By Cecil Willis
This article is being written in Alice Springs, Australia. After preaching for a month in the Philippines, I then came to Australia for an additional month of work here. I left home on March 28th and am scheduled to return home on June 4th, though I must leave from home again within about ten days. So far as I can recollect, this trip is the longest (both in mileage and duration) that I have ever made to preach the gospel. By the time I get back home, I will have travelled a little over 30,000 miles while on this trip. But this article is intended to be a summary-type report on our preaching within the Philippines, so without further introduction I had better get to that task.
Arrival in Manila
The Philippine people justly are known for their profuse hospitality. Though we arrived in Manila at 5:40 A. M., there were several dozens of brethren and sisters who met us at the airport. At least 30 preachers met us at the airport. Can’t you just imagine how many American brethren we would be able to get to an airport at 5:40 A. M. to meet two visiting preachers? It probably would take some arm-twisting to get one brother to the airport so early in the morning. Yet some of those who met us had traveled 100 miles or so in order to greet us. Such consideration and hospitality would have to be poured out upon a gross heart for it to go unappreciated.
There are many interesting incidents that occurred while we were in the Philippines, but I know the readers of this journal primarily are interested in the gospel preaching done. Thus my remarks largely will be confined to our preaching. Perhaps I should tell you at the outset of this report that I did not keep detailed notes while traveling, as did Brother Connie W. Adams. So in the event that there should be any discrepancy between the numbers that I report and those he has reported, it is probable that his are the correct ones. Anyone who has traveled with me knows that I have hard enough time keeping up with my personal belongings, and therefore can afford very little time for keeping of statistics. I have never even personally taken a camera with me on any of my preaching trips. Someone usually is generous enough to permit me access to photographs which they have made, and the Filipinos are unusually generous in this regard.
Lectures in Makati
Makati is located in one of the better sections of Manila; in fact, it appeared to me that more new building was going on in Makati than in any other section of Manila. The Republic of the Philippines has been under martial law for about two years. While martial law is little to be desired by any people, yet I think I can say without exception (or at least almost so) that every Filipino to whom I spoke preferred it to the chaos in regard to law and order which previously existed in that country.
The last time I was in Manila was in 1970, when Brother Roy E. Cogdill and I made a preaching trip there. One who has not seen Manila in the interim would hardly believe the changes that have been made. Magnificent new buildings are springing up very rapidly. An enormous, and very beautiful, new building was erected in just sixty days so that it might be used for the international beauty contest held in that country not long ago. In addition to scores of new buildings, the city has really been cleaned up. A lot of undesirable housing has been demolished and new apartment buildings erected. The Philippine economy has been in disarray, so a program of public works has been started. Thousands of people are being employed in a clean-up and beautification program. Furthermore, it now is much safer for people to be out on the streets. One would have to have experienced conditions as they were in the past to appreciate properly the improvements that have been made and are being made. I might just add that such projects are underway throughout the Republic of the Philippines.
In 1971, Brother Connie Adams and Brother J. T. Smith were invited to speak at a Christian Church on Dian Street in the Makati district. It was their good pleasure personally to witness the removal of the mechanical instrument of music from that meeting house. The Dian congregation previously had made its fight to maintain its congregational ownership of its property, as many Christian Churches have had to do. Through the preaching efforts then made and others that followed, the Dian Street church eliminated its innovations and accepted a Biblical position in name, organization, worship and work, and since has been working to God’s glory. The lectures which were held in Manila were conducted in the Dian Street meeting house. Brother Adams and I did not speak any place without express invitation and authorization of the Elders or congregation which met in that place.
About fifty preachers of the gospel attended one or more of the sessions that were held for four days at Dian Street. The attendance at the evening sessions in Dian congregation was 332, 359, 337, and 256. The day sessions were attended by lesser numbers, obviously because many could not get free from their work obligations. But the day attendances were 125-150.
