After a brief introduction as young missionary companions, Elder Gerrit Gong and Elder Tony Lee began tracting. At one of the first doors they stopped at, Elder Gong turned to Elder Lee and said, “Away you go.”
That prodding was just what Elder Lee needed. “If it wasn’t for Elder Gong and him pushing me, I wouldn’t have been the missionary I became. He taught me to work hard, and I did,” recalls Brother Lee, a member of the Nanaimo Stake on Vancouver Island.
The two former companions were reunited by FaceTime during Elder Gong’s June visit to British Columbia in his role as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. While there, he conducted leadership sessions with youth, young adults, and missionaries from the Canada Vancouver Mission and leaders from the Abbotsford, Surrey and Vancouver, BC Stakes. He then travelled to Nanaimo, BC where he presided for a special stake conference. It had been over 17 years since an Apostle of the Church had presided at a conference in the Nanaimo British Columbia Stake.
“It was a wonderful reunion after not seeing each other for 40 years,” said Brother Lee who was in the hospital with health challenges. “The meeting lasted for only 10 minutes, but it made me feel so special that he would take the time and that he would remember me.” Elder Gong also said how delighted he was to visit with Brother Lee.
A Joyful Reunion
Elder Gong also met with another former mission companion, Gary Vatcher and his wife Julie, currently serving a mission in the Canada Vancouver Mission. Gary was overjoyed to visit with him in person after many years. As assistants to the mission president in 1975, Elders Gong and Vatcher faced their share of challenges. But Elder Gong always seemed to have a positive attitude.
“He taught me the powerful words: Yǒu bànfǎ, 有辦法, meaning ‘There is a way!’ remembers Gary. “When the path to success seemed difficult, he would simply say ‘Yǒu bànfǎ’ – there is a way.” That principle helped the Vatchers throughout their lives to take leaps of faith and face challenges head on, knowing the Lord would help them find their way along the covenant path. Gary says the things he learned from Elder Gong impacted his life for good for the next 47 years.
Feelings of joy about the reunions with former mission companions were felt on all sides. “A surprise, joyful reunion occurred with Elder Gary Vatcher,” said Elder Gong. “We were missionary companions some 47 years ago. I was happy also to meet his wife, Julie. Elder and Sister Vatcher are faithful, effective senior missionaries in Canada Vancouver. While attending stake conference in Nanaimo, it was also a joy to see fellow missionary, Elder Tony Lee, who could FaceTime from the hospital.”
Thanks and Farewell to BC’s Outgoing Mission Leaders
In keeping with Elder Gong’s missionary focus during his time in British Columbia, he and his wife Susan met with President Blake and Sister Jana Wahlen, Canada Vancouver’s recently released Mission Leaders.
“Sister Gong and I were excited to be with President and Sister Wahlen who are remarkable mission leaders,” said Elder Gong. “I felt how special they are from the first time we met. Their missionaries are a delight. Elder Mark Bragg, Elder Travis Wolsey, Sister Gong and I loved being with them! What a blessing to be with our magnificent leaders and members in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia!”
The Wahlens served during a time when the world was in chaos and COVID-19 lockdowns, restrictions and quarantines severely impacted how missionary work was done. Missionaries initially assigned to the Canada Vancouver mission were reassigned to over 30 locations around the world. As restrictions lifted, they began to arrive in the Canada Vancouver mission to fulfill their original assignments.
Faced with missionaries arriving from over 30 missions, each with its own set of mission presidents, styles and rules, the Wahlens heard everything from “you’re too lenient” to “you’re too strict.” The couple became a unifying force for the missionaries and for the Canada Vancouver mission.
“The Wahlens exude love,” said the Vatchers. “They constantly tried to lift up missionaries and encouraged them to follow the Lord and achieve their goals, not just on their mission but throughout their lives.”
President and Sister Wahlen appreciated the encouragement Elder Gong gave to their missionaries, telling them they had been called of God and were exactly where they needed to be. He told them there were people in each of their areas that needed the message of the restoration.
“This truly is the Lord’s work and we have been so blessed to be a part of it with our missionaries and the wonderful members living here,” said President and Sister Whalen. “We will forever cherish our three years here as we have seen the Lord’s hand in our lives.”
“The beauty of the province is stunning,” they continued. “God the Creator took extra care here. We are eternally grateful for the individuals we met and the missionaries we served with. We want everyone to know God is their Father, and knows and cares for all people. He has a plan to help us return to live with Him. This perspective helps us feel peace in this life and hope for a wonderful life yet to be.”