Mark Albright is the president of the Washington DC South mission and shares these missionary stories with Meridian Magazine. This story is told by Vernon Poulter, who has now passed on, but was kept by Sandy Lee to be published to the world so the record would not be lost.
If you want to share a missionary story, send it to President Albright by clicking on the “email author button” by the title of the article. Please note the names of new converts and investigators may be changed to maintain privacy.
To Whom It May Concern *:
I am humbled that I played a minor role in the translation of the Book of Mormon into Chinese. Set forth below is the report which I submitted to the Church Historian’s office. Please accept my testimony that the Lord prepared the way for a translation that is pleasing before Him — that the Book of Mormon would maintain His Word as He intended, without the nuances that modern translators include to try to “make it clearer”. The Lord continues, even in our lifetime, to keep His word pure.
I was called on a mission to the Southern Far East when Chinese-speaking missions were three years, and we traveled to our assignment by boat and train. At that time, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Convenants and Pearl of Great Price had not been translated to Chinese. Missionaries were instructed to bring Talmage’s Jesus the Christ and “Articles of Faith”. While this is common among missionaries today, at the time this was a little unusual, since these books were only available in large-hard cover editions.
When my father and I went out to purchase these books, Dad decided to get a few extra books “just in case” and added Joseph F. Smith’s Gospel Doctrine, Joseph Fielding Smith’s Doctrines of Salvation, Joseph Smith’s Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith and LeGrand Richards’s A Marvelous Work and a Wonder. Later at home, he dug up an old pamphlet that he had kept from his mission, Talmage’s The Great Apostasy. I really didn’t think it was necessary, but since I was taking a steamer trunk and traveling by boat, there was plenty of space for the extra books. Besides my dad insisted, then he added, “If you need anything else, just ask.”
After a long trip to the mission headquarters in Hong Kong, and another short boat trip to Taiwan (I traveled alone with 11 Jesuit Missionaries going to Taiwan to study Chinese for the next five years), I finally arrived at my assignment.
Taiwan had been opened to missionaries only a few months earlier; contacts were found primarily by tracting, the lack of a Chinese translation of the Latter-day revealed word of God had necessitated a rather long series of “lessons” (we call them discussions today)–seventeen lessons before baptism and twenty after. Due to the fact that I was assigned to open new areas resulting in door-to-door tracting for new contacts, the long lessons series, and being transferred every four to six months to a new area, when the time came to be released, I had only baptized one person that I had contacted and taught. There were, however, many contacts that showed great potential, but inevitably the transfer assignments would come before they progressed to baptism. After coming home, I felt discouraged, and embarrassed with such meager results for three years work, and upon hearing other Elders give their report, the discouragement would get worse. But on with my story.
When I was made a senior companion, and assigned to a new area in Taipei, my companion, Elder Daws and I would pray to be led to persons prepared to hear the gospel, and then begin tracting at the house next door to the house where we had stopped the previous day. I felt that there had to be a better way. One day, before morning prayers, I told my companion, “Let’s put our prayers to the test…let’s pray specifically to be led to someone who has been prepared to hear the gospel, then stay on the bikes until we receive the Spirit’s direction, and follow it to wherever it leads us.”
Elder Daws agreed and off we went. After traveling about an hour and several miles through Taipei’s heavy traffic, when we were crossing a very busy intersection, with what seemed to be hundreds of trucks, busses and thousands of other bicycles, I had the distinct impression to turn right. But I was in the middle of traffic and Elder Daws was already on the other side. Traffic was bad and dangerous, and I didn’t want to get caught out in the middle deciding which way to go, so I continued to the other side.
As I caught up with my companion, the impression returned, but this time it was stronger, telling me to turn around and plunge back into the traffic at the intersection we had just survived. “Why didn’t you tell me when we were out there the first time?” was my companion’s only comment. We plunged back into the traffic, made a “U” turn across four lanes of traffic, back to the intersection, turned left through another eight lanes of traffic — sounds simple now, but at the time… Even now, I can close my eyes and still see that intersection, hear the sounds, smell the exhaust, feel the vulnerability out there with the trucks and busses on only a bike. And the question “Is this REALLY where we should be?” “Was that really inspiration?” But we made it through safely and out the other side.