As we had announced that we would do beforehand, Brother Adams spoke in each place on “Miraculous Divine Healing,” and “Premillennialism.” Nearly all the lessons that I gave were on the subject of “How To Study the Bible.” However, we were explicitly asked to deal with some first-principle type material the evening sessions at each place. The evening sessions were evangelistic in nature, whereas the day sessions were directed toward helping to train preachers and to build up the knowledge of other members. There were 27 baptized during the Dian Street meeting.
While we report on the number baptized in each place, it must be understood that Brother Adams and I had very little to do with the preparatory teaching of those who were baptized. Almost without exception, those baptized had been taught previously by Filipino preachers. In fact, we had the privilege of listening to several Filipino preachers speak at various times during each lecture program. Everywhere we went, we taught brethren that no person should ever for any reason postpone his baptism. As previously was done in this country, when nearly all those baptized within a year would be baptized during a Summer gospel meeting, there seems to be some tendency on the part of some to postpone their immersion. My brethren,, this ought not so to be.
After leaving Manila, we went to the large southern island of Mindanao, which is perhaps 700 miles from Manila. In this city a very excellent lecture program was held. In fact, in most respects, the Pagadian meeting was probably the best one held while we were in the Philippines. Attendance for the four days of the lecture -program there was 2??, 320, 287, and 448. Full programs were conducted during the day-time hours. Much of the preaching done during the programs was done by Filipino preachers. We heard some very able men preach, and we profited much by hearing them preach. The number baptized at Pagadian City was 33. Within the last few years, 13 denominational preachers have been converted in the Pagadian City area.
For a couple of years or so, some have known of some difficulties that existed in Pagadian City between Brother Eduardo Ramiro and Brother R. G. Carino, both of whom preach in Pagadian. We are glad to report that it appears that those problems were entirely and scripturally settled. Both brethren asked the forgiveness of each other, amidst the shedding of many tears. Brother Adams and I had been asked to meet with these two brethren and to try to help them to settle their difficulties. Both men were manly enough and Christian enough to make public confessions of their having wronged each other. These confessions were made by the men themselves, and they were explicit in regard to what had occurred. With these problems resolved, I preached for the congregation on the Lord’s Day where Brother Carino preaches. There were 68 present for that service. Brother Adams preached where Brother Ramiro works, and with the lecture program scheduled to be held in their meeting house, it was here that there were 448 present on the Lord’s Day. Totaling the attendances, there were 516 present that Lord’s Day in Pagadian City, a city of slightly less than 100,000 population.
Political conditions were somewhat less than ideal for a lecture program to be held in Pagadian City. A sizable war has been going on between the Philippine Government and the Moslems on the southern islands. I think the Moslems number something like 600,000. We left -Pagadian City on April 15th. From March 15th through April 15th, there were 74 people killed in and around Pagadian City in connection with this insurgency. About 500 people have been killed in the Pagadian City area within the last two years. Jet fighter planes have sometimes been involved in the conflict, and -napalm and other bombs have been dropped. We visited the Mayor of one nearby Moslem community. The three houses next to his office had been bombed only two weeks before. A bus was ambushed on Thursday before we arrived on Monday. Among those shot was a sister-in-law of Brother Eduardo Ramiro, in whose home we stayed.
Apparently the military officials, as well as the brethren, were concerned to see that no incident occurred involving us while we. were there. So fourteen soldiers were stationed to guard the house where we slept. There was shooting every night, and once firing was perhaps no more than fifty yards from where we were staying. But at no time did it appear that we were in any particular danger. Of course, we were vulnerable to bus ambushes, just as were others who lived there. During the week there, we traveled about 500 kilometers in a minibus, but there were no incidents that endangered us.
The third lecture series was held in Kidapawan, which is approximately in the middle of the island of Mindanao. We flew to Davao, and then went about 100 kilometers Westward to Kidapawan. The brethren in Kidapawan had arranged to use a public school building in which to conduct the lectures. Several preachers live in Kidapawan, including Romulo B. Agduma, Virgilio Villaneuva, and Juanito Balbin. The Moslem war disturbance has forced a number of brethren to evacuate their usual living places. But much effective preaching is continuing to be done in that area.
