Online Devotional Touches Hearts
It has been 10 weeks since the Church canceled all public gatherings worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the Come, Follow Me home-centered approach to gospel study ensured that families continue to learn and worship together, Church members still crave connecting with one another and receiving inspiration from their leaders.
Technology was initially used mainly for essential leadership meetings, but soon enough many local units have been gathering virtually for firesides and gospel classes (Seminary and Institute Classes Continue Despite ECQ).
The Philippines Area Presidency recently announced the Hear Him Area Presidency Devotional series where wards and branches are encouraged to hold a devotional featuring a member of the Area Presidency as one of the speakers. It was launched last Sunday, May 17, with Elder Evan A. Schmutz giving a message about gratitude despite our current challenges coupled with a reminder to pay an honest tithe and give a generous fast offering.
Latter-day Saints all over the country expressed gratitude for the devotional, citing how the simplicity and sincerity of the messages provided the comfort and assurance that we will be blessed if we keep the commandments. Many took to social media to say the message of Elder Schmutz is “exactly what we need now amidst all the uncertainties and noise around us.”
Church members were also thrilled by the chance to catch up with one another, smiling and waving at each other on the screens of their mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and smart TVs. They were grateful for the chance to fellowship one another although it lacked the warm handshakes and tight hugs they are used to.
Though generally successful, there were still technological limitations that prevented everyone from participating. Areas that were devastated by typhoon Ambo experienced power failure and members were not able to hold their devotional. They settled for watching the message of Elder Schmutz on the Church’s official Facebook page.
Though majority of the wards and branches used the Zoom meeting app, others opted for Cisco Webex and Google Meet. Some pre-recorded their entire devotional and uploaded it as an unlisted YouTube video, then sent the link to their members so they could all watch at the same time. There were still some who chose Facebook, either by doing a live broadcast or uploading the entire prerecorded devotional in a private FB group.
Whatever options the local leaders chose from the given suggestions, it was apparent that familiarization with the app by holding prior firesides or having technical dry runs minimized the problems during the actual devotionals. Online meeting protocols like muting all microphones except for that of the current speaker and singing hymns with all mics on mute to avoid overlapping sounds were sometimes overlooked.
It is expected that the experience will improve as the logistical challenges are ironed out and the local leaders get more used to organizing and conducting these online devotionals. Glitches and lags notwithstanding, those who were able to participate were edified by the messages and are looking forward to the next one.
Here’s what some of them have to say:
'The message of Pres Schmutz is what we need as Filipinos in this crisis. I always believe that tithing is a matter of FAITH. This pandemic strengthened my testimony that the Lord will open the windows of heaven and pour out blessings to those who obey His words. I am grateful to know about tithing, and I can sleep well knowing that I am giving back 10% of all that the Lord gives me. Every time I look at my food supply during this pandemic, I am awed and surprised to see that it never runs out.'
Mandurriao Ward, Iloilo Philippines Stake
“The message of Elder Schmutz reminds us to always be prepared. One blessing of being full tithe payers is protection from the devourer (COVID-19), and other illnesses. Since we follow the counsel of our leaders (food storage, savings, etc.), our family did not panic the way other people did before the lockdown. We know we are in the Lord's care.”
Pres. Edgardo Gali Dungan
Agoo Philippines Stake
'I was deeply touched by the message of Elder Schmutz that we show gratitude by paying our tithes and offerings... I know that during this crisis, paying our tithes and offerings will not just help our brothers and sisters but most importantly it will help increase our faith in Jesus Christ. I felt peace, love, and comfort during the devotional.”
Maria Fema S. Aquino
Fairview Ward, Fairview Philippines Stake
“I didn't realize until President Schmutz's message that I was filled with fear and that all those fears took away my awareness of the many blessings the Lord has given me during this time of crisis: protection, provisions, more quality time with my family, and the home-centered, church supported 'Come, Follow Me' Manual. And to show my gratitude and love for all these, the Lord is asking that I increase my obedience, pay tithes and a generous fast offering, things I will gladly do.”
San Fernando 2nd Ward, Angeles Philippines Stake
“In these trying times, we can show our gratitude to our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ by proving our faithfulness to them in all things. We need to be consistent in preparing ourselves spiritually and temporally so we will always be ready for the Lord's return to this earth. If we will strive to Hear Him, especially through His living prophet, even President Russell M. Nelson, we will be prepared and filled with peace and comfort. His love abounds and is evident in how we have been cared for amidst this crisis.”
Ana Marie C. Karganilla
Dagupan 3rd Ward, Dagupan Philippines Stake
“While watching the #HearHim devotional message by Pres. Schmutz, one question he asked struck me. ‘How will you look upon this time of Covid quarantine?’ Having heard this, I thought of how I've been spending this quarantine period. I am very grateful for seminary and institute because it helps me to draw closer to God and have a stronger testimony of Him and His gospel. The people around me and even in social media gave me hope that the world can become a brighter place after this pandemic because of charity and brotherly kindness. It is indeed true that seeing the good in troubled times requires a grateful heart.”
General Santos 2nd Ward, General Santos Philippines Stake
“Performing my duty as the Bishop of Polomolok Ward during this COVID-19 pandemic has provided me the opportunity to speak/interview via phone calls to each needy member of the ward and personally minister to some of them. It has greatly helped me know them one by one. Listening to the message of President Schmutz affirms that warm feeling within me that I should let all the ward members know how important is to the Church that we pay an honest tithe and give a generous fast offering. Consistent with the message of President Schmutz, I also observed in our unit that most of those who pay honest tithes and give generous fast offerings are self-reliant and do not receive fast offering assistance.”
Bishop Ruel Broces Herezo
Polomolok Ward, General Santos Philippines Stake
“As I was listening to the message of Elder Schmutz, I felt a sense of control during this time of uncertainty. We may have no power to stop this pandemic, but we have the agency to have faith in the Lord and be grateful for all the blessings that we have received and are still receiving from Him. I am also encouraged by his words to continue to keep the law of tithing and the law of the fast, and be self-reliant. I know that if we do so, we will always be prepared and the Lord’s blessing and mercy will always be upon us.”
Sante Fe Ward, Bacolod Philippines Stake
“I love how Pres. Schmutz emphasized the need for our obedience to the law of tithing. Our preservation from Covid 19 was indeed a blessing as we all pleaded with the Lord in these troubled times. We are also so blessed and indeed become a “delightsome” family as we heeded Pres. Nelson’s counsel on making gospel study home-centered because it improved our family relationship and bonding. Now we are focused more on building a stronger spiritual fortress in our family against the evil influences that may devour our children and our marriage.“
Marvin L. Justaga
Lucena 2nd Ward, Lucena Philippines Stake