Missionary Work 2
A Pearl in the Orient — Penang, Malaysia
Matthew 13 includes a one-sentence parable ─
- “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (v. 45–46).
Penang, Malaysia is typified in this scriptural vignette. This island paradise is known as “The Pearl of the Orient.” Back in the 1700’s its strategic location at the top of the Straits of Malacca made it the perfect trading post for the British East India Company. Merchants have stopped here for hundreds of years. Georgetown, Penang’s World Heritage neighborhood on Penang Island, became a bustling port city of the international spice trade. The population burgeoned. Malay fishermen were joined by indigenous settlers from the mainland. Over time, Chinese and Indian laborers, Siamese, Burmese, Arabs, Armenians, Acehnese, and even Scots, Germans, and other Europeans migrated to Penang.
The spice trade collapsed as Napoleon launched his wars, but Penang re-emerged as Malaya’s financial capital. Today, Penang is still a melting pot of Asian cultures, famous for its eclectic cuisine and emerging as the “Silicon Valley” of the East. It is the rare Islamic state that accommodates different religions and cultures ─ mosques, churches, and Chinese and Indian temples coexist as well as do the friendly people of a myriad of faiths. Each faith has its own festivals, and Penang celebrates them all. With five New Year’s celebrations a year, any time can be a time of renewal.
The Singapore Mission opened in 1974, with Malaysia as a part of the mission. In those days, missionaries spent just one month at a time in Malaysia in order to conform to government policies. The government officially recognized the Church in 1977, and the Church procured its first property on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital. There were few members of the Church in the country, and most were American or Australian “expats.” The first district was organized in 1981. The country was dedicated for the preaching of the gospel in 1995 by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin.
Malaysia is still part of the Singapore Mission. Missionaries do not teach the Moslem Malays, but do teach expatriates and Malaysians of faiths other than Islam. There are over six thousand members of the Church in Malaysia in twenty-three congregations.
On Penang Island there is a small jewel ─ the Penang Branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ─ part of Ipoh District, along with the branches of Butterworth, Ipoh, and Sitiwan, all on the mainland. On conference Sunday, the first weekend of October, 2010, the branch held a fast and testimony meeting. The branch planned to watch general conference according to the traditional conference schedule, but one week late, on DVD. Penang Branch conducts its meetings in English, one of the three official languages of Malaysia (the others being Malay and Mandarin Chinese). Two expatriate families from the U.S. were in the branch, both working with Intel. The other members were mostly Asian, but with a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities.
Sacrament meeting began on a spiritual high, with three confirmations. Two young men from Mongolia were confirmed, along with a sister of Chinese descent, formerly a Buddhist. Elders Robison and Vance had taught her the gospel in fluent Mandarin. Hers had been a journey of over ten years of studying religious and philosophical texts. When she read the Book of Mormon, though her mind couldn’t comprehend all the words, she felt a wonderful spirit of truth, a spiritual power she had never felt. When she prayed to know if the Book is true, she felt not only comfort and peace, but the healing of skin problems that had plagued her. Her doubt had to do with giving up coffee, which she dearly loved. However, after a week of living according to the Word of Wisdom, coffee was no temptation.
She is not the only member of the branch whose journey has been long. A brother also bore his testimony. A traveler through books and various philosophies, he had delved deeply into the realms of eastern religious thought, reading hundreds of books through the years. Though comforted by hatha yoga, the mantras of Hinduism seemed to unleash a streak of bad fortune in his life with attacks on his health and well-being. When he finally opened himself to Christ and closed other doors, he discovered that the truth sets one free.