If memory serves me correctly, there were something like 20 who were baptized during the lecture program in Kidapawan. There were later lecture series held at Romblon and on the island of Palawan. The total number baptized during the five lecture programs was slightly over 125.
Going from the Winter weather of Indiana to midSummer in the Philippines was a little too much of a temperature differential for me. Six times after preaching, I became ill from being over-heated. The sixth instance occurred in Kidapawan. The extreme heat caused my blood pressure to increase to a point of danger. Thus I had to cut my stay in Kidapawan one day short, which was regrettable to me. For a few hours I had to be hospitalized, and the doctor recommended that I curtail my travel somewhat thereafter. Since there were several other things that needed some attention, I therefore sought to attend to those and Brother Adams and some Filipino brethren continued on to Romblon and Palawan. Connie and I only saw each other for a few hours thereafter, and I therefore am going to make no attempt to report on the briefer lecture series in the latter two places. However, I think that attendance was about 160, at least for some of the meetings, in each of the two latter places.
The Moslems were in control of the territory some six to eight miles West of Kidapawan. I heard that approximately one thousand soldiers arrived in Kidapawan the same day we did, though I did not see very many soldiers. The only difficulty that we experienced anywhere was a rather ludicrous attempt on the part of three persons to rob us while we were in the hotel at Kidapawan. Connie heard someone snooping outside our door about 1:00 A. M., the electricity having been turned off at midnight. I climbed up on a chair and listened through a transom over the door until I became convinced that there was indeed someone outside our door. We had adjoining rooms with Brother and Sister Eduardo Ramiro. I asked Connie to slip in and awaken Eddie. I thought Eddie had some kind of protection with him, since he was a member of the home defence corp. The signal was that I was suddenly to open our door, turn on a three-cell flash light, and Eddie and I were going to step out into the hall at the same time. Just to befuddle the would-be robbers more, I gave my best imitation of the famous “Rebel Yell.” Eddie stepped out into the hall on signal, but he did not have any weapon with him. I guess the “Rebel Yell” did the trick, for the man fled down two flights of stairs. He had two companions outside, one of whom was just outside the supposed-to-be-closed iron gate, and the other was on top of an adjacent three story building. They exchanged flash light signals for a couple of hours. We even tried our own hand at using the flash light signal procedure, and they responded to our signal also. No one was hurt, no one lost anything, but it surely made for a more lively night.
As does every country, the Philippine brethren have some serious deficiencies upon which they need to work, and upon which many of them are working. It appears virtually certain that some men are being supported who are unworthy of support. But let it also be said that I hardly know of anything of which any Filipino preacher is guilty of which some American preacher also has not been guilty. But the sin of American or Filipino is not hidden in God’s sight, nor must we gloss over it. Every effort will be made by those who are supporting men there to try to ferret out any deceivers and frauds, as well as any who are not laboring diligently in doing the Lord’s work.
But on the other hand, it would be a grave injustice to blame the innocent on the basis of the guilt of a few. With whatever faults which exist, the Philippines still constitute the ripest harvest field known to me personally. Individual Christians could render a most helpful service by sending a good study book a month to some faithful Filipino preacher. Truth Magazine Bookstore has an arrangement whereby you may pay for one book each month, and we will ship the book as you instruct us to do so. An endless supply of tracts on every Bible subject could be put to good use. I know of no place where one tract will get more readings than those distributed in the Philippines.
