Missionaries were first sent to Asia in the 1850s, but the Church didn’t develop a lasting presence there for another hundred years. It wasn’t until the first two decades after WWII that the Church grew deep roots in Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines.
As the Apostle responsible for the Church in Asia in the 1960s, Gordon B. Hinckley witnessed much of that early growth. He developed a great love for the people he met and felt a need to replace the images of war that dominated Western perceptions of Asia at the time with images of faith. “Man’s greatest folly, war, became the Lord’s opportunity to build a kingdom of peace,” he wrote in a detailed 1964 Improvement Era article about the Church in Asia. Illustrated with more than 70 photos, the piece showed Church members in action.
At the time, the article helped overcome prejudice and increase international unity in the Church. Today the images and written descriptions by Elder Hinckley remain valuable as a historical record—a glimpse into a pioneer era.
On March 8, 1902, a former Shinto priest named Hajime Nakazawa became the first person to be baptized in Japan. More than 150 others joined the Church before international conflict brought the work to a halt. A few remaining members welcomed the mission’s reopening in 1948.
“Branches of the Church, some twenty-nine of them, lie like beads on a string from Naha and Futenma on Okinawa to Asahigawa on the north Island of Japan—a distance of more than 1,500 miles. Exclusive of American servicemen, there are more than seven thousand members of the Church in Japan today.”
“[Japan’s] people are ambitious, courteous, friendly. And as the gospel touches their lives, they are faithful with a great love for the Lord and his ways.”
Missionaries first preached in Hong Kong in 1853 without success. The first baptisms took place on December 31, 1950.
The first branches in Hong Kong were organized in November 1955. The next decade saw rapid growth.
“The Hong Kong membership now numbers more than 2,400, organized into ten branches. The names of these branches are an interesting mixture of English and Chinese, as is almost everything in Hong Kong. Among them are the following: Causeway Bay, North Point, Tsim Sha Tsui, Tsam Shui Po, Yuen Long.”
Kim Ho Jik embraced the gospel while studying in the U.S. in 1951, just as others learned it in Korea from U.S. servicemen.
Church members prayed for missionaries. Finally, in 1956, the first pair arrived.
“Exclusive of Americans in the armed service, the membership of the Church now exceeds 1,800. Most of them are university students or university graduates. It is doubtful that a more educated membership can be found anywhere else in the world.”
The Church began to grow in Taiwan in 1957 with the baptisms of Ch'iu Hung-hsiang and Tseng I-Chang.
“We now have approximately 1,600 members in Taiwan, gathered into thirteen branches.”
A few baptisms took place in the Philippines in the 1940s and 1950s through member efforts, but missionaries did not enter the country until 1961—just three years before Gordon B. Hinckley’s article. Despite its later missionary start, the country has the largest LDS presence in Asia today.
“The membership now totals 590 with 236 convert baptisms during 1963. Seventeen missionaries are laboring in the Philippines as of this writing.”