By Jim McDonald
Although I had not initially planned to make a “solo” trip to the Philippines, that was the way it turned out. Dennie Freeman from Huntsville, Alabama had planned to go but circumstances at home were such he felt it necessary to cancel his trip. So, I traveled alone and arrived late on Saturday night, November 8, in Manila. Still, I passed through customs much more speedily than usual and soon I exited the terminal building and was met with warm greetings by the dozen or so Filipino brethren who came to welcome and help me on this journey.
Ben Cruz, preacher for the Kapitbahayan church in Novatos, opened his home to me and he and his wife gave their bed to me. I have known Ben for five years and rejoice to see him and the Kapitbahayan church grow steadily. The church is more than double in size now from what it was the first time I met with them. It now has elders and deacons and Ben’s radio program is one of the principal reasons for the success of the church. This program is Manila’s only program which brethren air and is reached in many distant places, even to other islands. Reports from Palawan tell that it is heard even in that island. I preached for three different Manila area churches that first Sunday (there are about 30 churches in metro Manila), with the first baptisms on this trip occurring at Kapitbahayan. Six put on Christ in baptism.
One of Ben’s radio converts is a man named Emilio Meagal, a preacher who was formerly a Pentecostal preacher. Emilio had been teaching in a prison for women in Manila’s City Jail and thus Ben “inherited” that work through Emilio’s conversion. An appeal from another preacher to Ben to seek out (I think) his son, led Ben to seek permission to enter into one of the Philippine’s highest security prisons and teach prisoners there. By chance a cousin of Ben’s happened to be the warden and this opened the door for the weekly classes Ben teaches there (with others) within this prison which (we were told) incarcerates about 6,000-8,000 men. High interest was evidenced by the students and about 60 men attend the classes. Through help from brethren and churches I had brought 700 Bibles that day and nearly 80 of these were given to these prisoners. Personal histories were given about some of these and their crimes included murder, rape, theft, and drugs.
Pampanga, Tarlac and Pangasinan
I had scheduled a visit with Jojo Tacbad in Betis, Guagau, Pampanga which area still suffers from the eruption in the early nineties of Mt. Penitubo. Jojo had begun a new church in one of the barrios in July 1997 when eight out of one family had been baptized. During our visit there eleven more were baptized, including one from Bataan which will offer opportunities to conduct classes there. One who was interested but who was not baptized that day was a young widow who was about to give birth to her third child. Her husband’s death left her virtually alone and penniless in the world. Brethren there begged that some temporary help be given her and so we did, from funds that individual Christians had given us to “use as we saw fit.”
I spoke a couple of times in Moncada, Tarlac (Marcos Balaleng, preacher) and then proceeded to Pangasinan, where for the next three days I was busy with a seminar for preachers (Sison) and preaching for different congregations in the area. About 50 preachers attended the lectures, including three liberal preachers for Aurora province. We met with two different congregations in Bila, where division had taken place two or three years ago. Hopefully, the two congregations have been reconciled and now worship together in the same place. By Sunday afternoon, November 16, with 34 having been baptized to that point, I was on my way to San Fernando, La Union, preparatory to visit Abra Province, one of the primary factors which prompted this eighth trip of mine.
Abra is a mountainous “land- locked” province. Our company entered Abra from the west. Brethren in Santa Maria had hired a jeepney for our proposed four day journey to carry the 13-14 who were traveling together with me. We had hired both jeepney and driver for 500P (Pesos, or about $15). We stopped for a couple of hours in Bengued, Abra’s capital, to greet and speak to a group of brethren in the home of Rey Jacobs. Abra’s economy lags behind the rest of the nation (which is bad enough). There is a paved road from Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur to Bengued, and while there is some pavement beyond Ben- gued to cities in the interior, after we bade brethren good-bye in Bengued and were on our way to Salappadan (our destination) we soon ran out of pavement and the rest of the way had to be traveled over rocky, dirt roads. We had to ferry across the Abra river. Nevertheless, before day’s end we ar- rived in Salapaddan and the home of Eusebio Cabannag, preacher there and the host for this seminar.
There are many congregations in the vicinity of Salapaddan but sadly, brethren are badly divided. There are brethren who believe in only one container for the Lord’s supper; as well as “liberal” and “conservative” brethren. And, there are several congregations which are associated with Christian churches and who call themselves “The Church of Christ, Instrumental.” We were told there are about 14 different such congregations in Abra none of which use an instrument for economic reasons, they can’t afford to buy one! But, there were other differences: they have a sort of conference they recognize themselves as identified in.
