When Elder Russell M. Nelson dedicated the new missionary training center that stands near the Manila Philippines Temple, he was a witness of and a participant in the ongoing growth of the Church in this southeastern nation of islands in the western Pacific Ocean.
The Philippines Missionary Training Center, which Elder Nelson dedicated on May 20, can house up to 144 missionaries from the Philippines, Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand. These "locally grown" missionaries are trained in the languages of their home countries.
In offering the prayer to dedicate the new facility, Elder Nelson expressed gratitude for the Atonement of Jesus Christ and for faithful missionaries and Church members worldwide who love and serve the Lord. He asked for a blessing upon the Republic of the Philippines to "maintain open doors of welcome" to all the Lord's servants, and that the nation's people will be blessed with "freedom and accountability to grow in righteousness both temporally and spiritually."
The new center has two buildings. The first houses state-of-the-art training facilities, including an auditorium, the Joseph Smith Hall. Also in the building are teaching rooms with built-in audio visual, translation booths, a computer lab, a laundry area and sleeping quarters for the missionaries. The second building houses additional teaching rooms and offices of the MTC's presidency and director.
The new facility far outpaces the first missionary training center in the Philippines, which started on Oct. 3, 1983, with 26 missionaries — 16 elders and 10 sisters. Their training, under Barnard Van Wagonen, was held in a rented private residence in Metro Manila.
A new training center opened on July 13, 1992, across the street from the Manila temple.
The current MTC is located on the site of the previous center. Training began on Dec. 27, 2011, as the 528th group of missionaries arrived, comprising 53 elders and 12 sisters.
Elder Nelson returned to Salt Lake City on May 27. In a conversation with the Church News in his office, he spoke of the missionaries he met at the new MTC and throughout the Philippines. "It is a thrill to see these enthusiastic, intelligent, highly focused missionaries," he said.
He shook hands with all the missionaries at the MTC and with missionaries in meetings with the Philippines Manila Mission on May 22, the Philippines Cebu Mission on May 23 and the Philippines Angeles Mission on May 25. It was, he said, "a real pleasure" to personally greet each one. He addressed each gathering of missionaries.
Elder Nelson met on May 24 with Jejomar Binay, vice president of the Republic of the Philippines. The meeting took place in the Coconut Palace, where the vice president holds office.
After the introductions, the conversation revolved on various topics. Elder Nelson said that Vice President Binay asked him where the name "Mormons" comes from. Elder Nelson explained the origin of the nickname and told him about the Book of Mormon.
Elder Nelson said Vice President Binay "expressed gratitude for the teachings of the Church that produces law-abiding citizens and strong families."
Elder Michael John U. Teh, president of the Church's Philippines Area, answered Vice President Binay's question regarding the difference between chapels and temples.
A major topic of conversation during the visit was the Church's humanitarian efforts. The government leader was particularly interested in the Church's partnership with Catholic Relief Services to build low-cost homes for typhoon victims in Cagayan de Oro City on the island of Mindanao. Elder Nelson told the vice president of the Church's willingness to be a partner with his government office for worthwhile projects that will benefit the people.
Also on his itinerary — and among the main purposes for his trip to the Philippines — were training meetings at an interim mission presidents' seminar and area council meetings. In addition, he spoke at devotionals with members and young single adults in Manila, Makati, Angeles and Cebu City. A special cultural program featured performances by youth from various stakes in Metro Manila.
After returning to Salt Lake City, Elder Nelson reflected upon the Latter-day Saints he met while in the Philippines and commented especially on the harmony and synergy of the leadership of the Church where there are more than 650,000 members in 85 stakes and 17 missions. There are two temples in the Philippines — Manila, dedicated in 1984, and Cebu, dedicated in 2010.
"A Filipino General Authority, Elder Michael John U. Teh, presides over the area, aided by two other General Authorities, Elder Brent H. Nielson and Elder Ian S. Ardern," Elder Nelson said. "They are all members of the Seventy. They are aided by 10 Area Seventies."
Of his visit to the Philippines and seeing evidence of the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Elder Nelson said, "I had an overpowering feeling as I contemplated the enormous loss of life of Filipinos and American military during World War II. It seems so senseless until you realize that this brought freedom for the people of the Philippines to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. That was a very high price to pay for the privilege of subsequent generations to have the blessings of the gospel and the temple."
Minnie Advincula, Arvin James Despuig, Sariah Ordinario, Riz Tumulak and Kaye Tyapon-Bay contributed to this report.