Mormons in Africa
Recently, there was an interview online with the authors of a new Broadway musical (Winter 2011) about Mormons. The authors cited as their premise the hopes and dreams of two eager young Mormon missionaries sent to Africa where they find they are not equipped to solve any serious problem — AIDS, poverty, etc. These men have obviously not done their homework. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the best, and perhaps, the only solution to these problems. With the growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Africa, health, wealth, and educational opportunity have followed. Here are some 2011 statistics:
Total Church Membership 318,947
- Converts (1/1/10 - 9/30/10) 16,198
- Stakes and Districts 104
- Wards and Branches 961
- Missions 18
- Temples 3
Number of Beneficiaries of Humanitarian Aid (2003 - 2010)
- Immunizations (with other organizations) 42,465,500
- Clean Water 3,953,601
- Vision Care 133,709
- Neonatal Resuscitation Training 53,130
- Wheelchairs 37,853
- Food Production/Nutrition 1,000
- Other health initiatives total 100
- Total beneficiaries 46,644,893
The Church has published a series of news articles about Latter-day Saints in Africa. Links follow:
- A Bright Land of Hope
- Ugandan Latter-day Saints Moving the Church Forward
- Church Humanitarian Initiatives Give Life
- The Perpetual Education Fund
- Church Helps Preserve Family Histories
- Stories of Hope and Faith
- A Kenyan Journalist is a Latter-day Saint
- Race Relations
- Additional Resources on the Church in Africa
The Church in Russia
The opening of the Kiev Ukraine Temple in 2010 was an indication to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints living in Russia that the Church is growing in the former Soviet Union. On June 5, 2011, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles organized the Moscow Russia Stake, the first stake in Russia. More than 1,000 people were in attendance.
- "The Saints in Russia, but most particularly those in Moscow, stepped into a new Russia with the formation of this stake," he noted in an e-mail to the Church News. "Until the [organization of the stake], the directing keys of the priesthood had resided exclusively with the mission presidents, almost all of whom were foreigners. If, for some reason, the mission presidents would have left Russia, the priesthood keys would have gone with them" (Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander). The new president of the Moscow stake is a Russian, Yakov Mikhaylovich Boyko. 
Mormon Missionaries Sing National Anthem in San Antonio
Eighteen LDS missionaries from the San Antonio Texas Mission sing the National Anthem before the Spurs/Jazz game on April 9th, 2011.
Elder Holland Visits Eight Nations in Middle East
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles visited eight Middle Eastern Nations in April, 2011. During the trip, Elder Holland addressed several thousand members of the Church. Growth in the area prompted the division of the former Manama Bahrain Stake into the Manama Bahrain District and the newly named Abu Dhabi Stake. The Manama Bahrain Stake was organized 28 years ago by then Elder Boyd K. Packer, now president of the Quorum of the Twelve.
Honoring the traditions and laws of the countries in the Middle East, the Mormon Church does not proselyte Muslim citizens. However, people who were already members of the Church have entered Middle Eastern countries for work, and Christians in the countries have converted to Mormonism, growing church membership in the area. In fact, membership has tripled. "Elder Holland noted that although this has been a time of very serious political unrest in the region, the members of the Church are doing 'wonderfully well and feel very safe.'" 
Elder Holland concluded his trip in Israel, where he visited and dedicated the new meetinghouse for the Tel Aviv Branch. Other nations included in this trip were Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Jordan.
A Band of Brothers
First Stake Organized in Russia
Russia's first stake was organized on June 5, 2011. Elder Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Quorum of the Twelve Apostles organized the Moscow Russia Stake in a meeting attended by more than 1,100 in the Moscow's Amber Plaza auditorium.
A stake is a collection of wards, or congregations of about 1,000 people, and "branches," congregations too small to be wards. In the United States a stake might consist of 10 wards, but internationally, there might be several branches included in a stake. A stake is run by a stake president and two counselors, and a "high council" of 12 priesthood holders. Other members are called into other positions in a stake to assist the wards. The LDS Church has 2,926 stakes worldwide. The LDS Church counts more than 21,000 members in Russia spread throughout 116 congregations in the country.
The Moscow Russia Stake contains six wards and three branches. The new stake presidency includes Yakov Mikhaylovich Boyko as president, Vladimir Nikolaivich Astashov as first counselor and Viktor Mikhaylovich Kremenchuk as second counselor, with Vyacheslav Viktorovich Protopopov as stake patriarch.
The Mormon Church was afforded initial recognition in 1991. In May 1998, the LDS Church was formally recognized by the Russian Federation's Ministry of Justice as a centralized religious organization.