Smiling faces. Optimistic attitudes. Devotion to family. Gospel faithfulness.
These are just a few phrases Elder Neil L. Andersen and Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder Richard J. Maynes of the Presidency of the Seventy used to describe what they saw and experienced while on assignment in the Philippines Nov. 12-23.
Upon their return to Salt Lake City, they spoke with the Church News of the “snapshots captured by the mind’s eye” as they met with and addressed Church members, leaders and missionaries in a variety of meetings.
“I came away with a feeling of the goodness and genuineness of their culture,” Elder Andersen said. “We love our culture [in North America], but we could learn so much from people in other places.”
He noted “the lack of importance for material things of life” that he saw among the Filipino people at large and Latter-day Saints in particular.
Little things made a big impression on Elder Andersen and his General Authority colleagues. As an example, Elder Andersen pointed to a photo he was given of two children with tithing banks made of bamboo. He then spoke of three children he and his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen, met outside a stake center in Baguio.
The children had come alone to a meeting there, walking some and riding a jeepney, a type of public transportation, the rest of the way. “I thought it was very impressive that those children would come to the stake conference alone,” he said.
Elder Andersen has been on assignment to the Philippines on other occasions, and Elder Maynes and his wife, Sister Nancy Maynes, lived there from 2002-2006 as he served as a counselor in the Philippines Area presidency and as area president.
This was the first time Elder Renlund and his wife, Sister Ruth Renlund, had been to the Philippines. Also, it was his first foreign assignment as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Of his first impressions of the Filipino Saints, he said, “They have cheerful optimism and deep-seated faith. Come what may, they remain faithful and happy, and have a devotion to family and Church. They have joy in the restoration of the gospel.”
Elder Maynes said that when he and Sister Maynes lived in the Philippines they had many opportunities to see how the people respond in difficult circumstances.
“There were many typhoons, economical challenges and political uncertainties,” he said. “We saw firsthand how the people of the Philippines overcome obstacles. With big smiles on their faces they push forward. The way they react to hardships is a lesson everyone can learn from. It is such a faith-promoting experience to all of us to see them not only survive but continue grow in faith under the conditions in which they live.
“It was a thrill to accompany Elder and Sister Andersen and Elder and Sister Renlund back to the Philippines to participate in a series of meetings, devotionals and conferences with the wonderful leaders, missionaries and members of the Philippines. The Filipino Saints are faithful, dedicated members of the Church, always willing to work hard and sacrifice to help move the great work of the Lord forward. Their love of family is renowned around the world. The key indicators that reflect true growth in the Church are at all-time highs in the Philippines. It was such a joy to see their progress on this trip.”
Elder Maynes emphasized that members in the Philippines now belong to a multi-generational Church. “At a Young Single Adult meeting, I asked the members to raise their hands if their parents or grandparents had served as missionaries. Many hands were raised. The Church continues to grow. There has been a strengthening in leadership and a depth of understanding of the gospel. That’s what I saw on my return trip nine years later.”
Sister Andersen and Sister Renlund commented on the love the Filipinos have for Jesus Christ.
Sister Andersen said, “I love the tradition in the Philippines of celebrating Christmas from September 1st through December. Christmas is not just a day; it is four months of the year and they embrace it with their wonderful spirit of joy. There are images of the Baby Jesus everywhere and Christmas music. In public places, you hear the music and words, ‘Silent Night, Holy Night … Son of God, love’s pure light.’ The beautiful message of ‘Peace on Earth, goodwill to men’ rang through the streets. There was a much larger-than-life-sized Nativity with Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus and the wise men as the prominent feature outside our hotel.
“I love the Filipino people and wonder if their belief in Jesus Christ and their public expression of their faith is one of the reasons they are so happy, so kind and so loving.”
Sister Renlund noted, “Their love for Jesus Christ was evident. I was thrilled to participate in meetings with young adult members, youth, adults and missionaries. They all love Jesus Christ.”
She described a program in Manila in which the youth showcased music and dances of the Philippines. “The program was virtuous, lovely, of good report and praiseworthy in every regard,” she said. “I was impressed by the energy, cultural pride and polish the performers exhibited. We instantly fell in love with the Filipino people.”