Marv & Marcia's Blog

The Tabernacle Choir in the Philippines 

Members of the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square perform during a sacred music concert at Mall of Asia Arena Manila, Philippines, on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2024.

I love listening to The Tabernacle Choir. Since I grew up in a small town in South Dakota, I wasn’t exposed to The Tabernacle Choir and knew very little about them. The first time I started to gain an appreciation of the Choir was on my mission to South Africa. The saints there had a great respect for the Choir which rubbed off on me and that I’ve held ever since. 

Nearly every time that I am in the Utah, I try and attend the Spoken Word or any other events the Choir participates in such as the annual Christmas Program held at the Conference Center near Temple Square. Also, when the Choir has been on tour I’ve attended their performances outside of Utah several times over the years. These touring performances were unique and always full of energy, special songs, and with unique aspects in these performances. 

When I first learned of The Tabernacle Choir visit to the Philippines as a part of their World Tour, my first thought was that I would not try and secure tickets and take away from a Filipino saint’s opportunity to see the choir in person. A few weeks before the Choir’s arrival in the Philippines I was asked if I wanted tickets. Again, I declined using the same logic as I had initially had…better to allow Filipino saints attend than us. When I again asked and told that there were four tickets available, I paused. Who could I invite to join us in attending one of the four Choir’s performances? 

I have a first cousin that I met later in life. One of the first times I visited with her, I learned that she had lived in the Philippines for twenty years. After we learned of our call to the Philippines, I called her and told her of our senior mission call. She was excited to hear that we would be living in the Philippines for a couple of years. 

She shared with me that her three children were born in the Philippines and that her eldest son currently lives in the Manila area. To make a long story short, we eventually were able to meet and have lunch with him on New Year’s Day 2024. We hit it off…you never know how a first-time meeting will go with relatives you’ve never met before. In this case, the lunch went well.

Since I managed to snag four Choir tickets a few days before the concert, I decided to invite my second cousin and his significant other. I was looking forward to sharing an inspiring evening of music with my cousin and left it at that. However, I was totally unprepared for what we experienced. Words fail me as I try and describe the evening…but I’ll try.

More than 39,000 people gathered at some 200 watch parties throughout Luzon in the north, the central Visayas and Mindanao in the south — the three main island groups of the more than 7,100 islands that comprise the Philippines. The watch parties were in Church meetinghouses, movie theaters, town halls and public squares.

In Manila, two of the four performances were held at the Mall of Asia Arena also known as the MoA Arena It is an indoor arena within the SM Mall of Asia complex, in Bay City, Pasay, Metro Manila, Philippines. It has a seating capacity of 15,000 for sporting events, and a full house capacity of 20,000 and was officially opened on May 21, 2012. For the Choir’s performances, the arena was configured to seat slightly less than 9,000 people. 

We were fortunate to get four seats 12 rows back on the center floor which is a perfect place to sit in a venue like this. As I said, I was expecting a pleasant evening of music and as the Choir began their performance, I was noticeably taken back. Yes, the music was outstanding for a choral stand point but the manner in which the program was crafted integrating two Filipino masters of ceremonies and after the 323 choir members and 60-plus orchestra members sang several songs of faith the crowd burst into rancorous applause as Lea Salonga, a world famous recording artist, actress, Tony Award recipient, honored as a Disney Legend, and numerous other award walked on stage to the microphone and began to sing – and sing she could. 

From this point of the performance continued to pick up more and more momentum and with heightened emotions as several Filipino songs were performed in English and several faith-based Filipino songs were sung in Tagalog the audience was visibly moved.  There were a Jewish and African songs sung in each of these country’s native language. At the beginning of the evening, the MC’s shared that this is the first performance in another country by the Choir where they dressed in a traditional native dress – in the Philippines this is called the Barong – the formal attire – see below. If you ever see the President of the Philippines addressing their Congress or meeting with world leaders, he will be wearing a Barong .  

The male Choir members are all dress in a Barong – the formal wear in the Philippines.

The female Choir members were dressed in a traditional dress in light royal blue.

Two thirds of the way through the performance, a group of 50 youth ran down the isles to the stage and performed a melody of songs centered around the Savior with a choreographed dance routine and in a stage acting sequence that added to the sacred nature of the song that were being performed.

The Choir continued to show their versatility and range with a number of sacred songs and spirted songs from America. As I said, it is hard for me to put into words the emotion and feeling that existed in the arena as these Filipino saints from all over the Philippines participated in the once in a lifetime event for them. As the concert drew to a close, the audience were asked to take out their cell phone and turn on the flashlight feature as the choir performed. With a thunder of applause, as the final song ended and Mack Walberg, the conductor walked off of the stage and after an extended round of applause returned to the stage for the finale which was one of the Choir’s signature songs – the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Quite an evening.

Now my description is just words…what can’t be put into words on a page is the emotion that myself and I’m sure nearly everyone felt during the concert. Even when I watched a YouTube video of the concert a few days later, it doesn’t even come close to capturing a fraction of the feeling in being there in person. It was something totally unexpected and I doubt these Filipinos will ever in their lifetimes match this type of experience. 

A Filipino family that we brought to the Tabernacle Choir concert with our senior couple friends. The family couldn’t have attended the concert because they had no way to get to the performance. We live about a 90-minute drive to the concert.

Post concert gathering where the Tabernacle Choir members mingled with the Filipino attendees.

Here are a few links if you would like to watch the performance in its entirety which I’m sure none of you will.

Here is a short news article (2:30) that doesn’t capture 1/1000th of the energy or spirit of the concert.

A night that I will long remember.

Spiritual Thought: Bible  = Basic, Instructions, Before, Leaving, Earth.

Scripture of the day: D&C 6:36: Look unto me in every thought, doubt not, fear not. 

Sometimes an Ol’ Friend Surprises You

As I have shared before, years ago Marcia and I were called to be serve in the Oakland 9thBranch (later to become the Oakland 9th Ward) where we served for six years. Initially, I was assigned as the executive secretary to a young newly married branch president. During this calling I met a Filipino – Joe Aliling. Joe and I became good friends over the years that we served there. He was the epitome of the most faithful of Latter-Day Saints. 

Although I knew that he was Filipino, I never took the time to ask him to share the story on how he ended up in the San Francisco Bay Area after spending most of his life in the Philippines. After we relocated to El Dorado Hills east of Sacramento, we only talked occasionally. When we arrived in  the Philippines, after a few months I reached out to Joe and asked him more about his life’s journey. As he shared his life story, I was blown away to learn how unique and amazing his story is. I will only give you a brief summary, hitting the highlights of rather unexpected life.

Joe was born in a remote city south of Manila. He was always a bright student and received a scholarship to the most elite university in the Philippines – the University of the Philippines. Since he exceled in math, this led him to major in electrical engineering. At the time, he was a Catholic and he had a vision of the type of wife he wanted and that she would teach his kids to be God fearing Filipinos. 

Eventually, he met his wife, a student at UP, through a friend.  Although she wanted to become a medical doctor, her godfather suggested getting a doctorate degree on the preventive side of medicine vs. the treatment side. She would go on to earn a master’s degree and a doctorate degree in nutrition. During this time, she served on several high-level committees. On one of these committees, her  committee chair gave her a Book of Mormon. 

