A mission changes you. I think anyone who serves with her or his whole whole heart will attest to that.
I served in the Taiwan Taichung mission from 1989-1991, so this particular story of this particular temple is very near and dear to my heart. It shows how the Lord can use the most menial of things (a soggy newspaper) to change the most menacing of places (a WWII internment camp) into the most holiest of places.
This story begins in Taipei, Taiwan during the late summer or early fall of 1961.
The Elders assigned to the Taipei Mission Home were eating lunch one day when the Chinese cook came into the dining room and asked Elder Edmunds to see the newspaper he had in his hands. The somewhat soggy newspaper, chock full of Chinese characters proclaiming the latest in news and advertisements, had been wrapped around the fish Elder Edmunds had purchased at the morning outdoor market.
One particular ad caught the cook’s eye, and Elders Edmunds and Suman soon huddled around the cook, drawn in by the same announcement in black ink.
The ad shared that the government was selling parcels of land in Taipei at a closed-bid auction. In addition to a short description of the property, it also gave the location of the land and the name and address of the government agency to contact if interested.
The two Elders hurriedly finished their meal and rode their bikes at break-neck speed to the property address listed.
Upon arrival, they were surprised to find the perimeter of the property was strewn with menacing barbed-wire fences and guard towers. The scene they overlooked appeared to be taken directly from a WWII film. The towers, fences, and barracks stood as sobering reminders of what happened there many years before.
Upon inquiring further with locals in the area, the Elders discovered the land had been used as a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp during the Second World War.
Undeterred by the sobering sight and horrific realization of what may have happened on that property, the two Elders rode to visit the property agent named in the newspaper advertisement.
The agent, Mr. Chang, was a government-appointed attorney who was authorized to handle the sale of the land.
The Elders identified themselves and inquired further about the property. He gave them the information he had.
The Elders took that information and prepared a letter for their Mission President, President Taylor, who presided over the Far East mission from Hong Kong.
Within a week, Elder Edmunds and Suman received a reply.
President Taylor had inquired with Church Headquarters, and they were indeed interested in bidding on the property. All previous attempts by the Church to purchase land in Taiwan had failed (the Taiwanese government would not permit the Church to buy land because the Church was not registered as a “corporation.” However, the Church could not register as a “corporation” because it didn’t own land—a catch 22. But Headquarters felt this instance was different, and they wanted to throw their hat in the ring and place a bid on the parcel of land.
President Taylor mentioned that the information about the property had been sent on to the First Presidency along with a request for permission to bid on the land.
Several weeks went by; during this time, Elder Edmunds and Suman continued their missionary efforts. Elder Edmunds completed his assigned time and returned home, but Elder Suman was still serving in the same Area when it arrived.
The letter, signed by President David O. McKay, authorized a bid on the land!
The day before Elder Suman completed his mission, he and his new companion took the sealed envelope, containing the authorization and bid from President McKay, along with a check (if the final bid was accepted), to Mr. Chang.
About a month after Elder Suman returned home, he received a letter from President Taylor.
The Church’s bid for the property had been accepted by the Taiwan Government. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now owned land in Taiwan!
The significance of this series of events, and their ripple effects through Taiwan, the whole of Asia, and all of time, is best summarized in Robert Suman’s own words:
“Little did I know then of the eternal impact that this event would have on the people of Taiwan, for it was on this property that the Taiwan Temple was built many years later.
I have dreamed of the day when I could return to the island of Taiwan and see, firsthand, the result of that transaction that the Lord accomplished through two young missionaries.
This event allowed [the Church] to register as a corporation and begin looking for other property on the island. The Lord’s hand was manifest in this transaction in many ways but certainly the most significant has to be the Chinese newspaper ad. This advertisement did not appear in the English newspaper and we (the missionaries) probably would never have known about the land auction had it not been for the newspaper wrapped around the fish that morning.
Furthermore, of all the pages in the newspaper why did that particular page happen to be chosen for ‘our fish?’
To me it has been a testimony of how the Lord operates, yes—sometimes in strange and mysterious ways—to accomplish His work.”