The sounds, the sights, the unrecognizable words and phrases, and oh, the heat and humidity. They were all constant and unfamiliar. From the moment I woke up to the sound of roosters and scooters, until I rested my head on a thin cotton pillow at the end of another long day, the first few weeks of my mission in the Philippines were dizzying. I loved getting to know my wonderful Filipino companion and learning from her example. I was enjoying the challenge and exposure to something new and different. I believed in the message we were sharing. But there were still many moments when I felt overwhelmed, out of place, and very far from home.
My mission area was in the boundaries of a new, beautiful temple: the Philippines Cebu Temple. After a few weeks in the mission field, it was our turn to attend a temple session on preparation day. I was excited, but I had grown up in Utah with a temple only minutes away, and I probably took for granted the opportunity to attend the temple on my mission. The endowment ceremony was still a bit strange and unfamiliar to me, and there was just so much to do on preparation day: washing clothes by hand, attempting to find edibles in a foreign grocery store, and catching up on responding to letters. Plus, with the hot temperatures and endless walking, I desperately needed a nap! Despite these distractions, on our assigned day, my companion and I woke early and traveled through busy Cebu City to the temple.
As we arrived at the beautiful Cebu temple complex, entered the temple, and changed into our white clothing, I began a temple experience different than ever before. While I had been surrounded by so many unfamiliar things outside, the temple sounds, sights, words, and phrases (and the air conditioning!) were all familiar. It was a refuge. A refuge from the traffic, noise, heat, confusion, and uncertainty. It was quiet—truly the first real quiet I had experienced since my arrival in the Philippines. It was peaceful. Even in the many years of attending the temple to perform baptisms for the dead, and in recent months attending the temple as an endowed patron, I had never felt such peace. The Spirit was sweet and lifted my tired missionary body and spirit. It was beautiful, as I’d never quite appreciated the beauty of a temple before. The temple itself and the devoted workers and patrons seemed so full of light. And instead of sounding strange, the words of the endowment ceremony were familiar and strengthening. In an unfamiliar environment, burdened with difficult tasks and daily challenges, the temple felt like home. I lingered in the Celestial Room as long as I could, feeling safe and comfortable, making a renewed commitment to serve God with more love and devotion
I was able to attend the temple almost every month during my mission, and my appreciation and understanding of the temple continued to slowly grow and expand. It grew as I got to know some of the wonderful Filipino members who worked and served in the temple. It helped deepen my bond with them as brothers and sisters in the gospel. My appreciation of the temple expanded as I served with companions who rarely had opportunities to attend the temple at home. My testimony of the reality of a Savior and His sacrifice for me and all mankind grew as I learned and pondered the words of the endowment ceremony. The beautiful Cebu Temple was my home away from home, a refuge, and a place to gain strength to continue to serve and testify of Jesus Christ.
Now, as a returned missionary and young adult, I face different challenges than I did as a missionary. But I still find myself in unfamiliar environments, facing difficult tasks and troubles (try “finding an eternal companion”, for instance!) I still have many things on my “to-do list” that compete for my time, some far more difficult than writing letters or going grocery shopping (but probably not as difficult as washing clothes by hand… I don’t miss that!) And despite the years I’ve spent attending the temple, at times the endowment ceremony can still feel strange and unfamiliar. However, when I keep my covenants and attend the temple, the refuge I found in the Cebu Temple still gives me strength to face challenges. My appreciation and understanding of the temple continues to grow and expand, and when I enter God’s house with a humble heart, willing to learn, it always feels like home.