“Travel Back in Time: A Pioneers’ Night” helped members appreciate their local history, the sacrifices and efforts of early church members. Everyone strongly felt the strong testimony of local Mormon pioneers. Members went home with a greater desire to appreciate the past, work hard this present time and prepare the future generations through making and keeping records.
Last March 6, 2016 at Buendia Chapel, the Philippines Area held an event called “Travel Back in Time: A Pioneer’s Night”. The event is to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the construction of Buendia Chapel, the first and oldest LDS church built in the country. The first fireside held similar to this happened way back in 1955 and last Sunday was only the second time it occurred in the country. The event was attended by members of the church in the Manila Area including adjacent wards and stakes. The event was presided by Ian S. Ardern, President of the Philippines Area and a member of the Quorum of the Seventy. Also in attendance was Elder Steven E. Snow, the Church Historian and also a member of the Quorum of the Seventy and Reid L. Neilson, the Assistant Church Historian, other members of the Area Presidency and the Local Mormon Pioneers. Elder Allen D. Haynie, counselor in the Philippines Area Presidency who was conducting first recounted a brief history of the beginnings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Philippines.
History of Local Mormon Pioneers
The highlight of the event was the testimonies of the Mormon Local Pioneers and how they took us back in time. Five pioneer members and one of the first assigned sister missionary in the Philippines shared their stories and testimonies.
First speaker was Sister Nenita R. Gapiz, baptized in November 1961, narrated his experience as an early church member. She was baptized at the Grimm’s family pool in Sta. Mesa. In 1964, the first LDS wedding in the Philippines was her marriage with Ruben Gapiz. When she was asked the question why she stayed at church for about 55 years, her answer was simple, “because I know the church is true.”
Sister Rufelia Salangad was not able to attend the fireside due to health reasons so her nephew read her remarks in her behalf. Her message focuses on her testimony about prayer. She remembered this as the first topic the missionaries taught her. She was baptized in 1963 at Angeles, Pampanga. She prayed sincerely so she could serve a mission. She served in 1966-1967. During this time Philippines is part of the Southern Far East Mission led by Elder Garner. She said that she learned to develop Christ-like attributes during her mission. She was sealed with her family in 1984. She was really grateful to Heavenly Father and testified that “money cannot buy the blessings [she] received.”
Brother Ruel Lacanienta, the son of Ruben Lacanienta bore his testimony. Their family was baptized in 1963. He encouraged everyone that the blessings their family received can be also received by anyone who accepts the Gospel of Jesus Christ regardless of the time of their baptism. He also said that “the Spirit worked on him” referring to his dad. His dad in his video message told his conversion story. The missionaries one day knocked on his door and gave him a book. After couple days, the missionaries came back and he said that he does not like reading the book because it was all about wars. He recently got back from war during that time. The missionaries patiently listened to him and asked if he knew that there was also war in heaven. He was shocked because he believed that heaven is a peaceful place so how come war occurred up there. This thought triggered his interest in listening to the missionaries. He said that he reviewed and studied diligently the book. After pondering about the book he concluded, “In a negative way, the Book of Mormon converted us.” As testified by his son, his dad’s heart was touched by the Spirit as he read the Book of Mormon. Brother Ruben Lacanienta served as the first Stake President of the Makati and Paranaque Philippines Stakes.
Brother August A. Lim, the first Filipino General Authority addressed the congregation. After 9 months of investigating the church, he was baptized in 1964. He used to attend a Protestant School for about 10 years and felt that what he was learning from the Mormon missionaries are just the same except that they don’t have prophets. As he was studying, he read from Moroni 10:4 the invitation to read, ponder and pray about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. That verse left an impression on him and so he proceeded to read the Book of Mormon. While reading he felt that he did not want to stop. As he read, he found out the answer and testified, “I know the Book of Mormon contained the word of God as claimed by Joseph Smith.” This helped him decide to be baptized. Describing his feeling on his baptism, he said, “I felt the Spirit of God in our midst.” He felt that day was really special. He was inspired to make a promise to God that he will offer his life in serving the Lord. He concluded by testifying that “whom God calls, he qualifies and magnifies.”
Sister Mary Ellen Edmunds sent her love from the US through a video message. She was the first sister missionary in 1963 and came back as a health service missionary in 1973. She reminisced her mission in the Philippines through sharing some of the dearest experiences she had as a missionary. She remembered her first time experiences. The first baptism, first death, first time riding a jeepney, first time eating balut, 100% attendance of 6 people on Sunday, and the heartfelt prayer of Bro. Ocampo, who was a recent convert at that time. Although there were language barriers, her experience praying with Bro. Ocampo in mix English and Tagalog strengthened her testimony about God’s love and the Holy Ghost. She showed her journal and mentioned that about 75% of what’s written there was about the Philippines. He ended with an experience during their visit at a cave. She learned that just like how a candle filled the darkness in a very dark cave, they as missionaries can make a difference in the Philippines.
The last pioneer who shared her experience was Sister Milagros Emata, baptized in 1967. She emphasized the importance of a strong faith in Jesus Christ despite challenges and trials. She said that her witness of the miracles and multitudes of blessings helped her stay in the church. She also values having children reared in the light of the gospel. She remembered an experience when they were struggling financially with money. That time she specifically prayed to help her provide tuition fee for her children for the second semester. She went around the fish pond and prayed. She did this three times. And on the third round, to her astonishment, the multitudes of fishes jumped out of the water. With humor she said that the fish were telling her “do not worry, we’re just here!” Currently her family is very active in the church with her children and grandchildren serving in various church callings.
Elder Steven E. Snow in his remark emphasized the importance of keeping personal records. He said that “we are making the history”. He also mentioned that the purpose of the said activity was to have a greater appreciation of Filipinos’ own history and to promote testimonies and faith. President Ian S. Ardern concluded the event by building on what Elder Steven Snow said about being “recorder of our own experiences.” He also quoted a famous quote, “The dullest pencil has a better memory than the sharpest mind.” He encouraged everyone to be their “own history department” and to share what they’ve recorder to build others’ testimonies.
The members were inspired with greater appreciation of their local heritage through the pioneers’ history and a stronger commitment to be a record-keeper. Elder Raul Villanueva shared his feeling about hearing the pioneers for the first time:
I just gained a deeper appreciation for the pioneers particularly the local pioneers. The Lord prepared them and raised them up to help in the early days of the church in the Philippines and it is inspiring to know that they are pioneers with a willing heart and mind, no doubt they will continue to serve in the church no matter what.
Sister Patricia Hernando shared her appreciation with those who lived and sacrificed before us:
As I look at the church growth here in the Philippines, I know that I will forever be grateful to the missionaries and pioneers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here in the Philippines. Because of their faith and sacrifices, I have the opportunity to enjoy the blessings of embracing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Sister Rosie Ann Treyes shared her testimony about the activity, “This devotional not only strengthened my testimony of the value of knowing and loving our history but as well as making my life a history. A history of righteous choices and a history of service…”
Through this activity, members gained appreciation of their rich heritage, the sacrifice of the pioneers, their ancestors, and the early missionaries in the Philippines. Indeed, testimonies will be strengthened as we remember how merciful God was to everyone. Because of the histories shared by Mormon Local Pioneers, the younger generation had a greater desire to record significant current events and to take part in making the history of the church in the Philippines.