By Wallace H. Little
Harold Trimble, who returned from a preaching visit to the Philippine Islands earlier this year, remarked that one who goes there will receive all kinds of appeals for help, and each one will tear at your heart. He is so right!
Basically, their appeals for assistance break down into two major categories. These are: support in preaching the gospel, and benevolence. This latter is subdivided into two different areas: individual, where the person himself or his family is in need, and a more broad appeal, as, when a bad typhoon hits that nation causing wide-spread damage and suffering, which our brethren, along with the spiritual Gentiles must endure.
I receive several urgent appeals each week, seeking financial assistance, from brethren who are preaching, or want to preach the gospel of Christ there. My experience tells me most of these men are honest and sincere, motivated by the desire to save their fellow citizens in that nation. Their appeals tug at my heart, and especially so since I know the money is simply not available today among U.S. saints to satisfy these urgent requests. In the Philippines, there are more than 350 men preaching, either full-time or as they have opportunity, who also oppose the institutional apostasy. Of these, more than 100 currently are supported by brethren in the U.S. Support in preaching is more critical in their economy than in our own. In my case, I provided my own support for the first eleven years I preached. I did not have all the time I wanted for activities such as studying, preparing lessons, writing, visiting brethren in the congregation, and so on, but the point is, I was able to do it. Paul J. Casebolt, of Paden City, West Virginia, still does so, and those who know him and his work would hardly argue he is not effective. And there are others. Now in our country, we can do this, basically, for two reasons: first, most secular work is on an eight-hour day, five-day week; and second, our economy provides the cash flow we need to take care of our living requirements, and often more than that, without the necessity of supplementing it with gardens and raising our own animals for food. The Philippine economy provides neither. Most of the jobs available to brethren there are far more demanding of time than ours. Additionally, even with a secular job, most brethren need to supplement their income by raising a great deal of their own food. The net effect is to so reduce the time a man has for preaching that his effectiveness is severely impaired.
This limited amount of income from secular work, incidentally, is the basic reason why most churches there are presently incapable of supporting their own preachers. Even if all Filipino saints contributed Scripturally, however, and the preachers received an income roughly equal to that of the members, they would still have to do as the members do, and get out and raise most of their food. Consequently, the work would suffer considerably because of the reduced time they could spend doing it. Additionally, many of the preachers there, from their income, provide the congregation with a place of worship. Sometimes it is their own home, when they are able to locate and rent one large enough for this. At other times, it is a separate place. And because transportation is, by their standards, so expensive, places of worship must be within walking distance of where brethren live. This accounts for several smaller churches in towns when in the U.S., all would combine into one. Yet more, many, if not most of the preachers preach for several churches, increasing their expenses, particularly for transportation. This is necessary, for if they do not do so, the other churches would not be edified.
There is some inequity in support provided. First, there have been several men found to be plainly dishonest. Largely, these have been identified and their support has been cut off. This does not mean such will not happen again, but it is less likely. Beyond dishonesty, some few men are over-supported in terms of their needs (they usually use the money in other ways to spread the gospel) while a great number are grossly under-supported. And there are several hundred deserving men, capable men, men eager to preach God’s gospel who are totally without support. The work in the nation suffers from all these circumstances. There has been some criticism of these inequities, both from Filipino brethren themselves and from Americans. But I know of no way to cure them short of an unscriptural centralized organization through which all recommendations for support would be approved and all monies dispensed to the preachers there. I have as much objection to that as I have to the Philippine Bible College (PBC) and its practices along this line over the years.