After graduating, Joe went to work for Pepsi and shortly was promote to be a manager in charge of their transition from analog to the digital world in some of their manufacturing processes. John Scully (Pepsi’s CEO was recruited by Steve Jobs to be the CEO Apple with his famous challenge “do you want to be known for selling sugar water or changing the world”) initiated a management training program which Joe was recruited to join as a rising star. Pepsi paid for him to get an MBA. While he was busy getting an MBA and burning the candle at both ends because he was still working, the missionaries knocked on their door. Although it took nearly a year before Joe could find the time to meet with the missionaries, his wife had the missionaries over weekly for dinner. Eventually, the Aliling’s were baptized into the Church. 

Through a series of events (too long to discuss here) he was recruited to teach at UP and became a tenured professor as well as a management consultant to the Philippines government. Joe established himself as a key player in government circles establishing relationships that later would prove to be vital to enhance relations between the Church and the Philippines government. 

Interestingly, a member of our Orinda Ward in Moraga, California, where we lived for over thirty years, was a high-level person who worked in the San Francisco Office of the FBI. After this person, Garth Andrus, retired was called to be one of the early mission presidents in Manila. As often happens, rumors started that these young men in white shirts and ties from America were really CIA agents and spies. This rumor was enhanced by the fact that the Manila mission president was former FBI. This rumor created some barriers for missionaries to be able to get visas and there were limits on the number of missionaries allowed in the country at one time. 

Because some of Joe’s classmates at UP were now in important government positions and a few of his friends were working in the immigration department. Because of these contacts and working with Elder Hinckley, an apostle at the time (he was on a first name basis with most of the General Authorities), Joe arranged for a group of government officials (some of his friends) to visit the Mission Training Center in Provo to allow these government officials to see what was being taught. During their visit what they saw were young men learning the Filipino culture, singing Filipino songs, and learning to speak Tagalog. Based on this and further discussions, many of the immigration barriers for missionaries to enter the Philippines faded away. 

Another antidote Joe shared with me as we prepared to record his oral history, was about how his background and education allowed him to travel all over Asia on a government passport (referred to as a “Red Passport” – the passport was literally red) at no cost as a part of his consulting role for the government. On one such trip, he had picked up the LDS Seminary Curriculum for the upcoming year on his way to the airport. He had a flight to Davao and his thought was to review all of this educational material on the flight to and from Davao. 

Sitting next to him happen to be the Secretary of Education for the Philippines. A discussion ensued which eventually ended up in a group of officials in the Department of Education for the Philippines going to Brigham Young University and visiting the McKay College of Education to learn more about their teaching methodology some of which eventually was incorporated into some of the school curriculum in the Philippines. 

Now for the movie plot line of his life. 

As a part of his role as consultant for the government and his background as an MBA and educator, he was asked to set up a commission to investigate graft and corruption on government contracts. After digging and uncovering irregularities, he was finishing the final preparation of his report – which was not complementary to a lot of people, he got a phone call from his stake president (Joe was a counselor in the stake presidency) telling him not to go home and to tell his wife to stay with family for a few days and he would pick him up at UP Campus. 

After the stake president picked him up, he told him that he had information that his life was in danger because some of the contents of his report had been leaked and since the report named names, etc., he was not looked on by a lot of powerful people very favorably. The stake president told him that he was taking him directly to the airport and Joe needed to use his Red Passport to get on a flight to the San Francisco Bay Area with nothing but the clothes on his back. 

At least in my life, it’s rare that I get to talk to someone like Brother Joe Aliling who was instrumental in key aspects of allowing the gospel to grow and prosper in a country like the Philippines. The interesting thing is that I would not have known any of this if I hadn’t had the responsibility to capture some of the history of the Philippines by interviewing and talking to Filipino saints and leaders. I often wonder how many other unique stories I’ve missed along the way. 

Joe Aliling in Oakland California

An Unusual Oral History

Five months ago, we met Manny Nester at the Makati 4th Ward and shortly after this we were invited to dinner with another senior missionary couple where we began to hear of this rather unique life story that brought him to the Philippines.   

Manny was born into the Muslim faith. After marrying several wives, these wives were unable to give birth to a son which is prized by Muslims families. His father took additional wives to help solve this problem. Eventually, the male curse came to an end with the birth of Manny. 

His father and grandfather were respected members of the Muslim community and now with a son Manny was groomed to carry on the family name. He was enrolled in the best schools and was the center of attention of his father and grandfather. 

When he was eleven years old, he walked by a Christian revival meeting. He stopped to listen and was touched by the spirit. He returned several times and later he met several Baptist missionaries that was a part of the Christian group meetings he had been attending. Eventually, he accepted their invitation to join some additional meetings and activities. To be able to do this, he had to sneak out of school in the evenings and on weekends. These clandestine meetings continued until he was inevitably discovered. 

After his Christian activities were uncovered, his father retrieved him from the boarding school and he was taken to his grandmother’s home, coaxed to abandon these Christians which he refused to commit to doing. This resulted in beatings. This continued and he was given an ultimatum to stop, confess, and promise never to see these infidels again. His parent had told him to think about what they had talked to him about and sent him away to think about what he was going to do.  He decided he couldn’t do what they were asking him to do and decided to run away which he did that night.

Having no other means of supporting himself, he became a homeless street urchin begging for food (keep in mind he was thirteen years old), often sleeping in mosques in a neighboring community because he knew the schedule at mosques. His homeless plight continued for several years. The original missionaries had returned to the US.  

Eventually, he met another Baptist missionary. After Manny shared his story with this missionary, the missionary teared up and said that he had heard about him and he was one of the reasons they had decided to come to Uganda and to try and find him. This person was Tony Nester. The Nester’s provided a home for him, enrolled him into school, and provided much needed family structure and love. Manny decided to take the Nester family name. 

Eventually, his former Muslim friends learned where Manny was living. All of his friends were told that he had died. When his friends found out he wasn’t dead, they began to persecute him by stoning and harassing him. After his new Christian friends heard that his family had told everyone he was dead, they called him Lazarus because he had come back from the dead. 

After the Nester family returned to America, Manny decided to move to Kenya to get away from his past and some of the persecution. After settling down in Kenya, he sought out Christians and made friends with a Korean. This friendship blossomed and when this young man returned to Korea he invited Manny to join him on a three-month visitor’s visa. After staying in Korea for a few months, Manny decided to stay in Korea and return to school. He was able to get a full-ride soccer scholarship. However, to qualify for the scholarship, he had to pass the Korean language exam. He studied for the exam and passed it. He majored in business and the Korean language. While attending school, he started a youth ministry on campus and was able to get paid for the youth group speaking engagements. This is how he began to support himself.

During one of these speaking engagements at a youth camp retreat, he met an LDS young lady named Caitlin. They became friends but he thought she was weird because of some of her beliefs on Christ, the sacrament and the Book of Mormon. Nevertheless, they remained friendly and after the camp ended they continued emailing each other. Eventually, Kaitlin returned to the US and he later learned that she was serving an LDS mission. 