Some of the things that preachers repeatedly said they needed were song books and communion sets. If the congregation has a communion set that it has out-grown and replaced, please get in contact with me and I will supply the name and address of a preacher who says one is needed in his work. And though something between five and seven thousand song books have been sent, there are yet requests for hundreds more. If you should know of usable books that are not being used, let me know about them, and I will send you the address of a preaching brother who has requested song books. There is a dire need for song books in about three native dialects-the Subano, Illocano, and Tagalog. It would be best if these song books could be printed in lots of 10,000, in order to keep the per copy price down. I am thinking of publishing in each dialect something like a 128 page, paper-back song book. If some individual or congregation would like to pay for one such printing, I will be glad to assist you in getting the books printed and shipped. You would pay only the exact printing costs, along with shipping costs.
Debate on Philippine Bible College
After five years of stalling, my old Florida College schoolmate, Brother Robert Buchanan, now seems willing to have a written debate on whether the Philippine Bible College is scriptural in organization and financing. In Brother Buchanan’s correspondence in regard to the proposed debate, he placed so much emphasis upon the fact that he will defend the Philippine Bible College as it now (“present tense,” he emphasized) is operated that I thought I should talk to him regarding any, recent changes before entering into a debate agreement.
Upon arriving in the Philippines, I found that the Philippine Bible College is right in the middle of a process of trying to alter their operational arrangement. It appears they deliberately sought to make it appear that I did not know how PBC is operated. Since these efforts have been underway for about two years, I suppose Brother Buchanan thought they would have all their legal change-over work done before we could get a debate underway. Their last legal document was accepted by the Philippine Government on March 12, 1975, just about a month before I talked with Buchanon and Douglas LeCroy at Angeles City. It appears that they are trying to transfer everything from the control of the Inglewood, California church to the church in Baguio, where the Philippine Bible College is located. The status, as of the time when I talked with Buchanan and LeCroy, was that the Inglewood church had transferred ownership of the Baguio church building to the Baguio church. However, the March 12, 1975 incorporation papers of the Baguio church states that it owns no “real” property, though they state that they have assets of 200,000 pesos. So evidently, Inglewood still owns the land upon which the meeting house of the Baguio church now sits. But, Buchanan and LeCroy told me that some additional papers had been filed and evidently approved since those approved on March 12, 1975. I have taken the necessary steps to procure the latest papers. When I get home, Bob and I will then make final arrangements to begin writing the debate. He intends to publish it privately in booklet form for distribution throughout the Philippines. In all probability, I will publish the discussion in Truth Magazine, but I want all the exchanges in my hands before I begin running the debate. We agreed to allow each other up to one month in which to make a reply to a preceding article. Due to my travel schedule, I could not promise to have my reply written within two weeks, as Brother Buchanan proposed. For instance, when I return home, I will have been gone 16 out of the last 19 weeks. This week is the first week I have had access to a typewriter similar to the one to which I am accustomed to use since I left home March 28th.
One interesting outcome of our three hour discussion in Angeles City was that we learned that Bob Buchanan will not debate anything he believes, teaches, or practices with a Filipino. Yet, heretofore, the liberals have insisted that Americans who visit in the Philippines debate Filipino liberals. For example, in 1971 Brother J. T. Smith debated Eusebio Laquata at M’lang, which debate was published and resulted in many brethren learning the truth. But since Brother Buchanan thinks it so unwise for an American to debate either a Filipino or an American in .the Philippines, apparently he now thinks it wise to debate an American in writing, intending to distribute the debate in the Philippines in booklet form himself.
But if Brother Buchanan does indeed think it unwise for two Americans to debate orally in the Philippines, it seems logical that he should therefore be in favor of an American debating an American orally in America. Since Inglewood is in the metropolitan Los Angeles area, I have suggested that it would be good if he and I were to debate the sponsoring church arrangement under which the Philippine Bible College has been operated in the metropolitan Los Angeles area. There are about 50 faithful churches in Greater Los Angeles, so I do not think I will have any trouble getting some congregation to endorse me for such a discussion, and to share equally the cost of conducting such a discussion. Now, will Brother Buchanan agree to a discussion in the Greater Los Angeles area? Will Inglewood endorse him for such a discussion?
