FAIRVIEW, Philippines An estimated 41,000 Filipino saints participated in the first satellite areawide conference of the Church in the Philippines July 11. The conference, which was held in the San Antonio meetinghouse of the Fairview Philippines Stake, was broadcast live via satellite to members seated in 72 stake centers throughout the archipelago.
Prior to this historic event, the largest gathering of Filipino members for a regional conference was during President Gordon B. Hinckley's visit to the islands in May 1996. Modern technology has made it possible, this time, for members from 1,100 wards and branches scattered over 13 islands to listen to the counsel of their leaders, sing hymns of praise and commune together in prayer.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve and president of the Philippines Area presided over the event, which was conducted by Elder Richard J. Maynes, first counselor in the area presidency. The Fairview Philippines Stake choir, under the direction of Theresa Baul, provided the music.
In what was his farewell address to the Filipino saints with whom he has lived and served for the past two years, Elder Oaks talked about strengthening the gospel tree so that it can support the growth of the Church. One of the major challenges in the area and possibly other new-growth areas in the Church was developing a strong leadership base that could sustain the shepherding needs of a fast-growing membership.
How can this challenge be met? Elder Oaks enumerated: "Missionaries need to teach investigators more thoroughly and connect them more securely to Church activity. Church leaders need to give more attention to ordaining, calling and helping new members. Officers and teachers need to give more emphasis to teaching children in Primary. We need to be better at teaching and providing activities for our youth. We also need to get more young men on missions, for those are the leaders and husbands and fathers of the Church for many years to come."
Members were exhorted to use the gift of the Holy Ghost as a "direction finder and guide that will help us even beyond discouraging obstacles."
Elder Oaks renewed his call to the members of the Church to live the gospel culture. "The gospel culture is a unique set of values and practices based on the plan of salvation, the commandments of God, and the teachings of the living prophets. All over the world, this culture helps members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints serve one another and keep the commandments of God."
He concluded his talk by issuing a challenge to the members to heed the words of the apostle James, "Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only (James 1:22)."
"If we do these things, then a greater reward awaits us," Elder Oaks added, then quoted from Doctrine and Covenants 78:7: "If you will that I give you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you."
Elder Oaks has served as president of the Philippines Area since August 2002. As of Aug. 15 of this year, Elder Maynes will serve as area president, with Elder D. Rex Gerratt as first counselor in the area presidency and Elder David R. Stone as second counselor. (Please see Church News, June 26, 2004.)
Elder Maynes spoke on the importance of keeping covenants. He used the Lani and Irenea Abasanta family as an example of faithful Latter-day Saints who are blessed because they keep their covenants. Brother and Sister Abasanta are from Talisay, Cebu, and have 17 children. Brother Abasanta was described as an electrician who will do any number of jobs to support his large family. He has taught his children the importance of paying a full tithe.
"We teach them that the food we have (on our table) is a direct result of us paying tithing," Elder Maynes read, quoting the written testimony of Brother Abasanta. "When our kids have their own work, we make sure to tell them that they need to pay their tithing. It is hard to provide for so many children, but when I pay my tithing faithfully and honestly, it is not hard at all."
Brother Abasanta concluded, "We just trust in the Lord 100 percent that if we pay tithing, we'll be able to eat daily."
Elder Gerratt outlined nine steps for becoming worthy of the blessings of the temple: (1) Understand who you really are. (2) Pray each day. (3) Enlighten your soul by reading the scriptures. (4) Sustain the prophet and local leaders of the Church. (5) Attend meetings and fulfill your callings in the Church. (6) Do not partake of harmful things. (7) Keep your thoughts and actions clean. (8) Be fair and honest with your fellowmen. (9) Pay an honest and full tithing.
Elder Remus Villarete, an Area Authority Seventy, was among others who spoke.
In speaking of her feelings about the area conference, Marjorie Manongodo, mother of three and a returned missionary, said: "It felt wonderful just knowing that all my siblings and their families were enjoying the blessings of the conference in their own stake centers the same time that we were enjoying it in ours."