Three years later, he became friends with some LDS missionaries while helping these missionaries with their Korean and he began playing basketball with them. During this time, Caitlin’s father was visiting Korea on business and took Manny to dinner and they talked religion. Manny listened politely but never took the things Caitlin’s father was talking to him about to heart. 

He continued to play basketball with the LDS missionaries. When some of the Christian youth ministry leaders learned he was hanging out with the LDS missionaries, they kicked him out of their church because of his association with the missionaries. Now that he had lost his source of income, he got a job on one of the US military bases.  During this time, he met and began to date a young American soldier. They were eventually married.  

Less than a year after his marriage, he had a family situation in Uganda that he needed to be addressed. He went to Uganda and on his return trip to Korea on a stopover in Istanbul as he tried to board the plane to Soule, his ticket and passport were flagged. He was told that his Korean Visa was no longer valid…which was news to him. Since he didn’t have a Turkish Visa, he couldn’t go to the Korean Embassy in Istanbul to sort things out.  The officials at the airport said that the Philippines didn’t have restrictive visa requirements and he could go to the Korean Embassy in Manila to get this visa issues resolved. He flew to Manila.

This began a seven-month long saga of attempting to get an appointment with the Korean Embassy in Manila. During his time in the Philippines, he was in contact with Caitlin and her father who told Manny that he had friends in the Makati 4th Ward in Quezon City. Instead of contacting the Baptist church because of how unchristian they had been to him in Korea by kicking him out of their church for playing basketball with the LDS missionaries, he decided to seek out the friend of Caitlin’s father that lived in the Makati 4th Ward. He Googled the nearest church building and walked into the chapel on a Sunday morning.

Manny said when he walked into the chapel on the first Sunday, he felt the same type of spirit he had at other times in his life when faced with big decisions, even when these decisions often resulted in challenges and persecution. Seven months later after many long and all-encompassing teaching sessions, Manny was baptized on January 28, 2024. 

In the meantime, his wife has been reassigned to Atlanta, GA. He now has an appointment with the Korean Embassy in Manila the first week in March of 2024. 

A few days after his baptism, we were able to capture Manny life’s story in an Oral History Interview. Some of the interviews we participate in are special because the spirit of the Lord is so strong as these individuals we interview share their stories of trials, faith, and their journey to the gospel. 

For Manny, as he shared his story, he ended the oral history interview with the perspective that everything that has happened to him in his life was Heavenly Father guiding him on his journey to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.  

The Joy of a Finding the Gospel and being Baptized

Since our senior mission is not specifically focused on proselyting, we don’t often get an opportunity to be directly involved in missionary work or related events. Recently, we had the opportunity to attend a baptismal service for Manny Nester. His story is fascinating. Here is an abbreviated version.

A mother and her nine year old daughter perform “Come Follow Me.”

Missionaries sing “Abide with Me “

The Philippines missionaries are from all over the world and Philippines. The missionaries in the picture come from the US, the Pacific island, and China. I often stand in amazement of the inspired nature of how the missionary program works. If it wasn’t inspired, it wouldn’t work. Meshing different cultures, languages, personalities, and temperaments that are thrown together and the result isn’t organized chaos but diligent hardworking young men and women.

I told my wife after talking to Elder Bliss and his companion that I was thinking back to my mission in South Africa over fifty years ago and about how I got up every day for over two and a half years and worked hard every day and never got home sic, or wanted to go home (in the days when you could only call home twice a year), as I thought about this, I marveled that I did it then and that these young missionaries are doing it today.

A thought to ponder: Often we feel the pure love of God most poignantly after there is true repentance. 

Scripture of the day: “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” -1Ne 11:17

Inspired by Oral Histories

The next best thing to keeping a journal or writing a history of experiences of your life is to record an oral history of an event, period of your life, or an overview of your life. We have the rare and blessed opportunity to capture events and individual histories of leaders, Filipino saints, and missionaries. Often I stand opened mouthed amazed at some of the stories, events, and histories we’ve been able to record during oral history interviews. These interviews not only keep us humble, but inspire us. Here are a few summaries of the recent oral history interviews.

The Hansen’s – Cebu Mission Leaders

A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to interview President and Sister Hansen who currently live in St. Louis, MO. The Hansen’s shared several experiences they had during their tenure as mission leaders in the Cebu Mission that might be of interest to you, they were to us.

At the time, the Cebu Mission encompassed the Cebu Island (an island that is 120 miles long and 20 miles wide) and five other islands. They traveled by pontoon plane, small boats, and ferries to the outer islands in the mission. The language spoken in Cebu is Cebuano. Filipino missionaries that are called to serve in the Cebu mission generally speak Tagalog but must learn Cebuano as do the foreign missionaries that are called to serve in Cebu. Nearly seventy-five percent of the missionaries serving in Cebu were native Filipinos and twenty percent of these were sister missionaries. The remaining twenty-five percent of missionaries serving in Cebu are foreigners (Americans, Aussies, Kiwis, Pacific Islanders, and a spattering from other nationalities).

During their tenure as mission leaders, the Cebu Temple was under construction. One of the challenges of building a temple in the Philippines are the high building standards that the church demands and finding craftsmen and contractors that could do this quality of work was a challenge. Often work completed had to be redone multiple times to meet the standards of construction required by the Church’s construction managers.  

The Hansen’s shared that one of the miracles during the construction of the temple was the number of rainy days were at an all-time low allowing the temple to be built ahead of schedule.

During the time the temple was under construction, members saved for years to be able to travel and attend the temple when it would open. Some of the more creative ways of saving to travel to the temple was by limiting the family’s meals to two meals (often to one) per day and saving and setting aside the money from the third meal (not eaten meal) into a temple trip fund. During the open house that was held prior to the Cebu Temple dedication in 2010, there was a mile long line of Filipinos waiting every day for a month prior to its dedication to tour the temple.  This is just a glimpse of the excitement surrounding having a temple within their part of the Philippines.

Given that many Filipinos live in poverty and their circumstances are humble at best, entering the temple and seeing the grandeur of the ordinance rooms and especially the celestial room is not only overwhelming for these faithful Filippino saints but also inspiring of the possibilities of a post-life existence. 

There were several stories shared during this interview One story was of a sister missionary who was the youngest of ten children. Her mother passed away while she was serving her mission. When Sister Hansen, who was in shambles and in tears, as she attempted to tell this young missionary of her mother’s passing, this young sister missionary lovingly put her arms around Sister Hansen and told her, “Things will be okay, I’m a covenant child” – referencing the fact that her family had been sealed together in the temple for time and all eternity. Having an eternal perspective offers these Filipino saints comfort in trying times.

Three other missionary’s had parents pass away while serving – Filipinos have a much shorter life span than Americans do. Often the extended family demands that a missionary return home to assist with the caring of family members which is a cultural norm. All of these missionaries chose to remain on their missions.

Cebu Temple in the Early Evening

Cebu Temple Entry Way

Cebu Temple Sealing Room

Cebu Temple Celestial Room

As you see these pictures of the Cebu temple, for a moment pretend that you are a Filipino family of humble means entering a temple of the Lord and seeing the symbolic splendor of the possibility of what the future holds for the faithful. The dedication and faithfulness of members that live in the general area of a temple is higher than those that have never seen or experienced being in a temple.

