Jean Funk moved with her husband from Saratoga Springs to Nanjing, China, to teach English for a year. For one of her classes, she invited her college-aged students to think of one question they would ask a wise man. Among the lighthearted questions, several questions stood out: “Where did I come from,” “why am I here,” and “where am I going.”
As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Funk said she wanted to answer them by sharing her beliefs. However, because foreigners can’t proselytize to Chinese citizens, she thought of something else to say.
“All I could do was encourage them to keep searching for truth, because when they sincerely search, they will eventually find it,” Funk said. “I told them that when they find the truth, it will make sense in their minds and feel right in their hearts.”
Chinese law prevents foreign-passport-holding individuals from proselytizing to Chinese citizens, so to comply with that law, the Church has asked its members to refrain from preaching the Gospel while they live in China. In an effort to follow Chinese law, church meetings for expatriate and native members of the Church are also held separately.
Mormonsandchina.org, a church-owned website for Chinese citizens who find the gospel outside of China, explains that part of being a member of the Church requires each member to obey the laws of the country in which they abide.
“In more than 160 countries around the world … The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members seek to obey, honor and sustain the law,” the website explains. “Everywhere, we teach members to be good citizens.”
Paige Bird, who serves as the Shanghai International District Relief Society President, said she believes being a good citizen in China means not only obeying the laws, but also finding opportunities to serve the Chinese people.
Bird helped organize a service opportunity for the LDS women living near Shanghai, and she said the results were inspiring. The group of women donated 100 hygiene kits and more than 400 bags of rice to an organization in China that helps individuals and families in need.
“China has beautiful cities and a long history, and it’s really a remarkable place to live. But until you start giving back to it, you will feel empty,” Bird said. “Serving drops barriers and gives us a greater appreciation for living here.”
Benjamin Olsen, a BYU-Idaho student who is teaching English in Zhenjiang, said he finds opportunities to serve his students every day.
“Like other kids their age, they stress about school, friends and family. … They sometimes come to me and I talk with them and assure them that things will be alright, and I’ll help them come up with how they can solve their problems,” Olsen said. “At least I can love them and be their friend.”
Although Bethany Edgel, a BYU student teaching English in Yangzhong, acknowledges the challenges of being a member of the Church in China, she says she can see the benefits as well.
“While we cannot share the Gospel by name we can still share it’s most important principles of loving and serving each other,” Edgel said. “Choosing to be happy and showing our love for others around us are concepts that can be lived in any culture.”