By Jim McDonald
Stephen Locklair and I spent about a month in the Philippines in January 1999, and Jim Everett and I spent another week there in June. I had not planned a return trip to the Philippines in 1999 but there were situations that seemed compelling reasons for me to change my mind. I continued to receive invitations to come to strategic points where denominational preachers had indicated their willingness to study the Word and I was concerned about newly planted preachers who had earlier been baptized. So, I determined that I would return again and try to answer some of the calls I was receiving. Steven Deaton, preacher for the Loop 287 church here in Lufkin where Betty and I worship when we are in town, had volunteered to make the trip with me, at least to travel a couple of weeks with me. His presence was greatly appreciated and we made our arrangements and departed from Houston on Monday, October 11.
We arrived in Manila about 11 p.m. October 12. Many preachers were on hand to greet us and it was good to see them all. We finally settled into the Aloha Hotel for a few hours of sleep, preparing for an early flight next morning to Laoag City, Ilocos Norte. Two of the brethren who were present at the airport were ready to accompany us there: Mat Sibayan, Jr. and Lordy Salunga. The plane we flew in was a small, very old prop plane, heavily infested with roaches and other pests. But we were in Laoag City in an hour and half time, and that more than compensated in time saved for had we ridden a passenger bus it would have taken us 8-10 hours. Again, several brethren from the area were present to greet us, including Materno Sibayan, Sr. and Vic Domingo, two pioneer preachers of the region. It was Materno who came to this area almost 30 years ago to preach the gospel he had learned in Davao City, Mindanao. He had been an influential preacher in the Pentecostal movement of A.A. Allen, but gave up everything when he learned the gospel of Christ. Once he arrived in Laoag City, his first contact and convert was Vic Domingo, a longtime friend. Together these two brethren have spread the Word throughout the region of Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur.
The church in Laoag City now has a very nice building, thanks to not only the help of several American brethren, but to the sacrifices of the Laoag City brethren as well. The church numbers about 100 but it has surrendered numerous members from time to time to begin new congregations in nearby regions. Brother Sibayan preaches (and serves as one of the elders) for the Laoag City church as well as preaching for the congregation in Sinait, Ilocos Sur, the place where he lives. That congregation likewise likely numbers 100 or so. Brother Domingo works with two congregations as well: the older of the congregations he works with is in Escoda, Marcos and has a large building, but which is unfinished. Close to 200 worship here on the Lord’s Day. Vic also works with a congregation called Hillside in Marcos proper. Between 50-75 brethren worship here. Roger Borja is the capable, young preacher who preaches here.
The Ilocos region has been greatly blessed by the efforts of brothers Domingo and Sibayan. There are likely 100 or more congregations in these two provinces, with 70-80 preachers busy at work. They have a system of evangelism which they call “joint efforts.” Several preachers will travel together to areas where there are no congregations, spending their time talking with people and then conducting services. When congregations are established in these areas, the brethren then will appoint one of the preachers to continue working with the church on a regular basis and they then move to another area where there are no churches. There are 3,000-4,000 Christians in this area. When Connie Adams was here early last year, he spoke to two or three different assemblies of close to 1,000 people.
For six days Steven and I were busy, visiting and speaking to congregations. One group of brethren traveled with him; another group of brethren traveled with me. We would usually each speak to three or four congregations each day. More than 100 were baptized in the various churches we visited during the days we were in the area.
We concluded our stay in the region with a Monday afternoon lecture (October 18) at Sinait, home of brother Sibayan. There were 100 or more preachers and elders in attendance as both Steven and I spoke to the assembled brethren. Once it was over and we said good-bye to many of the dear friends we have made here through the past seven years, we prepared to travel to Manila from where we would fly to Mindanao where we had scheduled six seminars over the next three weeks. The son-in-law of brother Sibayan had come to drive us to Manila, which way we traveled during night. The journey was about eight to nine hours and we traveled over familiar highways on our way to the country’s capital. We traveled through the provinces of Ilocos Sur, La Union, Pangasinan, and Tarlac. We stopped at early morning to fuel near Angeles City. We went through the area which had been devastated a few years earlier by the eruption of a volcano called Mt. Penetubo and because of the rain, our van stuck twice in mud. We arrived in Manila about 2 or 3 a.m. and spent the rest of the night with the daughter and son-in-law of brother Sibayan. Then we cashed some green money (as the Filipino calls the American bills) into pesos for funds for our trip to Mindanao.