Other inspirational stories shared during the interview, were of how many members would walk two to three hours to church (because they didn’t have the few pesos to pay for a Trike or Jeepney ride) and then walk back home after church services never complaining of this hardship.

Challenges of Missionary Work

When discussing some of the challenges of missionary work in the Philippines, these mission leaders shared that because of the general poverty of the Filipino members, tithing is often a challenge. Yet, most faithful members paid a full tithe often at great sacrifice – yet they see it as a blessing.

Another issue for new Filipino converts to the gospel of Jesus Christ is because of the fact that most were Catholic and several generations of their family had burial crypts in Catholic cemeteries. Because of this, there was often a concern about where they will be buried when they pass away because often the Catholic clergy would preclude non-Catholic burials in the church’s cemetery. Since families view that being buried with your family is such a core cultural component in the Philippines, the “where will I be buried” issue causes many Filipinos to carefully consider their baptism. Some of the aleination from Catholic circle of friends causes some to decide not to move forward with being baptized.

Mission Mom and Nurse

Sister Hansen shared how she learned to be a quasi-registered nurse being the defacto first line of medical care for nearly two hundred missionaries. She learned to give shots and maintained a small pharmacy of medicines for the missionaries since there were often no pharmacies near where the missionaries lived. Because she had seven children, she generally knew when someone needed to go see a doctor. 

Since the Philippines has a Christian foundation and background, Filipinos loved their Bible and quickly learned to love the Book of Mormon as well. The Hansen’s shared a story of a member that lived in a remote island and hadn’t had contact with members of the Church for over twelve years; however, he had his Book of Mormon which he read daily, often by candlelight. Because the main theme of the Book of Mormon is Christ, his faith never wavered. 

Dinner with Special Missionaries

I’ve shared with you several times how I’ve randomly bumped into Elder Aaron Bliss, a missionary from our home town in El Dorado Hills, CA. After bumping into him again a few weeks ago just outside of our local Barangay near we we live and then sharing my chance meeting with Elder Bliss and his missionary companion, on one of my evening walks, Marcia immediately called the Quezon City Mission Home/Office to get his phone number and invited him and his companion over for dinner at our humble apartment.

Bumping into Elder Bliss as he was walking home through Eastwood City (where we live) on a Sunday evening

Elder Bliss and his companion (who had been on his mission for four days) bumped into me on one of my evening walks

The missionaries at our home after a gourmet chicken and rice dinner prepared by Master Chef Marcia

Things I continue to learn about the Philippines….

Laborers works 10+ hours during the day and another crew takes over for 10+ hours to work the night shift

I walk for several miles each evening or in the early morning. The other night I was walking by a condominium community. There was a soccer field that was being upgraded with new artificial turf and a rather sophisticated drainage system. I had been walking by this field for a few weeks. As I walked by the soccer field on this evening, the ground (prior to laying the actual artificial turf) was being prepared for more artificial turf to be laid.

In other countries, a soccer field ground might be leveled and prepared for the laying of the turf with a front end loader tractor. Here in the Philippines at this soccer field, there were laborers working using buckets to carry dirt from piles of new dirt across the field and dumping it and then leveling out the dirt by hand. Since labor is not an expensive component of a construction job in the Philippines like it might be in other countries, many projects like this is less expensive to have people do much of the work rather than using machines.

Thought for the day: Coincidences are God’s way of remaining anonymous.

Scriptural Thought: Thou shall be favored of the Lord because thou hast not murmured. 1 Ne 3:6

Exploring the Island of Palawan

A series of events lined up that allowed us to take a break from our day-to-day activities and get away for a few days. We decided to go to the island of Palawan.

First, since it was the traditional Christmas and New Year’s Holidays, things in the Philippines get very slow. Christmas is by far the biggest holiday in the Philippines. As I mentioned, the Christmas holiday starts in September and decoration don’t come down until the end of January.

Secondly, a remodeling of several offices including ours was in progress that started shortly before the Christmas/New Years break with the theory that there is little going on in the Area Offices so this was a good time to begin the remodeling.

Starting the week before between Christmas our offices had all of the furniture and desks moved out to make way for an expansion of our offices that would include adding a private office to enhance our ability to do in-office oral history interviews vs. having to schedule other conference rooms and offices in the Area Office Complex.

We stopped in to check on how things are going on our office remodel

Since we didn’t have a place to work, this necessitated working from our home apartment, which we do occasionally. Since our manager opted to use some of her vacation days during this time, we opted to take advantage of this slow time and plan a trip since little would be happening anyway.

There are lot of scenic places to visit in the Philippines and we hope to be able to get to see many more of these before we leave. We decided to visit the island of Palawan. We flew from Manila to Puerto Princesa, Palawan.

After a few days we made our way north to El Nido. El Nido is known for beaches and scenery.

Since we spend most of our time on the Island of Luzon, the largest and north most island, this is the first time we have left the island of Luzon. Although, we have traveled around Luzon, we spend most of our time in the greater Manila area. Visiting Palawan was an opportunity to see another part of the Philippines. I guess I can sum our trip up like this: Palawan was definitely the Philippines but yet at the same time very different. One thing I noticed that was the same…the language. As I’ve mentioned before, our mission call was to an English speaking mission. Yes, English is spoken here but when you get into the provinces (the rural areas), not so much.

Another senior mission couple we serve with served his first mission to the Philippines nearly 50 years ago as a young man. He has shared that when he served here the first time, nearly everyone could speak English. He never learned Tagalog or one of several different languages spoken in the Philippines. In a 1970’s a decision was made to preserve the cultural language by focusing on it making it the primary Filipino language Tagalog or what is officially now called the Filipino language – however, most people still refer to the language as Tagalog. This means there are now two official languages in the Philippines – Tagalog and English , or depending on where one lives in the Philippines, one of the other native languages of Cebuano, Hiligaynon , or Ilokano, would most commonly be spoken in the home. What this means in practice is that English (which is studied in school but not spoken in the home) may be understood but not spoken by most people.

Palawan would be consider a province, few people other than those in hotels or those that directly interface with foreigners (tourists) can speak English.

Our first stop was the Puerto Princesa City sign that lets you know that you were entering the city.


Trikes are the primary mode of transportation for a large part of the Philippines. In Palawan we had to rely on Tricycles (Trikes) for our transportation which is what most Filipino without cars use to get around – and most Filipino don’t have cars. The Trikes in Palawan are different than those in Greater Manila which includes Quezon City because there is space for 4-5 people on these Trikes. Here in Palawan only 2-3 people can ride in a trike because Puerto Princesa hosts a lot of tourists who (like us) have luggage. The Trikes in Palawan need a place on the rear of the trike to carry the luggage to external seating outside of the cab is non-existent and used for luggage storage. Marcia and I rode next to the Trike driver in the small cab. Many of the Trikes in Palawan tend to be much nicer and more modern than those in Metro Manila.

Trikes in Puerto Princesa

Trike vehicles in Quezon City with up to two people seated in the small cab – on the opposite side of this Trike behind the driver there is two to three passenger seat – total passengers of up to five people.

This is the Provincial Capitol Building in Puerto Princesa – similar to a state capitol buildings in the USA

This is the capitol in Puerto Princesa at night taken during one of my night walks where I get to see the city at night. Notice that Christmas decorative lights – which are everywhere in the Philippines.

