September 14, 2015
The baptism on Saturday couldn't have gone better! There was a lot of Ward support and I can feel that the transition from investigator to new member started off on the right foot. Bishop wasn't able to attend due to sickness that has left him bed-ridden for quite some time, but the counselors came to preside and two members of the Elders Quorum performed the ordinance itself (which is a very good way for the new members to have an immediate support base from the Ward). You would not believe the changes that have happened in these wonderful people.
When we first met Joshua, we could hardly get a word out of him; he seemed so sad and isolated all of the time. A lot of it stemmed from an unstable relationship with his parents. Now, he didn't hesitate to share his testimony in front of the Ward after his baptism and you can see a noticeable change in his countenance. He's lighter and happier now. He desires to do good. At first he was painfully shy to join with the Deacons Quorum, now he's actively communicating with Bishop about activities and what time he needs to be there. He's singing Hymns and starting to learn piano, too! He has such a golden-hearted grandfather as well (Brother Dumaliang, the Elders Quorum President with the crippled legs) to help him along.
Irene had been an investigator for about a year now. She was first taught by the Sister Missionaries and then was picked up by the Elders when the Sisters were pulled out. The first time I taught her with Elder Bautista I was struck with her knowledge of the gospel and her faith in accepting the things that were being taught. She just lacked action on her part. Her husband is a good-hearted man who is struggling heavily with alcohol and other vices. Although he hasn't been willing as of yet to be taught by us, he knows that he needs to change and graciously accepted his wife being baptized. When Irene was first being taught, she had a struggle attending Church and keeping other commitments. Now, she understands the importance of obedience and has shown "fruits meet for repentance". She texted that night after her baptism and said she really feels like her sins have been washed away. She's actively attending Relief Society now and continuing to nourish her flourishing testimony.
I'm without words for Monica. Like I've said in a past email, when I first saw her I was shocked by her appearance. I asked Irene what her story was and my heart broke even more. Her mother tried to abort her in the late stages of development, and failed to do so. Somehow this caused her to have a severe deformation in her facial structure, and she nearly escaped death when she was born. Her biological mother abandoned her, and her own husband, soon after. That's when Monica and her father met Irene, and they were married soon after. So Irene became Monica's step-mother, and took care of her as her own. Because of Monica's deformation, many teachers thought that her brain was affected as well, and unnecessarily held her back in school. Even though she's ten years old, she still can't read because of the false assumptions of these teachers. Students make fun of her as school, calling her an aswang (monster). Sometimes she comes home crying because of the cruel things the other students will say. Then, one day, she met Elder Arorong and I, and we invited her along with Irene to come to Church. And they came! She looked so happy, and was carrying a big copy of Book of Mormon Stories in her arms. Week after week we taught her and Irene, and as we taught new things to Monica about Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, Irene started to remember the early lessons she had with Sister missionaries a year earlier, and something deeper began to stir within her. They started actively attending Church, Primary, Gospel Principles, and other classes. They started living the Word of Wisdom, giving up their favorite morning tradition of drinking coffee. They looked brighter. And, it turns out, they needed each other to help each other as they winded the path to baptism. I've never seen a happier little girl in the world than Monica Ibarra as a newly baptized member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I also got to interview a really awesome woman for baptism named Alena on Sunday, in the area of Dagupan Ward. She's been a Catholic for 63 years. Her son is the only member of the Church, and recently returned from the Cagayan de Oro Mission. Her son has been instrumental in helping his mother's heart open to the message of the Restoration and accepting the fullness of the gospel. Here in the sunset of her life, she leaves behind the fear of man and joins the restored Church of Jesus Christ, despite the odds. What a remarkable woman!
The theme for this week comes from Philippians (Because it sounds like the Philippines) 4:11-13, one of my favorite scriptures in the entire New Testament. It has to do with choosing a good attitude about the circumstances you're in despite what others may be telling you. In other words, be an agent, not a victim! We are not objects to be acted upon, we are agents that are free to choose! Just because trials happen in our lives doesn't mean we should choose to be sad about them. We can be happy with whatever life brings us, because the Atonement is real, and affords us the opportunity to choose happiness in any state we find ourselves; rich, poor, sick, healthy, whatever. Christ has descended below all things so that we could be happy. This is my testimony to you this week:
12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
I'm going to send some of the pictures this week and some more next week, because the better ones in front of the Church logo are on Elder Teikauea's camera.
Monica Ibarra and I, after the baptism. You'll never see a more beautiful smile.