Tuesday, October 19 Steven, Mat Sibayan and I boarded a plane at Manila’s new domestic airport for Davao City. Thirty years before brother Sibayan had been converted in this area through the efforts of Juanito Balbin and this was his first trip back to Davao City! Because Steven would return alone to Manila from Mindanao and this was his first trip in this strange land, I asked brother Sibayan to travel with us to Mindanao so that he could accompany Steven back to Manila and see him safely to the airport for his flight back to the U.S. on October 26. Air time from Manila to Davao City was a little over an hour and it was late afternoon when we arrived at the air terminal in Davao City. Many brethren from this area of Mindanao had come to greet us, but it was raining when we exited the terminal and we could hardly say more than hello to them. On hand to meet us and carry us to Tamug City was Julie Notarte who had already arranged for a van to carry us from the airport to Tamug City, about an hour away. There were about seven to eight brethren traveling with us, including Jess Dawi who lives in Penabo and he desired to show us the place where he lived. When we said good-bye to him neither of us likely thought that it would be final. Jess died a few weeks after we saw him in Davao City.
We arrived in Tamug City at night. Arrangements had been made in a local hotel for us for the time we would be there — fair accommodations by Philippine standards. The host for this seminar was Allan Asang who had just recently been converted (I believe) from a Pentecostal church. He had many friends among the circle of preachers and over 100 had agreed to hear us as we shared the gospel of Christ with them. Steven and I took turns in speaking, which lessons then were translated into their dialect. We answered many questions as these men heard what we said and examined from the Scriptures whether they were true or not. On the second day we learned that a number of the preachers had determined to be baptized and wanted to talk with us. So, we spent no little time talking with them about their obedience. Steven and I made it perfectly clear to all of them that we offered them no money to be baptized, nor did we promise them support. We reminded them that likely they would lose what support they had from denominations and have to suffer other hardships.
At the conclusion of our sober charges to them, I asked those to stand who still desired to be baptized in spite of all the things they might have to suffer. Most of them did, although a few remained seated, determining that they were not willing to “pay the price” their obedience might require of them. When a final count was taken, 36 had determined to be baptized, 31 of these preachers. Neither Steven nor I are prophets but it did not take long for our warnings to be fulfilled. Within days, two weeks at the very most, and while I was yet in the Philippines, Steven had received the following E-mail from one who identified himself as “Rev.” Erning Balong, a supervisor in his denomination. He wrote:
Steven: please give me more information about your ministry here in the Philippines. I am Rev. Erning Balong, I am pastor of Foursquare church for many years. I hear your teaching though Lito Agyam and Allan Asang. I think there are so many different from our doctrines. But I have many questions like denominations and Lord’s supper and tithes and worship and instruments. Because of your seminar they are kicked out from the church of Foursquare, their support cut off, because they following the teaching of the church of Christ. I wondered because of your teaching to them their reputations and ministry destroyed even their family. Remember that the works of Satan is to destroy and to steal, all of these pastors have no support from our denominations they are facing terrible situation with their family. We are laugh to them because they are deceived of the false teachers. It got your E-mail address because they try to forward to me your Bible correspondence. Please don’t destroy the life of the pastors here in the Philippines. For your information I am a supervisor of our denomination. Because of your seminar there are many pastors supperedo for punishment they are kick out and all their support cut off. I ask your reaction. Rev. Erning Balong.
These men have paid a high price to become just a Christian. Jesus’ words are truly appropriate to them: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and come, follow me.” Pray for them that they remain steadfast in the Faith. It will be exceedingly hard for them to press on and a great temptation for them to renounce what they have confessed and to turn back to what they once were.
