Hua attended my church in LA for about nine months before getting baptized in May of 2012. I recently asked some questions about his conversion process and I loved his answers. Straightforward, candid, and wonderfully honest.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Hua Zhang, I was born in Shanghai. I was a grad student majoring in Materials Science and Engineering at UCLA. I lived in West LA, walking distance from the church building where I got baptized later on.
Tell us about your first exposure to the LDS Church. What was your life situation like at that time?
Nothing special really. Agnostic/atheist. Just a student commuting between home and school every day. I heard about the Mormon church and I just walked in on a Thursday. (I didn’t realize people do services on Sundays) No one was there, but there was a piano. So I sat down and started playing until someone came up and we started chatting.
What was your initial perception of the LDS church or its members?
My first Sunday at church was a Fast Sunday.* You know, a lot of tears, lol. I thought: “this church couldn’t be true because the true church would only make people stronger, not weaker.” I simply couldn’t stand it but I didn’t want to be rude. So I didn’t attend the sacrament meeting whenever it was a fast Sunday for a long time.
*Mormons fast on the first Sunday of each month. During church services on fast Sundays, people in the congregation are invited to share their testimonies over the pulpit. Sometimes, as Hua mentions, it results in an over-abundance of emotions.
Who taught you about Mormonism? Was it the missionaries? Friends from church?
Friends for sure. During the peak of my lessons with the sister missionaries, I was trying to do everything what they told me to do, while one day they came to me and said: “Hua, we got the biggest prompting throughout our entire mission that we should stop teaching you.” The ward members at that time simply took over. Through hours of discussion of gospel and the purpose of life, we became really good friends, even family friends. And some other friends too: for example, I have this one friend that we do “dinner date every week” and another friend that visited me in China when I went home and visited my family last year.
What struggles did you face while investigating the LDS church?
I found it extremely difficult to say “I know”. To me, “knowing” means something that exists as a fact. Maybe that’s part of my background and culture, but I began to realize later on that it was the intention, rather than the knowledge that matters the most.
How have your family and friends in China responded to your joining a Christian church?
You know, there is limited information about the LDS church in China – missionaries are not allowed to preach the gospel there, but my family and friends felt that Christianity in general is a good thing, especially my mom felt it’s a good thing to have faith in Christ. To me, the most difficult thing to explain to my family is tithing, as it doesn’t really make sense to them to give money away. In fact, tithing is always difficult: when you don’t have enough money, you give away some money from your limited pay check; when you are rich, you will have to pay a lot even if it’s 10%. But I still get their full support even if they don’t understand the meaning behind it.
What made you decide to be baptized?
For me, the decision to get baptized is a result of a million things. For example, I like the fact that people are all volunteering in LDS church: people are only willing to devote their time in service because they believe in this community. I liked our ward and it always gave me positive energy.
People often talked about their experiences how they felt the burning feeling in their bosom, but I had that feeling in a dream! When I woke up, I thought to myself: nah, it’s just a dream, it didn’t mean anything. But later on, I was like “wait a minute, what if it had happened in real life? I guess it wouldn’t change anything, right?” That’s when I decided to take a leap of faith and set up a date to be baptized.
The dream was a big kick because it was the time when I realized the power of “faith” – it’s about what you do, not what you know. It is an action to me; it is much more powerful to take actions upon something you WANT to believe compared to something you’ve already known.
Can you tell me about your baptism/confirmation day?
I thought it was just an ordinary day until I had this prompting at night: I just KNEW that I did the right thing during the day. Later on, I shared this experience with my friend and I remember his reply till this day: “remember Hua, life is not always easy, but you will always remember that day, knowing that it was the right decision to be baptized!”
How has the decision to be baptized changed your life?
The answer is pretty obvious: I don’t drink tea* anymore, haha! I still ran into trouble in China when I asked for a cup of water while they always offered me tea. But seriously, my life is definitely not getting worse, if not happier.
*As part of the Word of Wisdom, Mormons don’t drink caffeinated tea.
What is one thing you know after joining the church that you wish others could know or understand as well?
As Mormons, we NEVER had the goal to baptize you, we ALWAYS wanted you to feel the truth for yourself!