Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Journey into China

Yesterday I attended the funeral of Elder H. Grant Heaton, a brilliant man whose noble accomplishments deserve recognition. I had the privilege of interviewing he and his wife for my book on China, Letters in the Jade Dragon Box.

In 1949 Grant Heaton was one of the first missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be sent to Hong Kong, China. When the communists seized control of China in late 1949, Elder Heaton would serve out the remainder of his mission in Hawaii and Chinatown, San Francisco. A few years later, after schooling, marriage, and the birth of a son, Elder Heaton would find himself in, what he considered, strange circumstances. As a missionary returned from Hong Kong, he had been called several times to meet with Elder Harold B. Lee and Stephen L. Richards, counselor to President McKay, to discuss and evaluate the conditions in the Far East.

In his words. “Still a few weeks later, I received a call from President Richard’s office, requesting another meeting. It was almost the same as the first, except he did wonder, out loud, if it would be possible for me to go to Hong Kong this summer. I assumed that he wanted me to accompany one of the General Authorities, or even a new Mission President called to re-open the area. I knew that President Robertson had been urging for some assistance to continue operations in Hong Kong, which was then part of his “Japanese Mission”. I told President Richards that I would be delighted to go to Hong Kong for the summer. He asked if my wife would be willing to go. Because Grant Jr. had just been born, I suggested that I talk to her about it first. He asked me to return in one week for another discussion.
As we entered President Richard’s office, President J. Reuben Clark was there, and in a few moments President McKay walked in. He was very jovial, and made a great fuss over little Grant Jr. playing and laughing with him for some time.
Finally, seated in his large swivel chair, he turned and looked at me, and said, “Now President Heaton, this is a very important assignment. I have long been interested in the Chinese people and the missionary work there.” For the first time it dawned on me that all this was leading up to me being called as a Mission President. My first reaction of shock and disbelief, impelled me to say, “President McKay, I am neither capable, nor worthy to be a Mission President.” He very causally replied, “Oh, we are perfectly aware of that, Brother Heaton.” Our official call came in the mail a few days later.
Our next surprise was to become aware of the immense territory covered by this new Mission. President McKay said it was not only the largest Mission in the Church, but it contained more people than the rest of the world combined.
In subsequent meetings with the First Presidency, we learned how deeply President McKay’s interest in China really was. At the time we were set apart, it was mentioned that several attempts had been made in China, in failure. “This time we will not fail,” he promised!”

The Southern Far East mission began in Hong Kong with eight eager missionaries being led by a very capable Mission President, and being fed by a loving “Mission Mom.” Over the next months and years the gospel net was tossed wide as Cantonese and Mandarin were learned, lessons given, and baptisms performed. President and Sister Heaton would see the hand of the Lord in the missionary work, growth of the church, and in miracles for their family. President Heaton would be instrumental in securing floors of apartment buildings to serve as Branch chapels, and in purchasing a sizable piece of land in Kowloon for the mission home.

In later years when Gordon B. Hinkley was searching in vain for property on which to build the Hong Kong temple, the following experience is recorded in his biography. “Something very interesting came into my mind…I did not hear a voice with my natural ears, but into my mind there came the voice of the Spirit. It said, ‘why are you worried about this? You have a wonderful piece of property where the mission home and the small chapel stand. They are in the very heart of Kowloon, in the location with the best transportation. Build a building of several stories. It can include a chapel and classrooms on the first two floors, and a temple on the top two or three floors’…I relaxed and went back to sleep.” (Go Forward with Faith pg. 481)

The Hong Kong temple was dedicated May 26 &27, 1996. One year later, 1997, as the 99 year lease agreement between Britain and China expired; Hong Kong went back to the jurisdiction of mainland China. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would have a temple in a province of communist China.

At President Heaton's funeral, as words of tribute and love were spoken, my thoughts turned to the times I sat in the Heaton's living room, hearing many of the missionary stories and absorbing gems of wisdom about the Chinese culture. I remembered the feelings of love and respect this good couple had for the people of China. Through my research I was privileged to open a small window onto that beautiful landscape with its amazing people. My soul is richer for the journey.


Michele Ashman Bell said...

This was an incredible post. I am so glad you shared this with us.

Jennie said...

This really touched me. What a fantastic experience you had to know this man and hear his stories.