Learning from an Apostle

We had the privilege of attending a devotional with Elder Neil L. Andersen, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Lord, recently.

A very brief biography (I always like to read bio’s of Church leaders to see the path they followed) of Elder Anderson. Born in Logan, UT but raised near Pocatello, ID. Served his mission in France returned to BYU and graduated with a degree in Economics, got his MBA at Harvard, and spent his professional career working in a health care system in Tampa, FL. Called as General Authority in 1993 and an Apostle in 2005.

The devotional we attended was specifically of the employees of the Area Office and the senior missionary couples – that’ ‘s us – Wahoo! He held other devotionals during this stay in the Philippines.

The meeting opened with both Elder and Sister Anderson speaking together. Sister Anderson shared her thoughts about the humbleness and sweet spirit of the Filipino people, something I totally understand and agree with having experienced it ourselves.

The Area Office Choir Performs

Some highlights of the Devotional

There were a number of interesting stories that Elder Andersen shared. in the interest of brevity, I will mention only one. 

Abe Aberjo, who worked in the Philippines Area Office in the travel department, shared how President Oaks, who was at the time (2002 -2004) the Philippines Area President, asked him to make preparations for him to go to Zamboanga in Mindanao to release a stake president who had done a phenomenal job with no missionaries or other help during his term as a stake president. Yet, even with this handicap, this stake grew at a phenomenal rate of growth by a number of metrics. At that time, and is still this way today, foreigners were discouraged from entering Mindanao because of radical Muslim groups in the country would often kidnapped foreigners, especially Americans, for ransom. Abe recommended that President Oaks reconsider not going to this part of the Philippines in Mindanao, but Elder Oaks insisted. 

As preparations were made for President Oaks’ trip to Zamboanga (a remote part of Mindanao), planning this trip was going to be a monumental task because it would be difficult to ensure President Oaks’ safety. Coincidentally, the same week that President Oaks was going to make the trip, the US Naval Fleet Commander was visiting the area. In preparation for the Commander’s visit, the military had made a thorough search of the area to ensure that it was safe for the Naval Commander’s visit. Abe felt that he didn’t think it wasn’t a coincidence that the Naval Commander’s visit coincided with Elder Oaks’ visit to the same area and that thousands of hours of security man hours were spend to secure the area for a safe visit of the Navy Commander’s visit that coincided with President Oaks’ visit. The Lord does often moves chess pieces around the board to plan for things that happen far in advance that serve his purposes and prepares the way for the work to move forward – often totally unnoticed. He believed this was one such instance. 

The Importance of Temples

Elder Anderson talked about the importance of temples in the Philippines. To emphasis his point, he provided an object lesson by turning off all of the lights in the room we were sitting.  After the lights were turned off and the room mostly dark, he talked about how temples provide light and knowledge to people in a country. To demonstrate this point, he turned on one set of lights in the front of the room and likened the light from this one set of lights to the opening of the Manila Temple in 1984. These light laminated only a small part of the room. He shared the temples provide light not only to the people that attend the temple but to the people in the country where the temple is located. 

The last temple to be opened in the Philippines was the Cebu Temple that was opened in 2010. As he talked about the opening of the Cebu Temple, he asked for another set of lights in the back of the room to be turned on. Now there were two sets of lights illuminating the room. More light, but nearly not enough. 

Another set of lights about one third of the distance from the front of the room were turned on representing the Urdaneta Temple which is three hours northwest of Manila and will open in May of this year. More light. But not nearly enough to light the entire room.

The next temple to open will be the Alabang Temple which is two-hours south of Manila will open in 2025. More light but not nearly enough. The Davao Temple will open in 2026, more lights were turned on but again not nearly enough.

As he talked about each of the remaining temples that will be opened (a total of thirteen) in the future, more light will come to the country with the opening of each temple. As he talked about each temple opening more and more lights were turned on to represent each of the remaining temples that will open in the Philippines in the next five to seven years. He also commented that there will likely be more temples in the future. 

Elder Andersen then emphasized that as more and more temples are opened, as lights were turned on, there is more and more light and knowledge that will enlighten members of the Church as well as the people of the Philippines. With additional light, members become stronger and more faithful because they are able to attend temples that are located near where they live vs. having to travel great distances and at a great expense to attend a temple. There will be generations of future missionaries that will benefit from the increase in the number of temples because as more and more couples culminate their dating with a temple marriage which creates strong families. These families will continue to bless the Philippine culture and country and enhance the faith of members of the Church which will continue to fuel the growth of the Church in the Philippines. He sees a bright future for the Philippines.  