Some three hours south of Tagum City is Digos. Digos has a large population and the preacher in the congregation here is Gerry Telabanco. Digos also is home to Julie Notarte, one of the most active of Mindanaoan preachers. Julie works through several provinces visiting among churches, holding meetings for them, making contacts with radio listeners and baptizing many people. There are likely close to 200 churches in this area and Julie works with thousands of brethren.
This far-flung area that Julie works in is one of the most critical areas of Mindanao. The brethren have faced many natural disasters in the past two years; first El Nino, then La Nina. Their crops were destroyed by rats and locusts and I have many statements from brethren in the area as well as clippings from newspapers attesting this truth. In addition this is an area where Moslem Rebels and National Forces have had many clashes. Some brethren have been driven from their homes and have remained for many weeks in evacuation centers. The government has provided some help for food, but there is a great need for both food and medicine for brethren.
Julie had asked that we come and speak to brethren from the area. So, when we had finished at Tagum City, we departed via passenger bus, passing through Davao City. Several brethren accompanied us, and it was while traveling from Tagum City to Digos that all my material for classes in General Santos City was lost. I never did learn what happened to it!
Julie had asked that, among other things, we speak about the work of elders and deacons and these men, as well as preachers, were invited to attend a seminar in Digos. Both Steven and I addressed the brethren several times; speaking a sentence or so which was then translated into Cebuano by Julie Notarte or Richley Lumapay. Brethren had made preparation for the gathering by renting a gymnasium for about 600 brethren who were expected. The facilities were very old and decrepit. Bathroom facilities were almost non-existent. Brethren started arriving a day or so before Steven and I arrived. They slept on the hard bleachers. Their food was a few vegetables and a handful of rice three times daily which they ate with their hands. Although we could only give one and a half days in teaching, there were 600 plus who came to hear, many of whom had walked 40 kilometers (about 24 miles) one way to attend the lessons and then walked home again. My heart twisted within me as I saw their great poverty and their hunger also to know more of God’s will. We bade them good-bye knowing the long walk they would have, perhaps in peril of the rebels. In fact, in an E-mail since arriving back in the States Julie informed me that some brethren were unable to attend the seminar because they ran into problems of civil strife and had to return home again.
At the conclusion of the seminar about ten were baptized.
General Santos City
It was the unusual circumstances in General Santos City which had been the deciding factor in causing me to make this trip. I first met brethren from General Santos City in July 1998 in Davao City. A number of newly converted preachers from various denominations came to meet Ron Halbrook and me there when we carried benevolence to brethren in that area due to the great drought caused by El Nino. I was fearful that somehow the purpose of that trip to the Philippines had leaked out and that these men had been baptized in order to share in that benevolence so no help was given to them.
That did not deter them. By January 1999 the number of baptized preachers in the General Santos City area had increased to around 50 and Stephen Locklair and I conducted a two-three day seminar there to about 100 preachers. The facilities were ideal for such a gathering: brethren had procured a sports complex in which there were dormitories to accommodate those who had come from long distances, lecture rooms to accommodate 300-400 (or more), and kitchen facilities. During this time I talked personally with each of these preachers; asking them two questions: (1) “Were you given any money to be baptized?” and (2) “Were you promised support if you were to leave the denomination you presently preach for?” Without exception, each one of those whom I questioned responded “No” to both questions.
When I returned home early last year, the condition of these men weighed greatly on my mind. They were (are) as babes and needed (need) so much training. Thus I determined I would return again and spend five days of concentrated efforts teaching them. Steven Deaton and I had parted company at Digos; he traveled back to Davao City, then back to Manila and the US while I traveled on to Gensan (as the local populace refer to the city). I was alone, but I was not alone. I stayed with Jessy Julom, who not only was my host but who had made arrangements for the seminar I was to hold there. Once more the sports complex was obtained and we had made provisions for 200 preachers but there were nearer 400 of them. For four days I spoke four-six hours daily, as well as giving additional time for questions. The subjects I dealt with were lessons from the book of Acts, the prophecy of and establishment of the church, the organization, work and worship of the church, instrumental music, women preachers, spiritual gifts, premillennialism, baptism, and many such related subjects. In addition to this, I spoke on the works of the flesh and the fruit of the spirit.
