Ten percent is a tough standard for those who make minimum wage in the Philippines, which is less than six dollars a day, with as much as half going for transportation. Many are not that lucky, because jobs are so hard to find. Hanging on ferociously to every last peso would seem the prudent thing to do.
Jhon Balledos, president of the Cebu City Stake and chairman of the recent temple open house, said, “We want to teach members that they need to be self-reliant and that if they want to change their lives, first they have to change their mindset.” That includes tithing faithfulness—which is a challenge in the Philippines, a trusting in the Lord and letting go of everything that seems logical to the eye of the natural man.
President Balledos, the highly competent and able, tears up when he talks about his youth—not because his family struggled– which they did, but because the faith of his mother left such a lasting impression.
“My father died when I was young and my mother had no source of income,” he said. “On Saturday we made peanut butter, manually grinding those peanuts. After making the peanut butter, we had to sell it, going into the market first thing on Saturday morning, hoping people would buy. With any money we made, we bought fish and brought it back to our local neighbourhood to sell. Then we’d have to start all over, grinding peanuts for peanut butter.”
“My mother knew that there was no money in her purse, but she also knew that as long as she gave the 10% to the Church, there would be food on our table the next day. When she paid her tithing, if there was no money for fare to get to church, we had to walk, sometimes in our slippers, but she was determined that the only way we could make it was to be blessed of the Lord, and that meant paying tithing.
“When we asked her how she managed all those years, she said, ‘I don’t know. I was just following the Savior.’ Her mother and sister were against us being Latter-day Saints. When a typhoon destroyed our roof, Grandma said that’s because you believe in a church that doesn’t believe in the cross.’
“With the roof damaged, or not, tithing was tithing to her. The result of that faith was that her four boys and three girls all served missions. Right after I graduated, some said why don’t you go find a job so you can build a house for your mother?
“I said, ‘If I miss this mission, I will never be able to build a house for my mom.’”
True to form, Jhon Balledos went on a mission, came home and got a job and turned around to support his younger siblings going on their missions. “We supported one another,” he said.
“The day came when we were preparing to go to the Manila temple to be sealed as a family. We pooled all of our money together. I was working as a medical representative for a company and I had this daily allowance for food. I decided not to have snacks and save my money for boat fare. We managed to get enough for that, the last Family Home Evening before we were to leave, we said, where do we get any food? We don’t have any money for food. We told ourselves that the Lord would provide.
“The next day the mailman came just as we were leaving for the temple and gave me an envelope marked Bureau of Internal Revenue. I opened the envelope and it was a tax rebate check for 380 pesos. It is the only time I have received a rebate from the government. The government doesn’t pay you back your taxes. Now, we had enough to get something—and you know what we got? Noodles and sardines.
“Right after the sealing I said to our brothers and sisters, ‘For the last two days we have been eating noodles. I’m getting tired of these noodles. I put my hands in my pockets and found a few more pesos. I said, don’t you think we should celebrate that we will be brothers and sisters forever?’ We walked out of the church and what should we see but a golden sign that said “McDonalds.”
With my allowance and the allowance of my brothers and sisters, we pooled our money and bought four cheeseburgers and asked the food server to slice them in half. One part for each of the eight of us. Those were fine memories.”
Temple Open House Exceeds Expectations
Slicing burgers in half may have sounded like a good idea for the Cebu City Temple open house where the numbers so far exceeded the planners’ expectations.
President Balledos said they had been expecting about 25,000, but ended up having 45,103 attend the open house and had to run to the supermarket every day for additional food because they came short. “We were just thrilled to see the people lining up each day,” he said.
What particularly pleased the planners was the response of the media who talked about how warm the people were and how surprised they were to have so many misconceptions cleared up. One journalist said, “I’ve learned more about your church in a single hour than I’ve known my entire life. “ Another imagined that baptism for the dead involved bringing caskets to the temple and baptizing cadavers.
“It was a turning point for the Church,” said President Balledos. “Because the media spread such a good word about the Church, where we were a month ago and where we are now is entirely different.”
President Balledos and his committee started to do the legwork for this kind of response much more than a year ago, beginning at the groundbreaking. Cebu City is an important place for the Catholic Church because this is where Magellan landed and placed the cross, thereby proclaiming it a Christian land. “Step by step is how the Lord works in finally bringing the gospel to a land, beginning 500 years ago,” he said.
Church officers visited Cardinal Vidal of Cebu early on in the temple-building process, hoping the Catholic Church would be supportive. He was gracious and, rather than putting any obstacle up to the work, he said, we need people like you. We need people who will stand up for something. We are not here to compete with one another, but to help people go back to God.
President Balledos said that they expected to have some people rallying against the Church or some bad-mouthing or bad press. It didn’t happen. Again this went back to early public affairs work. President Balledos and his team put together a Family Awards program which they ran three consecutive years leading up to the temple open house so that people would know what the Church stands for. They visited the cardinal on his birthday. They presented radio programs on what the gospel is—and among other things that particularly fascinated people was the atonement and fasting. “In preparing for the temple, we were able to help bring the Church out of obscurity,” he said.
One home owners’ association wanted to be able to have right of way through the temple grounds, an idea that was impossible. They thought this was something coming from America and Americans are rich. But the issue was handled readily with local church officers working with local people and ended with good will all around.
When they visited the mayor of Cebu, he agreed to be helpful in every way and quipped, “If there’s anybody who stands in your way, or tries to make money off of this construction project, let me know and I’ll shoot them.” This meant that no corruption from government bureaucrats would be tolerated.
Thus, the temple building, the media coverage, the open house, went well. One journalist said that she had thought that heaven was far away, but when she stepped into the celestial room, she felt the serenity and peacefulness of heaven right here. “Can I come back again and again?” she asked to which the open house team responded, “We will send you the missionaries.”
Another journalist asked, “Can I be married here?”
Eileen Mangubat, publisher of the Cebu Daily News said, “If there is anything that should be printed that is not in accordance with the truthfulness of what you are doing here, let me know.”
During the groundbreaking that the provincial government made a resolution recognizing the Cebu temple. A local barangay or village submitted a resolution thanking the Church for building the beautiful temple. The ambassador to China was invited to a special VIP open house and brought his entire family.
On the temple lot, a new stake center has been built, where many of the congregations in President Balledos stake will meet. Some of them were wistful because they will lose the building where Saints have been meeting in Cebu for many years. President Balledos has been teaching them this important truth.
“When you come out of the church, the road is inclined toward the temple which sits on a rise on the temple lot. All of the teachings that happen inside the meeting house, every program, lesson, and activity should lead up to the temple. You are so blessed because you can remember that every time you walk out of the church and look up to the temple. Being inside the temple complex means you need to do more because the temple is always before your eyes and you are looking up to it.”
That sounds like a sentiment President Balledos’ mother would have taught him and, he said, “I am a product of that gift.” His grandmother might have scoffed at that, but now his grandparents are long gone, and their temple work has been done. He said, “Hopefully they will accept the gift,” he said. The temple. That’s why we are so blessed to have the temple right in this complex.
“The gospel blesses so many lives among the Philippines. We want more people to see those blessings. In my family, growing up, we couldn’t have survived without them.”