After spending several days ministering among the Latter-day Saints in the Philippines, Elder D. Todd Christofferson was offered a final glimpse of trademark “Filipino compassion” moments after touching down on American soil.
Elder Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and his wife, Sister Kathy Christofferson, crossed paths at an airport with a young woman from the Philippines who was traveling alone to report to the Missionary Training Center in Provo. It was her first time in the United States and she would be serving her mission in the Oakland, California, area.
As the Christoffersons and their new friend were leaving the airport customs area, they encountered a small family whose cart had just tipped over.
“The young woman immediately left her own cart and ran to help the family reload their baggage,” he told the Church News. “It was a reflex — and it was so telling of the Filipino character. Ministering is in their blood.”
Ministering — it’s a word spoken of frequently by members around the world who are eager to follow their prophet’s guidance to look after one another. It’s also a divinely guided action that Elder Christofferson taught of — and yes, witnessed — during his recent tour through the Pacific island nation that legions of Latter-day Saints call home.
Spend a few days with the Filipino members and one thing is certain, he said. “You will return home with a smile on your face."
The Philippines: an area in motion
The Philippines is an undisputed LDS success story. Home to more than 100 million people, it’s the only predominantly Christian nation in Asia — so it’s a rich “field” for sharing the restored gospel.
Still, Elder Christofferson marvels that when then-Elder Gordon B. Hinckley — a man he worked with directly — dedicated the Pacific nation for the opening of missionary work in 1961, only one native-born Filipino could be found.
“Now there are over 770,000 Latter-day Saints,” he said. “We’re getting close to 107 stakes and there will be 22 missions, as of July.”
Such growth reflects the character of the people. He said, “They are very spiritual by nature.”
Elder Juan A. Uceda of the Presidency of the Seventy and his wife, Sister Maria Isabel Uceda, traveled with the Christoffersons to the Philippines. It was the Peruvian-born General Authority’s first visit to the country, but he too immediately spotted the divine qualities of its friendly people.
“The Filipino people have believing hearts, you can feel it,” he said. “It’s easy to interact with them because they are so open.”
Elder Christofferson and Elder Uceda conducted a June 13 review of the Philippines Area, which is directed by Elder Shayne M. Bowen, Elder Allen D. Haynie and Elder Evan A. Schmutz.
But the visiting Brethren and their wives also made plenty of time to be among the members and the missionaries, participating in a variety of leadership conferences, missionary meetings and a Young Single Adult devotional in Davao.
Given the ongoing emphasis on ministering to people, one-on-one, it was essential that the female Filipino members be involved in the training and discussions with Elder Christofferson and the other Brethren. Local Relief Society, Young Women and Primary leaders played active roles in the Leadership Conferences in Tarlac City and Angeles.
With Elder Christofferson’s apostolic charge to share the gospel, it’s of little surprise he made time in the Philippines for the missionaries. He taught and shook hands with hundreds of young elders and young sister missionaries, including many being trained at the recently expanded MTC in Manila.
Missionary service is synonymous with the Filipino Saints, said Elder Christofferson. Significant numbers of members fulfill full-time missions. There is a particularly high number of young women.
“And we’re seeing more and more being called to serve in other Asian languages and the United States,” he said. “They are known for being very good with languages.”
Over the past six decades, the Church has enjoyed historic growth and, along the way, earned national respect for its humanitarian work and, of course, the service-centered lives of its individual members.
The Church’s influence is increasingly evident. On June 14, Elder Christofferson — a lawyer by profession — was invited to deliver the keynote address at the 2nd annual Law and Religion Symposium at the University of the Philippines.
Ministering: a divine impulse
Elder Uceda’s schedule offered several opportunities to work with individuals — and to teach key lessons on ministering.
During a visit to the city of Naga, he asked local leaders to invite a few families to the stake center. He met with one man, a 47-year-old police officer, who had gradually drifted into inactivity. The man was a returned missionary, but it had been years since he had visited the temple. When he arrived with his family for a brief meeting with Elder Uceda “he was very quiet and even a little negative.”
With a prayer in his heart, Elder Uceda invited the man to return to the temple with his family. The man replied that he and his wife had often discussed going back to the temple, but they had never set a defined date.
“But a goal without a date is just a desire,” taught Elder Uceda.
So he encouraged the man and his family to write a “temple return date” on a piece of paper in big letters and then place it in a prominent spot in their home. The man and his wife accepted and spent a few moments conferring privately to decide upon a date. Soon the wife was crying softly.
“They set a date right on the spot,” said Elder Uceda. “I told them, ‘Now you have a real goal.’”
The wife replied, “I’ve been waiting for this for so long.”
But as the man and his family — with temple return date in hand — turned to leave, Elder Uceda felt another prompting. “I told the man, ‘I think you need a priesthood blessing so you can have help from heaven.’ ”
The man agreed. Moments later, his stake president placed his hands on his head and, invoking priesthood authority, offered a blessing. Elder Uceda and a few other local priesthood holders joined him.
In their brief time together, Elder Uceda showed a man who had stepped away from Church activity that he was loved and needed.
“That is ministering in the purest form,” said Elder Christofferson
The ‘small things’ bless lives
Many of the Filipino members enjoy unprecedented opportunities to learn a vocation or study a profession — ensuring new levels of stability for their families and congregations. But many still struggle with economic or other social challenges.
But when they met with the visiting General Authorities, their questions focused on eternal matters.
“They had questions about the Atonement and sharing the gospel,” said Elder Christofferson, who counseled the members to live the gospel in full. Pursue the “covenant path.” Gather Israel and seek personal revelation. And claim the blessings assured to faithful tithe payers.
“It is the small things that make huge differences in the lives of individuals and families,” he said.