LDS missionaries often return to their missions to visit converts, wards and families. But few return to visit tens of thousands of screaming fans.
Five former missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are now YouTube stars in the Philippines. These men created the Hey Joe Show, a group that films anything from funny vines to music videos.
The members are BYU students Sumner Mahaffey, Connor Peck, Jake Mingus, Tylan Glines and Davis Blount.
The Hey Joe Show launched on YouTube in October 2014. They now have more than 400,000 likes on Facebook and 50,000 YouTube subscribers, with a combined YouTube and Facebook view count of more than 14 million.
The Hey Joe Show has posted only 26 videos, but the numbers keep growing.
The five missionaries served in the Philippines Cebu Mission from 2012–2014, then returned to school in Utah and kept in touch. Some, like Blount and Mingus, became roommates.
The men speak Bisaya, a dialect in the Visayan language family also known as Cebuano, and some native speakers say these BYU returned missionaries speak better than they do. YouTube commenter sasawedx wrote, “I’ve live(d) in (the) Philippines since I was born, but I don’t speak Bisaya and can’t understand them … these Americans know more of our language than I do.”
Mingus and Mahaffey were missionary companions while Blount and Glines were also companions. Mingus and Maheffey began talking about ways to stay connected with the Philippines after returning home. Because of the reactions to how well these Americans spoke the language, the missionaries considered doing something out of the ordinary.
What started as a conversation about simply visiting the Philippines turned into an idea about making videos in the native language.
“The people were always shocked when they would hear us speak Bisaya fluently,” said Mingus, a junior studying computer science. “Aside from missionaries, Americans who spoke the language were few and far between.”
When they got home from their missions, they began planning. Mahaffey said it then turned into a YouTube channel and series of videos.
Peck, member of the Hey Joe Show, said the group didn’t know exactly what would happen, but they knew they could at least make an impact. “We just went for it and have been blessed as it has become one of the most rewarding things any of us has ever done,” he said.
The phrase, “Hey Joe,” is a common phrase used to describe Americans in the Philippines, Mingus said. “I heard it comes from when the U.S. had GI Joes stationed in the Philippines. From that point on, white people were known as Joe. Kids shouted ‘Hey Joe’ at us hundreds of times.”
Mingus said when the group shared the YouTube idea with friends and family, the typical reaction was, “Oh, that’s cute. You guys will have fun making little videos.”
These “little videos” have gained hundreds of thousands of views and shares. Their most popular video, highlighting each group member, has more than 900,000 views. Recent videos include the group doing the “whip” and “nae nae” dance of 2015.
Peck said his favorite videos to film were the few that they filmed while in the Philippines this spring. “There were a few ideas we had of things we had seen done in the Philippines but never were able to do as missionaries. Riding carabao (water buffalo), attempting to climb coconut trees and snorkeling … definitely all pretty sweet things to film,” he said.
Blount said the group’s first priority is to promote clean entertainment and be a positive influence in the lives of Filipinos.
The Hey Joe Show members returned for their first Philippines tour in April and May 2015. They visited five cities and were even able to promote LDS content.
“The tour was our way of being able to go back to the Philippines to share our love of the culture in person,” Mingus said.
Mahaffey said Glines did all the group’s planning and called the malls where they wanted to perform. He said the malls and employees were extremely accommodating and provided the group with transportation and hotels.
“I’m still so impressed with Tylan because he organized a whole tour in the Philippines from Provo,” Mahaffey said.
Mahaffey said walking out onto the stage during the multi-city tour was the highlight of their connection with everybody who had been watching their videos.
“They screamed and yelled and cried,” Mahaffey said. “I felt like crying the whole time, because I was so happy to be making them happy. It was like finally they felt the love that we had felt for them during our whole missions.”
The group hopes they can continue to use the show as a missionary tool, Blount said, to bring others closer to Christ.
Blount said while they were in the Philippines, they were contacted by LDS Church officials. “We were able to do promotional work for the Philippines release of ‘Meet the Mormons.’ It was so much fun.”
Glines said tour was the best time to express their “deep love” for the Filipino people. “In person, we are able to laugh with them, hug them and appreciate their amazing support.”
Melanie Fran Chua from Cebu City is a fan of the Hey Joe Show, and has created separate Facebook photo albums dedicated to their group. Chua went to their 2015 Philippines show in the Ayala Activity Center. She also ushered at and attended a fireside with them in the Cebu City Stake Center.
Chua said she was one of the luckiest girls at the show because she took a selfie with all five members of the group. She said one of her favorite parts about the group is their humility. “They don’t forget who they are. They love the Filipinos and our culture,” she said.
Chua hopes to see them again when they visit Cebu. The American group left an impression during their missions that continues to ignite Filipinos and fans.
One fan wrote in a Facebook comment, “This phrase ‘Hey Joe’ means a lot to me and my family. My brother and I shouted ‘Hey Joe’ at the missionaries. They stopped and taught us the gospel of Jesus Christ. Even after 30 years, not a single year passes without me thanking the Lord for shouting ‘Hey Joe!’ to those white angels passing by our house.”
Glines encouraged missionaries to never forget their mission and think of it every day.
“I don’t believe in avoiding the phrase ‘when I was on my mission.’ Share it. Talk about it. I’m very passionate about helping others through mission experiences. Never forget your mission,” he said.
Mahaffey also gave advice to returned missionaries. “There’s a reason you were sent to your mission, and there are so many ways to continue to do good even after you’ve returned home.”
Mingus said he thinks students should work for the big ideas they have.
“Our success came because we tried to do something that hasn’t been done before,” Mingus said. “I guess the principle is, ‘You won’t know if you don’t try.'”
Cebuano speakers don’t have a lot of entertainment in their own language, Mahaffey said, and the entertainment there isn’t always wholesome. But The Hey Joe Show receives thousands of messages every week from fans, thanking the group for their videos.
Glines said the group is in the middle of planning a U.S./Canada tour, which may expand to include various countries around the world. “There are Filipinos everywhere,” Glines said. “We have ‘family’ no matter where we are in the world.”
The BYU RMs who make up the Hey Joe Show want to continue to inspire “these amazing Filipino people all around the world,” Mahaffey said. “Who knows, maybe we’ll move back to the Philippines to make this a full-time job. That would be fun.”