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Debbie Goodson
Contented smiles of children fed by the Rise & Rebuild Foundation in the Philippines.

SALT LAKE CITY — A couple of years ago, Ray Goodson had his hip replaced on a Tuesday. By Friday, to the astonishment of, among others, his surgeon, he was off his pain meds and playing golf.

“Ray, you’re not supposed to be feeling this good,” said the surgeon.

But Ray wasn’t faking it, and his wife, Debbie, figured she knew one of the main reasons for his speedy recovery. After the surgery, she’d been on the phone with the Goodsons' friends in the Philippines. When she told them Ray was doing remarkably well, they told her, “Oh, we expected that, because we have thousands of people over here praying for Ray.”

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Ray Goodson will be the first person to confess he is no saint. He has a long list of imperfections he’ll be happy to tell you about.

But he’ll also happily tell you about the antidote he’s found to counteract them.

“When you’re a little bit of a reprobate like I am,” he says, “service is your saving grace.”

Goodson’s service is aimed primarily at the Philippines.

Dee Benson
Debbie and Ray Goodson, founders of Rise and Rebuild Foundation.

It started out innocently enough. In November of 2013, Ray and Debbie Goodson made plans to fly to the Philippines to do some public relations work on behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. By their choice, they weren’t official missionaries. Because of their extensive history in the Philippines — in 1961 Ray Goodson was the first full-time LDS missionary to serve there and in 1974, when he was just 36 years old, the Goodsons were posted in the islands as mission presidents — they felt they could do more good without wearing suits and dresses and badges.

Then, just days before their scheduled arrival, the devastating Typhoon Hian slammed into the Philippines, leaving more than 10,000 people dead, tens of thousands more hungry and homeless, and wrecking fishing and farming industries.

For four months the Goodsons marshaled recovery efforts, calling in resources from friends and family; hauling in food, bedding and clothing from wherever they could find it; recruiting dozens of missionaries who had once served under them to come back and rebuild houses and repair infrastructure.

When they came up for air they made a startling discovery: It felt so good they didn’t want to stop.

So they didn’t.

Five years and counting since Hian, the Rise and Rebuild Foundation — the nonprofit the Goodsons started as a result of the typhoon — has turned into a multifaceted, year-round enterprise that employs 200 people, all of them Filipinos.

Debbie Goodson
Filipino school children read in a library built by the Rise & Rebuild Foundation.

They began by building bathrooms for communities and schools. That led to drilling wells, which led to building kitchens in schools, which led to growing crops and raising fish to stock the kitchens, which led to providing day care centers for the workers’ children, which led to building libraries in schools.

More than 10,000 Filipino school kids are fed every day at the Rise and Rebuild nutrition centers. Hundreds of schools and towns have bathroom facilities that didn’t exist five years ago. An average of three new wells are dug every month. A 16-acre garden produces food at 10 times the normal productivity rates in the islands.

All of it paid for by the networking magic of service.

The Goodsons knew they couldn’t fund it alone, but no sooner did they sound the alarm that help was needed than donations from others came rushing in.

“Money started falling out of the sky before we even left that first time,” Ray Goodson recalls. “I’m talking big bucks; $50,000 here, $100,000 there. People heard what we were doing and checks started coming. When people see that you’re taking care of malnourished children, their pocketbooks tend to open.”

Goodson also confesses he’s never been above a little arm twisting.

“It’s very expensive to be my friend,” he says.

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Ray and Debbie (who runs her own separate nonprofit supporting schools in Peru) return to the Philippines at least twice a year to manage and oversee what they got started. They will leave Utah yet again on Saturday, with plans to remain until March. They will stay in air-conditioned hotels some of the time; but much of the time they will be living alongside the locals, immersed in the landscape and rhythms of a Third World country.

Ray, who turned 80 in 2018, doesn’t have to do this. He could stay in Utah and play golf every day if he wanted to. It’s all his own choice.

“People who do this sort of thing are happier,” he says. “I believe we can save ourselves by service.

“People say to me, ‘I wish I could do what you do, Ray,’ and I say, ‘Well, all you gotta do is get started and it’s surprising what happens.’”