The Philippines – A Reappraisal And A Warning

By Ed Harrell

We have just returned from a two-month trip which has taken us collectively to nine countries including the Philippines, Australia, Singapore, South Africa, Argentina, Italy, and England. We preached extensively and visited with many brethren who are receiving support from American churches. We want to report that we are thrilled by much of what we saw. Among others, we visited with Rollie McDowell in Australia, Phil Morr and Brownie Reeves in London, Gardner Hall and Tommy Holly in Beunos Aires; and Jimmy Lovell, Gene Tope, Piet Joubert, Paul Williams, Ray Votaw and others in South Africa. In each of these places we found the work to be vigorous and in need of additional workers. We hope to write some more specific reports about these impressions in the near future.

We feel compelled by conscience, however, to first write a serious warning about the dangers which we believe exist because of the tremendous flow of American money into the Philippines. We do this only after serious reflection. It would be easier to say nothing. We know that some good people will be seriously offended by our conclusions. But we ask everyone to study the facts and to react with reason.

The clear truth – and one difficult for Americans to understand – is that American money can do harm as well as good. What is at stake is not simply the possibility that much American money is being wasted, but rather that the cause of Christ in the Philippines is being injured by the support that is being sent. If that is the case, and we believe it is, the only solution is to begin to stop the money. We have made a full set of recommendations at the end of this article; the import of them is that this is the only short term solution to the many problems in the Philippines. We know that this is a drastic recommendation and we urge you to read the remainder of this article objectively to determine whether it is justified.

One further point of introduction. We are not the first American visitors to. reach this conclusion: Others who have been to the Philippines – and some who have worked in other underdeveloped areas (and other countries must surely at some point bear the same kind of scrutiny) have long believed that the Lord’s cause is not served by wide-scale support of foreign preachers with American money. Even the strongest advocates of support for native preachers, including brother Wallace Little, admit that there are serious problems in such efforts. We believe it is time to face these perils directly, and we stand ready to answer any questions that are raised. We hope that the discussion that follows will reflect the dignity and honesty that the subject demands.

Not A Condemnation of Foreign Work

We want it clearly understood that this is not an attack on foreign work. Nor is it a defense of everything that is done in America. We both have a strong interest in seeing the gospel preached abroad. We have both lived abroad in the past and we both are making plans to go overseas again to try to establish the cause of Christ in Asia. We both work with congregations that have strong financial commitments to foreign work. Those who oppose institutional orphan homes supported by churches have often been accused of opposing relieving the needy; we hope this article will not meet with that type of emotional misrepresentation. If we are wrong, it is not because we oppose preaching the gospel abroad.

Not A Condemnation of Native Preachers

We do not believe that an Filipino preachers are dishonest and all American preachers are honest. We do believe that American churches are generally better able to judge the honesty and quality of American preachers and Filipino churches are better able to judge Filipino preachers. The difficulty of judging moral credentials and making sound financial decisions increases proportionately with the distance of the culture from America. For instance, in the cases of men like Rollie McDowell in Australia, Piet Joubert in South Africa, and Arrigo Corazza in Italy, it has been relatively easy for Americans to judge the quality of the men and the extent of their financial needs.

Underdeveloped societies present quite different kinds of problems. Money has a particularly corrupting influence in underdeveloped cultures; it attracts the avaricious; and it has the potential to do great harm to the cause of Christ. It may be that small amounts of money, used with great discretion and care, can help the cause in such countries. For instance, in South Africa there are growing and impressive churches among the Africans, coloreds, and Indians. These churches have grown slowly and solidly, based largely on the preaching of committed native Christian men who asked no financial reward for their labors. After years of testing, a few natives have been given support. In each case, the men have been recommended and partially supported by their own brethren, receive support equivalent to others in their society, and work in close association with the more mature preachers of the country. We believe that the wisdom of the South African brethren is apparent in the strength and stability of the native churches.

The Philippines presents an entirely different scenario. Literally hundreds of preachers are receiving support from America (probably over 500); many of them are taking huge sums of money in the context of their culture; almost all are working without any Filipino support or any sustained association with mature American preachers. T he essential ingredients for knowing the moral character of these men are almost completely lacking – we do not believe that sporadic visits can accomplish this purpose. We believe that it will be clear from the facts presented -here that American churches have not been supplied with adequate and correct financial information.

