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 (Manna 84: TJC at 100 – The Grace That Has Brought Us Here)
God's Unfailing Grace in a Troubled Land: Reflections on the Mindanao Ministry
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John Vun—Penampang, Sabah, Malaysia

INTRODUCTION

If we were to search for the term conflicts in Mindanao on the internet, we would find a long list of groups made up of government-backed separatist rebels and religious extremist militants. These include the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and pro-Islamic State groups such as Abu Sayyaf. And as we read on, we would discover the constant threat of violence faced by the inhabitants of Mindanao (the main island in the southern region of the Philippines). Recent acts of terror include the beheading of a foreign hostage by Abu Sayyaf militants,[1] and the Islamic State beheading of a police chief and slaughter of at least another twenty people in a retaliatory rampage across Marawi.[2]

What goes through our mind when we read a new reports of such lawlessness? No doubt we see it as just another incident from some remote island far removed from our everyday lives, and nothing to do with us. But do you know that God has reached out to the local populace on this troubled island, and that a group of His people, our brethren, lives there?

When we discuss the ministry in the Philippines, we usually focus on the church in Manila on the northern island of Luzon, or on the True Jesus Church training centre at Mansilingan in the Western Visayas of the Philippines. For many years, overseas workers sent by the South East Asia Evangelical Center (SEAC) and, from 1995 onwards, by the Philippines Mission Committee (PMC) under the Sabah General Assembly, have centered their work on these politically more stable areas.

Yet, it is in the southern island of Mindanao where the majority of our brethren resides. The PMC has faced many challenges when sending workers there, as the threat of kidnapping and killing of foreigners remains high. Since the early 2000s, the situation in Mindanao has been very tense due to bombings, kidnappings and the killing of Christian hostages. For security reasons, the PMC has had to make several painful decisions to cancel training courses for religious education teachers and youth short-term theological courses over the years.

Mindanao Island is the second largest in the Philippines, with a land mass of 40,360 square miles. There are currently eight churches, five prayer houses and nine places of worship, with a total of 1,132 members. Because of how widely dispersed the places of worship are, the Mindanao ministry is divided into four administrative zones, and three deacons have been engaged to strengthen the pulpit ministry and pastor the flock.

FIRST SEEDS

The SEAC made a series of missionary trips to the Philippines between 1985 and 1992 to pastor and evangelize in the Philippines. Some notable events are as follows:

In 1986, a pioneering trip was made to Mindanao Island to proclaim the gospel of salvation. Twelve adults and eight children in Digos, Davao Del Sur, Mindanao accepted the gospel and received water baptism on June 21, 1986. The first person who was baptized, Constancia Abueva, saw a vision of glorious bright light, and was filled with great joy. Praise the Lord, the true church had reached the Southern Philippines.

On March 20, 1987, during one of the missionary trips to Mindanao, another sixteen observers were convinced by the truth preached by the true church and accepted water baptism. The Prayer House administration was organized to pastor the flock. 

In the same year, three United Pentecostal Church (UPC) pastors visited the True Jesus Church in Mansilingan. After much discussion and deliberation, one of them accepted the truth and was baptized. When he returned home to Pagadian City on Mindanao, he shared the newfound truth to his UPC congregation. Many of his close friends and relatives believed and converted into the True Jesus Church. This is what led to the establishment of the church in Pagadian on July 11, 1987.

THE GOSPEL SPREADS

Despite threats from armed rebels that restricted foreign missionaries from coming to Mindanao, the gospel truth proliferated in Mindanao by other means:

Live Radio Evangelism: This radio show, initiated by a local worker, was broadcast for thirty minutes every week. Between 1991 and 1997, the weekly True Jesus Church Padagian radio program served the remote rural populations of Zambonga Del Sur and Lanao Del Norte. Many devout Christians of other denominations would travel to the church in Pagadian to study the doctrines of the true church. The churches in Maculay, Laperian and Tabina were established through radio evangelism.

Literary Ministry: Many truth-seekers came to know the truth through the Words of Life pamphlets published by True Jesus Church, and were baptized by SEAC and IA missionary workers.

In this troubled land, the Lords grace never failed. During the ninth missionary trip to Mindanao, from May 1 to 13, 1991, when workers were sent to pastor the churches in Pagadian and Lanao, thirty-three people were baptized. One of these was a lady who had been suffering from a post-natal neurological complication which caused paralysis in both legs. She was baptized on May 9, after being transported to the site by a bullock cart. Miraculously, by the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, she was able to walk after her baptism.

The work continued throughout the 1990s with church workers carrying out the evangelism and pastoral work in northern Zambonga Del Sur. Two additional prayer houses were established, at Lingatan, in 1994, and Bayog, in 1996.

The True Jesus Church continued to grow in Mindanao between 2002 and 2006, with prayer houses being established at Ipil, Silingan, Bukong, Tukuran and Cagayan De Oro.