A Filipina teaches Marcia to weave

Marcia in Puerto Princesa with the hat she purchased at the weaving factory

A local bird seeking a hand out in a restaurant we stopped at on our way from Puerto Princesa to El Nido. It common in outdoor restaurants in the provinces to have animals roam around.

El Nido

We had planned on taking an island hopping tour while in El Nido but sometime Mother Nature intervenes. We got up at the day break and headed to the beach to catch our boat for a day of visiting four different islands but the coast guard cancelled our boat trip because of high winds. Since we were going to be in El Nido for only a few days and most of the other island hopping tours were already booked during the holidays we opted to visit local beaches vs. make a day visiting beaches and site seeing on other islands.

This was easy because on of the most scenic beaches was less than a quarter of a mile from where we were staying. However, there was one problem when we arrived at our villa. I had checked out this villa that had five star reviews and several dozen pictures with great ocean and scenic views…the issue – to get to the villa you had to hike up well over a hundred steep and vertical steps. Generally, this wouldn’t be much of a problem for the younger set but for us, it took us time to climb these stair in the heat of the day and in the humidity to make it to the villa, which turned out to be as billed – when I asked our host about the stairs, his reply, “This was in the description.”

I checked…there was no mention of stairs in the description. The only reference to stairs was one single picture of a short section of the stairs. No one would ever difine from the posting of the villa that you had to climb Mt. Everest to get to the villa.

The beginning of the climb up the stairs to the villa

Marcia on her way up the stairs

Marcia taking a breather before tackling the last set of stairs.

Finally….at the top and entering the villa and standing in the veranda area of the villa the view was as billed

The view from our front room/veranda of our villa in El Nido

Since our only real sight seeing boat trip was cancelled, we decided to spend most of our time at the beach near where we were staying.

Marcia at Vanilla Beach

A beach view in the late afternoon

This is about as close as Marcia got to swimming on this trip

Marcia relaxing after lunch at the beach

While we stayed in El Nido, I would leave our villa in the early morning around 6:00 am and walk to the beach and spend the day working on my laptop. Marcia would join me for lunch.

Overall Impression of Palawan

In a tour of Puerto Princesa, the guide shared that there were city ordinances on fines for not keeping the city clean and I can tell you it was evident. There were no garbage piles on the side of the road as is frequent in greater Manila. They don’t use garbage cans, they simply pile up the garbage in bags (sometimes) for the garbage trucks to pick up. None of this was observed in Palawan.

The picture above was taken on a morning walk in the Barangay near where we live. Since there is not garbage cans there are no power lift arms to empty the garbage cans, only workers to toss the garbage bags on to the garbage collection trucks. Also, notice the power and cable lines that run to the homes in this Barangay. If there is an outside of the home electrical or cable problem, I have no idea how this would be identified.

In Palawan, there is apparently a regulation that a new home can’t be constructed unless it has a garage. This limits the number of cars on the road. Traffic was much less noticeable in Palawan.

Back to Manila

As we arrived at the airport for our return trip to Manila, I learned a few tricks on my way to Palawan at the Manila airport. In the US I had my TSA pass that allowed me to skip long check-in lines. Since there is no similar program here in the Philippines, on the way to Palawan we stood in line for 40 minutes to check in. When I got to the check in counter, I noticed another line for the priority check-in and for “Seniors” with only two people waiting. I noted this.

On the say back to Manila, I wasn’t going to make the mistake of standing in the normal check-in line and found my way to the “Seniors” and “First Class” line.

The regular check-in line at the Palawan airport – at least a thirty minutes wait

I was third in the Priority check-in line for “First Class and Seniors” and only had to wait a few minutes – much better than 45 minutes coming her from Manila.

Respect for Age

One thing that the Philippines has an advantage over the US is how the culture views older people. With our Filipino Driver’s license we get as much as a 20% discount on our meals at most restaurants. The lowest discount because we aren’t native Filipinos is 10%. There are priority lines in grocery stores for seniors and the common salutation a Filipino will offer an older person is to end a greeting with “Po” which is a sign of respect in the Philippines language. Here I don’t feel bad about being older in fact, I am glad I am a lot of the times.

Mayday, Mayday

This is Cebu Air, Flight 686, “Mayday, Mayday – the cabin is filling with smoke……

Boarding Before Our Flight Back to Manila

Having not flown in the pacific area or to Pacific Rim countries before which are hot and humid, I was unfamiliar with the phenomenon of atmospheric equalization when the outside humid air is piped into an aircraft cabin where there is cooler less humid air and as the more humid air clashes with the less humid cooler air this creates a mist. Now I know.

What I Continue to Learn in the Philippines…..


Jeepney’s in the Island of Luzon are a common site. They got their start as a mode of transportation after WWII when surplus jeeps were modified for public transit and began their cultural journey into Filipino lore.

A traditional Jeepney in Luzon

The Future of Jeepney’s

Jeepney’s have diesel engines which are major air polluters. I always change lanes when driving behind a Jeepney. The Philippines as with many other countries wishing to eliminate hydrocarbons have committed to phase out the traditional Jeepney’s to more modern EVs that are air conditioned with padded seats. I’m sure there will be areas where tourist will still be able to take a Jeepney ride like they do in NYC in a horse and buggy.

Thought of the day: If you don’t document or write it down, it never happened. 

Scripture of the day: 1 Ne 11:17: …”I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.”

A Christmas Day Wish from Marv and Marcia

It is Christmas Day in the Philippines. At times like this our thoughts turn to our friends and family. This is the first time in over fifty years we have not been with part of all of our family. At times like this, you have time to reflect and reflect we did.


A missionary companion that I served with in South Africa over fifty years ago on my first mission sent me the video link below of a Christmas Program performed by their ward congregation. I found this video inspiring and thought you might too. If you have a few minutes, I think you will enjoy it. With this we wish you the merriest of Christmas to you and your family.

Hallelujah Performed – An Inspiring Rendition

With Love….Marv & Marcia from the Philippines

Christmas Time in the Philippines

The Filipinos love to celebrate just about everything – especially Christmas – the seasonal celebration for Christmas starts on September 1st and runs through the “BER” months of SeptemBER, OctoBER, NovemBER, and DecemBER.

Christmas is similar in many ways to the way its celebrated in the US that includes parties, get togethers, and of course gift giving. Many different traditions in the Philippines come from around the world and are combined into the Filipino Christmas holiday mix ranging from traditions like decorating trees with lights and ornaments, faith-oriented traditions like Midnight Mass, Christmas songs about sleigh bells, a winter wonderland, and the more traditional Christmas carols like Silent Night.  Traditions and songs that reference snow is a little puzzling for me since most Filipinos have never seen or experienced snow.

A Local Ward and It’s Christmas Party

We attend a Tagalog ward with another senior couple. As a gesture of the Christmas gift giving spirit, the senior couple that have claimed this ward as their home ward offered to purchase food for the Christmas Party dinner. The bishop’s preference was to purchase a roasted pig. Our senior couple friends checked on having a whole pig roasted and delivered ready-to-eat to the ward building the day of the party.

