Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Being Mormon in China

There were many things we had heard about practicing religion in the People's Republic of China. 
Some of them were truth and some of them were myths. 
Nevertheless, being a faithful Saint here has provided spiritual growth for us as a family so far!

Regulations~  Before we arrived we were sent a well-worded PDF file from the clerk of our new district. It gave specific guidelines about what we can and cannot do here in China. Printed in each bulletin, and read at the beginning of every sacrament meeting, is the following statement:
It is important for foreign members of the Church of Jesus 
Christ of Latter-day Saints living in or visiting China to be 
aware of the unique restrictions on religious activities here. 
While China permits freedom of religious belief, it requires all 
religious activities in China comply with relevant laws and 
We would like to remind you of the following: 
a) no active or passive proselyting is permitted among local 
nationals in China, 
b) only individuals who hold foreign passports, and their 
spouses, may attend meetings or other activities of this 
c) no foreign nationals are permitted to participate in 
activities of any kind with Chinese nationals who are 
members of our church, and 
d) religious materials may not be disseminated to Chinese 
nationals in China. 
Your strict observance of these rules enables us to build a 
foundation of trust with government authorities and enables us to 
continue to meet together as the government permits us to do so.
What does this mean? It means that we cannot speak, answer questions, or share anything about Jesus Christ, our church, His gospel, or God with anyone who does not hold a foreign passport. I do not come in contact with many  Chinese Nationals yet, just taxi drivers and those that work at our apartment complex.  Others have friends, ayis, drivers, business associates, etc. that they cannot talk to about our beliefs or where they go on Sundays. What this also means is that we can talk about it with anyone holding a foreign passport...that means possible neighbors, teachers and employees at the kids' school, classmates (since the International School only accepts foreign passport holders), etc. So far, this is not a problem for me since I do not talk to anyone:)

We were told not to bring anything religious with us, except for our scriptures. This was told to me by our shipping company. I think they were worried that other items would hold up customs.(Myth) I did not ship any religious books or artwork, which I regret. As long as it is only used for our own purposes we could have brought them. I will miss having a painting of the Savior on our wall, especially knowing that we could. I am grateful that I did send our painting of the Oakland Temple and I look forward to seeing it when our shipment arrives.

Organizations~ You always hear stories of churches and members being in remote areas of the world, meeting in homes or basements. I have to admit in my ignorance I thought we would be in a similar situation. Duh! Beijing has 18 million people, with thousands of foreign visitors weekly. Needless to say, we do not meet in a home. As a matter of fact we have heard that acquiring the office space, on the entire fourth floor of a building, was miraculous and inspiring. We have heard that in earlier days government officials would stand at the entrance of the meeting space and tell the handful of Saints that they could not meet. Sometimes these valiant Saints would go to two or three places before sacrament meeting could start. 

The church is established for foreigners very well here! We are members of the Beijing China International District. Our district spans the entire face of China, all the way to Shanghai. Shanghai has a much smaller district. Our district has five branches, many of them do meet in less modern facilities such as homes or one room establishments. One of our branches is a "virtual" branch. This past weekend was our district conference. The Beijing first branch and third branch met together, while the other branches dialed in from teleconference devises. They listened to us and we listened to them (their talks and prayers) over speakers. It was said that over 770 people, most via teleconference, were able to participate in our district conference. What a testimony that the Lord knows us here in China and makes it possible for us to grow!

We have over 300 active members in our branch, much bigger than most of the wards we have been in. Our branch is English speaking, but encompasses foreign Saints from all over the world. That is because we live in downtown Beijing, so any LDS person in the city or visiting the city comes to our branch meetings. It makes for wonderful diversity and visitors each and every week. Some foreigners stay for three months, while studying a semester at the University, others stay for two years or longer. There is great pride (the good pride) in this branch. Many of the past branch presidents are now general authorities. Elder Anthony D. Perkins, of the first quorum of the seventy, is our Asia Area Authority and just came to our district conference. Hubby was able to spend lots of quality time with him and we all felt greatly of his love and Spirit. He was one of the past Branch Presidents.

The other auxiliaries are flourishing, as well. I am a primary teacher for twelve 4-7 year olds. Each primary class has two teachers, although classes cannot be split due to there not being enough rooms. E was just called as the class president for her girls youth group (Beehives). She currently has ten active girls in her class. Seminary is done via teleconference because the youth go to so many different international schools.

