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Monday, December 23, 2019

Elder Gerrit W. Gong Celebrates His 66th Birthday Today

Hello again, everyone! I am back two days before Christmas to post a tribute to Elder Gerrit W. Gong, who is celebrating his 66th birthday today. As I mentioned previously, his is the last apostolic birthday to occur in 2019. The next apostolic birthday (which will be the first for 2020) will be marked on January 24, at which time Elder D. Todd Christofferson will be 75. But getting back to Elder Gong, let's get into some biographical information. Gerrit Walter Gong was born in Redwood City, California, on this day in 1953, to Walter and Jean Char Gong. While he was given his father's name for his middle name, his first name was given in honor of and out of respect to Gerrit de Jong, whose family his mother had lived with while studying at BYU-Provo. Both of Elder Gong's parents trace their ancestry back to China, although his father's family emigrated from China to the US during the late 19th century, and his mother's family are ethnic Chinese and lived in Hawaii. After graduating from high school in Palo Alto, California, he served as a missionary for the Church in Taiwan. He went on to earn a bachelor's degree at BYU, then continued his education at Oxford University, where, as a Rhodes Scholar, he earned a master's degree and a doctoral degree in philosophy. He first met Susan Lindsay, the woman he would later marry, while giving presentations at the MTC focused on the culture of Taiwan, to groups of missionaries assigned to serve in that nation (Sister Lindsay, at that time, was preparing to serve her mission in Taiwan). At some point following her return from missionary service, while he was on summer break from Oxford, the two began dating. After Gerrit returned to Oxford, he and Susan (who was a BYU student) continued their courtship. The couple was married in the Salt Lake Temple on January 2, 1980, and raised 4 sons. They spent most of their married lives in Virginia and Maryland. Brother Gong became a special assistant to the US Secretary of State in 1985. He went on to be a professor at Johns Hopkins University and Georgetown University.

He would go on to serve as a special assistant in the US State Department and as a special assistant to the US embassy in China. In 1989, he served as China Chair and Asia Director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He was tapped to participate in multiple education summits, in addition to serving on the United States Department of Education's National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity. He went on to serve as Assistant to the President of BYU for Planning and Assessment. In the Church, Elder Gong served as a bishop, stake president, and area seventy. During his time in the latter assignment, he accompanied the presiding authority to my parent's Stake Conference. As he spoke, I was impressed by his warmth, knowledge of the scriptures, and ability to teach from them. While I may not remember any specifics of what he said, the power of the Spirit which I felt when he was speaking was unmistakable. After that conference, I had the opportunity to greet and chat with him informally. What I had seen at the pulpit while he spoke was even more apparent in his personal interactions with me and other members of my parent's stake. This is a man who feels and teaches by the Spirit.

During the April 2010 General Conference, Elder Gong was among those called as a General Authority Seventy (to serve in the First Quorum). He filled various assignments at Church headquarters for the first year or so after his call. From August 2011-August 2013, he served in the Asia Area Presidency as a counselor. In 2013, he was called as president of that same area. As a result of Elder Ronald A. Rasband's call to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during the October 2015 General Conference, Elder Gong was called to the Presidency of the Seventy on October 6, 2015. He transitioned out of his role as Asia Area President and into his new assignment in that Presidency effective January 4, 2016. He had responsibility for overseeing the work of the Church in the North America Northeast Area. He also served on the Church Board of Education and Boards of Trustees, and a member of the Executive Committee of the Boards.

After serving in the Presidency of the Seventy for roughly 2.5 years, and following the deaths of Elder Robert D. Hales and Church President Thomas S. Monson, new Church President Russell M. Nelson called both Elder Gong and Elder Ulisses Soares to serve as members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. They were first sustained in that assignment on March 31, 2018, and both were ordained to the apostleship the following Thursday (April 5, 2018). The two are the first Asian American and Latin American apostles of the Church. In June 2018, Elders Gong and Soares met with representatives of the media for the first time as new apostles. At that time, Elder Gong reported that he had been asked to chair the Scriptures Committee. He also serves as a member of the Priesthood and Family Executive Council, the Leadership and Training Committee, and the Outreach Committee. He had additionally indicated that he had been asked to oversee the Church's Asia and Asia North Areas, but official Church resources say those areas are supervised by Elder Gary E. Stevenson.

Elder Gong has given only 6 addresses in General Conference thus far, 1 following his call as a General Authority, 1 other while in the Presidency of the Seventy, and 4 more since beginning his service in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, all of which are worthy of review, and each of which I can endorse without hesitation. I am grateful to have been able to write this post in honor of his 66th birthday today. Because of my previously-referenced personal interaction with him, I can testify that the Lord has prepared him for his present assignment, and I whole-heartedly sustain him and the other 14 apostles. That does it for now. Any and all comments are, as always, welcome and appreciated, on any post at any time, as long as such comments are made in accordance with the established guidelines. Thank you for the privilege of your time. If you enjoyed what you read here and would like to stay informed of newly-added content, please feel free to subscribe. Until my next post, I wish each one of you all the best and pray that the Lord will bless you all in everything you do.