The Secret of Cebu

by Richard M. Romney

Assistant Editor

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    Could this happy family find the one thing missing in their lives?

    Car horns blared and taxis and buses jostled for a place in the traffic. As Benjamin Misalucha sat in the marketplace watching the automobiles roll by, he reached for a handkerchief and mopped his brow. He hoped his wife would be done with the shopping soon. The weather was hot and muggy, as it often is in the Philippines, and he was eager to get home and relax with his children.

    Then he noticed a sign, high on the side of one of the buildings overlooking the square. “No other success can compensate for failure in the home,” the sign read. He found himself contemplating the message and believing in its truth.

    “During those times I was young, about 30, and had four children. We had everything, comparatively speaking, compared to other Filipinos, but I was not satisfied with my life. In my heart I knew I was searching for something more,” he said.

    He didn’t guess that the quotation from President David O. McKay had been inscribed on the sign by missionaries living in the building, the same kind of Mormon missionaries who had already visited with him for three weeks when he lived in Manila, the capital city. He had also been visited twice by the elders here in Davao, another large city in the south.

    A short time later, Benjamin Misalucha was transferred by his pharmaceutical company to Cebu City, an important community on one of the central islands. It was in Cebu that Mr. Misalucha and his family would discover the secret of what had been lacking in their lives.

    The Misaluchas were excited about their new home. Cebu and the region surrounding it are important in the history of the Philippines. It was here that Ferdinand Magellan, who sought to circumnavigate the earth, first introduced Christianity to the islands. What is reputed to be Magellan’s wooden cross still stands in the city plaza. From 1565 to 1571, Cebu was the Spanish colonial capital, and Cebuanos later played key roles in the fight for independence from Spain. During World War II, in reprisal for guerilla action, Cebu City proper was almost entirely razed. But the port remained intact and the city was rebuilt. Today Cebu remains an inter-island trade and domestic airline center. Its citizens are a conglomeration of farmers, factory workers, and businessmen. The Misaluchas soon discovered that, like Filipinos everywhere, the people of Cebu are quick to smile and just as quick to lend a helping hand.

    “Filipinos are basically close,” Benjamin’s wife, Avelina, explained. “We maintain close family ties, and ties with other Filipinos as well. We share experiences, even material things.”

    In a society in which sharing is so accepted, it might seem unusual that someone would stand out as being particularly kind and generous. But such was the case with the local Parent Teacher Association (PTA) president. Right from the start she went out of her way to help the Misaluchas adjust to their new city. Soon Mr. Misalucha was serving on the PTA board. He eventually found out that the PTA president was also the wife of the local Mormon bishop. His curiosity grew and grew.

    “One day I saw both of them walking home, and I ran over to catch up with them,” Mr. Misalucha explained. “I told him I wanted to know more about his church. He said he could recommend a couple of nice young men who could teach me about it.”

    For the next ten months, the elders became a regular fixture in the Misalucha home. Benjamin Misalucha would entertain them with stories about previous encounters with missionaries, before he fully understood who they were: “They knocked on my door and asked me if I was the head of the house. I was all hot and perspiring from doing some chores, so I told them, ‘No, I’m just the janitor here.’ It’s something I say jokingly to my family all the time, but the missionaries believed me!”

    Avelina would always provide cold water or juice, cake, or even siopao (doughy, white, steamed Chinese bread stuffed with sausage and eggs). And of course, the children, who numbered five by now, would have fun teasing the missionaries and telling jokes before the serious gospel discussions began.

    “I wanted answers from the Bible,” Benjamin said, “because I didn’t believe in the Book of Mormon yet. And they showed me answers in the Bible. I was totally perplexed by how they could always get answers to questions I couldn’t even answer myself.” Slowly his perplexed state gave way to understanding. The missionaries could find the answers because they knew the truth. He summoned a family council.

    “Take this individually into prayer,” he told his wife and children. At the next family council, they all voted in favor of becoming Latter-day Saints. The family was baptized on April 29, 1978, a Saturday.

    “Ever since we’ve been members, we’ve been blessed,” Brother Misalucha said. He began working for an insurance company, and his business has grown steadily, “in spite of the fact that some of my friends were hostile. They told me I’d return to my former church within two years. But I had found the true church, Christ’s church. Our family bonds were stronger. The children were becoming more pronounced in developing their skills, learning to speak in public and overcoming their shyness. I knew I was following the Lord’s way.”

