Walking by Faith in the Philippines

By Roger Terry

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    Bobby and Abigail Moreno of Baguio, Philippines, know something about faith. They also know something about Moroni’s declaration that “God has not ceased to be a God of miracles” (Morm. 9:15). Their son, Kinjiro, was born with a cyst that prevented the left side of his brain from developing. He was near death, and the doctors didn’t give his parents much hope.

    Abigail comes from a strong Latter-day Saint home—her father is Elder Edison M. Cabrito, an Area Authority Seventy—but her nonmember relatives were reproachful rather than reassuring in this time of trial. “It’s because you belong to another church,” they chided her. “You’d better come back to us. He will get well.”

    But she stayed strong in her faith. She told them her son had been blessed by the priesthood and that members had prayed for him in the temple. “I won’t lose hope,” she said. “He’s going to live.”

    And he did live. Kinjiro is now three years old, and even though the road to recovery has not been easy, he is a happy, loving little boy. When his parents first brought him home, the doctors didn’t think he would live long. But his latest examination showed that his brain has developed, and the prognosis is now much more optimistic.

    “He has lived for three years,” his mother says, “and I know he will live longer, for I know he has a duty to serve our Heavenly Father.”

    Faith manifests itself in many ways. Sometimes, as with the Moreno family, the exercise of faith results in a miracle, but more often faith works in quiet ways. For instance, it may enable the Lord’s disciples to patiently endure trials and difficulties; it may help them remain humble in the face of worldly success; or it may give them strength to stand up for the right when such action is neither popular nor pleasant.

    By any of these standards, faith is alive and well among Latter-day Saints in the Philippines—a country that was dedicated for the preaching of the gospel only 40 years ago. (In April 1961 Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, then an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, opened the islands for missionary work.) Life isn’t easy for most members here. Poverty is widespread, and the temptations and evil influences rampant in the world today have not bypassed this tropical nation. Still, many members lead exemplary lives of devotion and service, and behind each is a story of faith.

    “The Trial of Your Faith”

    In Ether 12:6, Moroni speaks of “the trial of your faith.” No Latter-day Saint is exempt from this testing, for “my people,” the Lord says, “must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them” (D&C 136:31).

    A good example of weathering this trial of faith is Yolanda Cantos of the Tolosa Branch, Tolosa Philippines District, on the island of Leyte. In 1985, when Yolanda was 22 years old, she visited relatives on Samar, a neighboring island. Her relatives invited her to listen to the missionary discussions. She agreed, but because she was a devout member of another church her real intention was to challenge the missionaries. “I knew they were wrong,” she says. She listened, though, and despite her intentions, she says, “the Spirit worked with me, and I couldn’t find any fault in their teachings.” Fearing that they were misleading her, she returned home to Tolosa. But when she prayed, she couldn’t forget what the missionaries had taught her, so she returned to Samar to continue the discussions.

    “I was challenged twice to be baptized,” she says. “I knew the Church was true, but it was hard for me because of my family and friends. They belonged to another church, and I was a member of the choir. But when I went to witness the baptism of a friend, I heard a voice asking me why I had rejected Him so many times. And when I saw my friend immersed in the water, it was as if I saw myself being baptized. After that I told the missionaries that, no matter what happened, I wanted to be baptized.”

    Her baptism took place a week later. When her mother learned of it, she wouldn’t allow Yolanda in her home anymore. She said if Yolanda would deny her new faith, then she would be welcome again. Yolanda assured her mother that someday she would understand her choice. Then she returned to Samar to live with her relatives and to fast and pray for her family. One month later her brother was baptized, and a year later her mother joined the Church. “It was through fasting and prayer,” explains Yolanda.

    The path to the Lord’s Church wasn’t easy, but the rewards have been well worth the trial of faith Yolanda endured. She was married in the Manila Philippines Temple in 1993; her husband, Felix, a returned missionary, is president of the Tolosa Branch; and they have two sons, Jed Ephraim and Russell Jacob.

    Tolosa district president Jose Medina and his wife, Felicitas, had their own trial of faith. Felicitas was active in another church but had doubts about it and was searching for the Lord’s true Church. She was praying fervently that she could find it while her children were still young, so she could teach them about it. Then one day while sweeping the floor, she found a pamphlet about Joseph Smith. To this day she doesn’t know how it got there because their house was located in a gated community missionaries were not allowed to enter. She read the pamphlet and wanted to know more about the Church, so she requested that the missionaries visit.

    Her husband missed the first three discussions, but the missionaries told her to pray about what they had taught. Felicitas prayed, and she had a dream about the Savior. “It was as if it were the Second Coming,” she says. “People were rejoicing, but we were not because we were not a part of them.” She knew she had found the true religion, and she wanted her husband to share in her discovery.

    Jose listened to the missionaries, but he wasn’t interested in baptism because he was a heavy smoker. He told the elders he believed in the Ten Commandments, and one of the missionaries asked him why he was not keeping all of them. The elder said one of the commandments was “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex. 20:13). “You’re killing yourself little by little by smoking,” he said.