Brother Buchanan has sought to excuse himself from participating in such a discussion with me in California on the grounds that he would have to provide me an audience. That is a lame and even laughable excuse. I challenged him to name one debate that has been held on the institutional and sponsoring church issues- in America where the faithful brethren did not out-number the liberals in attendance. It just might be possible that there have been a few debates where the liberals outnumbered the faithful brethren in attendance, but neither Brother Buchanan nor I could think of one. In fact, the last debate on these questions that I attended was at Joliet, Illinois (Metropolitan Chicago area). I moderated for Brother Larry Hafley who defended and taught the truth in that debate. The meeting house was filled. You know how many liberals were present? So far as is known to any of us, there were only four: the debater and his wife, and his moderator and wife. Then they talk about furnishing us an audience! I feel sure that I could guarantee Brother Buchanan that more faithful brethren would attend such a discussion than would liberals. For some strange reason, the liberals have lost their taste for debates, at least in America. Yet they would like for their Filipino brethren to think we are all “running scared” of them.
Brother Buchanan is scheduled to be back in America before too long, if I remember correctly. The tape of our discussion is being transcribed, and I should soon be able to check to see for sure what Bob said about when he would be in America again. But I will not even make any issue of when he is going to return to America. I simply ask that we agree upon an oral discussion in the Los Angeles area whenever he returns, and elsewhere if he wishes to have more than one such discussion. I am made to wonder, by Brother Buchanan’s attitude about who would have the most in attendance, if he would not debate a Baptist or a Catholic unless the Baptists or Catholics got out a larger attendance than Bob could get out.
The truth is, I seriously doubt whether Bob Buchanan orally will debate anything he believes or practices with anyone, anywhere in the world! But whether he will debate orally or not, we have a general agreement to conduct a written discussion. We should be able to get the written discussion underway without much delay. However, I shall expect Brother Buchanan to inform me of any subtle changes they may make in the organization and financing of the Philippine Bible College, either prior to or during the writing of the debate.
Since the brethren who have been to the Philippines since 1970 have written extensively about the Work there, I will not elaborate upon it further. Suffice it to say that the work in general seems to be going extraordinarily well, though there are some spots with serious problems and some men have proven to be a great disappointment to one and others who have placed implicit confidence in them. But sin is sin, whether it occurs in America or in the Philippines, and we dare not try to whitewash it in either case. But neither should the sins of a few prejudice us against the vast majority of men who have done in the past, and continue to do commendable works in the Lord’s vineyard.
Personally it was a tremendously joyous occasion to see the brethren in the Philippines again. Rodi Tan, as usual, made himself available to assist us in every way he possibly could in making our travel easier. One of the objectives which I had in mind in my return to the Philippines was to see Rodi and his wife, Erlinda, become Christians. We left them “almost persuaded” to become Christians, but as the song states, “Almost cannot avail; Almost is but to fail; Sad, sad that bitter wail; Almost-but lost.” I shall continue to pray for the day when Rodi and his wife shall put on our Lord Jesus Christ by being baptized into Him. Several of us are determined that we shall not rest until they become “altogether persuaded” to become Christians.
The tie that binds our hearts to those stalwart men in the Philippines is a strong one, and a few days of close work together brings us to tears when we come to separate, perhaps to meet on this earth no more. But we shall anxiously look toward that grand meeting of all the Lord’s saints when time on this earth shall be no more. Meanwhile, let us all pray that God’s will might be done throughout the earth, as His will is done in heaven. Those Filipino brethren whom I have so quickly grown to love in truth shall often be upon my heart, and their names shall be upon my tongue when I pray. As did the apostle Paul, we shall pray that whether we come and see them or be absent, that we may hear of their faith, that they stand fast, with one heart, with one soul, striving for the faith of the gospel (Phil. 1:27).
Truth Magazine XIX: 32, pp. 499-504
June 19, 1975