In New Testament days, churches supported men whom they knew and trusted. Questions about moral character, proper financial support, and general trustworthiness did not arise when congregations supported Paul, Barnabas and Silas. We believe there is an obvious wisdom in this. While such direct relationships may not always be possible, they are clearly highly desirable. American churches can act with confidence when they support those whom they trust. And, when people are converted in underdeveloped areas, they can act with confidence in supporting those that they know and trust. Only with great care can American churches escape both the accusation and the reality of buying converts with promises of support.

Not A Condemnation of the Philippines

We do not call into question the integrity or the accomplishments of those who have worked in the Philippines in the past. Although we sharply disagree with the methods of brother Wallace Little, we are not questioning his good intentions. Nor is this a condemnation of all Filipinos. We are confident that there are fine Christians in the Philippines.

The problem is that the work in the Philippines app4rently has attracted dishonest leeches because of the huge sums of American money going into the country. Everyone admits this. Nearly every Filipino preacher we talked to told us horror stories of corruption. Brother Little agrees that there has been stealing and open misrepresentation about support. Filipinos are no different from Americans. If Americans were paid huge salaries (say $100,000 per year) to preach, the result would be corrupting.

We believe that the recommendations made at the conclusion of this article (which generally urge the cessation of support for Filipino preachers) will have a healthy effect in the Philippines. This is the only way we see that the bad element – an element that can only have a devastating effect on the spread of true religion – can be winnowed out of the work. The real Christians in the Philippines will remain faithful without support – as they have in the past in the United States and as they are now doing in South Africa. Perhaps somewhere down the line a more discriminating judgment can be made about what the American role should be in encouraging Filipinos. We shall have more to say about that at the conclusion of this article.

The Question Is How

The question, then, is not whether we should support foreign work, but how we should go about it. We believe there is no substitute for sending good men to preach, and we want to urge brethren to think both about going and sending. The South African work provides a good alternative about how to proceed to poor cultures. In short, there are other ways. We are not bound simply to send money to places we do not know, to people we do not know, in amounts that we do not understand. The reports may be less spectacular than in areas where American money flows freely, but neither will one find the problems and perils that come with mixing money and conversion.

General Problems in the Philippines

We believe that several general problems pervade the work in the Philippines. We do not intend to explore the ugliest details. We do have considerable material in hand that deals with each of these problems and we would be happy to share this information on request. Please feel free to call either of us if you wish to discuss the matter further: Ed Harrell: 205-967-4804; Tommy Poarch: 205-798-4789.

1. The Magnitude of the Problem. A very large amount of money is going from conservative churches in this country to the Philippines. No one knows how much. We estimate the amount to be in excess of $150,000 per month. Perhaps that much more is being sent by individuals. Before he died, brother Reuben Agduma reportedly estimated the amount to be around $1,000,000 per month. This does not speak to the thousands of dollars that have been raised in the yearly “benevolent” campaigns that have been supported by Americans. Nor does it consider the constant “special” pleas for typewriters, motorcycles, auto repairs, and countless other personal appeals which most every American church has received. At the very least, the size of this undertaking deserves serious and calm review. Perhaps as many as a hundred preachers could be supported in foreign work with this kind of support. We need to look dispassionately at the alternatives.

2. Oversupport and Its Attendant Problems. The main thrust of this article will be simply to demonstrate that the native preachers in the Philippines have been consistently over supported and that they have come to expect and demand such treatment. We believe that the facts on this point are absolutely undeniable; in the next section of this article we present some examples of the extensive evidence we gathered. On the face of it, such merchandizing of the gospel is wrong. There is absolutely no excuse for paying a preacher two to five times what he could earn in a good job in his society. No American church would pay a preacher $50,000 to $150,000 per year. And no honest man would take that kind of compensation to preach the gospel. The evil that undergirds such a system is readily apparent.

The first evil is the tendency to attract outright frauds and rascals with exorbitant salaries. Who would expect otherwise? We can not judge individual preachers on the basis of a brief visit (nor do we believe others can on the basis of occasional visits), but there can be no doubt about the immorality of the system. And we can tell you that stories of corruption are everywhere in the air in the Philippines – stories of adulterers, drunkards, liars, and preachers threatening mayhem and murder against those who oppose them. We can tell you that we have received letters from people in the Philippines who plead for anonymity lest they be murdered by those receiving support from the United States. It is unthinkable that such a system should be encouaraged. One sure way to identify the wicked men is to ask them to work for the Lord from conviction. The time has come for a period of proving in the Philippines. We do not believe there will be an end of such charges until a purification takes place.

