By Bob Buchanon
(Editor’s Note: This report has been delayed because brother Buchanon, in his old age, has become forgetful. He thought that he had already mailed it but had not.)
On Monday morning, March 12, our Northwest 747 lifted off the runway of the O’Hare International Airport in Chicago and headed for Manila, a trip that resulted in some completely new experiences for us, some different and deeply formed impressions on our minds, and some new and lasting friendships with Christians in another land.
We arrived in Manila, after a short stop in Tokyo, at 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 13, having dropped a day when we crossed the International Date Line going west. In spite of the late hour, we were met at the airport by many of the Filipino brethren, some of whom had come great distances to greet us upon our arrival. Lovely leis of sweet smelling flowers were draped about our necks by some of the young Christians and we were warmly received by many preachers and their families, some of whom we were able to recognize from pictures. They made us feel that our coming was of great importance to them.
We were also met by Levy Maravilla, one of the elders with the Hazelwood Church in St. Louis, a native of the Philippines, but now residing in the United States with his medical profession; Rodi Tan, Dr. Maravilla’s nephew; and Bill Battles, a doctor from Anniston, Alabama, who was just finishing a combined medical and preaching trip in the Philippines. He had been accompanied by Frank Butler, also of Anniston, but who had already returned home because of illness.
An Impossible Task
Some brethren, upon learning of our plans to visit the Philippines, gave us the names of preachers they wanted us “to check up on,” as if we would be in contact with all of the churches and all of the preachers in the Philippines. Many American brethren do not realize the massiveness of these islands. The Republic of the Philippines is a nation made up of about 7,000 islands in the Pacific Ocean, a great number of which are volcanic in origin and very small. Many of them are uninhabited, only 730 are known to be populated. The northern most islands are a little over 300 miles from the mainland of Asia. The population at the present time is estimated to be close to 50 million people. Needless to say, it was impossible to meet all of them.
There are probably more faithful congregations and gospel preachers in the Philippines than in any other foreign nation. There may be as many as 400 preachers in the Philippines who are working on full or part-time basis preaching the gospel, many of Whom are supported in their work by congregations in the United States. The growth of the church there in recent years has been remarkable, and even more remarkable is the fact that the majority of our brethren in the Philippines has resisted and taken a stand against the liberal and institutional trends which have swept so many congregations in the United States and in other countries into apostasy. To go to this nation and work with these people in the propagation of the gospel was a challenging and enjoyable experience. We came back a few pounds lighter and extremely tired, but with a feeling that we were able to accomplish the work we set out to do.
Connie Adams, upon his return from his preaching trip to the Philippines, said: “The first impressions of an American being driven across the city of Manila is hard to describe, ” but little did we know just exactly what this meant. Thousands of colorful jeepneys everywhere, seemingly all car horns blowing at once, the open buses, hawkers trying to sell their goods on every street corner, and the near misses while negotiating traffic provides a breathtaking experience.
Rodi served as our very capable guide while we were in Manila. We were pleased that he was doing the driving instead of one of us. It is very doubtful that any American preacher could get in an automobile and drive from one side of the city to the other and arrive alive. It is difficult to describe what we saw. There are no distinct traffic laws. A driver makes a lane wherever he can squeeze in. What few stop signs or traffic lights you see, they are ignored, and it is a case of who can pull the biggest bluff on the other driver. Speed limits are also either non-existent or ignored by all drivers.
The attitude toward hospitality displayed by Filipinos is unmatched by any we have seen in our country. It is from the heart and will be the very best that the host has. The visitor is always treated as an honored guest. On several occasions we were being fanned by some of the sisters while we were eating. Often, we ate alone with our host while the rest of the family waited until we were through. Even though this made us uncomfortable, we did not object. Several of those that had made trips prior to us explained that they want to do this, to do us honor.
Some of the food and eating customs were different than what we were accustomed to, but we soon learned to adjust. Often, we ate with the only forks they owned while others ate with their fingers. It goes without saying, that we ate some food that we had never tried before – namely, dog! We learned, too, to expect rice at all meals. All of the food we ate did not tempt us to go back for seconds, but we survived. And much of the food was delicious! In the back of our minds, we knew, too, that several of our hosts had gone in debt to provide these meals for us.
Preaching In Manila
We spent one day in a lectureship with the church in Pasay City, a suburb of Manila, where Victorio Tibayan is the preacher. The church assembles in the second floor of a building over a busy street. Due to the street noise, it was necessary to yell. In spite of the noise and the heat, the attention and interest was great. An accurate count of the attendance was not taken, but we met about 30 preachers from Luzon that we would not otherwise have been able to meet. We both preached in the morning service, followed by lunch at a brother’s home which was nearby. In the afternoon session, we both spoke again, and Bill Battles also brought a lesson of the suffering which Jesus endured in His crucifixion, from a doctor’s point of view.
