It all begins with the best of friends. One friend invites two friends to find out about something different, and then those two friends go about telling their friends and families about it. These friends and families in turn tell their friends and relatives, and soon it becomes one big chain reaction with a lot of wonderful twists and turns. And how did it really start? With a simple invitation.
Yes, that’s what 17-year-old Christine Siton of the Santa Mesa Ward, Manila Philippines Stake, always does. She invites people to know more about the Church. With the encouragement of her Latter-day Saint family (they are some of the first Filipino pioneers in the Church), Christine is always willing to let others feel the kind of happiness she feels as a member, while she tries to set a good example for her barkada, or group of friends. “The gospel and my family are the two greatest priorities in life,” she says.
And because of her example, 25 different people—seven families and four individuals—all became members of the Church. This remarkable harvest of souls came after she simply invited her two friends to seminary. It’s a story that seems too good to be true.
“A friend in high school, Bernard Vergano, asked about my beliefs,” Christine relates. Bernard was apparently impressed with Christine’s standards. “When our other friends decided to watch an obscene movie,” Bernard recalls, “she immediately separated from them, and that made me find out more about her.”
Bernard’s best friend, Richard Becerro, also noticed that Christine always carried and read some religious books. “I was curious that someone so young as her knew a lot of Bible verses,” says Richard, “and that she would even quote them to us when we got together after classes.” Bernard and Richard then found out that Christine was an active member of the Church.
One day Bernard asked Christine if it was okay for a Mormon to go out with someone who is not LDS. “Sure, it’s okay,” Christine replied, “but it’s better if the person is a Latter-day Saint.” A few days later, Bernard was sitting with Richard on a school stairway when Christine happened to pass by. Still mystified about Christine’s beliefs, Bernard asked her about the unusual classes she attended after school. Christine invited both of them to attend those unusual classes—seminary.
They didn’t think twice about attending. Soon the two friends became super-active seminary students, and that started a remarkable chain of conversions. Christine referred Bernard and Richard to the missionaries, and both agreed to be baptized. However, it wasn’t an easy decision.
“A Catholic school was offering us a college scholarship as long as we didn’t change our religion,” says Richard. And not only that, Bernard’s parents were reluctant to give their consent.
But so great was their desire to join the Church that they gave up the scholarships. And when she saw the positive changes in her son, Bernard’s mother gave her consent. The two friends were baptized, and with encouragement from Christine and other ward youth, they set good examples to everybody. And look what happened.
Bernard’s younger brother, Roger, saw the changes in his older brother, and he agreed to be visited by the missionaries. He was eventually baptized. Then, “my classmate, Mario Baniaga, got interested in the Church also,” Roger relates. Mario was baptized, and that, in turn, aroused the curiosity of Vicky, Mario’s sister. She was baptized too.
In between basketball games, Bernard introduced the gospel to another friend, Larry Rodelas. “I was wondering what got him to change his beliefs,” says Larry, who also agreed to listen to the missionaries. Soon Larry, his mother, Linda, and sister Eunice all joined the Church. But Bernard did not stop there—his other best friend and basketball chum Richard Virrey also joined the Church.
Richard Becerro, on the other hand, was such a good example to his family that his mother, Carmelita, and sisters Arlene, Irene, Crismilita, and Grace were all converted. “I became happier when I joined the Church,” Irene adds, “and I wanted my best friend to feel that kind of happiness, too.” That best friend, Flor Antido, was baptized, along with Naty Cruz, a friend of Richard’s mother whom she referred. And although Richard’s father did not become a Latter-day Saint, his good friend George Alegado did.
Doing things together has helped make this amazing link longer. As stake missionaries, Bernard and Richard visited with Brother and Sister Bangkong, a less-active couple. “We did a lot of fellowshipping with them,” says Bernard, “and we never stopped inviting them back to Church,” adds Richard. The couple came back to the Church and had their children Isaiah, Althea, and Desiree baptized.
The link also created new twists. Two of Christine’s cousins, Sharon and Shailani Realigue, noticed the special kind of friendship between their cousin and her two friends. Christine introduced the Church to them, they were baptized, and the two cousins started to help reactivate less-active young women. They visited with Margie Paragoso, and that led the way for the baptism of Margie’s mother, sister-in-law, and cousin. “I really think this wouldn’t be possible were it not for my cousin’s example,” Sharon says.
Many of these converts hold callings where they serve faithfully. Some are working with the youth also; Roger Vergano and Richard Virrey serve in the Young Men presidency, while Irene Becerro serves in the Young Women presidency. Many of them are also referring other friends and relatives to the missionaries.
The chain’s links are still expanding, this time in an even more interesting way. Bernard and Richard are now serving missions and in fact entered the mission field on the same month and are serving in the Philippines Cagayan de Oro and Philippines Davao Missions.
“When I share how it is to feel the Spirit to a family we’re now teaching,” shares Elder Vergano, “I can’t help but think of how I felt when Christine introduced the missionaries to us.” And, says Elder Becerro, “I always relate to our investigators how our family became closer after we joined the Church, because I know it can help them make the right decision.”
Right now Christine is serving in the ward Young Women presidency, and she continues to inspire other youth in setting good examples. “Before he died,” Christine recalls of her father, who served as a stake patriarch, “my dad would always encourage us to live the gospel in such a way that we could be a light to others.”
All of the Siton siblings are trying to do just that, with Christine leading the way. Looking at all the people who were baptized, she simply smiles. “Nothing can compare with the happiness I feel in knowing that I have become a part of somebody else’s life for good,” she says, “and I know that it all starts with living the gospel.”