After meeting with members, youth and missionaries from Bacolod, Iloilo and Manila in the Philippines, Elder Dale G. Renlund said two things stood out to him.
The first is the people’s ability to learn multiple languages. “It is impressive on many fronts,” he said. “Their ability to learn these languages is striking and, as they go out on missions, they do very, very well.”
The second thing is the people’s love of the gospel. “They have a genuine, deep love of the gospel and the desire to do it right,” Elder Renlund said. “They don’t want to do anything related to the gospel halfway.”
Sitting in his office in the Church Administration Building the day after returning home from a 10-day visit to the island nation from May 17 to May 26 — his second visit there since being called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — Elder Renlund said he was impressed by the way the Church continues to grow in the Philippines.
With some 105 million people in the Philippines, 785,000 are members of the Church. In the six decades since it was introduced in the country, the Church has grown to 107 stakes, 68 districts, two operating temples with four more announced, and 23 missions. All together, the Church membership of the Philippines exceeds the combined membership throughout the rest of Asia.
“I was repeatedly reminded that the Philippines is Asia,” Elder Renlund said, reflecting on how impressed he was by the members. “It is Asia and it is a Christian nation. As the Church is established there and becomes strong, Filipinos will go into Southeast Asia and elsewhere in Asia and strengthen those other nations.”
Elder Carl B. Cook of the Presidency of the Seventy, who accompanied Elder Renlund on much of the trip, explained that in many settings, Elder Renlund emphasized the critical role that the Philippines has in Asia.
“As the Lord hastens His work throughout Asia and nearby countries, we will be looking to the Philippines for full-time missionaries and leaders,” Elder Cook said. “Young men and young women from the Philippines learn languages quickly. They are service-minded and naturally minister to others with heartfelt love. Mission presidents in many parts of the world have requested more Filipino missionaries to assist with the work. Those requests will continue to increase.”
While the Church is still relatively new in the Philippines, with many of the first generation to be baptized still actively serving the Church throughout the country, there is a sense that great things are happening because of the faith of the Saints there, Elder Renlund said.
Whenever he would ask converts to share their life stories, they would invariably begin with their baptism. “They know the exact date they were baptized, the exact date they were endowed. The gospel is a huge part of their lives,” he said.
During his 10-day visit, Elder Renlund was accompanied by his wife, Sister Ruth L. Renlund; Elder Cook and his wife, Sister Lynette Cook; Elder Evan A. Schmutz, General Authority Seventy and Philippines Area President, and his wife, Sister Cindy Schmutz; and Elder Taniela B. Wakolo, General Authority Seventy and second counselor in the Philippines Area Presidency, and his wife, Sister Anita Wakolo.
As they traveled from island to island, Elder Renlund attended leadership conferences, a YSA conference, missionary meetings, and devotionals for youth, temple workers, and area office employees. He additionally had the opportunity to meet with Bishop Ephraim Tendero, the president of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) and Bishop Cesar Vicente P. Punzalan, III, chairman of interfaith relations for the WEA, which represents 600 million evangelicals.
Additionally, because of her position as a senior fellow with the International Center for Law and Religion at the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Sister Renlund met with the Vice President of the Philippines, Leni Robredo, a former civil rights lawyer, as well as with a representative from the Philippines’ Department of Education, and discussed matters of religious freedom, children’s rights, and education. Sister Renlund said the meetings went well and she extended an invitation to Vice President Robredo to attend the 2020 International Law and Religion Symposium held at BYU.
But as Elder Cook and Elder Wakolo described, the thing that meant the most to the members during the visit, was the way that Elder and Sister Renlund took the time to serve and minister to them as individuals.
“Elder Renlund and Sister Renlund are very cheerful, united, charitable and Christlike in every way,” Elder Wakolo said. “They ministered to the thousands, to the hundreds, to the many, to the few and even, as we would say it in the Philippines, ‘Isa Isa,’ or one by one.”
At most meetings, Elder Renlund shook the hands of everyone who wanted to come forward, “which was everyone,” Sister Renlund said.
“He tries to personally connect with everyone who attends the meetings, whether they are youth, leaders, missionaries, young single adults, anybody,” Sister Renlund said of her husband. “I always find that a very touching moment. It takes some time, but they actually get the chance to shake his hand and meet him.”
Elder Cook added that in one of the meetings, there were over a thousand people who took advantage of the opportunity to shake hands with Elder and Sister Renlund.
“(They) are a remarkable couple,” Elder Cook said. “They are warm and engaging. They serve unitedly and they were tireless in reaching out to the Filipino Saints. Having served for many years with Saints all over the world, they have a treasure trove of experiences to draw from as they teach in the Savior’s way. The Filipino members didn’t want to leave after the meetings ended.”
One moment that meant a lot to Elder Wakolo was when Elder Renlund took the time to get to know his daughter Jasmin Wakolo, who is 15 and has moved with her parents as they have followed their Church callings from their home in Fiji to various parts of the U.S. and now to the Philippines.
“To me, it was a very clear demonstration of what ministering is,” Elder Wakolo said. “[It was] an unforgettable moment for us as a family.”
For Elder Renlund, children like Jasmin are unsung heroes in the Church.
“Here’s this young lady whose life is uprooted … and she is just delightful and supportive of everything,” Elder Renlund said. “I think we sometimes fail to recognize the impact on the families of these General Authorities and mission presidents. All over the world we call on people to serve and the support that children give their parents as they serve is very touching. In so doing, children demonstrate not only a love of their parents but a commitment to the Lord and His work. I think it’s just a wonderful, humbling thing.”