Working In Oriental Mindoro
Early on Saturday morning, Eliseo Sikat, who had attended the lectureship, met us at our hotel to accompany us to the island of Mindoro, where he preaches for two congregations – Aurora with about 45 members and San Luis with 28 members. Rodi and Levy took us in the car from Manila to Batangas, a drive of little over two hours, where we would get on a boat going to Calapan, Mindoro. We were met and warmly greeted by brother Diosdad Menor and his family at the dock. Not knowing exactly (when it comes to keeping a schedule, there is seldom anything done “exactly” in the Philippines) when we would be arriving, they had made two previous trips down to the dock for earlier boat arrivals. The trip to brother Menor’s home in his jeep over a rough and very dusty road was an introduction to what was in store for us during the next four days.
Brother Menor has been a Christian since 1932 and has been preaching most of that time. He has baptized hundreds of people in Mindoro. At 71 years of age, he travels most of the time trying to edify 20-23 congregations in Mindoro and Tablas Island. Every other week, he teaches in preacher’s training class. Brother Menor is a very kind and gentle man, very knowledgeable in the Scriptures, and an excellent preacher. He has a very lovely wife and gracious family, and our visits in their home will be long remembered. Brother Menor has considerable influence in the Philippines among the brethren, and he is highly regarded by his co-workers on Mindoro.
Brother Ricarte Madayag works with Brother Menor in Calapan, where the church meets in the Menor’s home. The church has purchased property in Calapan, but lack the funds to begin constructing a meeting house. Ricky works closely with Brother Menor, filling in for him during his frequent absences, and helping to conduct the training classes. He was converted from the Pentecostal church about five years ago, is a good Bible student, and a very capable and effective preacher. He and his wife accompanied us on our travels in Oriental Mindoro.
We were much impressed with brother Eliseo Sikat, already mentioned as having accompanied us on the boat ride. The Aurora congregation meets in a small bamboo building which was constructed by Eliseo and which adjoins his home. He supported himself for eight years by teaching school so that he could preach. His services are often needed by 4-5 congregations. He has a good knowledge of the Scriptures and considerable ability in preaching. He and his wife also were with us during all of our travels on Mindoro.
Time and space will not allow us to mention each congregation and all of the preachers that we met on Mindoro. We preached for about twelve congregations and met about eighteen preachers. We were pleased to have the opportunity of meeting the family of eighty-three year old Leoncio Adap who was baptized in 1926 by George Benson, the first American to preach on the islands as far as we know.
Our work in Mindoro and our association with the brethren there was all pleasure, in spite of some of the hardships and difficulties we encountered. The churches on Mindoro seemed to be in excellent condition, with a good relationship between them. All the brethren for the different congregations seemed to love and appreciate one another, and were glad to see each other. Because of the difficulties of traveling on Mindoro (there being no paved roads) and the distance between the congregations, they are unable to be with one another as often as they would like. The preachers also manifested respect and appreciation for one another, and we saw not even one hint of the kind of problems between them that we observed in other places. There is not a single church of Christ on either Mindoro or Tablas islands with any liberal tendencies, and there must be more than thirty congregations on the two islands. This is largely due to the work and influence of brother Menor and his faithful co-workers. Becoming acquainted and working with them was a first-class privilege.
Preaching In Mindanao
An early morning flight put us at the airport in Davao City, on the large island of Mindanao, at about 10:15 a.m., where we were again greeted by numerous brethren and welcomed with lovely leis. We were able to meet and preach for about ten different churches while around Davao City. Both of us also spoke on a radio program on consecutive Sundays.
While we were in Davao City our schedule was about the same every day. Between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m., we would be met at the hotel by Ruben Notarte and the others who would accompany us. This meant that they would have to arise as early as 2:00 in the morning to meet us on time, and they were usually very prompt. Leaving the hotel, we would usually ride on jeepneys, motorcycles with sidecars, and/or buses and we would often walk for a long distance to reach our appointed place for the day, with the travel requiring two or three hours one way. We would often pick up other traveling companions along the way. When time permitted, we would have services both in the morning, and in the afternoon following a break for lunch. The services would usually last about three hours, but the brethren, even the children, listened carefully and interestedly all the time.
Prior to making the trip, we had asked brother Nortarte to plan our schedule for us. We were with him for only thirteen days, but he made a very strong impression on us. We came to love him for the kind of man he was, and to appreciate him for the great work he was doing. Ruben was converted from a denomination just a few years ago where he had previously served as a teacher in their seminary, as well as one of their most widely used preachers. He was skillful in three languages and proved to be valuable to us in interpreting our lessons.