As he closed his comments with his testimony, the wording of how he phrased his testimony, I found interesting…..he said that he had a deep and abiding testimony and a sure and certain witness of the realty of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that it is as real as the truthfulness of the gospel.  You can decide for yourself what he meant as a sure and certain witness.

As I listened to his testimony and the specific wording, my thoughts flashed back to November of 1968. I was in the mission home in Salt Lake City preparing to depart to South Africa to begin my mission service. Elder Kimball, an Apostle at the time, had given a talk to the missionaries. After his talk, he was shaking hands with the missionaries. I made my way to him and when it was my turn to shake his hand, which was a big deal from a small-time guy from South Dakota to be shaking hands with an Apostle of Christ. 

As he grabbed my and shook it (keeping in mind that he was barely 5’6″ tall, I asked him a question that I had had on my mind for some time. I asked, “Do you think President McKay (the then Prophet of the Church) has ever seen and talked with Christ?”  He grabbed me and put his mouth next to his ear and said, “I wouldn’t be surprised.”

That interaction had a profound impact on me. I have often thought when thinking about the mission of Apostles in Christ’s time and being the same today which was and is to bear a personal witness of the Savior and if they don’t have this personal witness or experience, how can they be truly bear the reality of their testimony.

Elder Anderson’s phrasing in his testimony that he had a sure and certain witness of the realty of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that it is as real as the truthfulness of the gospel implies to me that he has a personal relationship with our Savior as he travels the world witnessing of Christ’s reality. 

Members Meeting and Shaking Hands with an Apostle

Goodbye to Ol’ Friends

After eighteen months of looking into young missionaries mouths, filling thousands of cavities, extracting teeth, implanting teeth, and teaching dental hygiene to those that had no clue that this was something that they needed to do, Elder Rampton and his wife Marie head back home to Eastern Oregon.

The amazing thing is that this retired couple are eighty years old and have for the last eighteen months worked six days a week, ten to twelve hours a day, day in and day out to prepare thousands of young missionaries to enter the mission field with a mouth full of cavity-free teeth that, if taken care of from now on, should last them for decades. It is not uncommon for an adult Filipino to have not teeth.

Many young Filipinos at this age have already lost a large number of their permanent teeth because their diet is very starchy and loaded with sugar. Filipinos have an extraordinarily high incident of diabetis and a side effect of poor dental heath.

One of the biggest hurtles the four dentist in the dental clinic have to deal with is the terror that these young Filipinos have of a dentist because if they’ve been to one, and if not, they’ve heard stories, that going to a dentist means suffering pain….why? Because most don’t use Novocain – it is just drill or pull teeth with no pain relief. Once they have been to the MTC dental clinic, their fear slowly goes away. As Sister Rampton has shared, the amazed young missionaries that look into the mirror and see their new teeth for the first time is priceless. Many have refused to smile because they were embarrassed but now they smile all of the time.

The Rampton’s and the Storm’s after a farewell dinner at our apartment – the Filipino flag is in the background!

Dinner on top of Manila

As mentioned before, two to three times a month six groups of senior couples (6-8 in a group) go out to dinner. This particular evening a group of us went to the Souel Sky Restaurant that turns 360 degrees in an hour providing a unique view of the Manila, Quezon City, and Makati skyline. I took this picture as the sun was setting as the view pivoted toward Makati and the Manila temple – located where the red arrow points. Quite a specular site. In the picture below, the red arrow points to the Manila temple.

The Manila Temple at Sunset

Things I continue to learn about the Philippines….

In many ways, I long for the days of yesteryear. I pumped gas at a service station in high school in 100 degree heat and when it was 10 degrees below zero. Gas station attendants are the norm here. I’ve never seen a self-service gas station here. There may be some but I haven’t seen them.

You get a fill up, tires and oil checked, and windows washed, if you want – all delivered with a smile and a cheerful attitude.

Spiritual Thought: Faith is not about everything turning out OK but being OK no matter how things turn out.

Scripture of the Day: “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord” (2 Tim. 1:7–8).