New Temple in the Philippines

The Manila Temple opened in 1984, the Cebu Temple opened in 2010, and now the Urdaneta Temple will open in May of 2024. Temples that are under construction or have been announced total ten more…with more likely to come. 

We had an opportunity to visit and attend the Urdaneta Temple, a three-hour drive northeast of Manila, and attend the open house – an event where the public gets to visit and tour the temple prior to its dedication. The reason for our visit to Urdaneta was to record an oral history of Sister Fe Corazon Basconcillo Johnson who was the youngest child of the first family in Urdaneta when the first group of saints were organized in 1975.  

The line for the Urdaneta Temple Open House

The missionary that was the Urdaneta Group Leader when the group was initially formed was Elder Lyle Brownell. He currently lives in the Seattle, WA area and returned to visit Sister Johnson and her husband Greg who lives near the Urdaneta Temple as well as to visit others that he knew on his mission and to attend the temple’s open house. We had a chance to interview him documenting some of the truly incredible experiences he had while serving his mission in the 1970s. 

Sister Johnson – a Filipino Pioneer

As mentioned, Sister Johnson is from a family of ten children.  Her grandfather was part of the Bataan Death March in WW II and was one of the survivors.  She joined the church in 1969 in Dagupan, a small community near Urdaneta, Philippines.  Her parents and six of her other siblings joined the Church at different times in the 1970s. 

As is customary in the Philippines, education is important to many Filipino families and larger families have to take turns going to college because of the expense.  In her case, her older sisters went to college while she worked to help support the family. When her turn came, off to college she went and received her degree in Social Work.  

Graduating at twenty-six years old, she planned on entering the work force as a Social Worker but failed the certification exam by a single point. This failure was the tipping point of the first of many dominos that began to fall culminating in her serving a mission changing the trajectory of her life. 

An interesting side note, she was called to serve in the Philippine Mission (now the Manila Mission) from September 1982 to April 1984. Her mission president was Garth Andrus, a former member of our ward congregation and personal friend in Orinda, CA where we raised our family. I am always amazed at how small the Church community can be at times.

After her mission, she was referred to a family that worked at the Clark Airbase – a US military base. She accepted a position of being a nanny for a military family that shortly was transferred to Japan. She went with the family and within a few months met her future husband Greg Johnson a Naval Officer at a church meeting. Six months after their first date, they were married in the Salt Lake City Temple. The next several decades they were transferred around the world with the Navy. After her husband retired, they have split their time between Urdaneta in the Philippines and the states. 

In 2010, President Thomas S. Monson announced a temple to be built in Urdaneta.  Prior to her husband’s retirement, each annual trip back to the Philippines, Sister Johnson would look for a home in the Urdaneta area but each location that seem to fit the bill always seem to end up not right and they would not purchase for various reasons.  Eventually, the Johnson’s finally decided to buy property close to Sister Johnson’s childhood home.  After purchasing several lots, they began to build a home and later learned that the Urdaneta Temple would be built across the highway from their newly built home.

The Johnson’s Home in Urdaneta

View of the Urdaneta Temple from the third floor of the Johnson’s home.

After retiring from the Navy, the Johnson’s were called to serve in the Urdaneta Mission in 2022 in the middle of the pandemic. They were assigned to manage housing for the missionaries which was a challenge because they had to terminate leases when all of the foreign missionaries were sent home during the pandemic and then find new apartments when the missionaries began returning. Sister Johnson’s language skills and the fact that her husband was a contracting officer for the navy helped in the negotiation of nearly a hundred leases for missionary apartments. 

They were released from their Urdaneta mission over a year ago and have been asked to serve a six-month mission in Urdaneta to assist with the transition for the new mission leaders arriving in July 2024.  After their July 2024 mission, her husband plans on serving yet another mission at the US Naval Academy helping young LDS cadets as they leave and return from full-time missions. Interesting, the Navy supports LDS cadet’s missionary service because when they return they are more mature, more focused, have more language skills, and all have additional leadership skills. 

As we ended our oral history with Sister Johnson, she reflected on failing her social work certification exam and believes that if she had passed this exam she would not have served a mission, met her husband, and never have lived the life she has – a life filled with travels around the world, a great family, and with so many opportunities to serve her Lord and Savior.

Holy Week in the Philippines 2024

Holy Week in the Philippines is a big deal. It is arguably as popular, and some would say, more popular than Christmas in many respects. One year ago, on the first day of Holy Week – a Wednesday, we arrived in the Philippines.

When we arrived, Quezon City seemed to be deserted. When I say deserted, what I mean is that the streets and roads had only light traffic and there were only a handful of Filipinos on the streets. Our mentors (another senior missionary couple who are serving a humanitarian mission) shuttled us around to buy food to stock our apartment, show us where our office was, and how to begin to navigate daily life in the Philippines. 