An additional form of corruption in the Philippines involves the deceptive solicitation of money. Many preachers in the islands receive more money than they report. Some of them make openly fraudulent reports. T his practice is a matter of open discussion in the Philippines – preachers label these funds “undercover money.” Some of brother Wallace Little’s closest friends and advisers are guilty of precisely this practice. It is hard to label this practice anything less than lying – and apparently it is epidemic in the Philippines. “Undercover money” is probably an inevitable consequence of supporting unknown men in a remote and little understood society. Nor is it a problem that can be solved by occasional and transient visits. Men’s characters can not be judged so easily; we believe that brother Little’s experience in the Philippines forcefully illustrates that point.

It must also be noted that the benevolent relief that has been sent to the Philippines has been subject to misappropriation. Again, some of this has been made public and verified, but the feeling among some in the Philippines is that scandal goes deep into every such effort that has been made. Clearly, some Filipinos have enriched themselves off the generosity of American saints.

A final, and more far reaching, problem with oversupport is that it undermines the independence and integrity of native churches. When a preacher is supported from America at a level far above that of others in his society, it clearly undermines the desire and ability of others to support their own work. There is little evidence of any effort on the part of Filipino churches to become self-supporting. The church in Manila (Pasay City), where two preachers are being supported at a level of probably around $1500 per month, reported in December, 1979, an average attendance of 64 per Sunday and a contribution of about $21.25 per week. But, even if Filipino Christians had the very best intentions and gave liberally, there is no liklihood that they could ever support their preachers at near the level they are now receiving from the United States. The discussion of wage levels that follows will make that apparent. And so, what is left is a permanent dependence, a paternalistic relationship in which the native churches have little control over their own works (we know of a number of churches that have repudiated the preachers being supported from the U.S.) and have little incentive to support themselves.

3. The “Recommending System” as Denominational Organization. Perhaps the most destructive feature of the present system of support in the Philippines is the “recommending system” that is used. We believe that the problems discussed here are pervasive, though they are difficult to document. But it seems to us that such problems are inherent in any broad system in which support is sent on the basis of second and third-hand recommendations, or when one man, such as brother Little, tries to assume a broad role as a “recommender.”

We believe that many Filipinos understand this as little more than a denominational heirarchy. And there has been some reason for them to so perceive it. For instance, we were sent a copy of a letter written by brother Little to a Filipino seeking support which stated: “Third, I need letters from three Filipinos who together represent me in your nation there, to make recommendations as to who should be supported, and who should not. ” It is hard for me to believe that this represents brother Little’s practice, and surely not his convictions, but I believe it is a framework that many of the Filipinos understand. They talk openly of those who have “recommending powers” in their districts, and there have been repeated charges of “extortion” being practiced by those with such “powers.” We believe the error and treachery of such a system is too obvious to demand further discussion.

Over Support – The Facts

While one may be dismayed by the apparent presence of wide-scale scandal in the Philippines, it is true that each man must be judged individually and one might be inclined to try to bear with the confusion until the multitude of charges could be investigated. And while the “recommending” system as it has developed in the Philippines is shot through with dangers, one might bear with it until some more more permanent American presence in the area could be worked out. It will take some men of great wisdom and long experience in the Philippines to sort out all of those problems.

What can be demonstrated beyond any doubt is that many Filipino preachers (including some of brother Little’s close associates) have solicited and accepted exorbitant salaries, sometimes with brother Little’s assistance. To say that some of the Filipino preachers have misrepresented their needs is a gross understatement. To say that they do not deserve the confidence of American brethren is a simple fact.

The facts are these. It is virtually impossible to tell what most Filipino preachers are receiving because of the practice of soliciting “undercover” money. However, it is common for preachers to report incomes of $300 per month and most we talked to in the Philippines blandly asserted that one needed $300 to $500 to live. As early as 1977, brother Little solicited $500 per month for two of his close friends. We do not know what many of those preaching in the Philippines are receiving, but we do know that one of the above mentioned men was reporting $700 monthly income in 1979 and receiving at least $50 more that was not reported. Some of those receiving over $300 have reported themselves in dire financial straits, as have some of those making much larger incomes. There are probably many preachers in the Philippines who are receiving much less, but it is impossible to tell who they are. What we do know is that it is common to ask for, plead as a matter of necessity, and receive sums ranging from $300 to $750 and perhaps more. And in this category are most of the men most trusted by Americans.

