"For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light..."

LDS Church in Asia

by R. Lanier Britsch

East Asia

EARLY LDS MISSIONARY ATTEMPTS IN CHINA AND JAPAN. President Brigham Young sent Hosea Stout, James Lewis, and Chapman Duncan to China in August 1852. They reached Hong Kong on April 28, 1853. Although they preached the gospel to the people, they could not gain a foothold and sailed home after fifty-six days. On January 9, 1921, David O. McKay, an apostle, visited Beijing and dedicated the Chinese realm to missionary work, but the Church did not attempt to go to China until 1949.

Latter-day Saints in Osaka, Japan, in 1917, where missionaries taught an English Bible class every Tuesday evening. Photographer: Joseph H. Stimpson.

Efforts to establish the Church in Japan came almost fifty years after the unsuccessful first Chinese attempt. In February 1901, President Lorenzo Snow announced plans to open a mission in Japan, with Heber J. Grant, an apostle, as president and Louis A. Kelsch, Horace S. Ensign, and eighteen-year-old Alma O. Taylor also to serve. Elder Grant dedicated Japan to the preaching of the gospel on September 1, 1901, at Yokohama. Learning the language, customs, and traditions was so difficult, however, that the new missionaries spent eighteen months studying before they ventured out among the Japanese people. The slow start was symptomatic of the entire mission until its closure in August 1924. Although they had baptized only 166 people in 23 years, they did publish a Japanese translation of the Book of Mormon (1909), several tracts, and a hymnal.

THE CHURCH IN JAPAN SINCE WORLD WAR II. In the spring of 1947, the First Presidency assigned Edward L. Clissold to reopen the Japanese mission, and missionary work was resumed in Japan in 1948. President Clissold had served in the U.S. occupation forces in Japan and was acquainted with government offices and procedures. The first group of missionaries arrived on June 26, 1948. They were helped by LDS service personnel, who contributed much to the success of the postwar mission. For example, Sato Tatsuo, the first Japanese to join the Church after World War II, was taught the gospel by Boyd K. Packer, later an apostle, and three of his fellow servicemen. Sato organized the first Sunday School in Nagoya in 1946. He later translated the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price, and retranslated the Book of Mormon into contemporary Japanese. By August 1949, missionaries were proselytizing in at least ten major cities and Japanese members numbered 211.

The Church has grown steadily in Japan, and native Japanese serve in all levels of leadership in the Church. When the Tokyo stake was organized on March 15, 1970, the president was Tanaka Kenji, and all the stake officers were Japanese. Most of the mission presidents have been either native Japanese or Americans of Japanese ancestry, and by 1990 almost one-third of the more than two thousand LDS missionaries in Japan were local Japanese. In 1977, Yoshihiko Kikuchi became the first Japanese and Asian called as a general authority of the Church.

Members of the Church in Japan have access to the full program of the Church: for example, seminaries and institutes (started in 1972); a translation services department to provide Church written materials in the Japanese language; and genealogy services through the microfilming of registers at civic and Buddhist repositories. At an area conference held in Tokyo in August 1975, President Spencer W. Kimball announced to the 12,300 participants plans to build a temple in Tokyo. He returned to dedicate the completed structure on October 27-29, 1980.

By 1955, the Japanese mission included South Korea and Okinawa, and the name of the mission was changed to the Northern Far East Mission. At the same time, the Church organized the Southern Far East Mission with H. Grant Heaton as its first president. That mission included Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Guam. For several years during the Korean conflict, the successive Japan mission presidents, Vinal G. Mauss and Hilton A. Robertson, supervised proselytizing as well as Church organizations for military people throughout East Asia, Guam, and the Philippines. With the truce in Korea, it became possible to establish missionary work there.

CHURCH GROWTH IN SOUTH KOREA. Although the Church did not officially move into Korea until 1955, LDS military personnel had taught and baptized some twenty Koreans by May 1953. Kim Ho Jik, a Korean who had studied for a doctorate at Cornell University, joined the Church in New York in 1951. On returning home he became an influential member of the Church and of the Korean government. Until his death in 1959, Kim facilitated the founding of the Church in South Korea. As in Japan, the Church in Korea is in the hands of local leaders.