In Beijing there are two other branches. The other foreign branch is the Beijing third branch that encompasses the people that live on the outskirts of the city, Shunyi. This is where my kids school is and where there are housing compounds much like America. Our two branches meet overlapping on Sunday mornings. This is due to the fact that there is a Bejing second branch that has Chinese Nationals in it. We are not able to associate with these Saints at all. Hubby was actually in a meeting that had to end early because all foreigners have to be out of the facility before their church starts. You may ask how there are Chinese National Saints under the strict regulations of the government? These are Chinese people who have converted in other countries and have returned to China. Honestly, we do not know much about them at all and when a question was asked to Elder Perkins about these Saints he politely declined. Nevertheless, it strengthens my testimony that ALL people are Heavenly Father's children and He loves us all.

Opportunities~ Before moving to China we dwelt on the things that we were not going to be able to do as Latter-Day Saints. Now that we are here it is confirmed that there is plenty for us to do. Although we cannot speak about it as freely as we would like (come on, how many of you are afraid of sharing the gospel?) we still have much opportunity to spread the gospel in this land. At our recent conference a story was told about an LDS family taking a boat ride down the Yangtze River. The young woman working on the boat noticed something different about this family (besides them being non-Asian). She asked the man what was the secret behind their happiness. He knew he could not tell her. He gave her his business card and told her that if she is ever out of China to email him. She did. She immediately sought out the missionaries and joined the church in a different country.

When the question was asked to our district president, "How do we share the gospel to the wonderful people of China?" He responded, "Just live the gospel". That is what we plan on doing. We know that hubby's work was only part of the reason we were brought to China. Since we have been here we have heard time and time again, "Everyone who comes to live in Beijing, comes for a reason. Heavenly Father has a plan here for each of us." We are so grateful that the government allows us to worship and we look forward to finding out what the Lord's plan for us is here!


Anonymous said...

Wow! Thanks so much for sharing this Jen. I've been wondering about religion there and you've made it so clear. You guys are an incredible family and I wish you the best on your adventure in China.

Leslie said...

Great post!

tammy said...

My visiting teacher stopped by this month and brought me the pamphlet of a talk by Sister Hickley called "is this what I was born to do?" I admit I was getting frustrated about working full time and trying to make sur the kids were taken care of and the lack of sleep kills me every time. Once I read it thigns began to make sense to me. Though I am not as fond of San Antonio's heat and humidity I am trying to make the best of things because Heavenly Father sent me here because this is where I was supposed to be at this particular time. Perhaps it is the same for you as well.

Julie C. said...

Hi Jen - love reading your blogs:) Dave probably told you he went to your branch several times when he was in Beijing. He remembers the guards being there, watching everything that went on.

What a wonderful opportunity for your family! Look forward to hearing more of your adventures.

Unknown said...

Wow, this is so interesting! Great explanation of all of the nuances of living the gospel in China. I cannot even begin to imagine how your kids are incorporating all of this into their testimonies. They are going to be super-kids when they come back to America!!!!

Heather said...

Is not being able to meet with Mormons who are Chinese citizens a strictly LDS thing? Because my American Catholic friend attends mass every week right beside the local Chinese Catholics. Just curious.

Heather said...

And here's her blog in case you're interested in how other expats find ways to practice their faith while in China. http://www.jenambrose.com/ I'm not Catholic but find her stories and photos very interesting!

Corrine said...

It sounds similar to the saints that were behind the iron curtain. It took many years for a trust to build and they followed the law and were great examples of living the gospel.

Anonymous said...

Hi! Nice to meet you, I am an international student in Nottingham and I was taught the book of mormon by two American missionaries, I am quite interesting in joining the LDS and I am asking you is there any possible that I can be a missionary afterward as soon as I finish my study and come back to Beijing? Please contact me if you have my answer, thanks a lot! Oh...and one more thing, here is my E-mail address: zilongx@hotmail.com So it will be great if you contact me by sending me an E-mail! Thanks again

Your sincerely

Rafael said...

Hi Jen!

Your post was of great relief for me. Me and my wife are mexicans and I was granted with a 2 year scolarship in Beijing, so we will probably be meeting soon, or at least we hope to. I served a mission in Mexico and we have two years since we were married in the Mexico´s Temple. Although the scolarship covers all my expenses, my wife´s lodging is still uncertain. Since my lodging will be in campus, I wanted to pay the difference so that my wife could be with me also, but I´ve had huge problems when trying to contact the University, because when they hear english they just hang the phone!! We should be arriving 20 days from now, but obviously I need to arrange my wife´s lodging first. I was wondering if you or someone you know could help us talking with the University so that we can pay the difference for my wife lodging in campus.

My email is rsaavh87@gmail.com and it would be of much help if you could help us with this.!!