By Jim McDonald
An attempt to stereotype the Philippine preacher would be as foolish as to try the same with his American counterpart. It is true that he is greatly influenced by his culture; yet it is true his American brother-preacher is influenced by his society. The Filipino preacher is a distinct individual with his own special needs, idiosyncrasies, strengths, and weaknesses. He cannot be cast into a mold so that we know he needs “X” amount for support and that he will behave in a certain way. His needs are as diverse as are the needs of preachers here. Much misunderstanding about the Philippine preacher results because the particular one we are acquainted with does not seem to “fit” what we have heard about the preachers there.
Filipino preachers are impoverished, to be sure, but they are not ignorant. Education is greatly emphasized in the island nation and most attain high school educations and many go on to graduate from college. Philippine preachers are familiar with premillennialism, Calvinism, as well as most of the other “isms” of our time. In addition ;o this, he is familiar with the errors of the cults and denominations that are peculiar to his own nation. There are some eminently qualified men in almost every region one visits. There is a thirst for knowledge by Filipinos and this spills over to a thirst for knowledge of spiritual things emphasized in preachers among brethren there. Tracts, periodicals, and books all are avidly sought and hungrily devoured by them. Preachers or brethren here in the States who have books, especially debates on Calvinism, Pentacostalism, premil- lennialism, or Sabbatarianism and who would rather that those books be read and studied than to gather dust, would do well to seek out some “hungry-for-knowledge” brother there and send such books to him. The church in the Philippines is in an age of “inquiry,” of “zeal,” of “set for the defense of the gospel” much as characterized brethren in the early years of the restoration movement here in the States. Postage is expensive but books, Bibles, and tracts can be sent fairly reasonably by M-Bag (79″ per pound) slow to be sure, but one of the Filipinos’ qualities is patience they will wait.
Most Philippine preachers are first-generation Christians although there are many who come from second-generation families. These brethren come from Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Iglesia Ni Christo, and Pentecostals who have proven to be an exceptionally fertile soil for converts. Oft times the preacher was formerly a denominational preacher who, with his conversion, was able to convert most of his “old” congregation withhim. Elpidio Ascuncion and Martin Ibus, his father-in-law, were converted from Pentecostalism in Sinait, Ilocos Sur. Actually brother Ibus was restored. He had been baptized some years earlier. At their conversion almost the whole congregation followed with them. The work of our Lord has just been opened in northern Samar, the result of a Seventh Day Adventist preacher being converted by Ben Cruz of Manila, who was also able to bring most of that former Seventh Day Adventist church with him. Such stories as this are reported all over the Philippines. It is true that many of these preachers find it difficult to rid themselves immediately of all their denominational thinking, but it is also true they have learned the truth and were willing to surrender denominationalism to have it. To such folks the charge: “Buy the truth and sell it not” has special meaning.
The needs of the Philippine preacher are as different as there are different preachers. Perhaps he is single, as are many with whom I am familiar. Or, he may be a young married man with just a child or two; or he may have been married many years and have 6-7 children. Perhaps he or his family have health problems. Obviously, in each of these situations financial needs to sustain him are going to differ radically. Additionally, there is the “extended-family” of that preacher. Perhaps it is his aged parents, an afflicted brother or sister; perhaps it is an uncle, aunt, or grandmother. Maybe it’s nieces and nephews he’s called upon to help. Perhaps it’s the needs of brethren in the congregation. He grieves for the needs of his fellow-brethren often literally dividing the two coats, shirts, or pants he has with another who has none. Almost never does he have insurance for his family. He has no social security, no savings. Some-times he and his family will only eat twice or sometimes even just once a day not to diet but simply because he does not have the finances to buy a supply of rice for his family to eat. He may make appeals to American brethren for his personal needs but that does not mean he is preaching for money. More often than not he has been preaching for several years having had no recompense for what he did. I have seen dozens of brethren who have never received anything for their preaching, not even for transportation. He writes to American brethren to help alleviate his need, that is true, but remember the plight he describes to you is generally true: he is in need, his family often does without the necessities of life, and we in America do live in the lap of luxury. Just one visit to the Philippines would open our eyes to their poverty and to the realization of how blessed we are. He asks because he has no one else to turn to.
There are unworthy Filipino preachers to be sure. Some are dishonest and lazy, viewing preaching the gospel as simply a “way of gain.” There are American preachers who fall into that same category. By far, however, the vast majority of preachers we found love the truth, are willing to preach intwo or three different places (without help, if necessary), share with their brethren what meager provisions they have themselves, have no real hope of ever escaping from the poverty they know but have a sincere desire and hope for a better land. When he writes you, read what he has to say. His is not just another “begging letter” but a letter from one who is your brother in Christ and who very likely is notexaggerating the condition he describes to you. Answer him. Thank God your life is not as hard as is his and just know that for all the misunderstanding some have of the work in the Philippines, that work is genuine, is growing, and it is still true that the American dollar going there for support will produce, in terms of conversion of souls, as many converts as can be seen in any place on this planet we call earth and in most instances far more! They call, as in Paul’s vision in Troas: “Come over into the Philippines and help us” and they are indeed (admittedly not exclusively so) included in Jesus’s command: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. “Next Article: Personal glimpses.
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: No. 20, p. 12-13
October 19, 1995