Filipino Mormon youth celebrate 100 stakes 'Upon the Isles of the Sea'

QUEZON CITY, Philippines

Some 600 Filipino youth gathered Sept. 9 and celebrated — through music and dance — the growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “Upon the Isles of the Sea.”

Just hours before creating the 100th stake in the Philippines, Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles looked at the stage filled to capacity with young people in bright costumes and said, “Can you see what a future we have here?”

The Church in the Philippines is “becoming a force for good,” he said.

The cultural celebration, held in the Kia Theatre in the Metro Manila area of the Philippines, highlighted the cultural diversity of the country and the Church that will “bring unity, peace and harmony among the Filipinos as it continues to grow and spread throughout the isles of the sea,” said Elder Shayne M. Bowen, General Authority Seventy and president of the Church’s Philippines Area.

“This is a remarkable day in the history of the Church,” he added. The Philippines now joins the United States, Mexico, Brazil and Peru as the fifth country in the world to have 100 LDS stakes.

The historic event — celebrated with loud music and joyful dancing — began 56 years earlier in a quiet service at the American Cemetery and Memorial in Manila.

On April 28, 1961, President Gordon B. Hinckley, then of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, offered a prayer for the country.

“This is an occasion you will never forget,” he told the small group. “What we will begin here will affect the lives of thousands and thousands of people in this island republic, and its effect will go on from generation to generation for great and everlasting good.”

What began in a quiet cemetery with only a small group “now has 21 missions, two operating temples (with two more temples to be built) and a total membership of 750,000 in 100 stakes and 75 districts,” said Elder Bowen. “This is truly worthy of a celebration.”

Offering brief remarks at the conclusion of the performance, Elder Andersen and his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen, expressed gratitude to join in the celebration of the historic milestone.

“We will never forget this night. I hope you won’t either,” said Elder Andersen. “What do you learn from these kinds of experiences? You learn of all that is good about life.”

The youth celebrated the geographic and cultural diversity of their country by performing dances indigenous to different regions of the Philippines. “ ‘Upon the Isles of the Sea’ we have 7,100 islands,” said Dino Antenorcruz, cultural celebration director. “The thing that really binds them is the gospel.”

Broey Divinagracia, 17, of the Quezon City Philippines Stake said, “It is a privilege to be able to share my country’s culture.”

Hannah Kim, 15, of the Quezon City Philippines South Stake performed the Sayaw sa Bangko, in which participants dance on a tower built from benches.

Jayvee Vicente, 18, of the Las Pinas Philippines Stake performed the Singkil — a dance that originated in the northern reaches of the country and tells of a prince and princess.

At the time of the celebration, Jayvee was waiting for his mission call to arrive. The son of returned missionaries, he said he has always wanted to share the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the Philippines.

Roni Balde, 15, of the Malolos Philippines Stake said she and others in the Philippines have learned much from their membership in the Church, including knowledge “about Jesus Christ and about the meaning and importance of the Atonement.”

During the cultural program she performed the Bumaya-Uyauy, a festival dance that celebrates a bountiful harvest. She said she is happy to use the dance to mark the Church taking root and growing strong in her country. “As long as there are still people who have not heard the word of God in the Philippines then the Church will keep growing,” she said. “Who knows? Maybe in the future we will reach 200 stakes.”

Joining Elder and Sister Andersen and Elder Bowen were Sister Lynette Bowen; Elder Ulisses Soares of the Presidency of the Seventy and his wife, Sister Rosana Soares; Elder Allen D. Haynie, a General Authority Seventy, and his wife, Sister Deborah Haynie; and Elder Evan A. Schmutz, a General Authority Seventy and his wife, Sister Cindy Schmutz.

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