this being a short-term thing. But each time I say it is a long-term project; I know that it, more than likely, is a short-term thing. I don’t know how I know that it will be soon, but I know that it will be soon. The only thing that reaffirms this belief is the experiences that I observed in my life compared with the former Soviet Union.

It is still hard to imagine and understand the events that allowed for the gospel to be preached in the Soviet Union. I wouldn’t have believed that they would occur as they did. I joined the US Navy in the summer of 1986 on the delayed entry program to be a Nuclear Operator. My goal was to get an education, but a military is designed to combat its enemies. The military that I joined was designed and trained to combat an enemy that I called the Soviet Union but was really bigger and more complicated than that. The Soviet Union and the Communist Chinese were nearly one and the same in my mind. They were the enemy satirized by many authors and cartoonists at the close of the Vietnam conflict and during the height of the Cold War; they were the “Red Army”.

My youthful understanding was that all communists were bad and they would destroy the America that I loved so much. These communists were all evil and lumped into one scary enemy. These very different peoples were both interchangeable in my mind as enemies because both had sided against my nation in our conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. This enemy and their philosophies were a threat to my personal freedom and to my family. I knew that they wanted to take away my ability to choose and to decide. This enemy was a key reason that small, insignificant locations in Southeast Asia were provided with the most significant and meaningful investments that America could provide; the loss of American lives. The United States support for the peoples of the countries in this region was not about territory or sea ports, or resources. It was about the ability to self-determine, to retain their ability to make decisions, to choose for themselves. Yet during the 6 years of my service that enemy had transformed. Before I got out of the US Navy, my enemy, the enemy of my childhood, was, if not a hesitant ally, at least a willing partner in making the world a safer place. More importantly, for me, it was willing to allow its people the ability to accept or reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But I realized as my understanding matured that my overly simplified world and its combination of communist enemies were not correct. It is more complex than ideology and location. It is vastly more complicated that a left-wing ideology that I had previously held for communism. There are cultural differences that create a chasm of difference such that the Communists of China cannot be logically grouped with the Communists of the former Soviet Union.

Is it too much to hope for, when I desire that the Middle Kingdom allow religion to be spread, or more appropriately not care that religion is spread, among its people? Is it possible for an opportunity similar to what occurred in the USSR to happen in this country, the Middle Kingdom? I cannot believe that it won’t happen, yet does it seem logical to me? Most definitely not! I look at this government and its approach to people and religion and I don’t see the government leaning towards opening the country to allowing those of us here in the country for legitimate reasons to meet with like-minded individuals, let alone, opening the country to proselytizing among the populace. The discussion here, among ourselves the LDS expat, always ends up back at the logical answer that this change will never occur while we are here, maybe not even in our lifetimes. However, when it happens, I will not be surprised in the least that it happened. I believe that when it does happen that I will be more surprised that I didn’t see it coming.

I know that we have again been asked to petition the Lord in our Prayers to soften the hearts of the Leaders of Nations where we have not had the opportunity to preach the Gospel. I remember that as a youth I prayed and heard others pray specifically for the opportunity to preach the gospel behind the “Iron Curtain” and I have lived to see the fulfillment of those requests and prayful petitions. I am now in a situation to wish and hope for similar blessings behind the “Bamboo Curtain”. I feel that I have done more than just wish for those blessings, I am here behind the “Bamboo Curtain”, and I have placed my family in a situation to be part of that opportunity when the government will allow it to happen. I can feel that the momentous occasion for the gospel to fully come here with a missionary is near. Or is it nigh?

I have often wondered about near and nigh. We read in the scriptures about the things that are near and/or nigh; the Lord is nigh, great day of the Lord is nigh, time of Christ’s coming is nigh at hand, or draw near unto the Lord and he will draw near unto you. Unfortunately I think that near and nigh are apparently quite relative, what is near or nigh is not something finite like our human minds would like it to be. We really haven’t gotten a good measure or gauge to compare near or nigh with. From a Christianity standpoint, near and nigh have always been the kind of words that have kept us guessing; we know that they are close but we aren’t able to measure or define them in either time or space. Is the time for the Gospel to be preached freely in the Middle Kingdom near or nigh? The answer is a most resounding, Yes. Is that time to be within my stay here in China or even in my lifetime? I believe it is; I won’t doubt that it isn’t; I have faith that I will be part of that great opportunity.

I will say that I am more aware than ever that the gospel is a blessing in my life. I so appreciate the understanding of the Plan of Salvation. I know the purpose of life and know that my time on this earth is a test and an opportunity to prove that I can do what is required and expected of me. That knowledge makes a difference in how I act each and every day, while I readily admit I fall short of the standard. I know that each day I get a chance to try again, hopefully, coming closer to that standard than I have in the past. I know that those opportunities are because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. He suffered that I might continue to try. My efforts to be like him, as He admonished, make me a better person. As a better person I am a better son, husband, father, and grandfather. I am a better worker. I am a better employee. I am a better resident of this nation that I live in and I am a better citizen of the nation that I call home, the United States of America.

The ability to improve myself with a purpose is based on my understanding of the Gospel and our Heavenly Father’s plan for us here. I know that when the citizens of the Middle Kingdom have the opportunity to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to decide for themselves whether the Gospel has been restored on the earth or not, that we are very nigh to His return. I know that the Middle Kingdom will become a better place for its residents and its citizens. The gospel helps men and women become better versions of themselves because of the understanding that it gives of who they are, children of a Heavenly Father. I hope to be here in the Middle Kingdom when that happens, but I hope I don’t have to wait for the rest of my life.


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