Philippines Olongapo Mission
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Commencement of Missionary Work in the Philippines
Elder Gordon B. Hinckley
May 28, 1961
Arose at 4:30 a.m. to go out to the American War Memorial Cemetery on the outskirts of Manila. Here are buried 17,168 war dead and on the walls are inscribed the names of an additional 36,230 who are missing. At this hour of the morning, with sun rising over the mountains, and the sea to the east, with golden clouds in the sky, it was a marvelous setting. Here we met to invoke the blessing of the Lord upon the missionary work in the Philippines. Surrounded by the reminders of war, we met in the name of the Prince of Peace.
I was the final speaker at the early morning meeting; to those present said:
"This is an occasion you will never forget. What we begin here will affect the lives of thousands and thousands of people in this island republic and its effects will go from generation to generation for great and everlasting good...
"As we gather in this beautiful and peaceful place this morning, there crossed my mind the thought that there are three debts that none of us will ever repay in full.
"The first, of course, is to the Savior, the Redeemer of mankind, the Son of God, who gave His life that we might live. Nothing that we shall ever do shall in full measure repay the debt which we owe for that.
"Another is to those who are remembered here in this cemetery, the thousands upon thousands who gave their lives that we might have freedom to assemble this morning, and freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our conscience.
"Yet another debt which we owe to those missionaries, who in days and years passed, came at great sacrifice to us or to our forebears to bring the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
"It is fitting that we meet in this place, which has become sacred and hallowed by the sacrifices of many, to invoke the blessings of heaven upon the work which shall now be commenced here. The legal requirements have been met. The Church has been offically registered under the laws of the Philippines. The missionaries will likely be here soon...
"To the American members here, I would like to say that your hands are now free to teach the gospel to the people of the Philippines with whom you come in contact, to teach both by example and by precept, and to assist the missionaries in every way in the work which lies ahead of them. It will not be easy. It never has been easy. But, it has always been satisfying and fruitful."
I then invited all present to bow their heads and join in a prayer which I should like to quote briefly:
"Our Father and our God, with bowed heads and contrite hearts, we approach thee at this time in this sacred place, hallowed by the sacrifices of those who gave their lives for the cherished freedoms of mankind...
"We invoke thy blessings upon the people of this land that they shall be friendly and hospitable and kind and gracious to those who shall come here. And that may, yea, Lord, we pray that there shall be many thousands who shall receive this message and be blessed thereby. Wilt thou bless them with receptive minds and understanding hearts, and with faith to receive, and with courage to live the principles of the gospel, and with a desire to share with others the blessing which they shall receive. We pray that there shall be many men, faithful, good, virtuous, true men, who shall join the Church and who shall receive the blessings of the priesthood and who shall accept and grow in leadership, that thy work where shall be handled by local brethren, under the direction of those who hold the keys in this day and time, according to the law and order of thy Church...
"We invoke they staying hand upon those who may be prone to scoff and sneer, that they shall be thwarted and stopped in their evil ways, that they shall not have power to destroy, nor harm, nor injure, nor deter the work of thy servants.
"We pray, Father, for thy people here who shall live together in the bonds of thy fellowship and love and peace in one great brotherhood, the brotherhood which comes with the knowledge and assurance that they are sons and daughters of thine, and that Jesus Christ is our Elder Brother."
On July 1, 1988, the mission was created from parts of the Philippines Baguio and Philippines Quezon City missions. At that point it was named the Philippines Quezon City West Mission. Robert J. Kennerley, from New Zealand, was appointed as the first mission president.
In 1991, the mission home was moved to Angeles City and the mission office to San Fernando, near the boundary of Angeles City. The mission was then renamed the Philippines San Fernando Mission. That same year, President John H. Lyons, from Phoenix Arizona, succeeded President Kennerley on July 1. The following year, on January 1, 1992, parts of the San Fernando, Quezon City and Manila missions were taken to create the new Philippines Cabanatuan Mission.
In 1994, Allen C. Christensen, from California, was called as the new mission president on July 1. During the same year, an administrative decision was made to move the mission home and office to its present location in Olongapo, at which time it would be renamed the Philippines Olongapo Mission. However, due to administrative concerns in regard to moving the mission home, the move was temporarily postponed.
In 1997, Del B. Garner of Declo, Idaho was named as the president of the San Fernando Mission. He arrived in Angeles City on July 1, 1997. The following summer, the mission home was finally relocated in Olongapo and the mission was renamed.
The Olongapo Mission includes all of the provinces of Bataan and Zambales, much of Pangasinan and some of Pampanga. The Island of Corregidor is part of the mission although no missionary work is being done there at this time. Within these boundaries are some of the most famous battle grounds of the Second World War. Mount Samat in Bataan is a memorial marking the final engagement before Bataan fell to Imperial Japanese troops on April 9, 1942. It was from the Mount Samat and Bagac areas that the infamous Bataan death march began. (The headquarters of the Orion District is near Mount Samat.) To the north of Mount Samat, along the 22 kilometer Pilar-Bagac line, the Far East command of General Douglas MacArthur made a gallant stand against superior Japanese forces. Seriously outnumbered and under-equipped, American and Filipino troops on Corregidor were forced to surrender on May 6, 1942. Their brave defense of the Bataan peninsula and Corregidor Island had upset Japan's timetable for conquest in the Eastern Pacific.
Today, Corregidor is the site of the Pacific War Memorial. One other site in the mission has played an important role in the military history of the Philippines, Subic Bay Naval base at Olongapo, which was headquarters for the U.S. Navy's Far East Command. This base was returned to the Philippines in the early 1990's and today is an economic development zone.
On June 15, 1991, the long dormant volcano Mount Pinatubo erupted. Most of the mountain was literally blown away in a seismic explosion that left only a large crater. The volcanic ash spewed into the atmosphere is said to have changed the Earth's weather patterns. Ash deposits, called lahar, have created a new alluvial plain which, when combined with water, can become a deadly mudslide. Such a slide has burried the town of Bacolor, Pampanga, which was once home to 100,000 people. The Republic of the Philippines government is building a huge megadike complex in an attempt to divert the lahar flow into Manila Bay on the east and the South China Sea on the west. Seismologists estimate that it will take at least ten more years before the volcanic ash, which was once Mount Pinatubo, are stabilized.
Set among the histories, geography and seismic challenges of this part of the world are the Balanga, Dagupan, Lingayan and Bayambang Stakes; and eight districts of the mission, namely: Iba, Morong, Olongapo, Orion, San Antonio, Dinalupihan, Alaminos and Santa Cruz. Where once there was war, there are now hundreds of messengers of peace. It is a great place to serve. There is no other mission quite like it in all the world. The Philippines Olongapo Mission truly is a Mission of Excellence.
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