There is also a good deal of naivety on the part of Filipino preachers concerning both the income American brethren have, and our desire to help spread the gospel overseas. First, it is assumed we are rich; the fact we are Americans, to them, is the absolute proof this is true. With some, no amount of explanation changes their mind. The result is they simply do not understand when they can live on $100.00 per month, and an American saint earns $1000.00 monthly, why the American cannot just take the $900.00 above his 11 needs” and use it to support nine Filipino preachers. This misunderstanding is not universal . . . but it is sufficiently wide-spread that many believe it, and consequently question the sincerity of our claims to be genuinely interested in spreading the gospel “in all the world”. Second, even many of the Filipino preachers who know such is not representative, make the mistake of assuming all American brethren are as eager as they are to spread the gospel in the Philippines among their people. This produces considerable frustration when they seek support, and wait, and wait, and wait for long months and years and are still without support. The fact is, there are many U.S. saints who are strongly opposed to taking the gospel overseas “until we have converted the people in our town”. (Do we possibly say this to protect “our own” bank account?) And there are many more who, while not necessarily opposed to helping overseas work, have never given it serious consideration, and unless jolted out of their complacency, will not do so. One very disturbing thing is, there are a number of congregations, plural (and I am hearing of others from time to time, increasing the number), which have thousands of dollars stashed away, doing nothing but collecting 6% interest (Scripture, please?) and with no plans for using this money in the service of the Lord. What poor stewardship! What a waste in a world of spiritual need and a super-abundance of opportunities to share in the fulfilling of this!
Now let us consider the benevolent appeals. Several times in the past decade, the Philippine Islands have been hit by devestating typhoons resulting in unbelievable destruction and hardship among all there, including brethren. There have been two bad typhoons this year, for which relief was necessary, although not on as large a scale as in earlier years. When they are hit with wide-spread flooding,. much of the food supply for the coming months is wiped out; the crop is destroyed and a new one must be planted, and until it is harvested, times will be hard indeed. Consecutive typhoons in the same season are especially hurtful, for the second crop is often damaged or destroyed, too. A surplus of food which we enjoy in the U.S. is non existent there. Crop failure, for whatever the cause, is a disaster.
I have no accurate count of the total benevolent assistance which has been sent there over the years, but I do know it has been considerable, likely far more than I am aware of. Certainally no one is obliged to keep me informed as to the benevolence being practiced by them in the Philippines. Nearly all I know of sent has been faithfully handled and Scripturally distributed and used to satisfy the need. Even allowing for two instances of known dishonesty, the overwhelming bulk of all that has been sent to these needs has gotten directly into the hands of the needy rapidly and without having a portion skimmed off “for administration”. Our liberal brethren for years claimed some sort of central oversight is necessary to prevent dishonesty and insure the assistance gets to the need. These instances in the Philippines and one in Nigeria have proven by a demonstration (for those who needed it) that God’s way is far superior to mans!
It would be pleasant to hope such benevolent appeals will diminish, and brethren there, and the government as well, will be able to provide for these needs as they arise. But such thinking is wishful and impractical. For the same reason most preachers will continue to need outside support for a long time, the brethren in crisis situations will need benevolence.
The other facet of benevolence, that of individual need, requires some explanation. $300.00 PER YEAR is about what many of the Filipino brethren earn. That sum will not support them, and especially if they have to purchase their food. Food prices, even for staple items, are grossly high, considering the income levels. This means our brethren must grow much of their own food, both vegetables and meat. And it also means there is precious little surplus from one season to the next, so they are tied very closely to the current crop. Hence whatever damages their crop, even partially, imposes a great economic hardship on them. Also, because they must live so closely tied to their food production, they are almost totally unprepared for emergencies, such as a sudden medical problem. Over the years many brethren have written asking, nay, pleading to help them with their medical or some other emergency expense which was totally beyond their means. I would have needed the resources of Ft. Knox to respond to more than a pitifully few.
I have tried to paint a picture so American saints may have a better understanding of what the situation is actually like in the Philippines. Folks tend to judge by their own standards and experiences. Such is inadequate as a yardstick for the Philippines. There is no common denominator in economic matters.
I urge churches and individuals to reassess their thinking on these things and rearrange their priorities. How much right do churches here have to put money into a bank account to earn interest when there are millions of souls there dying out of the Lord and men there capable and willing to preach, if they were only enabled to do so? We can examine this same principle from an individual standpoint also. Some Scriptures we might consider in this are: Mt. 28:19,20; Mk. 16:15,16; 2 Tim. 2:2; Jas. 2:14-18; Mk. 12:28-31; Mt. 6:33. There are others, but these will do as a starter.
I pray this explanation has cleared up some misconceptions concerning our brethren in the Philippine Islands, and the work of Christ in that nation.
Truth Magazine XX: 46, pp. 730-731
November 18, 1976