In 1989, when I was called to the Philippine Islands to serve a mission, the main language of the Philippines—Tagalog—was not taught in the Provo Missionary Training Center. I arrived in the Philippines to a warm welcome by an English-speaking Filipina companion but understood virtually nothing that was said in Tagalog.
Although she translated the discussions for me and each thing I said, I was eager to learn the language. I asked her questions about the language over and over, and she never hesitated to help me. I gradually began to understand and speak a little Tagalog. About eight months into my mission, I could understand almost everything said in Tagalog, but I still spoke mainly English with a little Tagalog in nearly every sentence.
My companion and I visited a new convert, Sister Salvation, who, like many other converts, had become converted through her love of the Book of Mormon. She had eight children, with two still at home. She had lived through multiple typhoons that had destroyed or damaged her palm-leaf hut each time. She was a widow and over her lifetime had experienced the loss of three husbands.
She often gave a strong testimony about the Book of Mormon. She said that when she felt “weighed down with trials,” she opened the Book of Mormon and read. After some time she felt as if the problems had “lifted” off her, and she had peace of mind because she felt that everything would work out and God would bless her. She said the book is like her friend, and sometimes she found herself waking up clasping and holding the book tightly, as if in a hug.
She said all these years she had been longing for something that would bring her such comfort and felt she had found it in the Book of Mormon, as she had never felt so close to the Savior. She said she loved the book so much, and she talked of how much happiness and enlightenment it brought her.
One day we stopped by her home during a difficult time in her life. As she spoke in Tagalog, my mind was filled with answers to her concerns, all passages from the Book of Mormon. These were passages I had not previously memorized but had impacted me and now were coming to my mind word for word. The more she spoke, the more I longed to be able to communicate in Tagalog directly to her rather than through my companion. She finished talking, and I found myself talking to her, in fluent Tagalog, saying everything I had thought and felt prompted to say.
Tears flowed freely from her and my companion, in part because they knew they were witnessing a miracle. I spoke for about 20 minutes, nearly all my words coming word for word from the Book of Mormon in answer to her concerns. Words cannot describe what we felt that day.
After we left Sister Salvation, I reflected on what had just happened. I had been asked to speak in church that coming Sunday and thought, “I’ll just say some of what I said today now that I can speak Tagalog and quote passages from the Book of Mormon.” I recalled what I said but found that I couldn’t remember the passages word for word or the language! It was then that I realized how the Lord had given me “the gift of speaking with tongues” (Omni 1:25).
In the weeks that followed I continued to have similar experiences, though on a smaller scale. The language came to me more rapidly, and about 10 months into my mission I could speak the language fluently. I found that as I taught the gospel, passages of the Book of Mormon would come into my mind and heart to share with the people, in fulfillment of President Ezra Taft Benson’s powerful vision of missionary work (see sidebar).
“I have a vision of thousands of missionaries going into the mission field with hundreds of passages memorized from the Book of Mormon so they might feed the needs of a spiritually famished world. …
“Indeed, I have a vision of flooding the earth with the Book of Mormon.” —President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) “Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon,” Ensign, Nov. 1988, 6.
Next month in this series, a young woman who believes the Bible to be the word of God learns about the Book of Mormon.