    Finally Jose agreed to be baptized, but because he was still smoking, the missionaries had to delay his baptism. Felicitas knew her husband needed extra motivation, so she told him she would fast one meal for every cigarette he smoked. “You will die then,” he replied, “because I smoke five packs of cigarettes a day.” But with the Lord’s help, he quit smoking and was baptized 15 days later.

    Within three months Brother Medina was called as branch president. Later he served as district executive secretary and district clerk. He now serves as district president. Sister Medina has served as Young Women president and Relief Society president in both the branch and the district and has taught seminary for 10 years. “We love it,” she says. “It’s worth it. All the blessings we receive are from God.”

    The Trial of Worldly Success

    Poverty is a significant challenge in the Philippines and a very real trial for many Latter-day Saints. But in spiritual terms, worldly success may be even more troublesome for a few. The Book of Mormon is, among other things, a powerful testimony to the perils of prosperity. As Mormon observed, “Yea, and we may see at the very time when [God] doth prosper his people, … yea, then is the time that they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do trample under their feet the Holy One—yea, and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity” (Hel. 12:2).

    Some Latter-day Saints in the Philippines have been blessed—and tried—with worldly success, and yet they remember their covenants and serve the Lord with faith and humility. One of these is Evelyn Ibay of the Burnham First Ward, Baguio Philippines Stake.

    Known as the summer capital of the Philippines because its mild climate and low humidity attract vacationers during the hottest months, Baguio is located in the Luzon highlands some 210 kilometers north of Manila. This mountainous region is known for its silver mines, and Avelino and Evelyn Ibay own the Ibay Silver Shop, a business that creates and sells everything from rings, necklaces, and tie tacks to intricate models of jeepneys (highly decorated minibuses built on the frames of military jeeps and now used for public transportation).

    The Ibays owned the silver shop before they joined the Church, but Sister Ibay says, “Our business is growing because we obey the law of tithing.” She feels strongly not only about tithing, but about all the commandments. “The only way we can try to repay the Lord’s goodness,” she says, “is by obeying His commandments.”

    Sister Ibay has served in the ward Relief Society—first as president, then as a teacher, and now as a counselor in the presidency. She says the Church is essential in her life. “The Church is there for us. If I am not at church every Sunday, my spirit is very low. I have to recharge my spirit, feed my spirit every Sunday. I have to read the scriptures or the Liahona every day.”

    Another Latter-day Saint who has experienced extraordinary success in his career is Ramon Del Rosario, president of the Quezon City Philippines Stake in Metro Manila. President Del Rosario is a physician who doesn’t practice medicine—his gift is music. “Mon” Del Rosario is a well-known composer and singer who has written nearly 300 film scores. “If you tune in to the local cable channel in the Philippines,” he admits, “it would be safe to say I have three to five films shown every day.”

    He didn’t plan on a career in music. He was going to be a doctor. But during his third year of medical school, he submitted one of his compositions to a national songwriting contest and won first prize. “I was actually supporting my medical schooling through music,” he says. But he never got around to practicing medicine. “When I got my diploma, I asked my dad, ‘Now can I do what I really like to do?’” His father said yes, and the rest is history.

    Often creativity and deadlines are incompatible, but President Del Rosario says that when deadlines are coming and the inspiration is not, he tends to pray a great deal. “Sometimes,” he says, “I feel I’m running out of musical ideas, but then suddenly it comes—an idea for another song.”

    President Del Rosario’s experience in the music industry has helped him in his Church callings. In singing, he says, even if you’re in tune and have a good voice, if your timing is off, the song doesn’t sound good. “I always remind myself that in leadership positions you may be using the right guideline or the right principle, but if you use it at the wrong time, it doesn’t work.” Regarding his calling as stake president, he says, “I look at a stake president as an orchestrator. You don’t play every instrument. You’re there as a leader to see that others work well together.”

    Standing Up for Your Principles

    It takes faith for Latter-day Saints to speak out when staying silent would be so much easier. It takes faith to act when most people would do nothing. But Alma taught his followers that true believers “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9).

    Melanie Gapiz of the Pasay First Ward, Pasay Philippines Stake, has firsthand knowledge of this principle. The daughter of Elder Ruben G. Gapiz, an Area Authority Seventy, Melanie is a successful freelance producer of television commercials. For several years she worked as head of the production department for a prominent television commercial production company in Manila. In that position she faced a difficult dilemma when she found out some employees were embezzling. “I discovered some irregularities involving some of the employees,” she says. “People were making money unethically within the company.”

    She talked with her immediate boss and learned he was part of it. “So I went to the president. He wasn’t involved, but he somehow knew what was going on, and he couldn’t have cared less,” she says. This reaction left Melanie with a dilemma. She could turn her back and pretend the problem did not exist. But she knew if she kept working there, people might think she too was involved. “It was difficult,” she admits, “because I was earning monthly compensation and benefits.” But she knew what she had to do. After counseling with her parents—who reminded her of Church standards but told her it was her decision—she left the company and began working freelance.

