Rhina Toledo was born in the Philippines, lived temporarily in Spain, and is now in Mexico with her husband and their three children. Simple decisions have led her around the world with great impact. (Haz clic aquí para leer la entrevista original en español.)
Tell us a little bit about yourself- where did you grow up?
I was born in the Philippines. We are five brothers and sisters. My mother was an elementary school teacher, and I was in her class when I was in 4th grade. My father worked in a restaurant in Manila. He would travel to Manila for two weeks, return to see us, and then go back to work again.
Did you grow up as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints?
No, I learned about the Church when I was 21 and had recently finished college. I belonged to the Pentecostal church. My mom is a very devout Catholic, but I had not enjoyed going to church there. From the time I was eight, I was searching and enjoyed listening to other beliefs. My best friend, who was Pentecostal, invited me to her house and taught me about their church and I liked it. I started to find some things that filled my soul and spirit. I really enjoyed studying the Bible, but something was still missing for me. One day the Latter-day Saint missionaries stopped by my cousins’ house. I was curious and thought, “Let’s see what they have to say.” I was very skeptical because everyone said that they were anti-Christ. But I asked for a copy of the Book of Mormon, thinking that if I read it, I would be able to tell if they were anti-Christ. I started from the introduction. From the time I began to read, something caught my attention. There was something true in it, I could feel it, and so I continued reading. I remember that I decided I needed to pray, to ask God if it were true. And yes, I felt something. I was still reserved, though, and kept asking for more information. I didn’t want to be hasty.
Were you like that in all aspects of your life? Were you generally that careful about making decisions?
Yes, in the Bible they speak a lot of those who want to deceive us, those who will say that they are of Jesus Christ but that aren’t, and who want to distract us. I was hesitant for many days, but I felt something so powerful that I kept thinking that it must be true, this must be the word of God. I fasted, I prayed to God to know with a certainty that this was true, because I didn’t want to make a mistake that I would regret. Then I received a confirmation without equivocation. I knew that God was the only one who could have told me with that degree of certainty. I think three weeks later I was baptized.
How did your family feel about this?
They were sad and angry. The day that I was baptized, I had to go with the missionaries in one of those motor tricycles from my small village to the stake center. As we were leaving, my mother came running behind crying, “Rhina, Rhina, don’t leave!” It split my soul in two to see her running after me, and I didn’t think that I was going to be able to do it. I was determined to be baptized, and I was old enough to make that decision, but I still cried the whole way because my heart was broken. I got to my baptism, where I didn’t know anyone in the chapel except for the missionaries. The Elders introduced me to the senior missionary couple, and they were so loving, and even now I tear up thinking of them. The older brother said to me, “Rhina, I am not allowed to give you a hug, but I am going to give you a hug.” He gave me a hug and I was ready to go change into my baptismal clothes. But you know what, no one explains anything to you about the baptismal clothes! I put them on backwards! I wondered why they were so uncomfortable, and no one said anything to me!
You were starting a new style, Rhina!
It was so special anyway! You know what I remember most from that moment? When they confirmed me, I felt the Spirit so strong. I did not know at the moment that it was the Holy Spirit, but I was literally trembling. I don’t remember the words of that prayer, but I remember that feeling.
What kept you from feeling isolated, being the only member of the church in your family?
The senior missionaries visited me a lot. We had family home evenings at the homes of different members. At some point I found out that the branch president was a distant relative of mine. He helped me so much. He loaned me books about the gospel. A few months my father got a job in Spain and I left with him. My family was still very unhappy with me. They thought what I had done was awful. But at that point my conviction was total. It was like Joseph Smith said, no one could tell me that I had not felt what I’d felt. I had a strong testimony, and I do even today. But no one else in my family has ever joined the Church. Except for my husband, who joined the Church after we were married.
Why did you go to Spain with your father?
My father got a job there. We lived there for four years. Even though I lived there for that long, I mostly spent time with other people from the Philippines speaking Tagalog and wanted to learn Spanish. So, I went on the Internet. This was when chatting on the internet was just starting. This is how I met my husband, who was in Mexico. He helped me with my Spanish, and that is how everything started!
