Two general officers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are optimistic about the future for Mormon women and children in Asia. Neill F. Marriott, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency, and Cheryl A. Esplin, first counselor in thePrimary general presidency, recently returned from a trip to Hong Kong, Cambodia and Mongolia, where they met with children, young women, women leaders and missionaries.
“When I think of coming here, I think of reaching out to the members of the Church in Hong Kong, … that it doesn’t really matter where we are, we all love Him and want to strengthen each other,” said Sister Marriott upon her arrival in Hong Kong, located in southeastern China, the first stop on their inaugural international trip together in early November.
Hong Kong is home to nearly 25,000 Latter-day Saints, 37 congregations and one temple.
Sister Esplin was excited to minister among the children. “They are just beautiful children,” she said.
“It starts with these little ones,” reflected Sister Esplin. “It starts in the homes and so a lot of what we need to talk about in Primary is how do we strengthen the home?”
Sister Marriott continued, “I think one of my main messages to the young women [is] stay firm. … They will be the anchor of this Hong Kong area. They will be the ones that [will] establish the families.”
The women leaders also focused on strengthening the sisters during their outreach efforts in Asia. “The ward units (local congregations) need the women’s voice and the sisterhood between the different auxiliaries just as much as the general level so they can all work together,” explained Sister Marriott.
During their visit to Hong Kong, the sisters attended a sacrament meeting, met with groups of women and youth to get to know them better and joined a meeting attended by nearly 800 women, young women and Primary children ages 8 and older.
“It taught me that no matter where we are in the world, women love to gather,” commented Sister Marriott. “It was an amazing meeting. … You could just feel the energy of women gathering together.”
“I could feel their faith. I could feel their reverence and their attention to the testimonies being given,” said Sister Marriott, speaking about the youth who attended sacrament meeting. “I felt a real desire to remind them and to share that feeling with them that the Savior is our rock, that there can be traffic swirling around us or troubles or temptations, but if we’re anchored on the Savior, all will be well.”
Speaking about the children, Sister Esplin remarked, “They have all the right answers; they’re doing all the right things. They’re praying, they’re seeking revelation and they are solving their own challenges. They are mature in the gospel. They are amazing leaders.”
The next stop in their ministry was Cambodia, where the sisters visited with members in their homes. The Church has 30 congregations and nearly 13,000 members in the country.
Sister Esplin described a “tender” visit she had with a Primary president in Phnom Penh. “Two weeks ago, their home burned down and they lost everything. And so today, we sat on a little makeshift bed that they had under this tarp. … We gathered her little family around and we sang ‘I Am a Child of God’ (a song children sing in church). And they believe that with all their heart. They have faith, and they don’t let the hardships of life keep them away from their faith and what they believe. It was a beautiful experience.”
“I felt humbled by their desire to do things the way the Lord wants them to,” shared Sister Marriott about her experience. “They want to do what’s right.”
“I think we just saw evidence that you don’t need to have a lot of material things to be happy,” said Sister Esplin. “If you want to see light in people’s faces, you see it in the people that we’ve met here. Their … countenances just radiate light. Their lives radiate light.”
“What I saw was purity — purity in the midst of very simple living. But they look at you, and they’re gentle and there’s a meekness about them,” said Sister Marriott, who met with some young women.
The women auxiliary leaders also visited an area inhabited by Cambodians on a former landfill known as “trash mountain.” For years, adults and children would scavenge the area looking for food and items to sell to feed their families. With the formation of the Cambodian Children’s Fund in 2003, schools and nurseries were built with the ability to teach 2,000 children at a time. In recent years, LDS Charities has provided dental and hygiene equipment and sewing machines and built 40 homes earlier this year to help the families learn skills and become more self-reliant. It’s part of the Church’s long-term plan to partner with the Cambodian Children’s Fund.
“This school actually starts very young, but it takes them right up to the point that they can go to the university,” said Sister Esplin.
“There’s hope in the air here,” said Sister Marriott. “Instead of digging through trash all day, these children are learning and they have a home. It’s moving to a better place.”
The final stop in their three-country tour was Mongolia. With the Church having a presence there since 1992 and with about 11,000 members, the Church is relatively new in that Asian country.
“The youth in Mongolia are the hope,” stated Sister Marriott. “This is a first-generation church, and … their lives are the anchor that … the Church is going to build on. And they are steady.”
The women leaders were able to visit families in their homes called gers, which are portable, round tents.
“You know this was one of the sweetest experiences of my visit,” said Sister Esplin after meeting a woman named Nura who is raising her sister’s children and teaching them the gospel in a ger. “I think one of the things that I felt that I will never, never forget is the love that I felt in that home,” she said.
“And I felt such a kinship,” said Sister Esplin about her visit to the Asian country. “In a faraway land, these are my brothers and sisters.”
“The gospel shows up in the way they live,” summarized Sister Marriott. “And we felt it; we felt that kinship because we felt the same way they felt. We love the Lord. They love the Lord. We love the gospel; they love the gospel. We want to live the principles; they want to live the principles. And we strengthened one another.”
The experiences of Sister Marriott and Sister Esplin are part of Church leaders’ efforts to minister to members throughout the world. Earlier this fall, Rosemary M. Wixom, general president of the Primary; and Carol F. McConkie, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency, spent some time in Eastern Europe. Linda K. Burton, Relief Society general president; and Bonnie L. Oscarson, Young Women general president, traveled to Europe in their outreach efforts.