Monday, December 6, 2010

Asia Times Publishes Detailed Article About LDS Church Activity In Asia; Growth Accelerating In Cambodia

According to a December 7th, 2010 article in the Asia Times, Mormons are "on the march" in Asia. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is focusing more of its considerable resources on Southeast and South Asia, regions which were first exposed to the faith only after World War II. As recently as 40 years ago, LDS Southeast Asian missions were present only in Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Now, the LDS Church has established itself in Mongolia, India, Indonesia, Cambodia and, most recently, Vietnam. There are also Mormon charities working in Laos.

Scott Smedley, the president of the Cambodian Mission, was interviewed at length. Smedley said Church membership in Cambodia, where the religion was first established in 1995, passed the 10,000 mark in March 2010. The first LDS chapel in Cambodia opened its doors in 2004 and cost more than US$2 million. The second chapel, located in Cambodia's second-largest city, Battambang, will also cost several million dollars and will be completed at the beginning of 2011. Negotiations are proceeding on a land purchase in Siem Reap, a tourist town near Angkor Wat, where they plan to build their third chapel. The government is favorably disposed towards the Church; Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen recently honored the Church for its humanitarian work in the country. The Church regularly donates eyeglasses to Cambodians and gives away 1,500 wheelchairs per year in Cambodia and Vietnam.

Progress is slower in Vietnam. The Vietnamese government, which stills professes Communist ideology although it allows considerable free enterprise, allows missionaries to operate only in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), requires them to be Vietnamese citizens, and forbids them from wearing nametags. Despite these restrictions, the first two LDS chapels in Vietnam opened a year ago. Around the same time, the Church donated an $80,000 laser eye surgery machine, the only one of its kind in Vietnam, that treats cataracts. At present, there are only 1,000 Mormons in Vietnam and only three LDS missionaries who hold Vietnamese passports. But progress is forthcoming; in May 2010, an official LDS contingent headed by Apostle Dallin H. Oaks visited Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Hong Kong; during the trip, Elder Oaks met with Ha Van Nui, the vice-president of the Fatherland Front. The Fatherland Front is an umbrella group of pro-government mass movements in Vietnam, and has close links to the Communist Party of Vietnam and the Vietnamese government.

In Indonesia and Malaysia, government regulations also restrict the LDS Church's activities; missionaries in these majority Muslim nations countries do not wear nametags to protect their safety. There have been an upsurge in anti-Christian attacks in Indonesia, although I'm unaware of any Mormons being victimized.

The article also discusses the various challenges faced by missionaries in Cambodia, as well as detailing their typical lifestyles. Specifically, each missionary who is financially able gives the Church $425 per month, from which the Church takes care of their housing and allocates them $30 per week for food. One missionary reports that on the $30 per week that she receives from the Church for food and other expenses, she and her two roommates who share a small bedroom and eat every meal together, can't afford most Western foods. Most nights they have rice for dinner, but the girls are not complaining.

Regarding these challenges and the rules set forth to govern the conduct of missionaries, Scott Smedley states, "They are here to teach about Jesus Christ and that's it. It's not a vacation."

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