    Today, the Misaluchas live in a bright, whitewashed apartment not far from the LDS stake center in Lahug, a suburb of Cebu City. They are members of the Cebu City First Ward, Cebu City Philippines Stake. Brother Misalucha, now 45, is elders quorum president and stake music chairman. His wife teaches Sunday School and is the stake Relief Society music leader. Bennette, 21, the oldest daughter, is stake activities committee chairman and a Social Relations teacher for the Young Adult Relief Society.

    Benson, 19, the oldest son, is a stake Young Men officer and is preparing for a mission. Belenda, 16, a daughter, is secretary of the ward Primary. Belmin, 15, is first counselor in the teachers quorum, and his younger sister Benjeline, 12, is “in charge of making sure we all get along with each other.”

    The family still makes decisions by viva voce or voice vote, although Brother Misalucha has the final say. “We let them express their opinions,” Sister Misalucha explained. “When there are problems, we discuss them at family home evening. But at home evening we also share the good things.”

    Those good things, Benjeline said, include music. “We always sing something, in four-part harmony since we have sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses. And most of us play either guitar or piano or both.” Home evenings might also include spiritual lessons; rehearsals for stake plays like “The Stairway,” a fund-raising project for the Manila Temple, in which Belmin had the lead role; a trip into town for a movie if a wholesome one is playing; and on special occasions, a trip to the pizza parlor. “We love our native Filipino foods, such as rice and squid and tropical fruits,” said Belmin, “but we love pizza, too.”

    A feeling of teamwork permeates the Misalucha household. “We’re each assigned jobs,” Belenda said, “but that doesn’t mean we can’t help somebody else with their homework or do the dishes for them.” Benson, who has been a home teaching partner with his father, said, “I don’t feel uncomfortable in my father’s presence, even when I’m with my friends, because he’s my friend too. And so is Bennette. If I’m troubled by something at school, I can tell her about it and she understands.”

    Even though a lot of municipal records were destroyed during the war, the Misaluchas have almost completed their four generations genealogy charts, and they keep looking for additional information. Bennette remembers going to a cemetery to gather names and dates from tombstones, and Benjeline and Benson are proud of their books of remembrance. Belenda keeps a regular personal journal. In it she writes about things like the new stake that will soon be formed in the area, about the temple soon to be built in Manila, and about her parents’ trip to an area conference where they were able to listen to President Spencer W. Kimball.

    “I include my feelings, thoughts, decisions,” she said, “my experiences, my activities—”

    “And your crushes!” her sister interrupted, grinning, and everyone laughed.

    Bennette, who works as a reporter for a local television station, said that her family helps her cope with the pressures of her employment.

    “I go around with a cameraman and shoot the important and significant things in the community,” she said. She has interviewed the mayor and other local officials. “But I often see things like fires, holdups, or robberies, and you see a lot of people who aren’t happy with what they’re doing.

    “When you can come home and find as nice an atmosphere as this family has,” she continued, “it makes you very thankful to the Lord. I know that if there are problems or difficulties, I can come home and talk with my family about them. My parents and my brothers and sisters help me solve the problems. I also get a lot of support from them in other ways. We do many things together as a family, such as going to church on Sunday or going to other Church-sponsored activities during the week.”

    She said she gets questions at work about being LDS, usually because she is offered coffee by those she is interviewing and they want to know why she turns it down. “That often leads to discussions about the Word of Wisdom,” she said. She also noted that “in broadcasting some people have an especially hard time with ‘colorful language,’ like the director who shouts at you in not-so-nice language. Aside from being a correspondent, I also direct some of the shows, and usually when I’m directing, someone will say, ‘Why don’t you get mad and swear like the others?’ But I can get mad without saying nasty things. I can be just as forceful in a nice sort of way.”

    Besides their activity in the Church, the Misaluchas are also well-known at the schools they attend. All of the children are or have been honor students from elementary through high school. Bennette was salutatorian (second highest) student in her high school graduating class. Benson is second in honors in his class right now. Belenda, currently second in her high school class, was salutatorian in elementary school.