After settling down and biking with traffic for a while, the impression was back, “turn right”. In this manner we were eventually led to a narrow street, too narrow for anything bigger than bicycle traffic. One more “left turn” and we were now in an alley too narrow for even the bikes. As we were getting off our bikes to continue on foot, I saw a man watching us very intently through an open window. We were only a few feet apart. Our eyes met and I knew he was the person to whom we had been led. I spoke to him through the open window and introduced ourselves. He invited us in. A single light bulb hung from a wire in the middle of the room; the light was off. The only light in the room was coming through the open window, which was in the shadow of the building across the alley, making the room quite dingy. The room was bare, a few pictures on the wall, stacks of books on either side of the chair he was using on an end table.
I sat on the windowsill; he introduced himself as Mr.
Hu. Elder Daws took the lead and gave the first lesson. It was about Joseph Smith and the need for latter-day prophets. He accepted the principle without question. His questions, however, surprised me. “Since Joseph Smith saw God and Jesus Christ, he is the most important person of our time, how should I honor him?” “Why haven’t I heard of him before now?” And “Why hasn’t there been any prophets since the time of Christ until Mr. Smith?” I happened to have with me; the pamphlet The Great Apostasy that Dad had given me. Although Mr. Hu’s English was very refined, I was concerned that he might have trouble understanding Talmage but I gave it to him anyway. He received it graciously and then asked us to come back tomorrow at the same time to teach his wife and children.
The next day, at the assigned time, when we reached the spot where we had to get off our bikes, I could see a light, emanating from our contact’s window. I remember it as a “pure, white light.” As we entered the room, it was clear that the light didn’t come from the light bulb since like yesterday it was off. But rather, the whole room was bathed in a pure light; it spilled out into the alley and shown on the house across the alley. There was no specific source. As I walked into the room, I was struck by the fact that I didn’t cast a shadow. It was as if the space within the room itself was radiating; the walls, ceiling and floor were all aglow. It was clear to my mind that we were in the presence of the Holy Ghost. I will always remember the experience of seeing that pure light and feeling the power of His presence. It is one of those things that once experienced becomes part of my being. It is not like a memory, but is part of me. My testimony is that the presence of the Holy Ghost is palpable; His radiance can actually be seen as well as felt. I have seen it and bear testimony to it. I was caught in a conflict of emotions; afraid to speak for fear of interrupting the spirit, and overwhelmed with the knowledge that we had been led there for a purpose and we better get on with our work.
We had planned to give the next lesson in the series, but Mr. Hu asked that we repeat the story of Joseph Smith for his wife and children. At the end of the lesson, he bore his own testimony then gave his own lesson to his family based on his reading of the pamphlet that we had left yesterday. His understanding and sincerity was most impressive. He closed, stating that these elders were bearers of the truth and asked his wife to join him in further investigating the Gospel. He then added that his neighbors had seen us the day before and were giving him a hard time about the “foreign-devil missionaries.” He asked for permission to translate the pamphlet so he could share it with his friends and neighbors. Not knowing better, I said OK. We invited the family to church and were pleased to see Mr. and Mrs. Hu with their two girls come the next Sunday.
As was my lot, I was soon transferred to another town in the southern part of Taiwan. As I started to pack the books my dad had sent with me. Once again, I had the strong impression, “Give the books to Mr. Hu.” After all, dad had said, “If you need more, just let me know”. I knew dad would be happy to replace them. Chinese people do not like to accept gifts from new acquaintances, especially something as personal as books. I was afraid that he would reject the books. However, the inspiration was undeniable.
Elder Daws and I loaded the books on our bikes and took them to Mr. Hu’s home. He was in and greeted us warmly. I told him that I was being transferred, and that I had been impressed to give him my books. His reaction was joy at receiving the gift. There was no show of false modesty or pride. He was simply thankful to receive them so he could “study the gospel in depth.” He accepted the gift with a warm gesture of thanks and western style handshake.
