While in the Philippines in November, Relief Society General President Camille N. Johnson and Primary General President Susan H. Porter shared the efforts of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to strengthen individuals and families and to bring them closer to the Savior.
Nov. 10-20, the general officers traveled to multiple islands throughout the country, where they trained, ministered to and met with Latter-day Saints; spoke at devotionals and stake conferences; participated in humanitarian outreach; met with the vice president; and viewed the Church’s global childhood and maternal nutrition program in action.
“It has been a really tender experience to be with the people of the Philippines,” President Johnson said in a news release about the visit on ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
“The Philippines is a land of faith, faith in Jesus Christ,” President Porter said. “We felt very open, no matter if we were meeting with humanitarian or [civic] leaders. We felt so free to express our love of the Savior here in this beautiful country.”
Childhood nutrition efforts in the Philippines
President Johnson and President Porter participated in nutritional screenings for children, organized by local wards on Saturday, Nov. 18, in Manila and Roxas City — where nearly 200 children were assessed and screened for malnutrition.
The Philippines was the first to start a pilot program almost five years ago for the Church’s Caring for Women and Children Through Improved Nutrition initiative. This effort — spearheaded by the Relief Society general presidency and done through local Church networks — works to improve the nutrition of children ages 5 and younger and their mothers.
At the events, children are screened for malnutrition while parents receive support, are connected to community resources and learn about proper nutrition for their children.
President Porter attended the screening in Roxas City and said, “That was incredible to see mothers who were there at 7 in the morning with their beautiful children, wanting to know [about their health], because they all are striving to make sure that their children are growing with strong bodies and strong minds.”
During the screening in Manila, President Johnson said, “I love how stake leaders and particularly our Relief Society leaders have focused in on collaborating with the community, so we’ve got medical volunteers in here providing personal one-on-one counseling with mothers and their children.”
Efforts are underway in 12 countries — and align with President Johnson’s teachings of how the Savior provides relief.
“There is nothing more gratifying than having the opportunity to work on and participate in an event like this where we’re bringing temporal and frankly spiritual relief to our loved ones, our brothers and sisters around the world,” President Johnson said.
Ministry among Philippines Latter-day Saints
President Porter, accompanied by her sister, Jeanette H. Harris, and President Johnson, accompanied by her husband, Brother Douglas R. Johnson, held devotional broadcasts, trained local Primary and Relief Society leaders, participated in service projects and spent time with individual members in ministering visits.
Members of the Church’s Philippines Area presidency and their wives joined the general officers — Elder Steven R. Bangerter, General Authority Seventy and area president, and his wife, Sister Susann Bangerter; Elder Yoon Hwan Choi, General Authority Seventy and first counselor, and his wife, Sister Bon Kyung Koo Choi; and Elder Carlos G. Revillo Jr., General Authority Seventy and second counselor, and his wife, Sister Marites F. Revillo.
More than 850,000 Latter-day Saints live in the Philippines, in 1,272 wards and branches organized in 125 stakes.
President Johnson spoke in the Santa Cruz Zambales Philippines Stake conference on Sunday, Nov. 12. Afterward, Kianah Alojepan-Mas shared in the report on ChurchofJesusChrist.org how much she appreciated President Johnson’s message.
“She said that you can still feel joy regardless of what is happening or not happening in your life, so it was really life changing for me.”
President Johnson said one of the sweetest opportunities she had during her time in the Philippines was to express love.
“They are a beautiful example of optimism — optimism that we find in our Savior Jesus Christ, hope in our Savior Jesus Christ, peace in our Savior Jesus Christ, even in the midst of the temporal challenges that all of us face,” she said.
President Porter pointed to two temples in operation and the 11 more under construction or in planning — nine of which were announced by President Russell M. Nelson — as a sign of the Church’s efforts to bless the lives of Filipinos and an indication of the love Heavenly Father has for them.
“My heart is overflowing,” said President Porter. “I feel this natural love for their kindness, gentleness, openness, their desire to serve. I have been changed.”
Meeting with Philippines vice president
President Johnson and President Porter met with Sara Zimmerman Duterte, vice president of the Philippines, in her office in Mandaluyong on Nov. 11, according to a report on ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
The leaders spoke about the Church’s contributions to the education, well-being and nutrition of children and mothers in the country, the construction of the new Davao Philippines Temple, the upcoming Tabernacle Choir tour in the Philippines, and the Light the World Giving Machines in Manila and Cebu.
About the meeting with Duterte, President Johnson said: “She was very gracious and warm, and we were delighted to have the opportunity to tell her about the Church and the efforts that we’re making here in the Philippines to bless our brothers and sisters.”
Duterte also serves as the country’s secretary of education and took an interest in how Relief Society and Primary bless women and children. She is a mother of three.
“We talked about how we spend time teaching our children about Jesus and what He did, which is to love and serve others,” said President Porter. “Her follow-up comment was, ‘I bet the children from your Church are a great blessing in the schools they attend,’ which was very gratifying to hear.”
For years the Church has supported education in the Philippines by providing learning materials and technology, repairing school buildings, bringing running water to schools, increasing literacy and other efforts. The Church has also been involved in food and health initiatives and emergency response and disaster preparedness efforts.
In an interview with the Manila Times, the global Church leaders answered questions about the importance of interfaith relationships and advocating for self-reliance initiatives in humanitarian efforts.
“It is important,” President Porter answered. “The Church loves to [collaborate] with other charitable organizations.”
They also spoke of teaching children and youth to serve others.
“At a time when young people tend to look inward, we hope to project them outward,” President Johnson said. “We hope our children and our youth have a vision for their responsibility to serve.”
The journalist asked about the challenges the leaders face as mothers and grandmothers in a busy world.
President Johnson replied that she has always seen her role as a blessing and an opportunity.
“For me, it wasn’t so much striking a balance as making sure that my priorities have always been in order,” she said. “My love of God first and my family, my neighbor and those things coming first helps me strike a balance between those things and other responsibilities.”
President Porter was asked if only women serve in the Primary organization.
“It’s women and men,” she answered. “Women are the leaders [in the Primary] presidencies, but we love having the men as teachers. For children to see those role models of kind and loving and gentle men who are teaching them songs about Jesus, it’s a blessing.”
The leaders also met with civic leaders in Cebu and Capiz and visited charitable organizations and foundations in the country.
Philippines Light the World Giving Machines launch
The red vending machines allow someone to buy something for someone else through the help of participating charities — like food, water, hygiene kits, medical supplies, immunizations and student financial aid.
The Church has hosted Giving Machines in the Philippines since 2018. President Johnson said she learned that children who were working in the sugar cane fields had the opportunity to go to school because of the contributions people in Cebu made at Giving Machines last year.
“It was thrilling to be part of the launch of the Giving Machines in Cebu,” said President Johnson. “We had the opportunity to discuss with members of the community the blessings and benefits that will come as people participate, sharing just a few pesos, to contribute to the needs of their brothers and sisters here in Manila and Cebu.”
Christmas celebrations begin in the Philippines in September. President Porter said the Giving Machines are a way to give the light of the Savior at Christmastime.
“The whole idea is the light that shone from the star of Bethlehem that stood over the shepherds, leading the Wise Men,” said President Porter. “We can become those lights that lead people to Christ, that alleviate suffering and that bring hope to so many.”