“Conversation on The Philippines/Micronesia Area,” Ensign, Mar. 1996, 79–80
The Church is flourishing in Micronesia, which spreads over an expanse of the Pacific Ocean larger than Europe in size, although the combined land mass of its 2,200 islands equals only about the land area of Luxembourg. Growth continues also in the Philippines, where public affairs efforts are helping the Church influence people that have not been effectively reached before. For an update on how the Church is doing in the area, the Ensign spoke with Elder Ben B. Banks of the Seventy, president of the Philippines/Micronesia Area, and his counselors, Elders Augusto A. Lim and Kenneth Johnson, both also of the Seventy.
Question: What kind of growth is the Church experiencing in Micronesia?
Answer: The gospel’s influence is growing at an ever increasing rate in the different island groups, which include the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau, the Territory of Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, and various individual islands possessed by other nations. We have nine districts and 40 branches spread throughout the islands, and total membership is approaching 8,000. The Church is well known on many of the islands, and more and more branches are reaching a point in their growth where they are able to arrange for the building of meetinghouses. The missionaries of the Micronesia Guam Mission do wonderfully at the task of proselyting to the many cultures and languages that make up these far-flung island peoples.
Q: What obstacles does the Church face as it continues to grow?
A: We do have challenges in Micronesia. Church members often meet an unusual degree of opposition from members of other faiths, but this opposition can actually serve to strengthen our members’ testimonies. As is true elsewhere in the world, keeping the Word of Wisdom is a continual challenge for many of the people of Micronesia, particularly because of alcohol and tobacco. Retention of new converts is an ongoing challenge, as is the training of leaders to keep pace with growth. For the most part, however, the island cultures dovetail extremely well with the principles of the gospel, as in the emphasis both place on strong families. Overall, Micronesians have great faith, and they respect and follow their leaders. It is a pleasure to work among them.
Q: How is the Church progressing in the Philippines?
A: In the past year, we’ve made some exciting breakthroughs in the area of public affairs. Our first public affairs missionary couple was so successful that the Church now has a full public affairs office in the Philippines. Two national newspapers carry weekly family-oriented columns written by public affairs missionaries, and the Church supplies three hours of prime-time programming each Sunday to a major radio station. Some 216 cable television stations also provide Church programs to their viewers. The Church has become a major participant in a national family unity week held each September; in fact, we participate in the steering committee.
We have family history and health displays that have generated tremendous response. One shopping center requested our family history display because they heard that we had set it up in another mall across town. Elsewhere, a city’s entire police force came to a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse to be trained in CPR by couple missionaries. Recently, public affairs missionaries showed Church radio and television productions to about 80 journalists. The group seemed fairly cynical and skeptical at first, but afterward tears could be seen in the eyes of many and several positive comments were received, such as, “The values of the Church are exactly what this country needs right now.”
Q: What have been some results of these public affairs successes?
A: It has been amazing to witness how the Lord has opened so many doors in such a short time. We’ve been pleased to see wards, branches, stakes, and districts all over the Philippines working more in cooperative efforts with local civic leaders and service organizations. Because of the Church’s recent media opportunities, the gospel is now reaching more Filipinos, many of whom were literally inaccessible in the past because they live in heavily guarded subdivisions that missionaries cannot gain access to. We expect to see more converts from among these people, new members who can share additional strengths and leadership skills.
Life is still hard in the Philippines for the majority, however. Natural disasters are so common that often they don’t make headlines in the newspapers. While poverty is widespread throughout Micronesia farther to the east, the people on those islands generally have enough to eat. In contrast, the poverty of the Filipinos is such that a high percentage of people are undernourished. Many members will remember hearing about a major volcanic eruption in the Philippines a few years ago, but they probably do not know that ash is still washing down when it rains and causes much damage. One Filipino member has rebuilt his home three times, even resorting to stilts; he finally gave up because the ash had reached 30 feet in depth.
But the Filipino people are extremely resilient, and their high education and literacy rates demonstrate how hard they try to improve their lives. They are spiritual and receptive to the gospel, and we expect much continued growth there.