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.
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.
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 .”