By Wallace H. Little
Granting the present economic situation in the Philippines, I am forced to the conclusion that most of the churches there will not be self-supporting in this generation. That need not impede the growth of God’s people there if we are willing. American impatience is no where more apparent than among brethren who have supported a Filipino preacher for several years, and begin to become weary in well-doing. The statement is often made: “We have supported brother so-and-so for five years; we believe it is about time that the congregation picked up its own responsibility in this matter,” or words to that effect. And, brethren, I ask, “Why?” Do we suppose our economic situation is a good standard by which we can measure their condition? And if we do follow through on our impatience, what other plans do we have for “our” money? What better “investment” could we make of our laying by in store on the first day of the week than to place this in the hands of faithful, dedicated, zealous and capable men who are preaching the gospel? Will the Lord, in judgment, say “Well done” to us if we withdraw it from support of preachers in order to pave the parking lot, or something else of equal “importance”? Brethren, there are some nations on- this earth today (I am not sure– the–Philippines is among them, but evidence indicates that it is) that will need years, decades before their economic systems will permit churches there to support their local preachers as we understand support. If the situation in the Philippines progresses economically, in time they may well be able to provide for their own preachers, but this change will not take place any time soon. Thus, we in the U.S., in an economy never before matched in the history of the world, with a superabundance of material things and financial means, are in a position to send when we cannot go, and send to others who are there and thus have part in the greatest work on earth.
Let us recognize there are no “average Filipinos,” any more than there are no “average Americans.” Their diversity of cultures, reflected in the existence of more than 100 recorded major and minor dialects is testimony that their manner of thinking and conduct will not be as ours. But that does not necessarily mean it is bad; only that it is different. Sometimes I wonder, where did we ever get the idea that our standards, our cultural norms ought to be the yardstick for the rest of the world? Let us honor and respect their traditions and customs rather than look on them with condescension just because they are different. Remember, when we are in that country, we are the foreigners! And let us keep in mind their culture will reflect itself in the way they respond to various situations and circumstances, and these responses are often going to be sharply different from our own. Again, that does not make them wrong, just different. And in these differences, let us be understanding and patient. Perhaps we might have a few peculiarities and customs they would consider a little on the weird side, too. And would we not want them to be charitable in their evaluation of us under these circumstances?
Politics is interwoven in the pattern of life; this is accepted here. So also, it exists there, and in a more exaggerated form in many instances. The major religious bodies are more political and economic than they are religious. Their impact and effect on opportunities to teach the gospel are pronounced. They need to be understood and respected (respect from the standpoint of acknowledging their existence and power, not necessarily as approving them). Work done there must be within the acknowledging of them. There is little overt or indirect opposition to teaching the gospel here; there is a great deal of it there. But before we become too critical, why do we not compare also the effectiveness they have in converting folks in spite of the political opposition, with our own in its absence. Perhaps all political opposition is not that bad?
The distribution of people in the Philippines in the various habitable islands makes transportation there a relatively large preaching expense. To that degree, it makes preaching the gospel and the growth of the church slower than it might be otherwise. On the other hand, this might well work to the advantage of truth in that it would take more time for error to spread between congregations. The geography definitely presents some problems we do not have here, and the cost of transportation is not the only one. The means of transportation is another. To those Americans who have been there, you know what I mean. There is hardly a bus there I can ride with even minimum comfort. The space between the seats is simply not sufficient to accommodate my long legs. Between some of the islands you will travel by boat – and some of these boats leave you wondering whether it might not turn into the boat to the nether world of both Greek and Roman mythology. Crossing open sea in a pump boat, which is reality is not much more than a very large-like hollowed out log complete with an inboard motor and outriggers, is an interesting experience. I have done so; but I am not sure I want to do it again any time real soon.
Family loyalty is another problem there. It has definite implications both in the reception of the gospel and the preaching of it. Converting one member of a family may well depend on convincing another, or all others. Which means we need to teach and work harder at it. Family loyalty will cause problems when those within the family seems to be wilfully violating God’s law by protecting a known transgressor in God’s church. Such things need to be handled – but they need to be handled very carefully and with much patience. The majority of brethren there I have known over the years want to do right, and they can be persuaded to uphold truth even against those in the family when approached from this view.
The primary religions there are the Roman Catholic Church (83%) and the Iglesia ni Christo (10%) (Church of Christ). Muslims (4% of the population), Protestant denominationalism plus God’s people (total: 3%) have an effect pretty well determined by the figures. The RCC and Manaloists obviously are going to have a much greater impact than the other groups. But Christians can and must have an effect beyond their numbers and percentage of population: We have a command to be the savoring and preserving influence in this world (Mt. 5:13-16). The effect is beginning to be seen in the Philippines today. Non-Christians are noticing the conduct of members of the church there, for better or for worse. In some cases, outsiders are drawn by good conduct, and conversions have been made. In other instances, these non-saints are repelled by the evil they see in the conduct of some who claim to be members of the only church that Christ died to establish. It must be obvious we need more of the former and less of the latter.
Where do we go from here? One thing is certain: Satan is not about to sit still and let that nation be taken for Christ without putting up a good stiff fight. He will use every tool at his disposal, and one of the greatest and most effective there is distrust and suspicion among brethren. The conditions for this exist there, and especially because of the circumstances concerning which I have written in this series. I would be lying if I did not admit that these causes have . produced some terrible happenings, and probably will do so again. Even at the moment, a man who has proven himself to be dishonest set about on a deliberate campaign of revenge, both in his nation and here in the U.S. Ciriaco Salvatierra reported a false benevolent need to U.S. congregations which were supporting him. When the money was sent, he spent it on himself. I found out about it, and with others, tried to persuade him to repent. He would have none of this; rather, he assumed that one preacher there (Victorio R. Tibayan, Sr.) and the daughter of another (Isabelo Hayuhay’s daughter Vernice) were responsible for exposing him to me, and thus responsible for-him losing support. He has filed court cases against them on false charges, and has initiated a planned campaign both there and in the U.S. to ruin them, and me. The unfortunate part of such a thing is that some both here and there will listen to him without examining the evidence (in his case, he has none; he is long on charges, and very short on proof). As a consequence, the work there will suffer, as well as individuals be hurt when they ought not to be.
Another disturbing tendency is seen in the disposition of some U.S. churches to receive a letter of appeal from one there seeking support, and provide this without even checking with one of us who have been there to see what. kind of a person he is. Serious damage has been dory because of this poor stewardship. And more, when a man turns out to be dishonest (and they have their crooks, just as we have ours), the reputation of all the men there is tarnished by the same brush. This ought not so to be, but it is.
Yet another situation is Americans going there and teaching their pet beliefs, those positions they hold as matters of personal faith for themselves in terms of their consciences, but do not impose them on the conscience of others. This is well and good, but they forget that the learner goes beyond the teacher, the disciple excells the master, and there are known instances there where the Filipino has learned something from a visiting American preacher which the American did not make a test of faith, but which the Filipino disciple has done so. There are other problems, too.
Yet, inspite of these, and all difficulties, it seems this is the one nation on earth today where the growth is still explosive, and where the work ought to be encouraged in every Scriptural way. It is great and God is glorified in it. I am humbled God has permitted me even a slight part in it.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 13, pp. 214-215
March 29, 1979