After the bishop thought about the pre-cooked pig and the cost of this dinner, he came back with an alternate suggestion. Since a pre-cooked roasted pig would cost the same as two live pigs, he proposed that the funds for the pig be used to purchase two live pigs instead. This plan was agreed to and the order placed.

The day before the Christmas Party the two live pigs were delivered to the ward building. Several ward members were there to receive the pigs and locked them in the gated parking lot for the night. Early the day of the party, ward members arrived, slaughtered the pigs, and spent eight hours slowly roasting by turning both pigs on a stick over an open fire.

The party was a smashing success because members of the ward rarely get such delicacy as a roasted pig. They ate the entire pig – skin, legs, ears, and of course the meat. After this feast ward members were ready to party. The remainder of the day and evening was filled with festive dancing, singing, and gratitude for being expressed for such a special blessing of having such a feast.

The two pigs set on a table in the Cultural Hall was the highlight of the Ward Christmas Party

This pig roasting event reminded Marcia and I of the years we spent living and serving in the Oakland California Stake where there were several Tongan and Samoan wards that had Luau’s all of the time and a pig roast was a common event. Although, I don’t recall any pigs being slaughter in the parking lot. I think being a part of a multi-culture church is fabulous.

A Short Music Clip – A Winter Wonderland

The Philippines is a country of contrasts. As I mentioned above, the Philippines and snow causes me with cognitive dissonance. This short video clip was taken (in a shopping mall not to far from where we live), with Christmas shopping in full swing, if you are out for a walk, a light show set to a Christmas song launches every hour.

If you can’t experience snow , you can sing about it.

It’s Christmas Time

You can tell it’s Christmas because the mall is crowded with people hurrying to finish their shopping. Shortly after the above video was taken, there was a fireworks display that lasted for nearly ten minutes something that happens on most nights.

As I said the Philippines is a country of contrasts. Less than a quarter of a mile from where the shopping mall is located there is a barangay called Bagumbayan. This is a traditional barangay that’s overcrowded with homes that have storefronts where food, restaurants, and shops of all kinds. There is also a school and a large Catholic church in the barangay. This area would be considered a poor community with a backdrop of Eastwood City an affluent community which sits in the heart of the Filipino Call Center industry.

Even though many Filipinos live at or below the poverty line, Christmas is a time of extravagance. The average Filipino household spends over five hundred dollars in US dollars (nearly 28,000 Filipino pesos) at Christmas time on food, gifts, and decorations. This is hard for me to fathom given their poverty of many families but apparently accurate because the Filipino culture is really into celebrating Christmas in a big way.

Out for an evening on the Eastwood City Plaza on a Friday night

Elder and Sister Meyer and Squires who are a few of our good friends enjoying the holiday lights together

Choir at Eastwood Mall without the Orchestra

One of the blessings of serving a mission as a senior is the opportunity to serve with other senior coupes some of which are extremely talented – especially in the musical arena. Case in point, I was asked to take on the project of getting permission for our small group of senior couples to sing carols in the mall. Although, it took me a while and going to several different offices to get this figure out, I was a able to get what I thought were all of the necessary signatures authorizing us to sing.

After we had been singing for twenty minutes, the security guards showed up in force to ask me for the permission form which I promptly produced. After a few terse words, I was told that I needed three signatures and I only had two. We were asked to leave because there was another group (with three signature on their form) and as it turns out they were much more professional than us with amplifiers, huge speakers, mics, guitars, horns, etc., and five singers.

However, during the nearly half an hour, we were able to draw a crowd who videoed and took pictures of our band of gypsies. After the other group began to perform, we faded away into the night.

The Choir at Eastwood without an Orchestra

Singing for Ice Cream

After we left our mall caroling stint, we went to our apartment building and sang carols. Then it was off to get ice cream. As it so happened, the soft serve machine was out of ice cream and were told that a new batch wouldn’t be ready for ten or fifteen-minutes. The ring leader of our choral group wouldn’t give up on an evening filled with caroling and coxed everyone, while we all waited for our soft serve cones, to sing Christmas carols while shoppers in the shop waited to be served.

Singing in the lobby and for our soft serve ice cream

Our Christmas Wish for You

Thought of the Day: There are a lot of things that we can be grateful at Christmas time but for us, especially this year, is the significance of what this holiday really means. I wonder what Christ’s mother thought when the Shepards showed up unannounced to show homage to their new born son. Then later when the wise men brought bearing gifts bowed down to worship their child. While she had some idea of how special her son was, she couldn’t have truly understood what significance her son would have for you and me.

May we all remember the true meaning of this season the Christ child and the warmest Christmas wish to you and your families from us in the Philippines…..Marv and Marcia

Scriptural Thought: Luke 2;19: “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. “

The Future of the Church in the Philippines

Seeing the Future Today

In the last few months, we have seen the future of the Church in the Philippines and it is in the faces and eyes in the youth we have seen attending conferences for the young people sponsored by the stakes throughout Luzon. During December, we have or will be hosting six Young Single Adult (YSA) or Stake Youth Conferences (SYC) at the Church History Center on the Strength of Youth Campus in Tanay – which is about a two hour drive one way . As with all distances in the Philippines it isn’t about how far something is in miles but how long it takes to drive because of the traffic. These conferences are gatherings of hundreds of young single adults from stakes through the central Luzon area. 

These events last on average for three days. If you have been reading our blog posts, you are aware that the Strength of Youth Campus is a  fully contained facility with dorms, classrooms, auditorium, and cafeteria that can host ~500 people (youth and leaders) at a time. The YSA and SYC conferences held this month range from 190 to 400 youth in attendance.

While attending one of the devotions at the one of the conferences recently, I sat listening to the opening hymn “Did You Think to Pray,” As I listened to the hymn, I had this feeling of gratitude, hope, solemnity, and thankfulness sweep over me with my heart full for the opportunity we have to be in the Philippines, doing what we are doing, and in some small way making a difference to those we come in contact with as we go about our duties capturing and sharing the rich history of the Filipino saints.

At one of their sessions, I looked over several hundred of these young adults sitting in the assembly hall attentively listening to the speaker, forty to fifty percent of these young adults are return missionaries, I couldn’t help thinking about the future as they receive their degrees, begin their careers, marry, have families, and serve the Lord in various callings in the Church. This perpetual cycle of preparing leadership and offering them opportunities to service, I continue to be impressed with the vitality and growth of the gospel in the Philippines. 

YSA Attendees Prepare for a Devotional

Getting ready to address the youth adults about the Church History Center

Coordinating Schedules with one of the YSA Leaders

in the picture above, I’m meeting with the youth leader that is charge of the over three hundred YSA attendees and organizing the tours of the Church History Center on the FSY Campus. This young man is a return missionary, works as a teacher in the Philippines MTC, and speaks four languages. You’ll note that he has a sweater on….it was cooler today – 23 degrees Celsius – or 73 degrees Fahrenheit. There were a lot of young adults wearing hoodies and sweaters because it was uncustomarily cool and not the normal 90+ degrees. Marcia was praising the Lord for the cool day.

There is always a full team of EMTs on duty 24/7 and on site during conferences at the FSY Campus. The closest medical facility is over an hour away. There are always two ambulances ready and waiting in case they are needed. This cautious approach of the Area Presidency is always in play when it comes to watching out for the youth and missionaries. Every attempt is spent to minimize risk.