Here are the facts about Filipino wage scales at the beginning of 1980.

1. Wages in the Ministry of Labor in Manila (from List of Positions in the Ministry of Labor With the Corresponding Upgraded Range and Mininum Salary Per National Budget Circular No. 305)!

Nurse $61.75 per month
Electrician $53.25
Mason $43.62
Auto Mechanic $53.25
Bookkeeper I $79.25
Economist $115.25
Trial Attorney $137.00
Clinic Physician $151.37
Ministry Budget Officer $214.37
Chief Legal Officer $261.62*

*(This is the highest paid job in the Ministry of Labor aside from the Bureau heads who are appointed by President Marcos)

2. Current Pay Scales for Public Education Systems.

Secondary School Teachers with Masters Degrees $ 79.25
Jr. College Instructors with Masters Degrees $101.62
Jr. College Instructor III with Doctor’s Degree $118.00
Highest Pay for School Principal $151.37
Highest Paid School Administrator $175.62
Top Pay for School Division Superintendent $204.00

We have a staggering amount of statistical material which comes out at the same place. A few jobs in the Philippines probably pay better than these. The top professors at the highest paying university in Manila, De La Salle University, earn slightly over $300 per month; their job is comparable to that of a Harvard professor who makes $60,000 a year. Some people working as business executives probably makes considerably more money, as do business executives in the United States. But the evidence is overpowering: one who makes $100 per month in the Philippines has a good job; the category at $150 per month includes doctors, lawyers, professors, and other professional people.

It is a monstrous thing that has happened to us. Preachers are receiving two, three, four, five times as much as upper-middle-class wage earners. It is clear that the gullibility of American churches has made them subject to profiteers. T he Filipinos have known it for a long time – it is time we found out.

What possible excuse could there be for this enrichment of a few men in the Philippines? Is it because they have great expenses that go with their preaching activities? Travel is cheap and readily available. But perhaps they are helping others with this vast excess of fends. Who will believe that a man who takes money under false pretenses will be so kind hearted. And what of the Scriptural implications of such an argument. Is that a Scriptural plan for benevolence? Are a preacher’s “wages” to include whatever “assumed” financial responsibilities he decides to undertake? Everyone knows the answers to those questions.

And there is ample evidence that the excess money has never been intended for such purposes. That is not the way the solicitations have been represented. Americans have been told repeatedly that these salaries were needed in order to live in the Philippines. One brother reported each quarter that he needed $300 per month to feed his family, and much more to pay his rent, educate his children, etc. One wonders how all of the doctors and lawyers – much less electricians and carpenters – have survived.


We humbly and sincerely offer these recommendations as the best short term plan to follow:

1. Under no circumstances should Filipino preachers be supported above the level of $150 per month.

2. Support should be stopped to al! those who have been receiving excessive salaries in the past.

3. No church should send money to the Philippines unless it is confident of the moral integrity of the man receiving the support and unless it is certain that he is reporting his total income accurately. Frankly, we do not see how that assurance is possible under the present circumstances.

4. Under any circumstances, American churches should initiate a plan for the regular reduction of support (perhaps over a three year period) which would encourage the transfer of responsibility to Filipino churches.

We hope that in the long term, when better conditions have developed in the Philippines, other possibilities may arise. It may be that a careful use of American money at some point in the future might be helpful. Here is an assessment written by a deeply concerned Filipino brother:

There are three proposals that may give solution to the major problems in the Philippine work – Itemized as follows: (1) To cutoff entirely all Filipino preachers’ support from American churches and check who is the most faithful. Comment: Number 1 is too drastic; the innocent ones will be included to suffer. (2) To wedge out/purge out the unworthy ones and continue the supports (moral and financial) to faithful, worthy Filipino preachers. (3) To recommend about two to three American families to help and stay in the islands. To this, a close supervision to teaching and edification can be worked out among Filipino preachers and brethren in the churches.

There is much wisdom in what the brother says. We hope that the day will come soon when items two and three can come about. But we see no alternative at the present time to the recommendations we have made. We sincerely hope that some good men will undertake to live in the Philippines in the near future. In the meantime, we are convinced that American churches are only hindering the ultimate stabilization of the work there by the continuation of present financial policies.

Truth Magazine XXIV: 25, pp. 408-411
June 19, 1980