In the hours after Taal Volcano began spewing a large plume of ash, steam and rocks in the Philippines, members arrived at ash-covered meetinghouses belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles visited those evacuees in the Batangas Philippines Stake Center, some of the 50,000 displaced by the volcano, on Jan. 15.
“I have visited people in a lot of circumstances where they’ve lost their homes in fires and other kinds of tragedies, and I honestly can’t remember a time when I’ve seen people who were quite as resilient and find a smile and [were] quite as happy,” said Elder Cook.
During the visit, Elder Cook also expressed his appreciation to local Church leaders and members for their Christlike service to Church and community members. “They seem to watch out for each other in the spiritual sense,” said Elder Cook. “Things are going to be all right.”
Local leaders received the 450 people who took shelter in five meetinghouses in Lipa, Batangas, Tanauan, Darasa and San Jose.
Elder Evan A. Schmutz, Philippines Area president, said this is not the first time Latter-day Saints in the area have cared for one another. “You’ll see uplifted hearts, and they know that they’ll return and resume their lives.”
Local Latter-day Saint congregations have donated clothing, prepared food and rented buses to help with the ongoing rescue efforts for people who were forced to leave the endangered areas. “They’re grateful to be in a safe place and to get some rest and to have some hot food,” said Jon Patrick Reyes, president of the Batangas Philippines Stake. “
The impacted areas still have limited visibility, said Ronald Dudas, president of the Lemery Branch.
“In our area, it is zero visibility. You cannot see anything [out there], only the ash,” he said. Soon after the volcano erupted, Latter-day Saints and their neighbors gathered at their meetinghouse, covered in ash, to evaluate the situation and then make their way to one of the evacuation centers.
“We were in the chapel, all of us … I saw the love of God in there,” Dudas recalled.
Elder Cook left feeling encouraged by the Filipinos’ resilience. “I’m not discouraged at all,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Elder Cook met with Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and other government officials. He presented $20,000 donation on behalf of the Church and announced a humanitarian project fund of $100,000. The funds will provide food, hygiene and sleeping kits as well as face masks for people impacted by the Taal Volcano.