There were about 50 in attendance including preachers from all the above mentioned groups. There were two major hindrances to my speaking that day: the problem of trying to properly address such a diversity of problems in such a limited time and the added irritation of the presence of a deranged man who continually, and all day long, detracted my audience with his gestures and protestations to the things I said. Still, for all that, measured success resulted. Three one-cup preachers surrendered their opposition to “multiple-containers” which included one congregation of about 25 members; two “liberal” preachers gave up their divisive views and two Christian Church preachers renounced their belief in the use of instrumental music in worship. We hope that this movement toward unity can be realized even further in May (1998). Jim Everett of Cedar Park, Texas and I will be back in the same region to give more time to each particular group. We have been told a larger number of others there will give us audience then. One was also baptized in Salapaddan.
Our company proceeded next to San Juan, Abra which necessitated that we retrace our steps back to Bengued. San Juan is the home of Isidro Tacis and one night was spent with this preacher and his family. The congregation has a block building but there were no doors or windows in it. Several Christians from Centerville, Texas have sent sufficient (hopefully) money for brethren to install the lacking items. Centerville supports brother Tacis. Five were baptized in San Juan.
Again we retraced our steps as we departed from Abra. We traveled many kilometers over the same road we had passed four days earlier. We were on our way to another province called Nueva Ecija and I spent the night with Lordy Salunga (Tarlac, Tarlac) where brethren from Nueva Ecija were to rendezvous with us. Like Abra, Nueva Ecija is also “land-locked” and has about ten congregations. I had made arrangements that the approximately 200 remaining Bibles I had left in Manila be brought to Lordy’s, but a misunderstanding in my request caused the Bibles to be left in Angeles City where Lordy preaches, rather than in Tarlac, his home. So, for the rest of my journey I could only “promise” Bibles when we could get them delivered, rather than being able to give them to brethren in the various places as I had been doing up to that point in time.
Brethren from Nueva Ecija were late in arriving and I assumed that another misunderstanding had taken place so Lordy and two other brethren with him, carried me into the western section of Nueva Ecija. Soon, however, Gady Castres, Sammy Ordinario, and Jun Bautiste (all preachers in Nueva Ecija) made contact with us and we were on our way once more. Several hours later (after a visit to a drive-through window of one of the region’s “McDonald’s”!) we arrived in Canaan. Anselmo Veterbo is the preacher for the two congregations in this region. I spoke to seven different congregations including Munoz where Gady Castres preaches. Gady is one of the best song leaders Filipino brethren have and is likely the best they have in knowledge and teaching. On an earlier trip with me, R.J. Stevens had met Gady and recognized Gady’s musical knowledge and ability. Jun Bautiste is a young man who finishes college this year. He preaches for the brethren in Cabanatuan City. There are many brethren who have moved here from other areas but have fallen away. If Jun had support to work with brethren, many of them could be reclaimed and the church greatly strengthened.
Nueva Vizcaya and Isabela
Domie Jacob and Ferdinand Baigan were waiting for me at Carranglan when Sammy and the other brethren car- ried me there. This is a very impoverished congregation with about 20 in attendance. We met under a shed of one of the brethren’s home. We then traveled to Sante Fe, Nueva Vizcaya where Fertinand preaches. I spent one night in a motel there (150P or about $4.50) but didn’t sleep much. The church in Sante Fe meets high on a mountain.
There are five or six churches in the province four of which were recently begun as a result of the radio preaching of Domie Jacob. This program is heard in many areas and is having remarkable success. I held a lectureship in Candon, Domie’s home, and there were seven preachers in attendance, all of whom had formerly preached for the “one-cup” brethren This had been a “strong-hold” for this teaching but Domie’s efforts brought many of them to a proper understanding. Nine were baptized here. From Candon I traveled to San Augustin, home of Lorenzo and Dennis Lazaro, father and son “preacher team” formerly Pentecostals. Lorenzo has made a great sacrifice to obey the gospel, jeopardizing his own personal property when he left the Pentecostal church. I met also a young preacher here named Edgardo Larrobis, who was one of Domie’s recent converts. Edgardo had formerly been with liberal brethren. Edgardo has much ability. I was much impressed by his musical knowledge and ability. If he can get a little more musical training, he will be of great worth trying to help his Filipino brethren sing.
