Appraising “A Reappraisal and a Warning

By Connie W. Adams

Because of my acquaintance with the Philippine work, Mike Willis has asked that I respond to the article coauthorized by Ed Harrell and Tommy Poarch which appears elsewhere in this issue of Truth Magazine. Their article grew out of a two month trip around the world during which time they spent two weeks in the Philippines. These are worthy brethren, well known and highly esteemed by us all. With many of the views they expressed, we are in complete accord. However, we take exception to some of their comments and recommendations and feel duty bound to respond.

That there have been unworthy brethren in the Philippines, none could deny. We have some in this country. There has been a weeding out of such men over a period of time and that certainly ought to continue as long as brethren in this country support men there. Some of this has been made possible by men of integrity in that nation who have gathered and presented undeniable evidence for the benefit of churches here in forming a judgment as to their future involvement with such men. The work in the Philippines has been going on since the late 1920’s and has survived premillennialism, the Japanese occupation during World War II, institutionalism and unworthy men. There are still men at work who have been faithful all through the years with or without American support. We are fully convinced that should all American support be stopped immediately, such men would continue to work as they have in the past. While such cessation of support might greatly hinder the fruitful labors of some good men, it would certainly further identify any who work only for the loaves and the fishes.

The Nature and Extent of Their Trip

Brethren Harrell and Poarch spent a total of two weeks in the Philippines and came away with the assessment that “sporadic visits” cannot give us accurate information. Well gentlemen, that places your assessment in doubt, doesn’t it? Faithful brethren have been in touch with the Philippine work for a number of years now. American service men stationed there have had a close-up view for a long time and their stays could not be described as “sporadic.” Additionally, several visits have been made to the islands by members of such churches as that composed of service families on Okinawa who supported preachers there. Since the late 1960’s, there has been much contact with that work. Beginning in 1970 and every year thereafter, teams of American brethren have made trips which have taken them to most of the islands where congregations exist. These include Roy Cogdill, Cecil Willis, J.T. Smith, James P. Needham, Dudley R. Spears, Earl Robertson, Larry Hafley, Leslie and Roy Diestelkamp, Jady Copeland, Frank Butler, Keith Burnett, William Battles, Wallace Little, Arnold Granke, Paul Casebolt, Jim ‘Puterbaugh, Hiram Hutto, Leo Plyler, Ben Shropshire, Bob Buchanon, Harold Trimble and possibly others inadvertently omitted. The writer has also made two such trips and is personally acquainted with all the others who have been. T here has been a wide exchange of information among the various brethren who have gone. I know about 400 native preachers by face. I have personally preached on the islands of Luzon, Mindoro, Tablas, Cebu, Palawan and Mindanao. Over the past ten years, I have corresponded with many of the brethren and have a filing drawer full of such correspondence. I have traveled with them by plane, boat, horse-drawn conveyance, motorcycle, bus, taxi, jeep and by foot. I have stayed up nearly all night with many (after being in services all day and half the night) studying the Bible. I have laughed with them, cried with them, baptized some of them, rebuked some, apologized to some, exhorted and encouraged. I have traveled and worked for days at a time with some of the abler preachers among them. I have seen them under all sorts of situations. I have slept in their houses and eaten their foods. I have made it a point to stay in touch with the other men who have made such visits. Very frankly, I am much more disposed to trust the accumulated information and impressions of these 23 or so brethren who have gone to travel and labor among the churches (some making several trips) for periods ranging from one month to a full year than I am the appraisal of two brethren who spent two weeks, saw very few of the brethren and assessed the matter from that vantage point together with an accumulation of reports from various sources before going.

Brother Harrell did some academic lecturing while there. Neither of them went to Mindoro where there are many congregations and where the Philippine work actually began. They did go to Davao City on Mindanao but they did not visit the two provinces on that island where most of the congregations are found (Cotabato and Zamboanga). T hey did not venture out into the rough mountain areas near Davao City where there are many churches which were largely established and nourished by the late Ruben Notarte. Several American brethren have gone among those churches and they can tell you how “accessible” transportation is into that region. Ask Paul Casebolt, Leslie Diestelkamp or Ben Shropshire. T hey did not go to the remote island of Palawan where there are now many churches. They did not visit the Visayas where there are churches multiplying. How do I know this? I asked them face to face.

They spent some time in Manila, worshiped twice with the Pasay church, flew to Davao City and back and brother Poarch made a trip up to Baguio City where he met with a preacher whom he had been asked to see. While he made a visit to Philippine Bible College and talked with the president, he did not see Andrew Gawe or any of the faithful brethren in that area. They talked with at least two men who have personal axes to grind. It was one of these who reported that the late Romulo Agduma said he thought there might be $1,000,000 a month support going into the Philippines. Not only do I not believe that this figure is anywhere close to reality, I do not even believe that Romula Agduma said any such thing and have good reason to suspect the motive of the one who is said to have reported this to these good brethren. Their estimate of how much American support goes over there ranged from $150,000 to $1,000,000 a month. That is a wide variance and only underscores the incompleteness of their actual knowledge of the situation.

