This year Glen Waverley resident, Julia Zhu, 64, will celebrate Chinese New Year with her large family back in China but last year was quite a different story.
Julia recently returned from a year in Samoa where she had a significant impact on the Chinese population.
“I was the first Chinese speaking missionary of my church in Samoa since the first church missionary arrived in 1886,“ Julia said.
New to the island nation and there to serve a one-year voluntary mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Julia hoped to celebrate Chinese New Year with the community as she does each year in Melbourne. She discovered the only celebrations were at the Chinese Embassy and were not open to the general public.
Seeing an opportunity to bless and support the Chinese community in Samoa, Julia worked to achieve the first public activity for Chinese New Year in Samoa. The event was hosted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and supported by a local Chinese businessman. It was well received and attracted local media attention.
Chinese people have been part of the Samoan community for over 150 years yet account for a small percentage of the nation’s population. However, many Samoans can claim Chinese ancestry.
Julia said it was wonderful to share her Chinese heritage and Christian beliefs with those in Samoa. Her mission involved sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ as well as assisting Church efforts in aiding local health care, education and welfare services.
While serving the local people Julia enjoyed assisting the Chinese community and had many opportunities to speak her native language of Mandarin.
“I made lots of friends, many Chinese,” said Julia. “Most Chinese are curious about our church and want to know more about it.”
Keen to share her Christian beliefs with the Chinese Samoan community, Julia was quick to order in teaching materials and scriptures translated into Chinese languages.
Through the relationships she built, Chinese companies donated items to non-profit nursing homes and Chinese translated books to the Stevenson Museum, providing support to the Samoan community. Julia’s time in Samoa not only enriched her life but the people that she served.
“For twelve months I put aside all my concerns and matters and focused on the Lord’s work,” said Julia. “By following and learning of Jesus’ example, I was able to develop greater love, patience and humility and serve the people in Samoa.”
Although she has lived in Melbourne for over 20 years, Julia misses Samoa.
“When I returned to Melbourne, it felt unfamiliar to me. Melbourne is beautiful, but in a different way to Samoa. I miss Samoa and the people’s smiles and greetings of ‘Talofa’.”
Today, around 40% of the population of Samoa are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with congregations in many villages and a sacred temple in the capital city of Apia.
A percentage of residents in the City of Monash, Victoria come from China, including members of Julia’s local congregation. The Chinese members of the Church have embraced Christianity while continuing to cherish their culture. This year they will join in Chinese New Year celebrations being held throughout the area.