Some ten members of the Balauro family entered the waters of baptism and two couples, Francis and Cindy and Stanley and Christine, took their vows as newlyweds at Tanjay Branch chapel, Tanjay City, last September 12, 2020, all of them being part of the newly organized Santa Cruz Branch.

The wedding ceremony was initiated by Bishop Licerio of Sibulan Branch and the baptism was performed by the full-time missionaries, Bro. Rodel Capanay, and President Jethro Culis. The newly baptized members are Jannah Shakirah, Clarife, Frances Michaela, Jan Clark, Kindra Claire, Bea, Beth, Mel Anthony, Christine, and Cindy.

It was a very memorable day for all the members and the leaders. To have such success given the current restrictions in teaching and ministering, it is a huge thing for them, not to mention the organization of the branch just last February 23, 2020, a few weeks before the lockdown. New leaders were called, President Jethro Culis the president with Brother Cyril John Diaz as his counselor. New missionaries were also called to the area, namely Elder Ordonio and Elder Soria.

Santa Cruz is a barangay outskirts of Tanjay City, originally part of Tanjay Branch. With the number of active and less-active members in the area, the leaders were inspired to have a separate unit for them. The purchase of a lot to build their chapel is also in the process.

“It’s a long way to go but we will get there with divine help”, said President Culis.

Opportunity Arises Amid The Lockdown

The Balauro family is a resident of barangay Santa Cruz and was originally baptized last March 18, 2000. Sister Janet Balauro, a mother of seven, joined the church with her five children that day. They have been less-active for almost a couple of decades. When the pandemic hit, leaders reached out to all the members including the Balauro’s, and started to have contact with the family again.

However, in the middle March, the Enhanced Community Quarantine was implemented and missionaries were no longer allowed to proselyte face to face. This happened even before meeting the family. Proselyting was shifted from face to face to virtual. The data signal is quite a problem in the area, so they sometimes teach through phone calls and send text messages. Several inspirational quotes and messages have been sent to Sister Janet since the quarantine started and she finally replied on the 8th of May. That simple “thank you” from her made the Elders happy and courageous in moving forward to their next steps. They then tried to call and conduct lessons over the phone. They found out that Sister Janet’s family had expanded and invited other family members to join especially those who were unbaptized. They eventually invited them to be baptized and accepted it.

Of course, that did not happen overnight. A combined effort from the missionaries, leaders, and members (Linking Arms) brought forth the fruit. President Culis himself taught the message of The Restoration to the family, visiting them almost everyday. “I am happy”, the President expressed. “Indeed, as we do our part in bringing those who are lost and needy back to Him, we will be guided by the Lord”, he added.

Brother Francis Kevin, the fifth son of Sister Janet who was baptized when he was ten, freshly recalls that at his young age, he too, like the Prophet Joseph Smith, had questions why there are many churches and which one is right. He found the answers when the first missionaries taught the message of The Restoration, that precious truths about the gospel, the Priesthood Keys, and even the church were lost and restored back by Heavenly Father through the Prophet Joseph Smith. They moved places though and lost contact with the church. Later on, he got into vices and got badly influenced by some peers. Now a grown man, Francis expressed, “I am thankful for the missionaries for rekindling that faith and testimony I had. I am also happy that my partner, Cindy, will be baptized.”

Brother John Stanley, the fourth son of Sister Janet, now with his partner Christine, said that when the new missionaries came after the quarantine was lifted, he was hesitant to face them. He said, “I was ashamed to entertain the missionaries because of the sins I’ve made. I have been to a lot of vices and made some wrong choices, but I thought, it is never too late to change, so I made a decision to come back to church.”

The baptism and wedding ceremony were held on the same day and a little reception was prepared by the Tanjay Young Single Adults (YSA). President Agustin, the newly called Cebu Mission President, said that it was a very memorable ceremony they were attending for three reasons: first, it was the first wedding they have been invited to in Cebu Mission; second, it was their first time to meet the bride and groom in contrast to some previous weddings they have attended where they personally knew the bride and groom; and third, it’s their first time to attend a wedding remotely. “Indeed, the pandemic has brought many changes including wedding ceremonies such as this,” he expressed.

Sister Janet shared her testimony that she knows the church is true and the Book of Mormon is true. She said that after listening frequently to the missionaries, she always has peace of mind and she feels the Holy Ghost more often. “I am ready to press forward and endure to the end with my family,” she added.

Elder Rabina, a Santa Cruz missionary, shared, “I testify that the gospel blesses individuals and families, and whenever we will be lost and gone astray, we can simply find our way back to the covenant path. I know that He will be happy to accept us no matter who we were in the past. What matters most to Him is what we would become in the future, following His footsteps today and turning unto Him with all our hearts.”

Elder Labog, also a missionary from the branch, said that from that experience, he learned that Heavenly Father really loves us. He further testified, “He is mindful of each of His sons and daughters. He remembers and numbers them. He reaches out one by one in His perfect love and perfect time. He always rescues us through heavenly means. There’s always someone who will help us and ignite our faith so we can walk back again in the covenant path.”

Elder Ordonio, in his words, said, “The Lord surely fulfills all His promised blessings. Without a doubt, miracles will continue in this great cause. We have witnessed it as we do His work in His way and with the help of our best allies, the members, and the leaders. Modern technology and the internet have also helped in gathering Israel in these challenging times. Relying on the Spirit more than our capabilities and talents is the key to fulfill our missionary purpose.” He concluded, “this is the greatest work on earth, the greatest cause in which we could be involved at this time.”

Reported by Rolf Don Mueco

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