One subject to which I gave special attention was marriage, divorce, and remarrige. The need for teaching on the subject is great because while it is true that Philippine law does not allow divorce (annulment is possible, but at great expense), it allows the minorities and Moslems to live by their own laws relating to this subject and both do allow divorce. And, for those who record their marriage according to Philippine law, there is a problem in that one mate or the other may leave the other and either one or both of them may either just live with another mate with no pretense of marriage ceremony or else go through a legal ceremony with another mate. This happens many times. Of this latter, the end result is that the person is guilty of bigamy since his marriage to his first mate has not been terminated. I was told that at least seven preachers in attendance in the seminar were involved in this problem. One of them came to me in great anguish relating his problem and asking what he should (could) do about it. The subject of marriage needed to be discussed because the Moslem and minorities not only allow divorce, but many of them are polygamous, allowable by their tribal laws.
Again, this was a very real problem in Gensan. One very prominent preacher was a polygamist — he continued to live with two wives! At the conclusion of my lesson, one young man approached me who had corresponded with me before. He had made the good confession that day and was later baptized into Christ, but he wanted to know what he should tell his parents. According to him, his father was a polygamist and his mother was his father’s second wife. These three items: bigamy, polygamy and “living together” are common problems in the Philippines and God’s sacred law concerning marriage and divorce must be taught on because of the so frequent violation of his will as it relates to these matters.
I allowed more days to spend in Gensen than in any other one place. Brethren from various places of the region had been begging that I visit “their place” and so I spent three full days visiting congregations, besides during the afternoon “rest period” (from 4:30-7:00 p.m.) I was kept busy seeing the various locations where brethren meet. The growth of the gospel in this region has been phenomenal! When I first visited General Santos City two or more years ago, I learned of only about three small congregations. I was told that the City is the largest land mass of all the cities of Mindanao. There are 38 burangays (divisions) to the city. Today, from two-four congregations two years ago, there are congregations in every burangay, and some have two or three and one or two have five! There are doubtlessly 50 or more congregations in this city today. Aside from this, the adjoining province of Saranganai boasts of 100 congregations. In my visitation I saw many interesting sights. One preacher (Ruel Villaguardia) showed me the former building he had preached in contrasted to his present one. His former denomination has a large, attractive building. When Ruel obeyed the gospel and was expelled from the building (carrying about 75% of the congregation with him), they moved down the highway a bit and built a small, bamboo building. We traveled to remote mountain tops where we saw other buildings of brethren. It was breathtaking to see the vast expanses of the countryside from the mountains and particularly of interest to me were their fields growing on sides of mountains that appeared to be nearly vertical. How animals could stand and pull a plow on such steep mountain sides is still a mystery to me. I was in Gensen for two Sundays and preached both days for a downtown church whose preacher, John Janilo, had once preached for an Assembly of God. I spoke briefly to a congregation which meets in an open building that extends out over the sea. Their preacher, Luth Capicenio, tells of the great number of widows in the congregation, who arise early each morning to spend time in prayer. I am sure there are many more than 100 who assemble in this place. Late one afternoon I spoke to two different congregations, both still associated with the Assemblies of God but whose preachers already had been baptized and who would themselves be baptized a few days later. These were of the minorities, begging for help to have songbooks in their dialect.
Our seminar concluded in Gensen on Thursday noon. Although intended for newly converted preachers, many of these had brought their denominational preacher friends and at the conclusion of our classes, opportunities were given to these to obey the gospel — 28 preachers from various denominational bodies did. In addition, another 125 or so came to be baptized who had been members of denominations of the area, making a total of about 150 baptisms that afternoon. Two of those who were baptized were an old preacher (Victor Esoy) and his wife. He had attended my lectures in Gensan last January, but because he was near retirement he would not obey, although he was convinced of the truth that was taught. Nevertheless, he had taken a copy of Roy Cogdill’s New Testament Church with him then and not only had studied it himself for the past nine months, but had taught the entire book to his congregation, the Christian Missionary Alliance Church. He and his wife attended and listened attentively to every lesson I preached, obeyed and went on their way rejoicing. Another interesting sight that day was to witness the baptism of one denominational preacher whom brethren had been studying with for some time. He had in turn taught his own congregation and it was thrilling to see him first baptized, then to watch as he immersed 70-80 of his people into Christ!
