After meeting Elder Tai, Kwok Yuen, one could easily envision him being described in the same tones as the Savior spoke anciently of Nathanael and of Bishop Edward Partridge in the early days of the modern Church - men pure in heart and without guile. (John 1:47, D&C 41:11.)
Called in June to the Seventy, Elder Tai, 51, manifests those same characteristics of personal purity as he expresses feelings about his new assignment and recounts his life's story.Elder Tai was born in Hong Kong in 1941, months before Japanese forces invaded Hong Kong as part of World War II. His father was active as a British intelligence officer in the resistance movement against the occupational forces. Just nine months before the war ended, he and several of his comrades were imprisoned and executed by the Japanese following a betrayal of his father's military unit.
Interestingly enough, the building in Hong Kong from where the execution order was given is likely the same one that now houses the Asian Area presidency, where Elder Tai serves as second counselor.
"I remember that my aunt took us during the Japanese occupation to one of the district headquarters and begged the commander there to release my father," Elder Tai recalled. "I can still vaguely remember that."
The General Authority said he harbors no bitterness over the death of his father.
The young boy and his brother were raised by this same aunt, who was illiterate but who raised the boys in a "righteous way."
"Her work ethic and great example has had a lifelong influence on my brother and me," said Elder Tai. "We are very grateful for her. The difficult years we faced in our childhood have better prepared us for challenges we later faced."
His wife, Tai, Hui Hua, added: "She was a remarkable lady. She couldn't write her name, but she knew what was important."
Years later, after following a course that led them into the Church and immediately following their marriage, Elder and Sister Tai took this same aunt into their home until she died 14 years later at age 82.
Elder Tai delights in telling his wife's conversion story.
Sister Tai was born in Amoy, China, and raised in Taiwan, where her father is a well-known minister. As a young woman, Sister Tai was attending school in Hong Kong when two LDS missionaries knocked on her door. She listened to their message and quickly gained a testimony.
"My parents were very sad, very angry when I wrote and told them I was taking the discussions from two Mormon missionaries and wanted to be baptized," recalled Sister Tai. "I was over 18, but in our culture you don't do anything without telling your parents. Their answer, of course, was no. I waited for a while and then was baptized."
"She joined the Church and was very strong," Elder Tai said. "She continued to write home regularly. That began to soften her parents' hearts."
After the Tais married and had Joseph, the first of their three children, they visited Sister Tai's parents in Taiwan.
"Joseph was a cute little baby," Elder Tai recalled, "and when we took him to visit, they were very proud of him. We told my wife's father that we had started a missionary fund for the young boy, and in 19 years he would be out with his grandfather doing missionary work. He was very impressed and jokingly said, `In 19 years, I will have my grandson competing with me for converts.' He told that with delight to his fellow ministers.
"His heart was softened and our relationship normalized. He came to visit us many times. One time, he was at our home looking at the bookshelf where we had many Church books and manuals. He asked, `Where can I get a set of these books?' He wanted to take them back to his church and use them to teach. He finished reading the Book of Mormon and turned out to be the best non-member missionary we have. I don't think the story is over."
Sister Tai's parents loved all of the Tais' children and helped support all of them on full-time missions. Elder Tai and his wife expressed a deep love and respect for her parents as they recounted their experiences with them.
When Sister Tai once asked her father his opinion of the Church, he thoughtfully answered: "A bad tree cannot have good fruit. Good fruit would not come from a bad tree."
Elder Tai also was a convert to the Church, joining in 1959. At age 17, he was introduced to the gospel by a neighbor in Hong Kong in 1958. "One day I ran into him in the street, and he told me he was going to give a talk and be made a teacher that Sunday in his church," Elder Tai said. "He invited me to go with him and witness that special day in his life. At that time, I had never attended a church and had no idea what my neighbor was alluding to. I went with him out of curiosity and ended up attending my first sacrament meeting. It was at this meeting that I first came into contact with the missionaries. The elders taught me the discussions, and by the time they had finished, I knew the Church was true."