    “We haven’t broken the jinx yet,” Brother Misalucha said, chuckling. “We’re still hoping for a valedictorian (first-place graduate).” But even if his children weren’t great students, he quickly added, he would do his best to encourage them. “Everybody fails sometimes. You have to let them know it’s not the end of the world. Next time, they can do better. It isn’t the prize that’s important, but the effort and self-improvement. As long as they’re doing their best, that’s the best they can do.”

    Although they have enjoyed their activity in the Church, their academic and vocational achievements, and their bond of family unity, probably the greatest joy in the Misaluchas’ lives is when they are able to share with others the secret of happiness their father discovered when he moved to Cebu.

    “I can testify that this church is the only true church,” Belmin said. “Sometimes I can influence my friends not to do something bad, and they say that my idea is a good idea. I explain to them the dangers of smoking, for example, and they say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that.’ It’s sort of like warning them. I have convinced them not to cut classes and not to go to bad movies.”

    “I have a lot of friends who know the gospel is true,” Benson added, “but there are barriers they can’t seem to conquer. They ask, ‘Why do you want to change me?’ They’re stubborn, because they’ve been born into it. But the idea is that I’m trying to make them even happier.”

    “I start each day with a prayer,” Belenda said. “At school, my classmates are always very much interested about the Church. When they know that I am a Mormon, they ask me all sorts of sometimes silly questions, like ‘Why don’t you drink liquor?’ I tell them the reasons: because it’s against our Church laws, and it’s unhealthy.”

    Brother Misalucha told about sharing the gospel with a friend, Larry Yumul. “He asked me why I became a Latter-day Saint,” Brother Misalucha said. “I told him that I had been looking for a church with more answers, a church that practiced what it preached, a church that could teach us things we hadn’t known before.”

    Two and one-half months later, Brother Yumul joined the Church. He had a neighbor who used to profane, gamble, and dump his trash in front of the Yumuls’ house. Brother Yumul’s attitude toward him changed. “He began treating him like a good neighbor and tried to be a good Christian to him,” Brother Misalucha explained. “The formerly lousy neighbor cleaned up his act and joined the Church! Now he’s shared the gospel with another family, and they’ve been baptized, and they’ve helped introduce the missionaries to another family that also joined the Church!”

    The lesson of that experience is obvious to Benson. “The best way to get someone to listen to what you have to say is to show them by your actions that you care. Before I can talk to them, I have to befriend them, put them at ease. Our school includes students from all over the island, so diversity of religion isn’t unusual. It’s hard to assert yourself as a Mormon, but it’s easy to share your beliefs with a friend.”

    “The Filipino attitude about sharing will help the Church to grow,” Sister Misalucha said. “It’s natural for us to share the important things in our lives, and the gospel is the most important thing. If Filipinos normally share, this same attitude is enhanced by the light of the gospel. Even if Filipinos are used to having happy feelings, when they meet a Mormon, they are more than impressed because there’s something extraordinary about those who live the restored gospel.”

    Maybe that’s why nonmembers who visit the Misalucha’s home leave with such a glow in their hearts. “We teach them about home evening and tell them how the gospel has drawn our family closer together,” Brother Misalucha said. “You are most effective with people you know because you can share with them the same experiences and relate to their lives.”

    When the Misaluchas arrived in Cebu City, the gospel was still a secret to them. But here they discovered how to have a full and happy family life, both now and through eternity. If they can do anything about it, it’s a secret that won’t be hidden from others for very long.

    Photos by Richard M. Romney, Michael K. Holmes, Kurt L. Soffe, and Brian Whiteley

    “When I moved to Cebu, I quickly found success in my business,” Benjamin Misalucha said. “But I was looking for something more, something to give full meaning to my life.” In this bustling town of 300,000 where farmers vend their produce and shoppers ride colorful buses, he found what he was looking for—the gospel

    “Many Filipinos are being taught the gospel and being baptized,” Bennette said. Church statistics estimate 55,000 Saints in the 16 Philippines stakes, with numbers growing rapidly. “But there are still many more people to reach. I try to share the gospel with everyone”

    “In contrast to Manila, the national capital, Cebu is more relaxed,” Belmin explained. He likes to wander out into the country to see coconuts harvested, to watch a water buffalo relax in what seems to be a private bath, or to look at a farmer plowing his fields. Even in downtown Cebu, there are pleasant reminders of rural life, like the sampaquita flowers sold as air fresheners. “I love my homeland,” Belmin said. “I’m glad there are missionaries and members here to make this part of the kingdom of God”