The newly appointed mission president, Paul Andrus, sent the first two elders from Japan to Seoul in April 1956. By the summer of 1962, when Korea became a separate mission with Gail E. Carr as president, there were over 1,600 members. In 1968, the Church was established in every major city and all provincial capitals. Unlike most other areas of the world, the majority of Koreans baptized were men, and even in the late 1970s, 55 percent of converts were male. Korea has remained the most fruitful Asian mission other than the Christian Philippines.

The second and third mission presidents, Spencer J. Palmer and Robert H. Slover, did much to enlarge the Church in Korea. Both men emphasized public relations, translation work (the Book of Mormon was published in Korean in 1967 and the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price in 1968), leadership training, the purchase of property for chapels and other uses, and preparation for stakes. President Edward Brown later supervised the beginning of the seminary and institute program. In March 1973, Rhee Ho Nam was sustained as president of the first Korean stake. Two years later, in 1975, the Korea Seoul Mission was divided and a new mission was organized in Pusan with Han In Sang as president. On December 14-15, 1985, President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the Seoul Korea Temple.

CHURCH DEVELOPMENT IN THE CHINESE REALM. The Chinese-speaking area of Asia has over a billion inhabitants, but the Church has had access only to Taiwan (twenty million), Hong Kong (five million), and Macao. Political conditions in the People's Republic of China have not allowed proselytizing. Church growth in Hong Kong and Taiwan has, however, been significant.

In 1949, the Church briefly opened missionary work in Hong Kong, but because of the Chinese civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists (which ended in October 1949) and the Korean conflict, the Hong Kong colony had many problems. Although nine missionaries served and fourteen Chinese joined the Church, the Hong Kong Mission was closed on February 6, 1951. After the end of the Korean conflict, when missionary numbers had increased, Church leaders reopened the Chinese area mission in August 1955. It was comprised of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia, and the People's Republic of China, even though the latter was still closed to missionary work. By June 1956, there were forty missionaries in Hong Kong and three hundred Chinese had been baptized.

On June 4, 1956, four elders flew from Hong Kong to Taipei, Taiwan, to commence missionary work in the Mandarin Chinese language. LDS military people gave considerable support during the founding stages in Taiwan. By mid-1958 there were 286 Chinese members there. On June 1, 1959, Mark E. Petersen, an apostle, dedicated Taiwan to the preaching of the gospel, reinvoking Elder McKay's 1921 dedication of the entire Chinese realm.

The founding of LDS missionary work in the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia was directed by the presidents of the Southern Far East Mission during the 1960s. Because various countries were broken off to form new missions, the name and scope of the Southern Far East Mission were changed to the Hong Kong-Taiwan Mission on November 1, 1969. Fourteen months later, on January 11, 1971, a separate mission was established in Taiwan.

Since then, development has been separate but quite parallel. On April 22, 1976, Chang I-Ch'ing was sustained as president of the Taiwan Taipei Stake. Three days later, Poon Shiu-Tat (Sheldon) was sustained as Hong Kong's first stake president. The founding of seminaries and institutes in 1975 and the development of translation work were also parallel. In 1990 each region had multiple missions and stakes. The Taipei Taiwan Temple was dedicated November 17-18, 1984, by Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency.

MAINLAND CHINA. Formal missionary work has not been undertaken in the People's Republic of China. Three branches of the Church were organized on the Chinese mainland in 1990, but they were restricted to expatriates. Since 1979, a number of Brigham Young University performance groups have toured the People's Republic of China, garnering high praise and great popularity.

Asia, South And Southeast

EARLY HISTORY. The first two Latter-day Saints to reach India were George Barber and Benjamin Richey, British sailors who in 1849 visited Calcutta and made friends who asked for missionaries. In June 1851, Elder Joseph Richards arrived. He baptized eight people, ordained Maurice White an elder, and appointed him branch president of the "Wanderer's Branch," the first unit of the Church in Asia. That December, William Willes, a second missionary, arrived in Calcutta. By mid-May, when he counted 19 Europeans and 170 Indian farmers as Church members, he wrote to Utah for more missionaries. However, his branch withered quickly when the Indian farmers learned that there would be no immediate, direct material gain from joining the Church. Meanwhile, President Brigham Young dispatched nine additional missionaries from Utah to India and four to Siam (Thailand) in August 1852. After a difficult trip, they arrived in Calcutta on April 23, 1853.