One of the congregations we visited was in Maitum, Saraganai Province. Maitum is about 70 kilometers from General Santos City and the preacher there is Rodolfo Navasquez. Rody has had a great influence in his area; there are close to half a dozen congregations that he has been instrumental in establishing — all in the last 18 months. But, the area in Maitum is a critical one. As we approached Maitum, our vehicle was stopped by the PNP (Philippine National Police) and they inquired of us where we were bound to. When we told them Maitum, we were informed that we could go to the town proper but were not to venture out of that area for the Muslim threat was great. At that time, members from three different mountain congregations had been forced to flee their homes and were staying in an evacuation center in Maitum (a school building). We were told there were about 100 brethren who were affected and some money was given to help buy rice for those in distress for government aid had been almost, if not completely, exhausted. Since our return home, the situation has worsened. Rody has forwarded to me a copy of a resolution from the Mayor’s office which states: “NOW THEREFORE, for the government to make use of its funds intended for situations like this, the Sangguniang Bayan of Maitum hereby RESOLVES to declare Brgys. Ticulab, Maguling, Mindupok, Kalaong, Upo, Tuanadatu and Kalaneg in the state of calamity.” Brother Rody added: “Many churches of Christ members are affected by the evacuated area until now they cannot yet go back to their places. More of less 200 families churches member evacuees.”
When I had preached the second Sunday in Gensan, we prepared to leave that afternoon for Cagayan de Oro City, about seven hours away. A recent convert had a pickup with an extended cab and he offered to carry us there. There were eight of us, five in the truck and three in the truck bed as we started the long journey that carried us through rugged terrain and sometimes hostile territory. I rode in the front on the passenger’s side but as we neared areas that had large Moslem population, brethren would stop and insist that I get in the back seat so that I would not present such a visible presence. We encountered no real problems, just found the way difficult at times because we ran out of pavement and had to travel on dirt roads for long stretches of time. We ran into patches of rain and the passengers in the back become completely soaked, although there were tarps to help throw off the rain. We arrived in Cagayan de Oro City and found a large group of brethren from Pagadian City who had come to meet us at the home of Cipriano Carpentero, one of the preachers in Cagayan de Oro. There we spent the night, arising early the next morning to travel to Pagadian City. Wilfredo Samadol, with his son, Edgar, had come to fetch us and several other preachers were with us as well.
I had a problem with my visa before departing for the Philippines and so I was advised to just enter on a short visit and have my visa extended once I was in the country. There were two places this could be done in my travels, either in Manila or Cebu City. So, I set aside Monday and Tuesday, November 1 and 2 to take care of that matter in Cebu City, only to learn that these were Philippine holidays and offices would be closed. I was rescued from the problem by Jonathan Carino who had come to General Santos City. He took my passport, helped me fill out the necessary papers, then went back to Cebu City on Wednesday the October 27 and I was spared the trip to Cebu. Thus, I had a couple of days on my hands and determined that I would go to Pagadian City visiting among the congregations and then proceed on to Ozamis City which was near there and where I was scheduled to hold my next seminar. So we traveled to Pagadian City, stayed with Ramon Carino and saw many of the faithful preachers of the area, including Jun Apatan, Ernesto Canon, James Armanda, Luis Calipayan as well as many others. We stopped at several congregations along the road from Cagayan de Oro City to Pagadian City, stopping at one place to meet Arnold Garcia who had been baptized in Oriental Negros earlier in the year, but who had migrated to Mindanao. He had brought the gospel with him and he showed us the meeting place for the congregation he had been able to gather together.