For the most part, the people we worked with in and around Davao City are those referred to as the “cultural minorities,” who are thought to be the original inhabitants of the Philippines. In their languages, dress and customs they are somewhat different from other Filipinos, but we found them to be equally friendly, hospitable, and, especially, as sincerely interested in hearing the gospel. In fact, seeing this latter quality demonstrated on an occasion or so provided us with one of the most thrilling experiences of our lives. These people are probably not nearly as advantaged from cultural, economic and educational standpoints as the rest of the people of the Philippines, but they seem to be free of materialistic attitudes and genuinely interested in spiritual and eternal things. They live in the mountainous and rural regions, and depend on the land for their livelihood. Such natural disasters as typhoons and droughts create severe hardships for them. There are about 600 members of the church among these people in about 17 congregations. We enjoyed being with all of the brethren, but there were two instances that will long stand out in our memories.
Some of the brethren in one area had misunderstood what our schedule was to be. They arrived at the appointed place to hear us preach -only to learn that they were three days early. Not having money for transportation to go back home, they waited until we arrived. Three days without a decent place to sleep or food, but we never heard one complaint. One brother remarked, “Many of us would still be hungry even if we went home. We have no food for the body, but we are anxious to be here and get food for the soul. “
The two days we spent in Magsaysay was another one of the most thrilling experiences of our lives. The church there had just erected a new building in which to meet, larger than most of the buildings we saw, with a roof partly of corrugated steel and completed with thatch. Only the front end of the building was closed with a wall of woven palm leaves; the other three sides were open. The “pews” were benches made of 2×4’s, 2×6’s, or bamboo poles. The women sat on the right side of the building with their children and the men sat on the left. Many more stood and sat at the back of the building and on both sides than were seated inside. We tried on several occasions to count how many were present, but kept losing our count. We did at one time get beyond 300, so we estimate there were from 300 to 400. Many of these folks had walked long distances (some as much as 20 miles) to be present. All of them listened very intently and patiently during the long services, and at the end were as friendly and hospitable as anywhere we have ever been.
Completely different from our work with the minorities was the invitation to participate in a lectureship on Thursday night, Friday, and Saturday morning, with the church in Kidapawan. Romulo B. Agduma is the regular preacher for this church. The lectureship was attended by about 65 Filipino preachers and their families from all over the island of Mindanao. Our stay in Kidapawan afforded us the opportunity to meet many of the preachers of Mindanao, some from as far away as the Zamboanga provinces, and to get a feel for the work they were doing.
We both felt the need, in our lessons Friday, to deal pointedly with some problems that had come to our attention while we had been in the area. We condemned attitudes of jealousy, bitterness, and party-spirits. It was also necessary for us to strongly oppose a lecture delivered by one of the young preachers in which he made the appeal to go hunting for one deer instead of many fish. His parallel was that it was better to convert one rich person in the city than several poor people among the minorities. We were gratified to see that many of the Filipino preachers wanted to state their opposition, too. One mature preacher accused the younger preacher of “reading too many denominational books. ” Most brethren saw the absurd and denominational proposals in the lecture.
While in Kidapawan, we stayed in the home of brother R.B. Agduma. He has, for about 20 years or better, been opposing the practices of the liberals in the islands. He attended the liberal school at Baguio City and was once identified with them. For a long time he published a paper called the Gospel Preacher, but has stopped it due to a lack of funds. Romulo has had undue pressure put upon him from many of the native preachers by their constant requests for help – both in their spiritual needs and their financial needs.
It is doubtful that even the Agdumas know how many they accommodated in their home during the lectureship. We were given the privacy of their daughter’s room. The rest of the house was almost wall-to-wall sleepers. Brethren slept on the floor, on the kitchen table, on the couch, on the stairs, and anywhere else they could find to lay their head. Sister Agduma, along with her daughters and various ladies from the church, worked many hours in providing the meals.
Following the lectureship, we preached one day in Digos and spent one day in visiting several preachers and brethren. On Wednesday, we flew back to Manila for a couple days rest, hot baths, and washing clothes before starting our last leg of our trip.
We were joined in Manila by Andrew Gawe, preacher for the church in Baguio City, who accompanied us on our travels up the Cagayan Valley and to Aparri. The Isabela province was about 175 miles north of Manila. We were met at the airport by several preachers and left immediately for our preaching appointments.
During Saturday afternoon a lectureship was scheduled in the outdoor pavilion of the hotel where we were staying, which was attended by about twenty preachers and some of their wives from that area. We spoke on two controversial subjects – the head-covering for women during worship and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Some contention had been created on these subjects within a couple of congregations. On the whole, we felt the afternoon was spent in a very worthwhile study.