At the same time, we were teaching a professor at the Taiwan University, General Chang Kai Sheik’s personal physician, a member to the Chinese National Assembly and a member of the Chinese UN delegation. They were very well off financially, well-educated, well-placed politically and socially. I was impressed by their “stature and importance” and wrote in my journal with the hope that they would receive the gospel and help us in our work and influence others. However, the experience I had with brother Hu, a humble man with meager resources, was simply entered as “…we are teaching a wonderful family, I hope they will continue to grow in the gospel and be baptized…” Clearly I still hadn’t learned that the Lord chooses people based on His measure not on outward appearance.
Some 40 plus years later, while teaching a Sunday School class, I was inspired to share the experience of meeting Mr. Hu and his family, how we were led to him through prayer and the experience at our second meeting. I bore my testimony that our part in the Lord’s plan is not always apparent since I had never learned what had become of the Hu family. Doing the Lord’s work is its own reward; you don’t have to know the results or its impact, but I still wondered what had happened to the Hu family.
Three days later, I received a letter through the missionary that replaced me when I was transferred from Taipei. It was from Mr. Hu, and for the first time, I saw his full name in “Romanized” print, Brother Hu Wei Yi. He did not know how to get in touch with me but asked that his letter be forwarded it to me if possible.
In it Bro. Hu reviewed his life since our meeting some 40 years earlier. He had been baptized with his wife and two daughters. He is now in his 80’s, has been a patriarch, (over 600 blessings), temple sealer (over 4,000 sealing for living and dead) and held many other church callings. He explained that he had been set apart by President Kimball to be a translator. He then listed the books he had translated into Chinese. There they were, name by name, the books that dad had given me. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, Jesus the Christ, Articles of Faith, Gospel Doctrine, Doctrines of Salvation And then I read, the Book of Mormon — I couldn’t believe my eyes! Yes, the Book of Mormon, the revealed work of God in the Chinese language, the most popular language in the world, the language of a billion and a half people was translated by a humble man whom the Lord had picked and prepared, who was introduced to the gospel by a pair of missionaries just trying to do their work as they understood it.
Incidentally, at the time Brother Hu Wei Yi was introduced to the gospel, a manuscript of another Chinese translation of the Book of Mormon was being prepared to be sent to the appropriate departments of the Church — it however was lost and to my knowledge it remains missing to this day.
As I look back on this experience, I wonder what I have learned from it. Is it that we have no idea of the impact we have when doing the Lord’s work? Or is it that in spite of the preparation of several people by the Lord for a specific task that it still took a simple prayer to get it started? Or is it that the Lord still personally shepherds his works insuring and protecting the spirit and message of the Book of Mormon?
However, the lesson I learned is that we must be prepared at all times to recognize the promptings of the Holy Ghost and then act. Only the Lord and I know how close I came to doing the smart thing; don’t expose myself to problems that I didn’t want to handle; just “play it safe.”
I really didn’t want to face that traffic and as a consequence would have missed the opportunity to serve the Lord and witness the power of the Holy Ghost. As it is, I am very grateful that I eventually heeded the promptings of the Spirit and have been able to see the results even though it took forty years. While taking care of my father’s affairs after his death, I came across his original set of mission tracts except for The Great Apostasy, the very one that he gave me years ago that was subsequently given to Bro. Hu. I only wish my father had lived long enough to learn of his role in the Chinese translation of the Book of Mormon.
Brother Vernon Poulter
* Dear President Albright, I had the privilege of working closely as a translator with Brother Hu Wei-Yi, the first Chinese Patriarch as well as the translator of the Chinese Book of Mormon for about 8 years. Brother Vernon Poulter sent me his testimony (as written above) several years before his passing with instructions to share it since he was the only person still alive who had witnessed these sacred events. Thanks for sharing this important part of our LDS history for the Chinese people,
Sister Sandy Lee