Sandy Lee, a Mormon from Taipei, Taiwan, was home with her family before the April 2018 General Conference discussing who would be the newly called apostles. Lee’s daughter and son-in-law said they felt Elder Gerrit W. Gong was going to be one of the new apostles. In fact, Lee’s daughter said, “If it’s not Elder Gong, we’re going to be very surprised.”
Elder Gerrit W. Gong was sustained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on March 31, 2018 along with Elder Ulisses Soares.
Prior to his call to the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Gong served as a member of the Presidency of the Seventy for about two and a half years and as a member of the Asia Area Presidency in Hong Kong from 2011 to 2015, finishing his time there as Area President.
Elder Gong graduated from BYU in 1977 with a degree in Asian and university studies. He received a masters of philosophy in 1979 and in 1981 a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University, according to lds.org.
Elder Gong married Susan Lindsay in 1980, and together they have four children.
Life after Elder Gong’s studies included political and leadership positions. He served as the special assistant to the U.S. ambassador in Beijing, China in 1987, held positions at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and was the assistant to the president for planning and assessment at BYU until April 2010.
Elder and Sister Gong met while serving as LDS missionaries in Taiwan, according to Lee.
“We didn’t expect — and they didn’t expect — that something would happen after their mission,” Lee said.
Lee was serving as the secretary to the mission president in Taipei in 1975 while Elder Gong was serving as an assistant to the mission president. Lee said both Elder and Sister Gong were wonderful missionaries.
“As (assistant to the president), he had a lot of responsibilities, but he always forgot about himself, always thought about other missionaries’ needs,” Lee said.
There were times when missionaries would get tired, and Elder Gong would “jump in” and help wherever he could, according to Lee.
Working as a secretary to the mission president, Lee said she worked closely with Elder Gong. “He was such a diligent missionary. He was very dedicated.”
Lee said Elder Gong’s family came to Taiwan to pick up Elder Gong after his mission. The family had a family home evening with Lee and her family, and since then, Lee said her family and Elder Gong’s family have become very close and have remained in contact.
Eric Hyer, an associate professor of political science and coordinator of the Asian studies program at BYU, served with Elder Gong in Taiwan in the early 1970s and both did their undergraduate degrees at BYU at the same time as well.
“He left to go to England as a Rhodes Scholar the same time I was leaving to go to Columbia University as a graduate,” Hyer said. “We’ve kept in touch over the years since then.”
Hyer met Sister Gong while at BYU. He said Sister Gong is a devoted mother and wife, “always by (Elder Gong’s) side” and yet has been successful in her own academic studies and work.
“They’re both so incredibly devoted to church service, and have been throughout their lives,” Hyer said of the Gongs. “I think (Elder Gong) brings a special kind of … intellectual depth to his understanding of the gospel in his talks.”
Hyer also said he and Elder Gong worked closely while Elder Gong was at BYU in the assistant to the president capacity for President Merrill J. Bateman. Hyer and Elder Gong worked together coordinating a visit to China for President Bateman, both accompanying President Bateman on the trip.
The Gong family mixes Chinese and American culture, according to Hyer.
“The Gong family is a big network of people that mix traditional Chinese customs and culture with very American custom and culture,” Hyer said. “I know that (Elder Gong’s) father was very well educated and also retains some very traditional Chinese kinds of habits and customs.”
Later, after serving as a young missionary in Taiwan, Elder Gong continued to serve the Asian people while in the Asia Area Presidency and Area President.
“Elder Gong has a big impact on many people’s lives,” Lee said. “We feel very very honored to know him.”
BYU senior Russell Nam Pham said Elder Gong visited his mission in Vietnam in 2012 while Elder Gong was serving in the Asia Area Presidency. Pham said the Vietnam mission was new and that there were only about 10 missionaries there at the time.
“There was a lot of work going on in Vietnam,” Pham said. “Elder Gong was kind of overseeing the progression of the mission.”
Pham said something he remembers often about Elder Gong’s visit was how he spent time visiting with the missionaries in Vietnam individually, asking them if they had a question he and Sister Gong could help answer.
“I had a question about kind of receiving answers to prayers and how to look for those,” Pham said. “And he gave me some advice.”
Pham said Elder Gong told him a story about dating his wife.
According to Pham, Elder Gong had been asking Heavenly Father, “Should I marry this girl?” and wouldn’t get an answer. But, once Elder Gong decided to rephrase the question to “I am deciding to marry this woman, do you approve?” he received an answer: yes.
“He taught me that sometimes answers to prayers come after we have made our decision,” Pham said. “(Heavenly Father) doesn’t want to spoon-feed us all the time and tell us exactly what to do because that defeats the purpose of his plan. He wants us to make decisions and he’ll tell us very quickly and very strongly when we make our decisions if he supports it or if he wants us to do something else.”
BYU alumnus Morgan Bergstrom served in the Thailand Bangkok mission from 2009 to 2011. He said he remembers when, about a year into his mission, Elder Gong visited his zone conference.
According to Bergstrom, it wasn’t what Elder Gong said that stuck with him, but what he did.
“He had every missionary in my zone stand up in a line, and he’d shake each of our hands, take about 10 seconds — kind of an awkwardly long amount of time — and stare into our eyes,” Bergstrom said. “Then he’d say something inspired.”
Bergstrom said Elder Gong would say “little encouraging statements that I could tell that he was consciously seeking revelation to obtain.”
Elder Gong’s inspired, encouraging statement to Bergstrom was that he was a good missionary. “I’ve just never forgotten that,” Bergstrom said.
Bergstrom said his reaction to when Elder Gong was called as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve was just, “Oh, I love Elder Gong.”
Lee said her family “all agreed” with Elder Gong being called to the Quorum of the Twelve. “That was how strongly we feel about him.”
Pham said he thought Elder Gong would be one of the new apostles.
“He’s a great person,” Pham said. “I had met him, and you could just tell he was a very very you know just good servant of the Lord who was ready to dedicate his life to the work.”
With Elder Gong’s experiences serving as a missionary in Asia and in the Asia Area Presidency, Pham said Elder Gong’s experiences are important.
“When we hear about pioneer stories, sometimes we think about the early pioneers in America,” Pham said. “But right now, there are pioneer stories coming out of Asia on a daily basis.”
According to Pham, Elder Gong’s “personal and intimate experience with the people” in Asia had prepared him for his service as an apostle of the Lord.
Hyer said both Elder and Sister Gong carry themselves as Elder Gong’s position requires, as an apostle and representative of Jesus Christ.
“It’s a very Christlike attribute, where Christ could sit down with the most common people and relate and talk to them, understand them, and communicate with them, but at the same time, he was the Savior and was on a level that we don’t really understand,” Hyer said. “I think that (Elder and Sister Gong) both have that very Christlike attribute of being humble with the saints and the members, but also carrying themselves as required by the importance of the position that Elder Gong has.”
Elder and Sister Gong will be speaking at the closing session of the BYU Women’s Conference on Friday, May 4, from 3:45 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the Marriott Center.