For example, there are currently four senior mission medical couples (all MDs). If a missionary has to return home for a medical reason, either temporarily or permanently, one of the senior couple MDs/medical advisor will accompany the missionary home and then immediately catch a flight back to Manila. While having dinner with one of the medical advisor senior couples a few weeks ago, he recently flew from Manila to Pakistan. The lapsed time was over 20 hours. After dropping the missionary off in Pakistan, he then had to turn around and fly back to Manila on another 20+ hour flight.

New Missions for the Philippines

The red circled area is the Mindanao Islands where there are currently three missions, soon to be six in July 2024, it was also the area of a recent 7.6 magnitude earthquake.

New Missions

Mindanao is the most southern group of islands in the Philippines – see red lined area above. In interviewing several of the mission leaders that served in Mindanao, they all commented that the distances are enormous, often taking several days to travel by car to visit some of the congregations and missionaries in their missions. Three new missions are being created in Mindanao in mid-2024. The red underlined missions in the Mission Map above are the current/existing missions. By expanding the number of missions from three to six on the Mindanao islands, distances to visit members and missionaries by mission leaders will be more manageable. This will allow mission leaders to visit and keep track of their missionaries and congregations more easily. There are currently twenty-three missions (soon to be twenty-six with the additional of three new missions) in the Philippines.

There are also thirteen temples that are operating, under construction, or announced in the Philippines. This is definitely a good thing because many Filipinos don’t have the financial resources to make trips to attend a temple located hundreds of miles away. Currently there are only two temples that are currently operational, with one more becoming operational in Q1 of 2024. It will take several years for the remaining nine temples to be complete and become operational. 

I anticipate that there will be many more missions, temples, stakes, and wards created in the next decade as the acceptance of the restored gospel continues to create the need to expand the ability to serve the membership in the Philippines. 

Feeling Safe

In a discussion the other day with some other senior couples, I commented that I’ve never felt unsafe anywhere in the Philippines. I walk for several miles a day (some times late in the evening) walking through some tough looking barangays (local communities) and I’m always greeted with smiles and waves – perhaps because I’m the only white guy in a barangay may be a part of this friendly reception. I’ve also taken my walks out in the depths of the provinces, I’ve never had a feeling of being unsafe as well. Also, there are guards and security at every building in the area we live.

When we leave or return, there is always a security guard to open the door of us.

There is always a security person at the reception desk at our building keeping track of the comings and goings of people coming in and out of the building

I think one of the reasons there are so many security personnel nearly everywhere you look is because the salary of these people is very, very low and it helps with reducing the unemployment.

A final thought on safety in the Philippines. Obviously, there are places in the Philippines and in the Manila area that are not safe. As I’ve mentioned before, in Mindanao (the southern islands in the Philippines) the Church doesn’t allow white North Americans, Australian, or New Zealanders to serve there because of the attitude that many of the Muslim radicals have against white skinned infidels. Yet, for us, we’ve never felt threatened or unsafe in any place we’ve been.

On the Plaza

The other evening I headed out for a walk one of my daily routines at about 7 pm in the evening. I hadn’t walked for more than two blocks when it started to rain. I turned around and headed back to our apartment, grabbed my laptop, and headed out to the plaza on the Eastwood City Mall near where we live. I had been sitting at a small table outside of a coffee shop for about thirty minutes working away on my laptop listening to the rain gently falling on the street next to where I was sitting when around the corner walks a 6’10” missionary – Elder Aaron Bliss a young man from our home church ward back in El Dorado Hills California. We were surprised to see each other. I had seen Elder Bliss four or five months ago at the Manila Temple.

After a brief chat, he shared that they were teaching people in the Bagumbayan Barangay next to where we live. He introduced me to his companion and a Filipino member that was accompanying him this evening. His companion is his first North American companion who is from North Carolina – all of his other missionary companions have been Filipinos. After a few more minutes of chatting, we took a couple of pictures, exchanged phone numbers, and email addresses, and Elder Bliss was off into the night.

As I sat there, after talking to Elder Bliss, the rain started to subside and I marveled at miracle of the missionary program that sends young eighteen-year-old missionaries to a hundred different countries throughout the world. They learn the local language (Elder Bliss speaks very fluent Tagalog), they serve for 18 to 24 months away from home, on their own dime, and while it is sometimes challenging for them, they usually end up having the time of their lives and doing a lot of good in the meantime.

For me, thinking back on my time in South Africa over fifty-five years ago, the thirty months I served in South Africa, was a time of learning, maturing, and realizing just how fortunate I was to live in the United States. When I landed in New York’s JFK airport, I literally got down on my hands and knees and kissed the asphalt because I was so happy to be back in the US that I had taken so much for granted prior to spending time out of the country. While I was gone, I learned to appreciate my country, the freedoms we enjoy, and bounties of life we have. I’m sure most missionaries that serve in third world countries have had or will have some portion of the experience I had when I returned to the US.

Things I continue to learn about the Philippines….


The Philippines, which lies along the Pacific Ring of Fire, is frequented by seismic and volcanic activities. There are between 100-150 earthquakes per year (with magnitude of 4.0 and above) somewhere in the Philippines.

The morning of the day when the above picture of Elder Bliss was taken there was a 7.6 magnitude earthquake in Mindanao, the southern most group of islands. The earthquake while significant was about 1,000 miles from where we are. While we didn’t feel this earthquake, we have felt earthquakes in the Manila area. One morning I was out for a walk and a rather large earthquake (5.9) hit not too far from us that caused our building we live in to sway. We are on the 14th floor and Marcia definitely felt it. Being from California, this didn’t phase her in the least. Because I was out at the time this earthquake hit, I didn’t feel a thing.

Thought of the day: Faith of necessity co-exits with doubt. In fact, faith cannot exist without doubt.

Scriptural thought: Alma 37: 6 “Behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise. And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes .”

The Faith of a Filipino Sister

Recently, we had the opportunity to record an oral history of a faithful and somewhat remarkable Filipino saint – Sister Conchita dela Cruz Davis. As I’ve mentioned several times, listening to stories of these Filipino saints’ stories who have been faithful in the face of considerable opposition, financial hardships, and in some instances being shunned by their families is a humbling experience as compared to my challenges. Here’s a big picture overview of her story.

Sister Conchita Davis was the tenth of thirteen children and lived in a rural area north of Manila. Her family were faithful Catholics, had family prayers twice daily, and routinely attended mass. Her older brother began taking missionary lessons while attending law school. Initially, his primary interest was to improve his English. However, the more he learned, the more intrigued he became and this began a slow process that took decades but eventually one by one members of her family eventually joined the Church.

When Sister C began attending church, the church meeting house was a small home vs. the large Catholic church that her family attended. She was a star student in the Catholic school that she attended and teacher’s favorite. When asked about her attendance at another church, she was openly ridiculed by her Priest for her decision.

Her father refused to take her newfound religious enthusiasm seriously and when she requested his permission to be baptized, he flatly refused to give his permission. She persisted pestering her father for the next several years but her father continued to refused to grant his consent. Undeterred, she just soldiered on. As she approached her eighteenth birthday, when she could make her own decision, her father finally relented and said, “You just aren’t going to give up are you?” 