Four Cagayan preachers came to pick me up in Candon: Felipe Catoles, Restie Graneta, Edgar Uggadan, and Francisco Pagulayan. We spent the next several days preaching among Cagayan churches as well as venturing into Kalinga Province. I preached at Rizal, Kalinga, in the home of Geronimo Ganela and among those who were present was an uncle of Gerenimo’s who was a Christian church preacher. He was almost persuaded but did not obey while we were there.
Kalinga province is the home of Domingo Dangiwan, a preacher whom I baptized about 1995 in a irrigation canal in Tabuk. Domingo is zealously carrying the gospel to minorities of his people and about ten were baptized on this trip in the same canal Domingo had been baptized in three years ago. There is no Bible in the Kalingan dialect and it is possible that Domingo will translate some portions of the New Testament into the tongue of his people. Among those I baptized was Ricardo Bangguwoy who had walked two days on a lame leg to hear me in Tabuk. He thought I could lay my hands on him and heal him! A recent letter from eight teenagers of this new church tells of their faith and zeal to share the gospel with their people and of their efforts to better themselves by traveling down from the mountains to Tabuk to attend the high school there. These young people could all use a little cash and used clothes to make their lot in life a little easier, for in their words, they are all from poor families.
I preached one time in Pamplana, Cagayan. I had spent the night with Larry and Gerenimo Guillermo (son and father preacher team) and they had carried me to meet with brethren here. This is also a newly formed church and many are being converted. A large company of preachers from both Ilocos Norte and Sur had arrived and there appeared to be about 300 in attendance. One of the minorities with whom brethren have been working is the “Negritos,” identified by some as the “original Filipinos.” Their ancestors also were “headhunters”! Thirty-one of these were baptized as a light rain was falling (Picture # 5). These also were very poor. I saw old men and women scantily clad and with no shoes at all. Some of the preachers who began this work were also touched by their needs and had earlier besought me that something be done to alleviate some of their suffering. Help was given them from the Eastside, Baytown, Texas church but it was limited in comparison to their needs. It would provide rice for perhaps a week. There are about 60 members in this congregation.
Pugudpud, Ilocos Norte
Shortly before leaving for the Philippines, the Main Street church elders in Lewisville, Texas had called asking me to deliver benevolence to some churches in northern Ilocos. There were ten of the congregations, eight of which were in a region called Pagudpud. I consented and this distribution was made at one of the congregations along the highway. The picture below shows the congregation and the preachers as they were given the distribution the Lewisville elders had directed me to give on their behalf. Droughts, floods, typhoons and the effects from El Nino have brought a great deal of suffering and hardship to many of our Filipino brethren.
After the distribution of relief to saints in Pagudpud, I spent the night with Materno Sibayan, Sr. in Sinait, Ilocos Sur and next morning Mat, his son, accompanied me to Tarlac, Tarlac where I spent two days preaching in the Angeles City area. Lordy Salunga is the preacher in Angeles and one could not hope to find a more faithful, trustworthy servant of God than he. The Angeles City church building is modest but one of the nicest that Filipino brethren have. Lordy is doing a splendid work in the area and also preaches over a newly initiated radio program.
Fred Agulto, Ben Cruz, and two other Manila preachers came to Angeles to carry me back to Manila where I spent my last night with Ben and Delores. Early the next morning ten brethren accompanied me to the airport where we said good-bye once again. About 28 hours later I entered the Houston terminal to be welcomed by Betty and Jimmy, my youngest son. How good to see the faces of my beloved family and to be safely home once more!
There were 110 baptisms in the 30 days I was in the Philippines; three “one-cup” preachers and five “liberal” preachers gave up their doctrines that separate them from us and two Christian Church preachers renounced their false teaching. I had delivered funds for benevolence from two American churches to about 15 poverty-stricken churches. Since arriving home Philippine letters tell that the Christian church preacher I left in indecision in Kalinga continued his study and that both he and his wife have since been baptized; that eight women in Manila’s City Jail have been baptized (45 men were baptized by Ben after we left Manila for northern Luzon) and that the young widow in Pampanga had given birth to her third child and was preparing to be baptized. A letter from one of the former liberal preachers from Aurora reports that brethren from Pangasinan had come and strengthened the churches in Aurora and that now all the congregations are united — there are no more “liberal” churches in that province. A letter from Abraham Aguete (Pagudpud) reports another 51 baptisms in that region. The work is prospering and the precious gospel of our Savior is being preached. God is being glorified. The Filipino fields are still “white unto harvest” and from every quarter and region of those 7,000 islands methinks I see men standing, appealing to brethren here, “Come over to the Philippines, and help us!”