Elder Tai's desire to be baptized, however, was met with strong objections from his aunt. For close to a year he pleaded with her for permission to be baptized. Each request was denied. But just short of his 18th birthday, one of the original missionaries who had taught the young man arranged, with permission, to return from another area to visit the youth.
"Elder Larry K. Browning informed me of a special baptism service that was going to be held that Saturday," Elder Tai explained. "He encouraged me to ask again for permission to be baptized. His genuine love and concern gave me the extra courage I needed to once more approach my aunt. On the morning of the service, I pensively asked my aunt. She was busy burning some firewood, but to my infinite surprise she replied, saying, `Well, you're a big boy now and old enough to make your own decisions.'
"I took that answer as a "yes" and quickly gathered my baptismal clothes and ran to the bus stop. The meeting was held at the mission home. It was special in that Elder Mark E. Petersen and his wife were visiting Hong Kong that particular weekend. Elder Browning was more than surprised to see me, but quickly arranged for my baptism."
Elder Tai was baptized June 9, 1959, in the old mission home's swimming pool with a group of other converts.
Thirty years to the month later, he moved into the same building to begin his assignment as president of the Hong Kong Mission.
On the wall of the living room in the Tais' home hangs a scroll, with words written in Chinese that sum up their commitment to the Church: "But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." (Josh. 24:15.)
Since joining the Church, both Elder and Sister Tai have served faithfully in whatever capacity they have been called, as have their children.
In fact, the two met when Elder Tai returned to Hong Kong from university studies in chemical engineering at the University of Sydney in Australia, from where he graduated. He went to his home branch, where the branch president asked him to organize a choir, with Sister Tai playing the piano.
"The branch president was very clever," Elder Tai said, smiling. The young man and young woman struck up a friendship that blossomed into romance.
"I was very lucky," Sister Tai said. "Twenty-six years ago, there were not a lot of young men in the Church in Hong Kong. The Lord really blessed us, and everything came to the right place at the right time."
The couple still very much enjoy music and working in their garden in their rare spare moments. Prior to his call to the Seventy, Elder Tai served as president of the Hong Kong Mission, after living in California for about six years. The family was in the process of leaving the mission home in Hong Kong, packing for their move back to their California home, when President Gordon B. Hinckley called during the first week last June.
"That telephone call from President Hinckley changed everything for us," reflected Elder Tai. "We were very surprised, but feel very humble to receive this call. As I said to President Hinckley, `I will do my best.' "
While serving as mission president, two of the Tais' children also were serving missions simultaneously. The eldest had already returned from a mission and was attending BYU. Being the only family member not then serving a mission "kept him very busy at home writing to the rest of us," Sister Tai said. "We are very proud of all of them."
"This is a great opportunity for us to serve again in Hong Kong," Elder Tai said. "The last three years, we have really felt the strength and growth of the Church there."
Elder Tai speaks three Chinese dialects and has lived in several parts of the world, which should help him as he works with people throughout the Asia Area.
"I've been teaching the members in Hong Kong that it doesn't matter whether you are of Western or Eastern culture, but that the Church has its own culture," said Elder Tai. "It's the Church culture - it's principles and programs - that we need to follow.
"The gospel is wonderful. On many occasions we have felt very strongly the guidance of the Lord, particularly at crucial moments of our lives. We strongly believe in the Lord's timetable. If we live worthy lives by following the precepts of the gospel, things will fall into the right place at the right time. We are excited about what is ahead of us. We love to serve the Lord."
Elder Tai, Kwok Yuen
- Family: Born in Hong Kong June 30, 1941, to Tai, Lung Hing and Chu, Yau Yin; married Lai, Hui Hua (Flora) Sept. 19, 1966 (sealed with children in Los Angeles Temple in 1973); parents of two sons and a daughter: Joseph, 25; Winnie, 24; Benjamin, 20.
- Education: Graduated from the University of Sydney (Australia) in chemical engineering in 1965; graduate study at University of Hong Kong in management studies.
- Employment: International chemicals marketing for ICI (China) Ltd., working in England and Taiwan; self-employed in import/export business and real estate development.
- Church Service: President of Hong Kong Mission, regional representative, stake president's counselor, high councilor and branch president.