I commented to our mentors that I’d read about the traffic in Manila and quipped as we drove around that the traffic didn’t seem bad at all. They smiled and said wait until next week when people return from their Holy Week holiday from visiting family or their holiday. On Tuesday morning, we drove to our office for the first time – our mentors were right. Traffic was crazy. 

Anticipating that little would be going on at our office, we decided to see a bit more of the Philippines that we haven’t yet visited or seen. We do travel but many of the places we visit are areas to collection documents or record oral histories of early pioneer Filipino saints where local Filipinos live. These areas are generally not in the most scenic parts of the country but in traditional Barangays that make up most of the Philippines. This is like visiting Fresno (CA), Idaho Falls (ID), Mesa (AZ), Austin (TX), Peoria (IL), or perhaps Columbus (OH)…nice places but not always the most scenic areas that adequately shows off the many majestic places in the United States. 

As we shared, over Christmas we when we went to Palawan, an island with gorgeous mountains, coastal communities, and white sand beaches. For Holy week this year, we opted to go to a more touristy island of Boracay. For a few days (Wed to Mon) we morphed into tourists and even stayed at a coastal resort.

About Boracay

Located roughly 300 km from Manila, Boracay is a tropical bone-shaped island located at the northwest corner of Panay Island, part of the Visayas island group in central Philippines. It is a little over 4 miles from the north end of the island to the south end with the narrowest spot being about six tenths of mile and a total land area of 2,550 acres. There a miles of white sand beaches clear 

All in all, our stay was a break from our routine. I’ve concluded, like most things in life, our mission has been long days of monotonous day-to-day routine activities punctuated with incredible spiritual highs and unexpected events creating a tapestry of memories that will remain with us for the rest of our lives. Our trip to Boracay is different from what we normally experience and has been enjoyable because we get to see some of the natural wonders of the Philippines….since there are over 7,200 islands in the Philippines archipelago, there is plenty to see. The map below with the red arrow provides some context to where Boracay is located – which is the small brown island at the tip of the arrow.

A Pictorial Summary of our Holy Week Away

On the way to the island of Boracay from the airport.

Checking into the place where we stayed during our Boracay stay.

The resort where we are staying had a private white sand beach. This is me on one of my early morning walks

Beach weather conditions

The view from where I was sitting and reading.

Apparently, the reason the weather was so pleasant here is because of the wind patterns.

Marcia walk the white sand private beach with very few people in sight.

Marcia always wanted to be a star….now she had found one.

Marcia contemplating taking a dip in the ocean.

More beach scenery.

The public beaches in the heart of Boracay has a lot more visitors

We took a trike to Puka Beach at the north most part of the island of Boracay. This is where the locals go to the beach. There were families all about. Here is a sand castle that someone built….pretty amazing. You may or may not be able to see that the sand is brown vs. white at this beach but still spectacular.

It’s Those Name Badges Again

We try and always wear our name badges when we are out and about. During our visit to Puka Beach, we were walking through a Barangay on a local street on our way to the beach (you can see the the buildings in the background of the picture below) where the local Filipinos live when a Filipino approached us after noticing our name tags that identifies us with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He told us that he was a member. He works on Boracay but his family lives on another island far away. He gets to visit his family two times a year – a week for each visit. Many Filipino work away for their home. In fact, the largest export the Philippines has are workers that go to other countries to work and send their money back home in the Philippines.

Joseph Robles a safety office for a construction company building a hotel near Puka Beach. He is a member of the Church living locally and was on duty as we walked through the Barangay.

This is the construction site that Joseph overseas safety issues.

Trike driver with cross hanging in his trike.

It is not unusual to have bumper stickers, Jeepney’s with boldly painted messages about God on the side, or back of their vehicle, and to have Grab (the Uber of the Philippines) driver’s have statutes in their car. Most Filipinos are believers and are dedicated and faithful to their faith of choice.

What a Blessing

As we continue to serve the Lord in this part of the world, we continue to be amazed at the faithfulness of the Filipino people, the beauty of the country, and are grateful for the experiences we are having. We are looking forward to the second half of our service here and what we will learn, experience, and life-long friends we will make.

What we continue to learn about the Philippines: The largest and most expensive pearl in the world was found in the Philippines! It was found in Palawan (where we spent the Christmas holiday), weighing a staggering 75 pounds and valued at an astonishing $100 million. Spoiler – we didn’t find it.

Thought of the Day: “Greatness is not intelligence. Greatness comes from character. Character isn’t formed out of smart people. It’s formed out of people who suffered.”

Scripture Thought: Alma 37:36-37: “Cry unto God for all thy support…let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord.”