The Rescued Books

By Cristina Antonio

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    In October 1984, I was working as a quality control supervisor for a paper mill in Orani, Bataan, Philippines. Like most paper mills, ours recycled waste paper. One day, the book Meet the Mormons was included in a load of magazines. I got curious, took it into my office, and started reading it. I learned about Joseph Smith and his vision, and I readily accepted that God would reveal himself to a boy. I did not understand the section on the priesthood hierarchy, but I liked the Relief Society section. I read the book several times.

    For many months, I had been trying to find more meaning in life. I had always been an active Catholic, and had even attended several meetings to become a Franciscan nun. Still, I felt like a piece of wood drifting in the ocean.

    Two weeks later, I was inspecting the raw material in one of the delivery trucks when I noticed a blue book. It was the Book of Mormon! I asked the driver if I could have it. I took it back to my office and started reading. Inside the front cover were the steps of prayer. “Maybe I should try praying this way,” I told myself. It also listed the pages that told of Christ’s visit to America. I eagerly turned to those pages. Here were the Beatitudes and other teachings Jesus gave to the Jews! Were these chapters not copied from the New Testament? Then I realized that he was the very same Christ. Surely he would give the same teachings. I wondered if Christ might have come to the Philippines, too. I turned to 1 Nephi. Who were Lehi, Nephi, and Laman? They were such strange names. I treasured both books.

    Then, in late November, a friend introduced me to Karen Gerdes, a Latter-day Saint from the United States who was serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines. Karen was working in the area of Pantalan Luma, which had been hit by a tidal wave.

    There was something about Karen that I had not seen in others. It wasn’t just that her eyes were blue. Her smile and her whole countenance were different. I could feel her sincerity. Happiness and love radiated from her.

    I wondered why she would leave the comfort of her home, live in a poverty-stricken area in hot, humid weather, and eat foreign food—all without a salary. Why would she care? Were all Mormons like her?

    A few months after I met Karen, I told her, “I am ashamed, because I should be helping my people.” I asked if there was anything I could do to help with her projects. That started our friendship. I would ask her questions about religion. I knew she understood me, because she had also been a Catholic. She did not try to convince me, but she answered my questions and gave me Church pamphlets.

    Then in March 1985, Karen invited me to a fireside. At the fireside, I noticed a poster about baptism for the dead. That was new to me. I memorized the scripture reference. The sister missionaries showed a filmstrip called Run and Not Be Weary. I accepted the Word of Wisdom right there. Then they showed The Windows of Heaven. I had never known that a tithe meant ten percent. I resolved to start giving ten percent and to not cheat God.

    I found myself explaining to the members how I viewed tithing: “It is like when you go fishing. You use bait—tithing—and then you catch a fish—a blessing.” Then I used another comparison: “When you remove the sweet potato tops, they produce more tops and sweet potatoes, too.”

    But I did not like being called an “investigator,” and I didn’t like to be pushed. When members asked if I would like the missionaries to teach me at home, I said no. But I invited the sister missionaries for dinner the following Saturday. They came and showed slides of a refugee camp where they worked, but nothing about religion was discussed. Before they left, they gave me several pamphlets, which I promised to read.

    The next week, I went to visit my mother in Manila. I asked her where I could find a priest to answer my questions. She suggested that I go to a Bible class my brother and sister were attending. I did as she said, praying in my heart that I would be able to ask my question. To my surprise, the priest began to explain the importance of baptism. I wasted no time, but raised my hand and asked, “Was there baptism for the dead before, as stated in 1 Corinthians 15:29 [1 Cor. 15:29]?” He read the verse aloud, then looked at his watch and dismissed the class. He said, “I will talk to you in my office.” He got his Greek translation of the Bible and other books, then started explaining the Resurrection. I said, “That is not the issue; I believe in the Resurrection.” After more than two hours of discussion, I was still not satisfied. He lent me two books to read.

    The next day I asked the same question of an older priest. He told me that baptism for the dead was no longer necessary.

    On April 1, the paper mill was temporarily shut down. I was reading a pamphlet called The Plan of Salvation when I began to feel a certainty that what I was reading was true. The Holy Ghost was bearing witness, making everything clear to me. I knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that the Church was true. I was crying. I had found something so precious. I wanted to tell my co-workers, but they would not understand. I went home early and found Karen at my home. “I know that the plan of salvation is true,” I told her, “and I want to be baptized.” She arranged for the missionaries to teach me.

    The following day, I had my first discussion with Elder Johnson and Elder Barangan. I had such a strong desire to be baptized that I went to their home very early the next morning. When I told them of my desire, Elder Johnson told me that to be baptized I must obey the Word of Wisdom and attend church. I said, “I started obeying the Word of Wisdom when I saw the filmstrip, and I have attended the church several times.” They taught me three more discussions. Then on Easter Sunday, 7 April 1985, I was baptized. I felt that this was the very moment I had waited for since I was born.

    That day was also Fast Sunday. I fasted, shared my testimony in sacrament meeting, and paid my tithing for the first time. After sharing my testimony, I had an even stronger conviction that I had made the right decision. I felt complete—no longer drifting, but with sure direction. I know that the Spirit bore witness to me.

    Since my baptism, I have served a mission and have been an ordinance worker in the Manila Philippines Temple.

    I feel so blessed to have the gospel in my life. I know that the Book of Mormon I rescued from the trash is the book that rescued me.

    Photograph by Rafael Rabai B. Osumo

    Karen Gerdes, left, and Cristina Antonio at the Manila Philippines Temple in 1985. A convert to the Church, Karen was a great help to Cristina in her search for the truth.