Although they and some of their converts traversed thousands of miles of dusty or muddy Indian and Burmese roads, preached in notable and humble surroundings, published tracts in five languages (and had the Book of Mormon translated into Urdu), and bore a witness to the peoples of India, Burma, and Siam that the gospel had been restored, they had little success, and the Church was not established in India or Southeast Asia until after World War II.

THE CHURCH IN THE PHILIPPINES. Joseph Fielding Smith, an apostle, dedicated the Philippines for the preaching of the gospel on August 21, 1955, and the first four missionaries arrived from Hong Kong in June 1961. Establishing the Church in the Philippines progressed more smoothly than in any other part of Asia because over 90 percent of the population were Christian, almost 50 percent used English to some degree, and Americans who were teaching a religion with American origins were generally popular. By 1967, the Philippines was made a separate mission with Paul Rose as president, and by 1973, over 13,000 Filipinos had been baptized. On May 20, 1973, Ezra Taft Benson, an apostle, organized the Manila Philippines Stake with Agusto A. Lim as president. Four years later the Manila stake was divided into three stakes. The developing of experienced leadership and building of adequate meetinghouses have been a challenge, but members have had the full program of the Church, including seminaries and institutes since 1972. Selections from the Book of Mormon were published in Tagalog (1987); a missionary training center was established in Manila (1986); and on September 25-27, 1984, President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the Manila Philippines Temple. In 1988 the First Presidency made Manila the headquarters for the Philippines/Micronesia area of the Church and assigned an area president to live there. Church growth in the Philippines has been the most rapid of all Asian countries, and over 80 percent of the missionaries in 1990 were local Filipinos.

THE CHURCH IN THAILAND. Church growth in Thailand has progressed slowly because the Thais' devotion to king, country, the Buddhist religion (94 percent), and tradition appears to form a seamless whole. The Church entered Thailand when Latter-day Saints were part of the U.S. military personnel sent there in 1961. In July 1966, an LDS servicemen's branch was organized with two hundred members. On November 2, 1966, Gordon B. Hinckley, then an apostle, dedicated Thailand for the preaching of the gospel. By late 1967, the first six elders were sent to Bangkok from Hong Kong. In July 1973, the Thailand Bangkok Mission was organized, and the Book of Mormon was published in Thai in 1976.

THE SINGAPORE MISSION AREA. Missionary activity began in Singapore in 1968, the first branch of the Church being organized on October 13. Earlier that year, on March 19, two missionaries had been assigned there from Hong Kong. Elder Ezra Taft Benson dedicated Singapore for the preaching of the gospel on April 14, 1969, and on November 1, it became the headquarters for the Southeast Asia Mission with G. Carlos Smith, Jr., as president. He was responsible for missionary work in all the nations of South and Southeast Asia except the Philippines.

LDS expansion in Singapore has not been easy because the government banned all foreign missionaries from Singapore and prohibited open proselytizing in 1970. The Church is allowed only a limited number of visas, including those of the mission president and his wife, at any one time, but through the efforts of young local missionaries the growth of the Church has been steady.

INDONESIAN CHURCH GROWTH. Since 1980, virtually all LDS missionary work in Indonesia has been performed by local members. Indonesia is the only Muslim country where Church proselytizing has succeeded. The Church officially entered Indonesia when Elder Ezra Taft Benson dedicated that country for the teaching of the gospel on October 26, 1969. G. Carlos Smith, Jr., the newly called president of the Southeast Asia Mission, sent six elders from Singapore on January 5, 1970. But on April 11, the Indonesian government halted door-to-door proselytizing and church meetings until the Church obtained official recognition. Although government recognition came nine days later, relations between the Church and various departments of the Indonesian government have not been smooth.

In April 1975, the First Presidency organized the Indonesia Jakarta Mission with Hendrik Gout as president. He had the Book of Mormon translated and published in Bahasa Indonesian (1977), fostered the work of Welfare Services missionaries, and facilitated the establishment of an elementary school in Jakarta in 1976. (It closed in 1988.)

In 1978, government regulations required that Indonesian nationals hold all missionary (and ministerial) positions, and by late 1980 all non-Indonesian LDS missionaries were removed from the country. It was necessary to recombine the Indonesia Jakarta Mission with the Singapore Mission until 1985, when Effian Kadarusman, an Indonesian, was appointed president over the reestablished mission. By 1988, close to one hundred Indonesians were serving full-time missions in their country. In 1989 the Indonesia Jakarta Mission was again made a part of the Singapore Mission.

