By Dudley Spears
This will be the end of this series on the work in the Philippines. It will be sort of an evaluation and summary of the work there as Brother James Needham and I found it during our recent trip. Also, I will offer a few suggestions for whatever they are worth to all who may be interested in the work.
There is no way for me to give an accurate guess at the number of faithful Christians in the Philippines. There are around 250 small congregations and they possibly average around 40 members. Some congregations number well over a hundred in attendance. At Lambayong there were well over a hundred in average attendance. So, a rough guess would be that there are around 10,000 Christians in the Islands.
We met and visited over 120 conservative preachers in the Islands. Many of these preach for several congregations. I met several who work with as many as four congregations. With all but a very small percentage, these men are extremely dedicated to the work of preaching. They report baptisms almost every week. They have many debates with adversaries of pure Christianity. One man who is not supported financially at all sold his house and moved to the northern most city on Luzon and began preaching. He now has a congregation going in that place.
Very few of the congregations have an adequate meeting place. Many of them still meet in homes. Some of them have had to rent places, and others after having built a place have had to rebuild it due to the typhoons that have damaged their buildings. Some of the congregations are very well off when it comes to a meeting house. By no means are any of the buildings ornate or luxurious. Most of them are very simple structures that are used as places for assembly and worship.
The fact that there are this many preachers and Christians in the Islands does not mean that they have all they need by way of financial ability. There are no wealthy members of the church there that we met. Most of them work very hard for very small wages and some cannot find work. Churches with the ability to support preachers will be needed for a long time, but I think I see the time when the Philippine congregations of the Lords people will say, 11 stop sending us support-we can support ourselves. They are traditionally a freedom loving people who want their independence. I am sure that time will come, though not in the near future.
I have a few suggestions to give to congregations and individuals who send money to the Philippines for the support of a preacher. These are my opinions and nothing more, so I ask you to take them like that. I am not trying to tell anyone what they should do or not do, but I believe, based on my experience and knowledge gained in this trip, that they are good to consider. I list them numerically for readability.
1. Before you support anyone there, contact someone that you know who knows the preacher. Six Americans have gone there and will be happy to share any information they have with you.
2. Before you begin financially supporting a man there, get a recommendation from someone you know.
3. If you support a man or men there, send your check by registered air-mail. Many checks have been lost because they were not registered.
4. If you support a man or men there, have the man or men send you monthly reports of all the work he or they have done.
5. If you support, a man there, write to him often. All of the native Filipino brethren like to hear from their supporters.
(This is not a blanket offer, but I am willing to visit with any congregation or brother and discuss any phase of the work there, especially on this matter of supporting preachers.)
6. Be sure if you support a preacher that the one you support gives you a report containing all the “regular” and “irregular” support he receives. (This is important because some native, preachers have been receiving money from several places and do not always know exactly how to report what they receive.)
Now just a few general suggestions and opinions are given. I will not list these numerically. They are just some things that I want to say about our attitudes toward the work in the Philippines.
I hope that we all recognize that supporting preachers in the Philippines is not the only kind of work that needs be done. At this point, they need more than money — they need our moral support and prayers. Visits by American preachers are greatly welcomed by the brethren there. Yet, we have a small problem just here.
I do not think it is a good idea, nor one reflecting the right attitude, when American preachers get all lined up for the trip and begin raising money. I wonder how American churches would feel should a Filipino preacher just decide to come over and work with us for a month, announce his plans, begin raising the money and then come. What I am getting around to is that it is much better to be invited to come, rather than to announce that, “Im coming.”
Furthermore, I doubt the wisdom very much in the plan of having two different men go each year. The main reason for this is that each new man has to get completely oriented to a way of life lie has never known before. Some Americans may think that a trip to the Philippines is a “pleasure cruise paid for by the churches.” If so, please let me allay that idea quickly. The Filipino way of life is a good way of life-for native Filipinos, but it is not so good for an American. For one thing, there is the kind of food that is offered. I am not casting aspersions on the food when I say that it is not what American people find very appetizing. We are accustomed to a very different kind of food and a very different way of fixing food.
In addition to the dietary problems, there is the ever present danger of amoebic dysentery. The water in the Philippines is not treated in the same way water we have drunk all our lives is treated. There is also a problem of getting used to the climate. From Manila on to the south, the weather is generally very hot and sultry. April and May are the hottest times of the entire year. During the rest of the year it is almost impossible to hold the lectures and classes we did due to the harvest season or rainy season.
There is also a problem Americans face in getting used to being in the presence of danger in the form of possible robbery, mugging or other types of violence. While we were on Mindinao, there were four murders committed within the vicinity of where we were staying.
Another difficulty is in the type of lodging that is available. While it was the very best available to us, still, staying in a native house on Mindinao is something that takes getting used to. The first night I stayed there I was awakened by a rat biting my foot. The nights are very dark and as I moved, the rat made his escape over my body leaving behind several scratch marks.
For American preachers who have never been to the islands, to go also requires getting accustomed to the Filipino people, learning their ways and getting to know them personally. This is something that is not done the first day you are there. It requires a long time to learn something about the people.
For whatever it is worth, it is my considered opinion that men who have already been there should return from time to time. I am not trying to get the invitation to return, but I honestly believe this is the best policy. The Filipino brethren with whom I worked think this is the best thing. It is not that they would not welcome a new set of Americans every year or every day for that matter, but it is something of a hardship on them when new sets of American preachers arrive every so often.
There are two sides to this problem. The Filipino brethren get fairly well acquainted with those of us who go there. When new men arrive, they have the same problem we have in getting adjusted to each other. When men who have already been over, then go back they already know the brethren, the land, the conditions and much time and effort can be saved. The Filipino people are very hospitable and do the very best they can to make Americans comfortable and happy while they are there, but when new people show up periodically, they have to find out all over again what this one likes and that one does not like, etc.
So, I strongly feel that it is far wiser for men who have been there to return, rather than new men to take it on themselves to go uninvited. So far, all who have gone have been invited by the brethren in the Philippines. I hope it will continue. They have the right to ask for the people they want to come and we have no right arbitrarily to decide to go. I hope that those who think otherwise and already have made plans to go do not take this personally. It is not intended that way.
In conclusion, I urge all who read these lines to continue praying for the brethren there and to support them in every scriptural way. There are new men coming along among the conservatives every day. Many of the institutional people are seeing the truth. Brother Agduma publishes a paper each month that is tearing the institutional cause apart all over the islands. The Philippine Islands is a very fertile field for the cause of truth just now. Let us continue to do all we can to spread the seed of the kingdom.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 40, pp. 6-8
August 17, 1972