Preaching in the Philippines

By Norman E. Fultz

Departing Kansas City on April 22, I met John Humphries and Jerry Parks in Chicago to travel with them to the Philippines. Having long thought of making the trip, but having never been there, it was my desire to go with someone who had been before so that I might profit from his experience. The long trip over would afford many opportunities to ask of them every question I could think of as to how to make the effort the most profitable possible.

There are several things that a trip of one month’s duration in the Philippines will not accomplish. It will not qualify one as an authority on the condition of all the churches (there are so many of them) throughout that island nation. It will not qualify one as a judge of the worthiness of support of all the preachers, either of those who make their appeal in person or who write (Oh, how many of them will write!) when the visiting American has returned to the States. It will not fully qualify one as to the true condition of the Philippine economy, especially as it affects the poorer classes, in which group most of our brethren are found. It will not allow one to settle all the disputes or areas of discussion that exist among the Filipino brethren. It will not allow one to even begin to meet all the benevolent needs that he sees first hand.

But there are some things that such a trip can accomplish, especially for one who has had a long-time interest in the Filipinos and who has tried to learn as much as he could from others who have gone there to preach and to encourage the saints. Such is my own interest in the Filipino work. Not only have I for many years read the reports of the American brethren who have gone there over a period of some twenty years and talked with several of them about their experiences and the conditions they found, but I have personally tried to verify the worthiness of different men from time to time. Having satisfied my own mind as to their worthiness, I have assisted in raising support for them. In several instances, I have raised funds to help alleviate some of the dire needs arising from catastrophes that seem to strike some parts of the islands with increasing frequency – typhoons, drought, and earthquakes. The latest catastrophe to strike is the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo’s volcano, wreaking devastation over a wide area, crushing their small homes and burying their fields under inches of ash.

I have delayed this writing until the high emotion that builds in one from such an experience has had a chance to subside. That with a view to being as objective as possible in that which is written. My intent is not to give a day by day accounting, but to present some of the conditions that exist and some ways in which individuals and churches may help.

Other brethren had spoken to me of the culture shock one will receive, but until it is experienced, it remains, for the most part, a phrase which in no way prepares one for what he is about to witness. Even those of us who were reared in extremely poor circumstances in this country are in for a real awakening upon arrival there. My amazement began within the first hour after touch-down at Manila’s Aquino International Airport, but the full impact of it was not felt until some four or five days later. When it did occur, it was a feeling like I simply have not yet been able to describe. One thing I know. Culture shock is not just a phrase. It is for real.

There were five American preachers in the Philippines over a period of about two and a half months. Keith Burnett of Russellville, KY and Carl McMurray of Brownsburg, IN preceded John and Jerry (both of Louisville at the time Jerry has now moved) and myself by about a month. Their stay overlapped ours by a couple of weeks, allowing our paths to cross and affording us the opportunity to compare impressions and find out about each other’s efforts. The one time we were all together at Ben Cruz’s in Manila for a very short time took on the flavor of a family reunion, so joyous was it.

Some who are not familiar with the Philippines might second guess the wisdom of five men being there at the same time. Believe me, when one sees the amount of work to be done, the great number of churches existing, the distances involved and the means of getting to some of the areas, the question becomes elementary indeed. Most of the time we were all working in different regions, and everywhere we went there were those pleading with us to visit their area. It was difficult to make some of them understand that we just cannot go everywhere. But they are so desirous that the work they are doing be seen. Of course, I know that some of that is with a view to hopefully being able to secure support. However, that within itself is not to be faulted. Do American preachers do much differently when trying to raise support to go into some field of labor for which they do not have support?

Arriving in Manila about 1:15 a.m. Thursday, we were met at the airport by a good contingent of Christians who took us to our respective places of stay while in Manila. Both Carl McMurray and I were guests of Noli and Ruena Villamor, both of us being there at the same time only a couple of nights. The Ben Cruz home was John and Jerry’s “hotel,” and it was also the sight of a number of studies when as many as twenty-five or thirty persons would gather. The Vic Tibayans put up Keith I believe. Those good families are so careful to do all they can to make the stay of American preachers a pleasant one. And both Ben and Vic render a valuable service in using their vehicles running back and forth to the airport or to the bus station as the Americans come and go from one region to another.

Whether on Luzon, Mindanao, Cebu or Leyte, or other islands, the Filipino people endeared themselves to us. At Davao City where John and I conducted studies for four days we stayed in the home of Juanito and Erlinda Balbin who expended no small effort in showing hospitality to a house full of others who were present for the studies. At Pagadian City, Ed and Sol Ramiro graciously made their home available to me and J. R. Tibayan, a Filipino preacher who accompanied me, while I presented studies for five days at Sto. Nino district where Jun Apatan preaches. And at Baybay, Leyte, Alberto and Juanita Vivero showed J. R. and me great hospitality as I presented studies for three or four days.

I don’t know the exact number of persons baptized during the efforts in which the five of us were involved. It was estimated at around 200. But we didn’t go there to baptize. Now I’ll admit it was a pleasant experience to wade out into the briny waters of Davao Gulf, Ormoc Bay or the river at Pagadian City and assist people in their obedience to Christ. But our major objective was to visit and strengthen the churches and to encourage and edify the preachers who resorted to the studies. As a novice in that kind of work, I did not have as good a feel for their actual needs as did those who had been there on other trips. I was especially impressed with John Humphries’ great capabilities. Co-working with him in the Davao studies and sitting in two or three other studies he conducted in Manila, I concluded that he had a good grasp of areas of needed study, and he knew how to present it forcefully. I only got to hear Jerry present one lesson, a very good one. On one’s first trip he does the best he can t6 be of the most help he can, his awareness of areas of needed teaching and instruction growing from one field of endeavor to the next. I certainly feel that I have a far better realization of some definite needs now as I look back and think through the experience.

The standard of living for most of the people is beyond the ability of most here to comprehend. The contribution of the churches may run no more than the equivalent of $3 to $5 dollars. Therefore they are not able to do much of anything in the way of assistance to the preachers nor in meeting benevolent needs among themselves. For example, in Pagadian City with the Sto. Nino church, Jun Apaton announced after the Lord’s day morning service that a brother was very sick and needed to go to the hospital but had no money. A special offering was taken. Beside that which I was able to give from the funds U.S. brethren had given me for such cases, the collection was only 92 pesos. The conversion rate in Pagadian was 28 pesos per dollar at the time, so you can easily see the small amount they were able to give.

While much more could be said, let me share just one other thought. What can folks here, either individually or as a congregation, do? There are many capable preachers adjugded worthy of support who are presently receiving none. Any of the American preachers who have been there has a list of some such preachers. There are many cases of financial need among the members from time to time due to misfortune or natural catastrophe as those mentioned earlier in this treatise. And one of the greatest needs, in my judgment, is for good study and teaching materials Bibles, books, tracts, etc. Even good used song books are a welcomed item to the Filipinos.

Shipping books con be somewhat costly. But the post office has what is known as M-Bag Service. It has a minimum of 15 lbs. or a maximum of 66 lbs. per sack limit, and shipped by surface mail is S.72 per lb. By air it is $5.76 per lb. Talk to your post office for full explanation. Of course, the surface mail will take many weeks to arrive, but the items will serve no less benefit when they do get on site.

I have composed an “Information Questionnaire” which I believe could be of help to those who receive letters of appeal for support from preachers in the Philippines. I would be happy to send a copy of it to any who desires it.

Guardian of Truth XXXV: 21, pp. 648-649
November 7, 1991