Pioneers on Campus
October 14, 2011
Even from a young age Yao Zhang has made goals and set out to achieve them with hard work, determination, and a heart full of faith-no matter what.
Born in Myanmar to a Chinese family, Zhang was not recognized as a Burmese citizen and so his opportunities for education were limited.
“I needed an education,” Zhang recalls. “I wanted to learn different languages. I wanted to know about modern technology.”
So at great personal risk, Zhang traveled to Mandalay, one of Myanmar’s largest cities, to begin his education. There he met members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who shared the gospel with him. When he learned he would have to travel to Yangon, the capital of Myanmar, to be baptized, Zhang returned home to his village to pray about it.
“Later, after a week, I decided to go,” Zhang says. His parents told him the risk was too great, but Zhang had made up his mind. “I need to be baptized,” he told them.
After two days of travel, Zhang arrived in Yangon and immediately went to the church building where the small branch of 20 were waiting for him. Zhang and four others, the first converts from the north of Burma, were baptized that winter morning.
“It was a wonderful morning-a wonderful day,” Zhang says. “I can still feel it.”
Called to serve
After Zhang was baptized, he learned about missionary work and knew immediately that he wanted to serve a mission. "If the Lord wants me to go, then I will go,” he says.
A year later Zhang was called to serve in the Australia Sydney South Mission.
Zhang first heard about BYU-Hawaii as a missionary in Australia. He talked about the school with his mission president, who encouraged him to apply.
“I wanted to come here, but I could not afford to enroll,” he says. “My mission president mentioned the I-WORK program.”
Enter to learn
Zhang applied to BYU-Hawaii and was awarded an I-WORK scholarship. He is studying accounting and finance at BYU-Hawaii and works as a lead, supervising other student workers at the Polynesian Cultural Center’s Prime Dining Restaurant. He knows that this opportunity was all made possible by the I-WORK program.
“Before I joined the Church, I used to feel like I was nobody, but I feel like now I am somebody-somebody with an education and with a knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he says.
“I really, really appreciate the donors’ contributions that make it possible for all of the people who are willing to come and study here. They [the donors] are saving thousands of lives. They are helping a lot of people.”
One way Zhang expresses his gratitude is to apply himself at school and at work. “In the future when I can give more, it will be wonderful to contribute to the I-WORK program,” he says.
Zhang isn’t exactly sure what his future holds, but he lives each day with faith. He hopes someday to attend graduate school and rear a family.
He believes that he has been richly blessed by the gospel of Jesus Christ and the opportunity to study at BYU-Hawaii and asks, “If you have the gospel and you have an education, what else do you need?”