We traveled to Ozamis City and held a two-day seminar in a building that had formerly been an Assembly of God. The preacher for the congregation was Ramon Panis who had been baptized just two or three weeks before! Most of his members were yet to be baptized; this would take place shortly after we left. Hosts for this lecture were Harry Olino and Nelson Flores, again new converts from denominations. There were about 120 present and once more we presented material which was critical to their knowledge. There were 27 or 28 baptisms here, most of them preachers. It was raining when we left Ozamis City and the rain continued to fall all evening and into the night. We traveled for several hours to catch a ferry that crossed from Mindanao to Negros, a trip of two or three hours. When we arrived at the wharf, the rain was coming down very hard. Tickets were bought and we were able to get beds in an enclosed, air conditioned area of the ferry which, considering the weather, was welcomed. I had gotten wet from our drive in the rain and this possibly was part of the reason why I lost my voice before returning home and having a very bad cold.
Our ferry docked at Dumagete City, Oriental Negros. We were met at the wharf by several brethren. There are not many congregations in Negros, although the work is growing. But we were scheduled to hold a seminar in Dumagete City (again with a couple of newly baptized preachers) and then travel on to San Carlos City, Oriental Occidental. The preachers with whom I worked in Dumagete City were William Mercada and Zennon Nadada. The work has been in Dumagete City for several years; Joshue Abueva has been supported in his work there for some time. But the work in San Carlos City is new. Erie Mahaney was our host and he had gathered about 125 old and new preachers to hear the word.
I preached for three days in San Carlos but my voice played out. In both Dumagete City and San Carlos City we had many fiery “Open Forums.” Several Presbyterian preachers attended our lectures in Dumagete and aside from questions about instrumental music and kindred items, they were strong in their Calvinist views; contending strongly for the five points of Calvinism. In San Carlos City most of the preachers were Pentecostal and Baptists and so the nature of our questions there took on a different cast.
I left San Carlos City by ferry for Toledo City, Cebu, traveling with three brethren from Cebu City and Jessy Julom who had traveled with us from General Santos City. We had an enjoyable meal at Jonathan Carino’s and then I was carried to the airport to catch an evening flight back to Manila. On November 13 I boarded a Northwest airplane bound for the states and home. I was very weary and exhausted from the daily preaching but refreshed in spirit by the opportunities afforded in preaching and the response that we found. There were more than 360 baptisms during the days we were there of which 108 were preachers.
There are many urgent needs these newly baptized brethren have in the Visayas. One of the most critical is for much, much instruction in the Word. They are babes and it will take much time for them to be fully established in the Gospel. Good, solid teaching is necessary and faithful men will be welcomed by these brethren. If preachers have two or three weeks they could be away to help teach basics to eager learners, they would both profit themselves, as well as edify greatly these new converts to the gospel.
One of the most pressing needs, in my estimation, is that a little financial help be provided to these many men who have sacrificed their livelihood to become preachers of the gospel. I cannot over emphasize the great benefit that individuals could give not only to others, but would experience themselves, by providing $50 or $75 a month to help these men with their transportation expenses. Probably there have been 250 preachers (or more) who have given up denominationalism in the past two years, most receive nothing for their expenses or their families. Will all these preachers stand? No. It would be foolish to expect this of these men when history shows repeatedly that men will grow weary because of the way and turn back again. Do any of them have insincere motives in what they are doing? I am certain that some of them do. Paul knew of some of his day who did not sincerely preach Christ (Phil. 2:15-18). Why should we expect things to be any different in our age? But many, many of them will stand. They will continue to sacrifice as they already have sacrificed for Christ. And they deserve our moral support as well as financial assistance we can give to them.
Through the years, following the advice of those who were already in the Philippines or those who had gone before us, I have helped brethren who attended the seminars with the costs of their transportation. Often, in order to attend these lessons, they have to borrow money for their fare and we have reimbursed them with that. And, we have helped with food costs and other expenses for those who come. But, I have announced to Filipino brethren that I no longer will make any provisions for transportation. And, while I will help with food and other costs related to make these lectures possible, it will only be with resources that Christians provide.
A great door continues to be open in the Philippines. Many people are willing to hear the word and to obey it. How refreshing it is to see people interested in hearing what God has to say to mankind! My next trip to that country will be from February 28-April 7, 2000.
P.O. Box 155032, Lufkin, Texas 75915-5032, E-mail: jim mc @juno.com