    “I left on good terms,” she explains. “Actually, when I talked with the president, he told me he admired my principles, but he couldn’t feed his people with principles.” She has never regretted her decision, and the Lord has blessed her in her work.

    “I’ve always believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ,” says Sister Gapiz. “The law of tithing has helped me a lot. Fasting and prayer have helped. Every time there’s an important decision to make, I fast and pray about it, and I receive help.”

    Abigail Moreno of the Burnham Second Ward, Baguio Philippines Stake, tells of an opportunity she had to stand up for what is right. A popular talk show in the Philippines has a regular segment called “By Heart” during which the hosts read letters from viewers. The letters are supposed to include seven “thank-yous.” Abigail wrote a letter, but she didn’t think the hosts would read it on the show because the first sentence of her letter read, “I like your show, but I’m offended.” She explained that the hosts’ frequent use of the Lord’s name as profanity offended her. She wrote that her family and her church believe in respecting the name of Heavenly Father.

    One day she and her husband, Bobby, were watching another channel, and she realized the talk show was on. She changed channels and heard her letter being read. She missed the first part—they were already reading her sixth “thank-you”—but she noticed that throughout the remainder of the show, the hosts did not use the Lord’s name in vain. She felt she had made a difference by writing the letter.

    “A God of Miracles”

    Where there is faith, there will also be miracles, for “God has not ceased to be a God of miracles” (Morm. 9:15). Prophets teach that miracles and spiritual gifts follow those who believe (see Morm. 9:24; Moro. 10:8–19). In the Philippines, the fruits of faith are evident among the members.

    Rene and Myra Holganza of the Taytay First Ward, Cainta Philippines Stake in Metro Manila, have strong testimonies that the Lord blesses those who keep His commandments. Because good jobs are hard to find in the Philippines, the Holganzas spent nine years working in Japan. When they returned to Manila, however, financial troubles came in waves. Because of serious health problems and the accompanying medical bills, they had to mortgage their home. Rene was unable to find employment for some time, so they couldn’t make their mortgage payments, and the bank threatened to foreclose. Seeking assistance from the Church, they went to their bishop, who asked Rene if he was a full-tithe payer. “I said no,” Rene recalls. “He asked me if I intended to be a full-tithe payer. I said yes. So from that time on I did pay a full tithe and a little more to make up for the past.”

    To pay their bills and avoid foreclosure on the mortgage, they tried to sell their home, but no one wanted to buy it. Because of a mudslide in a nearby neighborhood, nobody wanted to take a chance on property in the area, even though the price they were asking was below market value. Eventually they stopped trying to sell the house, expecting the bank to foreclose and sell the property at a very low price.

    The Holganzas went to their bishop again, and he recommended that they fast and continue to pay tithing. He told them the Lord would bless them in their need. “So we fasted,” says Rene, “and I continued to pay my tithes and offerings, and I believed something would work out.”

    Then one day a man approached the Holganzas unexpectedly and asked them if their house was for sale. They said yes, and he offered to buy it for more than their original asking price. With this money they were able to pay off their mortgage, eliminate almost all their debts, and pay the loan on the taxi Rene now drives to support his family. They see this blessing as a miracle and feel it is a direct result of keeping the law of tithes and offerings, exercising faith in the Lord, and following inspired counsel.

    More than 30,000 convert baptisms will likely take place this year in the Philippines. Each will have a story—a story of faith, of a changed heart, of difficult choices, and of sacrifice. As the years pass, their faith will be tried and strengthened and refined. And as individual Church members persevere in their walk of faith, the Lord’s marvelous work will blaze forth as a bright sunrise across this tropical archipelago. The light of the restored gospel will touch uncounted lives, for it is indeed the light of truth, “and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24).

    The Philippines Today

    Islands: 7,107 (3,000 with names; 25 with towns)
    Land area: 300,000 square kilometers
    Population: 77 million
    Members: More than 470,000
    Stakes: 77
    Districts: 73
    Wards: 490
    Branches: 667
    Missions: 13
    Temples: 1 (Manila Philippines Temple)

    Photography by Roger Terry

    Elder Edison M. Cabrito holds the children’s section of the September 1991 International Magazine, featuring on its cover his daughter Jan Michelle. From left: Abigail Moreno, Florciele Cabrito, Kinjiro Moreno, Elder Cabrito, and Jan Michelle and Iris Yvonne Cabrito.

    Yolanda Cantos’s path to the Lord’s Church wasn’t easy, but the rewards have been well worth the trial of her faith. Left: Yolanda and Felix Cantos with their two sons, Jed Ephraim and Russell Jacob. Background: The Tolosa meetinghouse on the island of Leyte.

    Lessons learned as a composer and musician have helped Ramon Del Rosario in his calling as president of the Quezon City stake.

    Fasting and prayer have helped Melanie Gapiz receive the Lord’s help in making important decisions. Background: The Manila Philippines Temple.

    Faithful payment of tithes and offerings brought blessings into the lives of the Holganza family. From left: Fritzie, Rene, Myra, and Justin. Background: The Makati Philippines Stake Center in Metro Manila.