News Release

Faithful and True: Pioneers in the Philippines (Series)

Special Feature on Ruben and Nenita Gapiz, Augusto and Myrna Lim

Full-time missionaries began working in the Philippines in 1961. When the Manila Philippines Temple was dedicated in 1984, 23 years later, the Church had grown from a handful of Filipino members to more than 75,000 Latter-day Saints, 15 stakes, and numerous districts, wards, and branches. Today the growth of the Church continues at a rapid pace, with the number of Filipino members exceeding 800,000. On 28 April 2021, the Church will celebrate 60 years in the Philippines.

Missionary Work Begins

American servicemen, their families, and others living in the Philippines loved the Filipinos and in 1960 pleaded with Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, then an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles assigned to supervise the Church in Asia, to open the Philippines to missionary work.

On his first visit to the Philippines in 1960, Elder Hinckley realized the potential the Philippines offered as a mission field. Legal challenges slowed official recognition for the Church, but Elder Hinckley and Robert S. Taylor, president of the Southern Far East Mission, believed permission for missionary visas would soon be granted. With authorization from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, they scheduled a meeting at the American War Memorial Cemetery on 28 April 1961 to initiate missionary work.

At 6:30 on a quiet, peaceful morning, around 100 members of the Church—mostly servicemen and their families, but including David Lagman, a Filipino member—met near the small memorial chapel. At the conclusion of a brief meeting, Elder Hinckley offered a prayer in which he invoked 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 many, yea Lord, we pray that there shall be many thousands who shall receive this message and be blessed thereby. … We pray that there shall be many men, faithful, good, virtuous, true men who shall join the Church.”

Since that time, his prayer has been answered many folds. Visas for full-time missionaries were soon approved, and on 5 June 1961, the first four missionaries were transferred from Hong Kong to Manila. Probably because the people were curious about them, the elders were invited into every home they visited that day.

After the missionaries arrived, most of the pioneering and nurturing of the young Church was done by the Filipino converts. Despite major economic problems and natural disasters, they have forged ahead in building the kingdom of God in their islands.


Ruben and Nenita Gapiz

Ruben Gapiz and Nenita Reyes were among the earliest Filipinos to join the Church. Nenita, who was baptized on 25 November 1961, was the fifth person to join the Church after missionary work began. She was a college graduate when her brother-in-law sent the missionaries to her home. Her response and the response of several family members was immediate and positive. Nenita was soon called to lead the music for the growing group of members in the Manila area. She has since served in the presidencies of the Young Women, Relief Society, and Primary.

Ruben Gapiz was interested in Nenita before he was interested in the Church. A talented guitar player, he was recruited to accompany Church members for an evening of Christmas caroling. Disappointed that he was not offered payment for his services, he was about to leave when he saw Nenita leading the singing. He stayed, eventually listened to the missionary discussions, and was baptized a year after Nenita.

Two years later, Ruben and Nenita became the first Filipino Latter-day Saint couple to marry. Almost everyone in the branch attended the ceremony and the celebration afterward. The Gapiz family was eventually blessed with four daughters.

Ruben accepted a number of callings in the Church, but he served with less eagerness than Sister Gapiz, although his testimony continued to grow. In 1975, however, Nenita says “the Lord tapped him on the shoulders and woke him up.” Ruben was diagnosed with cancer of the nasopharynx. He was not expected to live more than a few years. Nenita and Ruben’s oldest child was only 10 years old when the cancer was discovered; Ruben wanted badly to live and raise his family.

“In August 1978,” he recalls, “I received my patriarchal blessing from Patriarch F. Briton McConkie. My wife was in the room with me. … [The patriarch] did not have any prior knowledge of my affliction. Toward the end of the blessing he pronounced these words, which brought tears to my eyes and caused my wife to sob softly: ‘You will live your life to the fullest and will be called to serve in many leadership positions.’

“After the blessing was over, [the] patriarch … asked me the reason for my tears. I told him that I had been diagnosed with cancer, that I had only two years to live, and that the blessing he pronounced was almost too good to hope for. … I knew that day that the Lord had answered my prayers.”

The blessing awakened his dedication to the gospel. “He became a different man after that,” Sister Gapiz says.

He has since worked tirelessly to strengthen the Church in the Philippines. Through the years he has served as a bishop, stake president, mission president, and regional representative. He also served as chair of the committee that translated the Book of Mormon into Tagalog, the predominant native language. He also served as an Area Authority Seventy and Materials Management manager in the Philippines/Micronesia Area.

Augusto A. and Myrna G. Lim

Unlike other Asian countries where Christians are greatly outnumbered, the Philippines was converted to Roman Catholicism by the Spanish, beginning in the 16th century. Because 90 percent of Filipinos are Christians, many readily listen to and embrace the message of the Restoration.

Augusto and Myrna Lim were such a couple. When they were baptized in October 1964, they had no idea what the Lord would ask of them in building up the Church.

Brother Lim had graduated with a law degree and by 1964 was well established in his profession. He understood organizations, and he spoke well in public. He also made time for spiritual pursuits, having studied the Bible throughout his life. He had been reared by Protestant parents. Myrna had been reared a Roman Catholic.

Shortly before the missionaries visited his home, his three-year-old daughter asked why the family never attended church on Sundays like other families. Moved by his daughter’s question, he knelt and prayed: “I feel guilty about what has happened. If you want me to work full time in the church as a minister or do anything for you, just let me know.”

A week later the full-time missionaries knocked on the door. Augusto’s studies had prepared him to accept the missionaries’ message. “I joined the Church,” he said, “because the doctrine of the Church was what I actually believed in, even before the missionaries visited me, about God the Father, for example, and about revelation. Those are things that even when I was in high school and college I believed in. … The missionaries were teaching me something that I felt I knew.”

At his baptism in October 1964, Augusto silently made a special covenant with his Heavenly Father: “I will be active, and I’ll do everything that I can to help.” The following week he was called as the second counselor in the Sunday School. And before his first year in the Church ended, he had successively served as branch financial clerk, assistant district clerk, district clerk, and first counselor in the branch presidency in Quezon City. In this last calling, he served for two years under American serviceman Montie Keller, who taught him “the proper way of running the Church. … I was taught by a great Church leader.”

Brother Lim’s intensive period of apprenticeship continued when he was called as the second counselor in the Luzon District presidency. Nine months later, on 22 August 1967, the Church organized the Philippines Mission with Paul H. Rose as president. Brother Lim was called as the first counselor in the mission presidency, a position he held for six years. He also served as president of four different branches. President DeWitt C. Smith, who followed President Rose, often called upon Brother Lim as a trainer.

When the Church organized its first stake in the Philippines, Elder Ezra Taft Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve called Augusto A. Lim as stake president. The Manila Philippines Stake was organized 20 May 1973, only 12 years after missionary work began in Manila and only 9 years after President Lim joined the Church. As the Manila Stake grew and was divided, President Lim was called twice to preside over the new stakes that were organized.

In the years that followed, President Lim served as a regional representative and as president of the Philippines Naga Mission. In early June 1992, a few weeks before his release as a mission president, President Lim received a call to serve in the Second Quorum of the Seventy, becoming the first Filipino to serve as a General Authority. His call was a pioneering call. He was to continue his profession but also serve in the Area Presidency, just as Area Authority Seventies do today.

In the summer of 1996, Elder and Sister Lim were called as president and matron of the Manila Philippines Temple. They were the first Filipino couple to lead the work at that temple.

Their years of service have been exemplary, particularly for their eight children. Their sons have served missions, and their daughters have married returned missionaries in the temple.

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