By Jim McDonald
The Philippine Islands are a chain of 7,000 islands stretching about 1,000 miles in the south China Sea. 60,000,000 people live in this third world country whose economy for a time was second only to Japan among Asian nations. Such is true no more. For several years its economy has been in shambles, although there is evidence that improvements are being made and that some of the major ills of the nation are being attended to.
The gospel was introduced to the Philippines 70-80 years ago, and brethren can be found on most of the larger islands. The largest concentrations of Christians are found either in Mindanao (Davao City and Zambonga del sur for instance) and Luzon from Manila northward. There are perhaps 500-600 preachers and upwards of 900-1,000 congregations. Some of these churches number 100 or more and occasionally exceed that number (Escoda in Marcos, Ilocos Norte sometimes reaching 150-175 in attendance) but for the greater part, congregations will number from 35-80.
Rural churches often have their own buildings to worship in. In such instances that building will either be a “Nipa hut” (a bamboo structure with a thatched roof) or perhaps a very crude cinder block building. We saw a few of the latter, but when such are found they are as likely as not to have neither doors nor windows. In some areas the building may simply be a shed-type structure with corner posts and either a thatched or iron roof. In many instances there will be no floor but dirt (this is especially true with the “Nipa huts”). Pews will be a board (no back). Air conditioning is non-existent. The congregation might sing from an English hymnbook (discarded books sent from American churches) but the Bible class and sermon will likely be in the dialect spoken in that region. (Contrary to a seemingly general opinion, Spanish is not the national tongue although the Spanish occupation greatly influenced the people as well as the tongue.) There are 50-60 different dialects spoken among these people (one brother jokingly said that men from the Tower of Babel had settled the country), and there are some three to four major dialects. “Tagalog” is the national tongue but English is widely spoken and tourist advertisements style the Philippines as “the second largest English speaking country in the world.”
The communion service will be unlike that brethren here are familiar with. After one prayer (sometimes two in succession) in which thanks is given both for the loaf and the cup, both elements will be served to the congregation but great care is extended to see that the bread is served first. An offering will be taken and the collection may be 60-100 pesos ($2.50 – $4.00 is the equivalent in U.S. currency). Some congregations do have larger offerings (the Angeles City church may range from 900-1,200 pesos, $35-$60) but such is a rare exception. There are few accumulations in the treasuries. As often as not, the offering will immediately be divided among deserving widows in the congregation of which there is usually a great number.
Almost inevitably there will be the blackboard and accompanying chalk. Overhead projectors are almost unknown and American preachers going there might as well leave sermons of such nature at home, dust off their sermons from the 1950s, and plan (or learn) to use the blackboard for their points of illustration. The “white board” is a novelty that I saw in one or two places.
Metropolitan churches, unlike rural brethren, generally do not have their own meeting house. Metro-Manila has perhaps 15-20 congregations, all of which meet either in homes or rented halls. This makes building the work difficult. There is the possibility that the Santa Mesa church in Tondo (downtown Manila) may be able shortly to havetheir property. Fred Agulto (their preacher) tells that land is available, and he has estimated a cost of 80,000 pesos (about $3,700) to build. Such would be a great blessings Should any individual wish to help in such a worthy project. I will be glad to provide further details.
Churches seldom meet more frequently than once each week, although a few do have a mid-week evening service. Such does not indicate disinterest but simply is the result of two primary factors: transportation problems and unavailable preachers to help conduct services. Since few Filipino Christians own their own car or even a motorcycle, they must either walk to worship or pay to ride a jeepney or tricycle. The impoverished status of the ordinary Filipino family makes fares for the family to more than one service a great strain on their budget. Since there are more congregations than there are preachers, many preachers will be busy preaching for two or sometimes three different congregations each Sunday, making it virtually impossible to shuffle back and forth for two services for two different congregations. Despite such a problem with meeting, coupled with the rival attractions of the handsome cathedrals that exist among Catholics, Mormons and Iglesia Ni Christo (a sect that began in the islands that denies the deity of Christ), as well as the comfortable “chapels” that de-nominations have, brethren steadily make converts and the church is growing. The gospel is still a precious thing among many Filipinos and many hundreds are being baptized each year. American dollars spent in evangelism will result in as rich a harvest of souls as can be found anywhere on this globe for truly there “the fields are white unto harvest.” Open doors do not have a history of always staying “open.” In our Savior’s words: “I must work the works of him that sent me while it is day for the night cometh when no man can work” (John 9:4).
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Guardian of Truth XXXIX: No. 19, p. 10-11
October 5, 1995