At the Asia Women’s Conference, Expat Mormons Bond with Some of Their Own

Established in 2012, the Asia Women's Conference brings together English-speaking Latter-day Saint women from across Asia, allowing them to navigate the challenges of local customs, and sometimes, local laws.

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen I moved to Japan in the fall of 2016, I was both nervous and excited. Then, as I got settled in, I was still nervous and excited, but also exhausted, jet-lagged, and overwhelmed with all the newnes of everything. Both living in a non-English speaking country and being a Navy wife were brand new to me, and it was a lot to get used to. However, I had my smartphone with GPS and Google Translate, a well-established ward to attend, and a supportive Navy command. I’m of the adventurous sort, so it wasn’t long before I hit my stride and I am loving this life.

Church Administration Building in Hong Kong

Because I live where I do, I was recently able to attend the annual A.S.I.A Women’s Conference in Hong Kong, established in 2008. (A.S.I.A. stands for Associated Sisters in Asia.) It’s designed for English-speaking women in the Asia area to gather together to connect with others living far from home, serve together (this year we worked on assembling kits for Days for Girls), attend the temple, and be inspired by great speakers or even just by learning from conversations had one on one. It’s not officially sponsored by the Church, but it is sanctioned by the Asia Area Presidency and meetings are held in the Church Administration Building in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Temple

What struck me the most was that just about every single one of us had done what I had done – left the comforts of their home country for some reason or another to settle in another that was generally incredibly foreign. Moving anywhere new is hard, but moving to a place where you’ll always stick out visually, even if you learn the language or local customs, and is far from just about anything familiar is even harder. But every single woman I met is thriving in this new experience. For some, they moved to Asia more than 30 years ago, when the Internet wasn’t truly global and they were the first foreigners to live in this “small Chinese city of a million people” ever! In thousands of years of history! Another traveled to India annually for a decade, loved it, then decided she was supposed to marry a particular Indian man and move to his farm in the country, hundreds of kilometers from a city. Living there is much more difficult than simply visiting, but she loves her family and her Heavenly Parents who guided there, so she’s making it work!

These incredible women may be living in Asia for six months, others indefinitely. Some, like myself, are in established, English-speaking wards that seem to maintain enough numbers despite the constant flux of families and individuals on military assignments. Others have to attend church in their new country’s language, whether they speak it or not. In English speaking branches in mainland China, they read a letter every week reminding the members that while they are allowed to believe and worship together openly, they cannot proselyte to anyone or even interact with LDS Chinese Nationals regarding the church. We heard this letter while attending Sacrament meeting in Beijing and have since verified that they are reminded of these strict rules every single week. Some of the women at the conference attend church via the Internet and the woman who lives in India? It’s just her. She spends Sundays singing primary songs with her toddler daughter and working on the Girls Who Choose God series. Some came to Asia alone. Some came with their families. Some traveled to the conference with friends; some (like myself) came alone. And despite all the differences listed here and all the challenges we all face living in a world so vastly different from what we probably expected growing up, we are all focused on being better women and better disciples of Christ. The presentations were all related to that – empowering ourselves as daughters of God, coming closer to our Savior, and becoming our best selves. There were stories of joy, of healing, of pressing forward, and service – both in the presentations and just in conversation. I especially felt strengthened by how personal our path is and how individually tailored the lessons of the Gospel can be.

I was also able to attend the Hong Kong temple, and add it to my list. Since we don’t have a temple near us in Tokyo currently, these temple opportunities are even more precious now. While most of the conference attendees were also there, I specifically went with a couple of new friends I had only just met that weekend but had bonded with immediately and hope to be friends with for a long time to come. I even got to hang out with one of them in Seoul, South Korea, where she lives, the very next week. When you live far away from people you’ve known your whole life, it becomes both imperative and easier to make new friends very quickly. Even for an introvert like myself, who is super comfortable doing things alone, we need those connections.

I may not be able to attend this conference again, but I certainly would like to! Participation in conferences like this and serving in our own church units and communities are the kinds of things that help us find our place in this world and in Heavenly Father’s plan for us and allow others that same privilege. We have to make the most of what we are given, wherever and however it may be.

And if the place you find yourself also happens to have amazing dim sum? Even better!

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