THE STORMS

As the church grows, the devil will also work in the attempt to hinder such growth. The churches in the Southern Philippines experienced one of their earliest storms in the form of deviant teachings by the first preacher ordained in Mindanao, who was subsequently dismissed from his position. During this time, the church in Pagadian and the SEAC-funded religious education classrooms and missionary quarters, costing MYR 35,655.20 (around US $9,389 at the time), were under the control of this preacher, and church members were locked out from attending church services.

One local minister, supported by overseas preachers sent by the PMC, stood up to defend the truth and the basic beliefs of the true church, encouraging the members to stand firm in their faith. For one year, eighty members congregated at the house of this ministers mother. They were constantly reminded to hold fast to the truth (Jn 8:32) and reject false teachings (Gal 1:8V9). They also prayed for God to provide them a new place of worship. Their prayers were answered by a dream and a vision.

The wife of this local minister dreamed of two ships. The first ship was boarded by the ex-preacher and his family, and it was old and dilapidated, sailing on murky waters. The second ship, which carried the church members, was big and new.

Later, the ministers wife also had a vision during a prayer service. She saw the church members in a large, new building, with a True Jesus Church signboard on the front.

Indeed, the Lord provides (Gen 22:14). God guided an ex-UPC pastor to accept the true doctrine of salvation. He was baptized on February 17, 2005, and received the Holy Spirit. Later, his partially completed chapel was sold to the True Jesus Church. The Lord had indeed answered the prayers of the Pagadian members, and provided them a new place of worship at Napolan.

SOME STATISTICS

Zone

Churches

Prayer houses

House services

Members

Ministers

Preachers

Trainee Preachers

RE Classes

Students

1.    Mindanao
Del Sur

7

 

-

 

3

 

820

6

1

2

11

149

2.    Lanao Del Norte

-

2

-

57

-

-

-

-

-

3.    Zambonga Sibugay

1

3

2

166

4

1

-

3

25

4.    Davao

-

1

4

89

1

-

-

1

7

CHALLENGES

On top of the political unrest, our Filipino brethren in Mindanao also face other difficulties. Some of these are shared here so that, with the spirit of unity in Christ, we can help to carry their burdens in prayer and extend our love through other means, if God gives us the opportunity to do so.

Church Leadership: Because the pastoral work is heavily dependent on only two preachers, the church growth has been slow. The PMC is now focused on training the core local church workers in active pastoring, youth spiritual development, and the expansion of systematic religious education. Strengthening these areas is vital in laying a firm foundation for sustainable church growth.

Poverty: The Gross National Income of the Philippines per capita is US $3,580 (2016),[3] and the poverty rate is 21.6 per cent (2015).[4] With an under-employment[5] rate of 16.1 per cent (in April 2017),[6] poverty remains a critical problem in the country, and the problem is worse on Mindanao. These factors have resulted in the migration of working parents and youths to larger commercial centers, such as Cebu and Manila, or overseas to the Middle East in search of higher wages to support their families. Understandably, many aspire to lift their families from the vicious cycle of poverty.

Lack of Manpower: The greatest consequence of the urban migration (as mentioned above) is the dwindling manpower in local churches and prayer houses. This affects the momentum and implementation of the holy work in Mindanao.

Lack of Financial Self-sufficiency: Most of the members are either farmers or fishermen, so the offerings received by the church to support the ministry are still lacking. The PMC has embarked on training the local church treasurers in how to manage the financial administration of the church, in order to gain the confidence of the members. In addition to this, tithe offerings by faith (Mal 3:8V10) need to be emphasized in the pulpit ministry.

 CONCLUSION

We thank the Lord Jesus for His amazing grace over the past thirty-four years, for the growth and preservation of the church in such a challenging environment. The selfless servitude of the early missionary workers, in caring for the spiritual welfare of the Mindanao members, is worthy of our emulation.

For those of us living in politically and economically stable countries, let us remember our brethren in the Philippines, as well as countless other countries, where there is civil unrest and uncertainty. The next time we read of kidnappings, conflict and killings in the Southern Philippines, spare a thought and a prayer for our brethren living there. May the Lord Jesus continue to strengthen the faith and love of the members in Mindanao.



[1] Kathy Quiano, Nadine Schmidt and Angela Dewan, German hostage beheaded by Abu Sayyaf militants in Philippines, CNN, February 28, 2017, http://edition.cnn.com/2017/02/27/asia/philippines-german-behead-abu-sayyaf/index.html.

[2] IS behead police and kill 20 in Philippines, Sky News, May 25, 2017, http://www.skynews.com.au/news/world/asiapacific/2017/05/25/is-behead-police-and-kill-20-in-philippines.html.

[3] Philippines, The World Bank Data, accessed September 21, 2017, https://data.worldbank.org/country/philippines.

[4] Farmers, Fishermen and Children consistently posted the highest poverty incidence among basic sectors, Philippine Statistics Authority, accessed September 21, 2017, https://psa.gov.ph/poverty-press-releases.

[5] The rate at which the labor force are employed for fewer hours than they desire or need.

[6] Labor and Employment, Philippine Statistics Authority, accessed September 21, 2017, https://psa.gov.ph/statistics/survey/labor-force.

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Author: John Vun
Publisher: True Jesus Church
Date: 12/08/2017
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