Pres. E. William Jackson of the Philippines Manila Mission recently sent two elders to open the island of Mindoro for preaching of the gospel.
The people on the island, located south of the main Philippines island of Luzon, knew nothing about the Church, but the missionaries immediately found people to teach, said Elder George I. Cannon of the First Quorum of the Seventy and president of the Philippines/Micronesia Area. Every Saturday since the area was opened, the missionaries have performed a baptism.
"It's just amazing," Elder Cannon said. "The mission president, under his inspiration, will send a pair out and say, `Let's open this area,' and within a month, they'll have 40 people coming to Church."
All over the Philippines similar stories of growth and expansion are being reported. Last year 22,788 people joined the Church in the Philippines/Micronesia area, which, as of April, has a total membership of 167,358. And with the creation of two missions in 1988 - to add to the six already in the Philippines and one in Micronesia Guam - the growth doesn't appear to be slowing.
"There seems to be a time when the gospel goes forward - just like in the early days it went over to England and other European countries - and there's a great gathering of people," Elder Cannon declared. "It's still going on in a marvelous way in different areas of the world, but it really seems to be the time for the Filipino people to receive the gospel."
Elder Cannon and his counselors, Elder George R. Hill III and Elder Douglas J. Martin, both of the First Quorum of the Seventy, direct an area made up of islands, thousands of them, ranging in size from the 43,308-square-mile island of Luzon to tiny Pacific atolls no more than a few miles across. Most of the area's population, about 58 million, reside in the Philippines, while Micronesia-Guam has a population of about 250,000, living in seven independent island nations.
The Philippine Islands were dedicated to the preaching of the gospel Aug. 21, 1955, by President Joseph Fielding Smith. But the country wasn't officially opened to missionary work until May 28, 1961, when then-Elder Gordon B. Hinckley of the Council of the Twelve met with a small group, which included the first Filipino man to be baptized, David Lagman, at Manila's American War Memorial Cemetery.
During a sunrise service, Elder Hinckley said thousands and thousands would be affected by what occurred there that morning. Then he prayed, asking that many faithful local brethren would convert, receive the priesthood and handle the Lord's work in the Philippines. A week after the meeting, the first four full-time missionaries arrived from the Southern Far East Mission, of which the Philippines was then a part.
Twenty-seven years later, Elder Cannon marvels at how Elder Hinckley's prayer and words have been fulfilled. As of April 1, the Church has 164,214 members in three regions, 32 stakes and 34 districts in the Philippines, all headed by local brethren.
More than 22,000 people were baptized last year. What's behind this tremendous growth? Elder Cannon said political unrest, poverty and unemployment have helped prepare the Filipino people for the gospel.
"These people are looking for something to give them hope," he related. "The gospel is the answer to their prayers. They're a humble people who are coming into the Church seeking for the right way to live."
Most of the missionary work in the Philippines is being done by Filipinos. Eighty-two percent, more than 1,100, of the single, full-time missionaries serving in the Philippines' eight missions are home grown, Elder Martin said.
These Filipinos have helped push the work forward at a rate that sometimes even the mission presidents can't explain, reported Elder Cannon, who told of a call he recently received from Pres. Heber J. Badger of the Philippines Baguio Mission.
"Pres. Badger said: `We have more than 400 convert baptisms this month, and I can't explain it. The missionaries are just filled with the spirit, and they are working hard. We're not pushing it the high number of baptismsT.' "
But, the area presidency said, some of the Baguio mission's success partly stems from a "process," as Elder Cannon calls it, that the mission began three years ago. Known as "Tayo" or "We Together," the process unites the mission president and the full-time missionaries with the stake president and stake missionaries in an effort to fellowship and train new members. Instead of the full-time missionaries ending their work with investigators at baptism, the missionaries spend one night a week working with new members.
As a result, the retention rate for the Baguio and Quezon City missions has climbed from about 30 percent to 75 percent. The other Philippine missions have reported retention rates of more than 50 percent.
"We Together" helps to train new members for leadership in the Church, said Elder Hill. More leadership is needed, because between 90 and 100 wards and branches must be organized each year.
"Training leadership has to be our major emphasis, and we have strong leaders coming along," Elder Cannon said. "We also look to the great resource of the returned missionaries.
"We're finding it necessary to train all of the male members coming into the Church by having the regional representatives work with them in stake priesthood leadership meetings designed for that purpose. We not only train Church leaders, but every new convert, who fairly soon will have a position of responsibility."
Missionary couples also are working within the branches and wards to train the priesthood and auxiliary leadership. "They spend all their time on leadership training, both the sisters and the brethren," Elder Martin said.
Also having an impact on Church members is the Manila Philippines Temple, dedicated in September 1984. The Filipinos love the temple, Elder Cannon said, and make great sacrifices to attend.
"They will come to get their blessings," the area president said, "then they those living in outlying areasT will save for three years or more to come back again," he said. "They have to travel by open boat from great distances because they can't afford to come by plane. They come with very little, and the local members assist them with food. They come to the temple for at least a week."
Church members also are benefiting from a strong seminary and institute program. Enrollment in semimary and institute for 1988 is expected to surpass 11,000 students. More than 1,000 attend the Manila Institute, making it one of the largest in the Church, Elder Martin said.
The Church recently affiliated with the Philippines Boy Scouts organization and now has 32 Scout troops formed in 10 of the country's 32 stakes.
"It's not as easy to create a new Scout troop in the PhilippinesT as it is in the United States," Elder Hill said. "To organize a troop in the Philippines, the leaders have to undergo a formal, intense week-long training course conducted by the Philippine Boy Scout organization."
In the area of welfare, the area presidency is working to help members in the Philippines deal with high unemployment and poverty.
"We say about 50 percent of our members are unemployed and about 30 percent of those who are employed are underemployed," Elder Hill said. "We're convinced that our people can make a great change in their living conditionsT."
"I sense that helping them find employment and to help themselves, once they're baptized, is one of the greatest contributions we can make," Elder Martin added.
The area presidency urges members to apply the basic principles of faith, repentance and obedience and to pay tithing and fast offerings. The Filipinos have to become self-reliant and recognize they can make a difference. "But they have to do it themselves," Elder Cannon added. "No one can do it for them."
The area presidency has formed an area welfare services committee to find ways to help members to secure employment and improve their lives.
"We do a lot of what we call self-reliance instruction in which our welfare sister missionaries go out and train the people on the stake and district levels," Elder Cannon said. "The sisters teach them how to take care of themselves."
These welfare missionaries teach members and train local Relief Society leaders in personal hygiene, health, water purification, nutrition and child care. This is being done very effectively all over the Philippines, Elder Cannon said.
In the Micronesia Guam Mission, the growth isn't as dramatic as the Philippines, but the results are encouraging, the area presidency said. Local brethren direct the mission's four districts and all the branches. Within the last year, Elder Martin said, some of the branches have been strengthened by their own returned missionaries. The number of local missionaries who have been called is exciting, Elder Cannon said.
Headquartered on the U.S. Territory of Guam, the mission is made up of islands spread across an area the size of the United States, but with a land mass that would fit in the Salt Lake Valley, said Elder Hill. Missionaries serving on these islands can often see most of the people living on the island in one day.
"Truk Lagoon is typical of the islands," Elder Martin said. "It's 50 miles in diameter with more islands appearing over the horizon wherever you go. Missionaries come in once a week on small boats to get their supplies and attend zone or district conferences and then return home before nightfall."