We were able to visit with numerous congregations in North Luzon. Services often lasted four hours. It was a joy -to meet the various preachers and learn of the work being done in each of these places. During one service, a very little, ninety-year-old Filipino woman responded to the invitation at the end of the service. We can still vividly recall how happy she seemed to have been.
We were originally scheduled to spend two or three days at Santa Ana and Lubak at the northern-most point on Luzon, near Aparri. No American preacher had ever gone to this region before, and we were looking forward to working with Brother Jeremias Salcedo. However, communications between this area and everywhere else are very poor and the transportation was coming to a halt due to the holidays. In fact, because of the “Easter” holiday, all flights for the whole weekend had been cancelled, which posed a problem for us. We were told that there were no hotels or restaurants in Santa Ana, which was several hours away by jeepney (and Lubak was even further by boat), and there would be no return trip to Aparri that day if we were to go there. Reluctantly, because we hated to disappoint Brother Salcedo, we decided that we had little choice but to return to Manila. Lord willing, if we ever return to the Philippines, we will visit in that area.
Our last preaching day was in Baguio City, the summer capital of the Philippines, and a beautiful city located high in the mountains. The five-hour bus ride over the narrow, steep and winding road provided some breath-taking scenery. The Baguio congregation seems to be in excellent condition. They have a very nice rented place in which to meet and Andrew Gawe is a good man to be working with them. We would have enjoyed being with them longer.
On our return trip back to Manila, we stopped in Urdaneta for a short visit with the brethren at this place. We were unable, due to lack of time, to preach for these brethren, but we wanted them to know our love and appreciation for all the good things they are doing for the Lord’s cause. We then stopped in Angeles City, the location of Clark Air Force Base, to visit with the preacher and his wife. Brother Castorio Gamit continues to labor for the kingdom there.
The trip leaves us with many pleasant, edifying and motivating memories. The friendships we made with so many Filipino Christians-will last a life-time, whether we are ever privileged to see them again in this life or not. It is difficult for us to objectively assess the results of the trip, but the brethren we worked with assured us that our efforts were helpful to them in the different places where we went. Altogether, eighty-nine persons obeyed the gospel as a result of the services in which we preached; how many of these would have obeyed the gospel had we not gone there, we have no way of knowing.
Probably the greatest beneficiaries of the trip was Bob and Ben – it helped and inspired us in so many ways and gave us an insight into the lives, work, and faith of Christians in another land that we had never had before. To see people so interested in and responsive to the preaching of the gospel, in contrast to the general indifference we often experience on the part of most people in this country, was refreshing and thrilling. To see the love, sacrificing, dedication, faithfulness and zeal of so many of the Filipino Christians in circumstances that we would consider very difficult, was rewarding and motivating. The brethren in the Philippines could teach us many lessons that would be worthwhile for us to learn if we had such an opportunity.
Personal Observations And Remarks
1. The cost of living is higher in some areas of the Philippines than in others. Some preachers are receiving more than they deserve; others are under-paid. Inflation is hitting the brethren hard – especially with the higher rates being charged for transportation. Congregations which are presently helping to support men there should take this into consideration. There are a number of worthy men in need of support. If you know of an interested individual or congregation that would desire to do so, please have them to contact us. We can supply some names and addresses. We do not know of a more fruitful field of the gospel today than the Philippines.
2. We share the sentiments of some of the previous American visitors in saying we do not see the need for an American preacher to go there and stay. There are many capable men among the native Filipinos, men well able to teach and train other gospel preachers and capable of defending the truth in honorable debate on any issue. We can see many advantages, however, of preachers going from time to time and conducting extensive Bible studies on various subjects.
3. We were able to keep our expenses lower than many of the previous preachers due to attempts of “trying it on our own” on several occasions. We did not see the need of paying the extra expenses of plane fares, hotels, and meals in order to have a Filipino with us at all times. We had brethren to escort us to the airport in one city with brethren ready to meet us at our destination. This saved much money.
4. Song books, Bibles, communion sets, tracts, class materials, etc. are needed in many areas. The very ablest and most experienced of the Filipino preachers have limited libraries. Through the influence of many preachers (Roy Cogdill, Cecil Willis, Connie Adams, and others), several brethren have sent study helps to some of the Filipino preachers. Many others, however, are limited to maybe a concordance. We will be happy to put you in touch with a Filipino preacher who would love to receive study aids from you.
5. It was not at all uncommon to speak with a Filipino preacher who had been supported by an American church for five or six years, only to learn that he had received no communication from them during these years. The preacher is in need of the monthly check as his support, but many of them are so longing for a letter of concern and encouragement and a reminder that “we remember you in our prayers and are thinking of you on this side of the globe.” What about it, brethren? When is the last time you wrote?
Truth Magazine XXIV: 5, pp. 86-90
January 31, 1980