Others Have Warned

All of the brethren who have gone over there in recent years have warned brethren in this country to do as much checking as possible before agreeing to support any preacher there. Reports have been published in this paper as to how much a school teacher is paid, a carpenter, and other lines of employment. We are indebted to these brethren for updating this information to current times. That should prove a useful guideline for brethren in making their decisions. I have had a part in locating support for several preachers in that nation. With few exceptions, these men have worked well. It was my practice always to urge the brethren who supported them to require a regular and frequent report of their work and a full disclosure of total support received. I have consistently advised brethren not to continue support to any man who was unwilling to do that. Others have offered the same advice. It is a fact that some men have collected names and addresses from periodicals which have fallen into their hands and have sent out blanket appeals to many different places. It was consistently my practice (and that of others I could name) not to recommend any man for support who had left denominationalism or liberalism within the last two years prior to considering such support. Others can speak for themselves, but this writer personally resents, no only on his own part, but on behalf of many good American brethren, to say nothing of faithful men in the Philippines, any statements about “buying converts” with promises of support.

Churches Need To Move Toward Self-Support

We agree with what they have said about the importance of developing churches which support their own men and work. There have been some churches in the Philippines which have had a part in supporting native men. On the last visit this writer made to the Philippines, Romula Agduma urged that several sessions be devoted to discussing with a large number of preachers the urgency of teaching brethren to give as prospered and to assume as much of their own preacher support as possible as soon as possible. That was in 1975. At his suggestion, I spoke three evenings and fielded questions from brethren for a long time each night. While we rejoice in the good work done for so long by good men in South Africa, a work which these brethren heartily recommended, it should be said that American brethren have been working there for about 30 years on support from American churches and there are also some native men receiving American support now. Most of the sound churches in the Philippines have been developed within the past twelve to fifteen years and many of them are less than five years old.

Respecting Bible Principles

Whatever sociological presuppositions and personal judgments may be involved as to how best to develop selfsupporting churches, there are certain Bible truths which must not be ignored. (1) It is scriptural for a congregation to send a preacher elsewhere to help another congregation (Acts 11:22-24). (2) It is scriptural for a congregation to send to meet a preacher’s needs while he labors elsewhere (Phil. 4:15-16). (3) It is scriptural for a plurality of churches to provide wages for a preacher to labor elsewhere (2 Cor. 11:8-9): (4) It is scriptural for brethren to uphold the hands of those who preach the gospel on the strength of recommendation from those who know them (consider the closing verses of several of Paul’s letters). Personal opinion about specific cultures and about the best way to encourage self-sustaining churches should not be allowed to over-ride these Bible truths. The nationality or culture of the man being sent, or receiving support does not enter the matter unless it is intruded by the personal opinion of some.

Cure Worse Than The Disease?

While these good brethren have sounded timely warnings about “paternalism” in foreign evangelism, it is difficult for me to see their suggested remedy is any better, and indeed, may be far worse. While there have been, and yet are, dangers in what they have called the “recommending” system, there are also dangers in their suggestion that “a more permanent American presence in the area” should be worked out. My question is a simple one. Why are American workers permanently needed in a country where there are over 600 native preachers? What would be their role? Would they be there to evangelize that country? Native men are already doing that. Many of them are well educated, experienced and, frankly, many of them can preach better than some of us can. Would their role be that of supervisors? Is this not the essence of their suggestions? If so, then that is paternalism gone to seed. Is it not good old American arrogance to even suggest it? Is a work not to be counted worthy or valid unless there are Americans on hand to oversee it?

Further, while all agree that amends should be made in any case where a brother is receiving far too much support, we question the right of any two brethren to fix an absolute amount which covers all men in all cases regardless of family size or place of work, an amount fixed by men who live 10,000 miles from the scene they seek to regulate. Further, they have not taken into account the fact that some men in the Philippines have bought radio time, printed tracts, paid travel costs, bought Bibles, rented meeting places and other expenses from the total amount received which brethren in other countries (some in South Africa, for instance) have counted as a “working fund” and from which such expenses are deducted from what is considered family living expenses. What is sauce for the goose in South Africa ought to be sauce for it in the Philippines. These brethren need to write some more “Reappraisals and Warnings.”

Personal Talks

The writer spoke with brother Harrell about this by telephone soon after receiving this article and was recently in Birmingham where, he met with both brethren Harrell and Poarch and said personally to them most of what is in this article. We are not out of sorts with each other. Both of them, as they stated, have a keen interest in the work of the Lord world-wide and both have been a part in such work in the past with future plans in that director. All of us can learn from their experience and their warnings. Regardless of that, we felt some things needed to be said from a different vantage point. They do not, nor do I, want to see a running battle among brethren over this. Read it, study it, then use it as you think best.

Truth Magazine XXIV: 25, pp. 412-413
June 19, 1980