Ryan King Ogden was preparing to return home from an LDS mission in 2008 when a question changed his life forever:
Would he come back?
It was a question asked by a member who wanted to know if he would help fix up a local school. Intrigued, Ogden followed the member to inspect the structure.
A ripped, soiled curtain—that's all that separated a toilet in the back of a school from the rest of the class.
"It just hit me really hard to know that the students, that if they ever need to go to the bathroom, they go in the back corner where everyone can see them and hear them," Ogden said.
So he did come back. Ogden and his friends had the school fixed within a year of completing his mission.
But little did the 21-year-old from Richfield, Utah, know that fixing this member's school in the Philippines was the start of humanitarian work that would bring happiness to thousands all over the world.
To the Philippines and Beyond
After Ogden graduated from Utah Valley University with a bachelor's degree in communications, he knew humanitarian work was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
"I just didn’t know how feasible that was; I didn’t know much about it other than just my connection in the Philippines," he says.
But he continued to visit the Philippines two or three times a year for humanitarian work. Then in 2012, Ogden met Dr. Clark Anderson, a retired seminary teacher. Together, the two founded the non-profit humanitarian group Revive Humanity.
Now, at age 29, Ogden has organized service tours for hundreds of Americans to 13 countries all over the world.
The groups assist communities in need with education, health clinics, building projects, and more.
"Running a humanitarian organization is definitely—what’s the right word for that? It’s amazing," Ogden says. "It’s crazy. It’s fun. It’s just amazing to be a part of because we are helping people."
Ogden and his groups also help with disaster relief and were there after one of the strongest storms to hit land in recorded history, Typhoon Haiyan, devasted several communities in the Philippines on November 7, 2013.
Ogden says he met children whose fathers had died while out fishing on the ocean when the storm hit. They also saw entire villages leveled by the storm.
"Stuff like this, it just hits you hard and makes you realize that there are people living in such humble conditions and they don’t even know if they are going to survive a storm. And storms come every year, almost," he says.
Though Ogden often encounters tragedy, he also encounters and creates change for the better.
The Light of Christlike Service
Ogden says one powerful experience he remembers is when he saw a man walk for the first time in years after receiving cortisone shots.
The humanitarian work also changes the lives of the volunteers.
He says the acts of service they give to others cultivates Christlike attributes and makes them want to be humanitarians for life.
"There’s really no formula other than travel and service that allows these specific things to happen," he says. "To get out of your own way of living and experience life in a foreign country and have that life, that your experience becomes one that’s tainted with poverty, just really opens your eyes and helps you gain so much perspective that you can’t find anywhere else."
And no matter where the tours go, Ogden says they always encounter LDS missionaries and volunteers with copies of the Book of Mormon and pass-along-cards in hand. Ogden knows his service groups make a difference, and though there are no known converts to the Church because of LDS members of his groups, he admits that it's not always about conversion. It's about sharing light and love.
"A lot of the people we help have really been interested in joining or just learning more about the Church, and it’s because they see the life of these volunteers who travel with us and how much light and happiness they have," Ogden says.
Will You Come Back?
After eight years of humanitarian work, Ogden says it's difficult "to quantify the number of smiles we put on people's faces."
For his work, Ogden has been invited to speak at several events, invited to humanitarian conferences around the world, and has even been spotlighted on ABS-CBN news channel in the Philippines.
But Ogden doesn't really keep track of any recognition he's received for his humanitarian work. He does keep track, however, of how many days it is until he goes to the Philippines. A post on his Facebook reads "PHILIPPINES I'm coming home on MAY 15!"
"I really do feel like I was made for this specific job," he says. "Everything that I am, what I’ve gone through in my life, has prepared me for what I feel like is to become a humanitarian. That’s from when I was young to going through high school, in college, my mission, obviously my mission played a huge role in me becoming a humanitarian. I feel like it’s what I’m supposed to be doing, and having found that fit, I’ll never want to do anything else."