The year 2021 marks 60 years of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Philippines. This coincides with the 500th year anniversary of the introduction of Christianity to the country.¹ Just as the Spaniards brought Christianity in the context of colonization in 1521, first attempts to bring the restored gospel came centuries later in the context of war, with two American servicemen being set apart as missionaries before deployment to the country in 1898.
It is ironic that both Catholicism and the Restored Church of Jesus Christ came in the wake of conquest and war. Irony seems to be a part of discipleship: that if we are to find our life, we must lose it; and in order to find rest, we must take up the yoke (Matthew 16:25, 11:29-30). So it is that amid oppression and war, Filipinos have found the Prince of Peace. In a similar vein, as we celebrate this 60th year milestone in a tumultuous time of pandemic, we can also find peace as we strive to “hear Him.”
Just as religious freedom in the United States proved necessary for the restoration of the gospel, the introduction of Christianity prepared the Philippines for the Restored Church. Unfortunately, this introduction was accompanied by centuries of oppression at the hands of Spanish colonizers, creating a host of social ills and injustices, the adverse effects of which are still felt today. However, it also produced a humble and believing people who know the Savior Jesus Christ and recognize His voice. Furthermore, calamities, poverty, and other hardships refined the Filipinos to be resilient and develop a disposition to let God prevail in their lives.
Halfway through the 20th Century, Filipinos found added truth and light as Latter-day Saint missionaries officially began preaching the restored gospel in 1961. They could now find peace that despite the many wrongs suffered historically and individually, “all that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”²
Long before the missionaries arrived, the first Filipino convert, Aniceta Fajardo, was baptized in 1945.³ In addition to her associations with Maxine Grimm, Erwin E. Wirkus and other soldiers reached out to her while she lived “under sheets of corrugated metal that leaned against a brick wall” following World War II. They invited her to their church meetings, and brought food, gifts, and medicine, one Christmas Eve.⁴ Aniceta is the first among “the many thousands who shall receive [the gospel] message and be blessed thereby.”⁵
Building on the foundation of Filipino Latter-day Saint pioneers over the past 60 years, the Philippines is one of the fastest growing areas of the Church; with 805,209 members in 117 stakes and 61 districts, 23 missions, and 7 temples.
This growth is “a record unmatched anywhere in the world.”⁶ Faithful members and leaders the likes of David and Eloisa Lagman, Augusto and Myrna Lim, and Ruben and Nenita Gapiz, began a legacy of faith and service that continues today.
In addition to President Gordon B. Hinckley’s re-dedicatory prayer in 1961,⁷ recent apostles have foreseen greater things as the history of the Church continues to unfold in this “chosen land.”⁸ They allude to Filipino Latter-day Saints going “into Southeast Asia and elsewhere… and strengthen those other nations,”⁹ and playing “a part in the growth of the Church throughout the world, not just Asia.”¹⁰
These inspired declarations are now being fulfilled by the thousands of Filipino Latter-day Saints who live and work abroad, especially in the United States and Canada, the Middle East, and neighboring countries in Asia. They strengthen the Church wherever they are found. Another fulfillment is the number of young Filipino full-time missionaries assigned to foreign countries.
The ultimate fulfillment of this grand destiny, however, is yet to be seen, and is really up to the current generation of Filipino Latter-day Saints. As you continue to obey, covenant, and establish the Church in your homes and personal lives, live the gospel culture, and let God prevail, you will truly become the force for good that our leaders envision. As Elder Neil L. Anderson counseled during the organization of the 100th Stake in the Philippines in 2017: “Why…has the Savior set his feet so firmly here…? It is because of who you are…This is a special place. Do not underestimate who you are…the most important part of the Philippines is the people.” To a people “filled with a simple faith—an uncluttered, uncomplicated faith”¹¹ in the Lord Jesus Christ, the future is bright, and nothing will be impossible (Luke 1:37). ◼︎
¹ “500 Years of Christianity in the Philippines.' 500 Years of Christianity in the Philippines. Accessed February 16, 2021.
² Preach My Gospel: A guide to Missionary Service (2004), 52.
³ ''A Genuine Pioneer' in the Philippines.' Church News. February 13, 1993. Accessed February 16, 2021.
⁴ 'Christmas under Corrugated Metal.' The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Accessed February 16, 2021.
⁵ President Gordon B. Hinckley’s prayer of rededication of the Philippines for the preaching of the gospel as qtd. in R.Lanier Britsch, From the East: The History of the Latter-day Saints in Asia 1851-1996 (Salt Lake City, UT: 1998), 323.
⁶ 'Elder Oaks Visits the Philippines: The Land of Smiles amid Trials.' Church News and Events. Accessed February 16, 2021.
⁷ President Joseph Fielding Smith has previously dedicated the country for the preaching of the gospel in 1955 at Clark Airbase, Pampanga. There is no known extant copy of that prayer, this may have prompted then-Elder Hinckley’s pronouncing a prayer of rededication in 1961.
⁸ The Philippine National Anthem is entitled “Lupang Hinirang” which in English means chosen land.
⁹ Elder Dale G. Renlund as quoted in Aubrey Eyre, 'Elder Renlund Says the Philippines Will Play a Key Role for the Future of the Gospel in Asia.' Church News. May 31, 2019. Accessed February 16, 2021.
¹⁰ 'Filipino Saints Will Spread the Church Worldwide, Elder Rasband Says in Facebook Live Event.' Church News and Events. Accessed February 16, 2021.
¹¹ 'Elder Bednar Praises Filipino Members' 'Uncomplicated Faith,' Resiliency.' Church News and Events. Accessed February 16, 2021.