Apostle comforts quake-weary Filipinos
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Editor's note: This article was published prior to information that Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines. Church News will publish updates concerning the typhoon as information is received.
On Oct. 15, a magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook the Philippine island of Bohol — claiming 222 lives and displacing tens of thousands of Filipino families. Counted among those displaced by the quake were President Ricardo Saballa and his family.
President Saballa presides over the Calape Philippines District. He was working a short distance from his home when the ground began to shake violently. Several family members were home at the time and all miraculously escaped physical harm, but the quake destroyed their two-story, thatched-roof house.
After ensuring that his wife and children were safe, President Saballa immediately focused his attention on the members of his district. He hopped atop his motorcycle taxi and began visiting the homes of the Calape members, delivering clean water wherever needed. He found that 52 other Latter-day Saint families had also lost their homes.
The earthquake exacted a heavy toll on many Filipino members. But thanks to the shepherding efforts of President Saballa and many others, none endured the tragedy alone.
"We were very impressed with the leaders of the [impacted] branches and all they had done for their members," said Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve.
The apostle was an eyewitness to the faith and "can-do" resiliency of the Filipino members during his recent trip to the Church's Philippines Area. Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy accompanied him on his Oct. 25-Nov. 4 trip. Members of the Philippines Area Presidency — Elder Brent H. Nielson, Elder Ian S. Ardern and Elder Larry J. Echo Hawk — along with Area Seventies Elder Abenir Pajaro, Elder Cesar Perez and Elder Ramon Nobleza, joined them in various assignments throughout the country.
Elder Andersen's time in the Philippines was highlighted by a visit to quake-weary Bohol, where he presided over an Oct. 27 member meeting. While in Bohol he also met with local government and religious leaders and visited with Latter-day Saints affected by the disaster.
Members from Bohol's Calape and Tagbilaran districts squeezed into an area meetinghouse to hear words of comfort and counsel from Elder Andersen, Elder Clayton and Elder Nielson.
Elder Andersen expressed his love for the Filipino Latter-day Saints, reminding them that the Lord is mindful of His people in Bohol. "We are here to reassure you and bring you the Lord's love, to let you know that He knows you and He is watching over you," Elder Andersen told them.
He also enlisted the words of President Thomas S. Monson, who taught about bravely facing life's difficulties: "Whenever we are inclined to feel burdened down with the blows of life, let us remember that others have passed the same way, have endured and then have overcome."
The apostle then blessed the people of Bohol that they might have happiness — along with roofs over their heads, food on their tables and clothes on their backs.
Elder Clayton taught that God does not promise that His people will be spared from disasters. Strength comes in meeting trouble head on.
"We are expected to do things of our volition and with our own strength," he said. "Heaven expects us to do our part. To help other people as you help yourselves."
Elder Nielson offered thanks to the many who responded to aid those impacted by the earthquake. The Savior, he added, stands ready to take hold of all who reach out to Him.
The Brethren's visit inspired many Bohol members to remain faithful and certain of better days ahead.
"I am comforted by [Elder Andersen's] message about the earthquake," said Maryjane Adlaon of the Tagbilaran Philippines District. "I like what he said, that we cannot predict the negative things that will happen in our lives, but still there is hope because we know … that no matter what happens to us, whether we are awake or sleeping, that we will be with God."
The visit to the Philippines Area had been scheduled months before the earthquake struck. "But it was no coincidence that our visit put us in Bohol," Elder Andersen told the Church News. The Lord's guiding hand, he said, was evident throughout the trip.
Local priesthood and Relief Society leaders such as President Saballa responded immediately after the quake to assist those in need. In the hours and days following the disaster, the Church provided 10,000 food kits; 8,000 hygiene kits; 500 temporary shelter kits; water filtration equipment and generators. They also organized and executed a variety of clean-up projects.
Construction materials were also provided to help the 75 displaced LDS families rebuild their homes — including President Saballa's home.
On the day after the Bohol member meeting, about 500 volunteers gathered at the Tagbilaran district center for a day of service. They donned yellow "Helping Hands" vests and divided into seven groups before being dispatched to towns hit especially hard by the disaster. Many boarded dragon boats to cross the Abatan River because the bridge leading to the damaged towns had been destroyed by the quake.
A team of some 20 skilled LDS construction workers from the neighboring island of Cebu also traveled to Bohol to help impacted members rebuild their homes.
During their time in Bohol, Elder Andersen, Elder Clayton and Elder Nielson met with Bohol Governor Edgardo Chatto, offering sympathy and continued support. The Brethren also visited with Bishop Leonardo Medroso of the Catholic Diocese of Tagbilaran. The religious leaders spoke of their shared duties to care for the spiritual and temporal needs of the people. Elder Andersen and Bishop Medroso then offered prayers for the province of Bohol.
Elder Andersen and the other General Authorities also participated in a variety of meetings and training sessions in the cities of Cebu, Manila and Bacolod. The Brethren presided over a mission presidents' seminar (there are 21 missions in the Philippines) along with several priesthood leadership conferences, missionary and young single adult meetings and member devotionals. The gatherings were typically filled to capacity and enthusiastic members often arrived hours before the start of each meeting with the visiting authorities.
Talented choirs enriched many performances.
"The Filipino members are about the happiest people I've ever met," said Elder Clayton. "They are a warm and gracious people."
Elder Andersen said he was uplifted and inspired by "the goodness" of the Filipino people wherever he traveled. "Their faith in Christ is sincere and natural."