How long did you chat online before you met in person?
More than a year. I kept telling myself that I would get to know him a little better before I went to meet him in person. So, I finally came here to Mexico to meet him, and I never returned to Spain! We started our family, and now we have three beautiful children: Sophie, Iñaki and Adrián.
What was your husband’s path to becoming a member?
For him, the senior missionaries also had a huge impact. They used to visit us when we first lived here in Playa del Carmen. We had a lovely friendship with them. We had them over to eat often and they talked to my husband, they spent time with him, they taught him, and then they just left it at that. One day, one of them said to me, “Rhina, you are soon going to be able to be sealed in the temple.” And I said, “How!? My husband hasn’t even been baptized!” I couldn’t believe it. I thought that would really be a dream come true. And it did come true through the patient friendship of many people.
How did you come to be an English teacher?
In the Philippines we learned English and Tagalog in school. At the beginning of our marriage, my husband had work with a good salary and housing, and I stayed home to care for our two older children. When our third son was born, I needed to look for work. I asked God to help me. I wanted to be close to my children and I didn’t want to work on Sunday, which meant I was probably going to be looking for a job forever. I prayed a lot and watched all the ads for jobs. Then one day, I was talking to one of the coordinators at the school where my children attended, and I mentioned I was looking for work. She said, “Come for an interview! We need an English teacher!” That job fit like a ring on my finger, and I was so grateful to my Heavenly Father for granting me all my wishes. I could be with my children, attend church on the weekends and go to the temple once a month. I knew that I was asking a lot of my Heavenly Father, but I asked, and He granted it to me. It made me feel like I had a purpose. I do not believe it was chance that led me to that job. A few years after starting that job, we moved to Puerto Aventuras, and attended a little branch. My husband lost his job, and we were not sure what we were going to do. At about that same time, some members from Canada who visited our branch told me they were looking for an English teacher for grades 7-9. The salary was double or triple what I had been making. I told them that I was interested, of course, and that is how I came to be working for such a generous organization.
Tell me more about the school you work for. It is obvious that you have a deep love for your students and the difficult life situations they face.
My bosses, Joel and Laura Bancroft, have been such an example to me. They love these people that they do not even know so much that they came from another country to start this program of teaching English to the neediest children. These students don’t otherwise have an opportunity to study English because they can’t afford a private school. And if the people here can speak English, they can earn more money. My bosses saw that need and opened this school to help them to have better work opportunities.
How has the pandemic affected your classes?
It is so difficult. We had to suspend school, and it is not possible to do our classes online. Families must pay for the data on their phones, and often it is a decision between food or online minutes. So, we decided not to force them to continue studying. I just hope that when this is over those who have left and gone back to the towns where their parents were born are able to return and study. I still feel like everything in my life from the Philippines to Spain has led me to Mexico, and that this is where I am meant to be. I love them, I love their culture, it is similar to my culture with its emphasis on families. I get along well with the people, they are so friendly!
How have your life experiences helped you to follow the Savior?
As a member of the Church, we all know that we should be followers of Christ. But I think that my personal mission has been to put effort into the small but important things, maybe to overcome the weaknesses that I have, to improve better day by day, and to keep trying even when I make mistakes. I also recognize that my family is my greatest mission. I am so grateful for the gift that is this beautiful plan we have, and the opportunities we have to repent. He always has us in mind. He is always reminding us who we can turn to. He wants us to know that if we get lost or make mistakes, it is not the end of the world, because He will help us. I think it is such a gift that our Heavenly Father gives us so many opportunities. When we make mistakes, we always have more opportunities! The Savior is always there with open arms to receive us. And I testify that there is nothing but God that can fill our souls with joy.
At A Glance
Name: Rhina Kathleen Toledo Benavides
Location: Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Occupation: ESL Teacher
Convert to the Church: April 27, 1997
Schools Attended: Arellano University, BYUI
Languages Spoken At Home: Spanish
Favorite Hymn: I know that My Redeemer Lives
Interview Produced and Translated by: Jenny Willmore