THE CHURCH'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER WITH VIETNAM. The first Latter-day Saints in Vietnam were military advisers in the early 1960s, and by 1968 more than five thousand LDS servicemen were assigned there. The first servicemen's group was organized in Saigon on June 30, 1963. In December 1965, Vietnam became a district of the Southern Far East Mission with headquarters in Hong Kong. At the same time, six servicemen were called to serve as part-time missionaries. By February 1966, several U.S. servicemen and thirty Vietnamese had been baptized. On October 30, 1966, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated Vietnam for the preaching of the gospel.

On April 6, 1973, four full-time missionaries were transferred to Saigon from Hong Kong. The Vietnamese Book of Mormon was distributed to members in photocopy form in May 1974. By March 1975, the Church had fifteen missionaries and more than three thousand Vietnamese members. At that point the missionaries were withdrawn, and a month later, Saigon fell. Almost all of the LDS members eventually left Vietnam and migrated to the United States.

CHURCH GROWTH IN INDIA AND SRI LANKA. India and Sri Lanka have laws prohibiting proselytizing by foreigners, and the Church respects those laws. Most of the growth within India and Sri Lanka has been the result of efforts of local members who have conveyed the gospel message to their friends. For example, in 1965, S. Paul Thiruthuvadoss was baptized after an individual search for the gospel of Jesus Christ. He was briefly assisted by foreign missionaries, and his efforts resulted in the baptism of more than two hundred Tamil-speaking South Indians.

In December 1978, Edwin Dharmaraju and his wife, both of whom had been baptized in Western Samoa, served a short mission in their home city of Hyderabad, India. Before returning to Samoa, Dharmaraju baptized twenty-two family members, ordained four men to the Aaronic Priesthood, and organized a group of the Church. Also, Sister Dharmaraju's father, a Baptist minister, had found such interest in the Book of Mormon that he translated it into the Telugu language (48 million speakers). It was published in 1982, as was the complete Hindi (175 million speakers) version and selections in Tamil (42 million speakers). Bengali (48 million speakers) selections of the Book of Mormon were published in 1985.

Another important Indian missionary was Raj Kumar, who strengthened new members and branches as they were established. By 1986 local missionaries were serving full-time missions for the Church in India and Sri Lanka, assisted by North American friendship-missionary couples sent from the Singapore Mission to make friends for the Church in various cities. They and other expatriates, such as business and government personnel stationed in India, did not proselytize, but answered questions and taught the gospel to those who sought them out.


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day in Asia and the Far East, as of January 1, 1991.

LDS chapel in Taiwan. The first four LDS missionaries were transferred from Hong Kong to Taipei in 1956. Large meetinghouses were complete in Taipei and Kaohsiung in the 1960's.

CHURCH IN ASIA as of December 31, 1989

(For more recent figures see Appendix 13.)

Area Members--Missions--Stakes/Districts--Wards and Branches

China NA 0 0/0 3

Hong Kong 17,000 1 4/0 26

India 800 0 0/3 9

Indonesia 4,100 0 0/3 18

Japan 91,000 9 23/15 264

Korea, Republic 50,000 4 14/4 146

Macao 200 0 0/0 1

Malaysia 300 0 0/1 3

Pakistan NA 0 0/0 2

Papua New Guinea 2,100 0 0/1 13

Philippines 213,000 9 38/39 638

Singapore 1,400 1 0/1 5

Sri Lanka 100 0 0/0 1

Taiwan 17,000 2 3/2 47

Thailand 3,600 1 0/3 16

Asia Total: 400,600 27 82/72 1,192


Britsch, R. Lanier. "The Latter-day Saint Mission to India: 1851-1856." BYU Studies 12 (Spring 1972):262-78.

Britsch, R. Lanier. "The Closing of the Early Japan Mission." BYU Studies 15 (Winter 1975):171-90.

Britsch, R. Lanier. "From Bhutan to Wangts'ang: Taking the Gospel to Asia." Ensign 10 (June 1980):6-10.

Britsch, R. Lanier. "The Church's Years in Vietnam." Ensign 10 (Aug. 1980):25-30.

Moss, James R.; R. Lanier Britsch; James R. Christianson; and Richard O. Cowan. The International Church. Provo, Utah, 1982.

Palmer, Spencer J. The Church Encounters Asia. Salt Lake City, 1970.



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Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, The Church in Asia

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