After graduating high school, she attended a University in Manila earning a midwife degree. Prior to graduating with her degree, she began to consider serving a mission. When she told her father, who was financially supporting her education about her thoughts about servicing a mission, he was less than pleased. When a mission call came, she told her father and his reaction was much more severe than she anticipated. He was livid and replied that if she served a mission; she would be cut off financially making it impossible for her to continue her education after her mission. This was unanticipated and she spent a few days considering what to do.

After careful thought and prayer, she forged a head and accepted her mission call and was assigned to serve in the Cebu Philippines Mission. After her mission, without financial support from her father she was unable to continue her education and took a job as a nanny. A few months later her stake president called her to serve a full-time service mission (which is not a proselyting mission but one of service) – of course, this mission call had no compensation. Without hesitation, she accepted the one-year call for this service mission. 

Her first assignment was to serve in the Philippines Indo-Chinese Refugee Camp serving refugees fleeing communist persecution in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and surrounding countries. These refugees became known as “Boat People” because they fled oppressive communist regimes by overloading small boats and sailing/rowing to the Philippines and neighboring islands. Many didn’t survive this journey. Those that did and made it to the Philippines were placed in refugee camps. 

Her role in the refugee camp was to teach life skills, English, and hygiene to these refugees as they waited, sometimes for years, to be given permission to immigrate to countries around the world, including the US. A side note, the Oakland California Stake, where we lived for over twenty-five years, was a part of this refugee story since many of these refugees (some from this very refugee camp) settled in the Oakland California area. Thousands of these refugees began to attend church at LDS chapels in the Oakland area including those next to the Oakland Temple. To support these refugees, that included Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian, Chinese, and other nationalities, branches were organized. Years later Marcia and I would serve for six years in inner-city Oakland as service missionaries where many of these refugees lived. But, I digress.

As a result of her service mission at the refugee camp and other service she rendered over the next few years, she made the acquaintance of a military family at the Subic Bay military base in Luzon which was located north of Manila. After this family returned to the states after their military service had ended, they contacted Sister Conchita and offered to sponsor her visa application so she could continue her education at BYU Provo. She accepted this invitation and with only a few dollars in her pocket she boarded a plane and flew to Utah. To support herself, she was able to secure a position at the Provo Mission Training Center (MTC) teaching Tagalog to missionaries that were called to serve in the Philippines as she pursued a college degree.

While teaching at the MTC in Provo, she met a returned missionary from the Philippines who was also teaching Tagalog in the MTC, and (as they say) the rest is history, and she married this former Tagalog speaking returned missionary. After her husband graduated, they moved to Philadelphia where he attended Optometry school. After graduating, they opened an Optometry office in New Mexico and recently retired. The first thing they did after retiring was to apply to serve as a senior missionary couple (one of the younger couples being in the fifties) and are currently back in the Philippines serving in the Olongapo (not too far from Subic Bay) Mission Office. With their language skills, they offer a different level of expertise in their mission service than boneheaded English speaking senior couples like us. 

The primary reason for interviewing Sister Davis was to record her experiences and insights of missionary service in the refugee camp as well as her involvement in establishing several church groups in the area where she lived before and after her first mission to Cebu. During her second mission as a service missionary in the refugee camp, she was one of nearly one hundred sister missionaries that served in this refugee camp during the time the camp was in existence. 

Because the refugee mission service was a mission focusing on charitable service, it had much profound impact on the temporal aspects of peoples lives as they learned skills that they would need after they were relocated. Sister Davis said this experienced changed her life. She broke into tears as she shared some of her experiences at the camp and some of the hardships these refugees experienced. The most heartbreaking story she shared during her interview was how many of these refugees were forced to watch their mothers, fathers, cousins, and siblings murdered in front of them by their communist overlords. Talk about PSD.

My big takeaway from this interview, other than the scope of the different types of service in the Church’s missionary program, is if you are faithful and continue to move forward in unshakeable faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, He will lead you to where He wants you and where you need to be. Sister Davis is a case in point because she never lost faith in the face of challenges and opposition.

Validating the premise of living by faith is the fact that she eventually ended up at BYU where she would meet and marry her eternal companion and is now back in the Philippines serving yet another mission. This mission service ends in a few months at which time she and her husband will return to the US and split their time between the US and the Philippines – they have a home in each country.

The big takeaway for me about her story is that she walked away from a guarantee for a fully paid university education to serve a mission. Since the Lord always sees the big picture and had other plans for this faithful sister, what may have at the time seemed like a poor decision from the perspective of the world, turned out to be a decision that would put her on a path that completely changed her future life but at the time it was (what I would call) a gutsy decision. Faith always precedes miracles. 

Thanksgiving in the Philippines

There is no comparable holiday in the Philippines for Thanksgiving as there are for other holidays such as Halloween or Christmas. However, that didn’t deter the senior missionary couples from hosting a Potluck Thanksgiving Feast with most of the traditional items that are normally served at a Thanksgiving Dinner – although some of the items were difficult to come by and had to have close to but not exact foods.

Marcia and Sister Meyer – who has become one of her best friends over here. Elder and Sister Meyer’s assignment is a Member & Leader Support mission

Future Filipino Missionaries

The other day as we were arriving at the Area Office, there was a group of young people walking through the parking lot. They stopped to ask me where the Distribution Center (a place to purchase church related items such as literature, temple clothes, and scriptures). I pointed it out to them and gave them directions.

I then asked why they were at the Area Office. They told me that they had come on a temple trip from the provinces – a five hour trip one way – to do temple baptisms.

I offered to take them on a tour of the MTC and Area Office. For the next thirty minutes I took these young men on a tour visiting the Area President’s Office stopping at the travel office explaining when they go on their missions (they said they were of the MTC Class of 2026 and 2029) this is where their travel arrangements would be made and their passport/visas issued – if they served outside of the Philippines, our office, and all of the other offices introducing them to people as we walked through the building.

We ended up at the Distribution Center. I told them I would purchase each of them a hardcopy of the scriptures – Old/New Testament, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants if they promised me that they would read for five minutes a day until they returned to enter the MTC. They readily agreed.

They got their new scriptures, the first they ever had, they walked off excitingly leafing through their new scriptures.

Future missionaries with the Manila Temple in the background

Learning more about the Philippines….

In the US there are Jack-in-the-Box fast food restaurants. In the Philippines, there are Rice-in-a Box restaurants.

Bonifacio Day

I am posting this blog entry on Bonifacio Day which is a national holiday in the Philippines. It commemorates Andrés Bonifacio, one of the country’s national heroes. He was the founder of a secret society that triggered the Philippine Revolution of 1896 against the Spanish occupation. The holiday is celebrated every November 30, the birth anniversary of Bonifacio. 

One thing I’ve come to understand is that the Filipinos are fond of their holidays of which there are many. As in the US, the holidays are often moved from their official date of the holiday to a Friday or Monday to make a long weekend. The difference between here and the US is that the announcement of the change is often a week or two before the change. We only found out about the change less than a week ago.

Thought of the day: Sometimes everything is the same but completely different.

Scriptural thought: 3 John 1: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”

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