Arrived in Cebu. Met at the airport by Pr Thomas Kam, who had flown in earlier from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah and Sis Jessica. The latter's family had moved to Cebu from Sabah because of her husband's work commitments at a resort hotel. Will be staying with her family tonight.
Morning comes early to Cebu. Woke up at 5 am to catch the 6:55 a.m. flight. Learnt later that the check-in counter close early-once closed, you have to "pay" money to check in. Managed to catch the Fokker 50. Landed at Pagadian at 7:35 a.m. Met by some brothers who took us to church, nicely built, simple, with minimum facilities. A small house at the front is home to a worker and his family, and for the time being, us. Land is purchased and buildings constructed through love and offerings from our members all over the world.
Quite noisy in the room as it is near the main road where there is a slope. Tricycles and lorries have to accelerate, causing a din and emitting smoke. It is also warm and dusty. Tricycles are not the type with pedals. Rather, they are sidecars with seats mounted at an angle of 45 degrees to a motorcycle. These tricycles are a common form of public transport here; a few of our brothers ride them as means of a livelihood to support a family of five or six.
Houses in this area are either ramshackle wooden sheds or roadside stalls, though the very few well to do have brick and mortar homes. The members tell us it is still safe as we are near the town. Anywhere else in the outskirts exposes one to the risk of kidnapping by Muslim rebels and other ransom-demanding ruffians. Just last week, a church pastor and two of his young people were kidnapped. All felt uneasy. We pray that we will be kept safe for our entire stay here.
Prepared a sermon for the morning service ?"What does the Sabbath mean to you?" Pr Kam spoke on " The Book of Life" in the afternoon. There were about 40 adults in the services and an almost equal number of children.
Hymns are sung to the accompaniment of the guitar, a versatile musical instrument. Being musically-illerate does not deter the members from singing gustily; they have good voices and are able to pick up the tunes very fast. Back home in Singapore, some of our members have forgotten this form of worship, to "continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God".
Classes begin for the Short Term Theological Course today.
Today is Sunday, and every Sunday evening, the church does a gospel programme on the AM radio to reach out to its listeners. It also goes a long way in reaching out to the remote areas, especially when there is an urgent announcement for the churches and prayer houses (there are about 20 places of worship in this area). For 15 minutes, from 6:45 p.m. to 7 p.m., the brother will try to cram as much as possible on the live broadcast. Today, he speaks about the apostles keeping the Sabbath.
The broadcast can reach an area where about 8 million people live, though at any one time it is estimated about 2 million people could be tuning in. In a country where many cannot afford the television, the evenings are spent with the radio. Many members have come to believe through this method of evangelism and more have written in requesting for gospel tracts. But maintaining this broadcast may soon be a burden for the church as the station has increased the price of each broadcast to 1000 pesos. It is a princely sum, considering the living allowance of our full-time worker is only 1600 pesos a month.
Things here are relatively expensive, with some items of the same price back home. So we get two dishes at each meal, of which one will be common with the members, and another specially prepared for us.
The believers here are generally very hospitable, at times to an extreme. Heard that some will borrow money and go into debt so as to provide food and accommodation for a visitor in the house. It's a bit difficult to swallow the food when one hears this-a lump forms in the throat. Such love and generosity despite their poverty are indeed admirable.
Yet poverty for most young people back home is just an abstract concept. Hunger, squalor, filth and diseases; it is almost unimaginable for us who never experienced them.
Was hanging out clothes in the sun to dry, when the children, some as young as six or seven, rushed past, carrying pieces of firewood for the kitchen. The kids here lead a simple life, playing and splashing around when it rains, tending to the family's chickens, helping mummy with the cooking, washing and looking after the younger siblings, and finding fulfillment in playing with old makeshift toys. The similarity with kids back home ends with playing with toys. What a pity, if only kids back home can come and see the disparity, perhaps the clamoring to go to the amusement center and for the latest gizmo toy will end too.
There is an urgent need for these children to be brought up on a proper religious education foundation, as they shall be useful vessels for the local gospel work in the future.?
Noticed the students' keenness to learn the Word of God, and the church hymns. Have been teaching them hymns whenever we can, e.g., before the class or a service, or on evenings when there is no service. It is more a sing-a-long as we cannot read the notes, and sometimes we go off pitch. So we'll repeat and practice the hymns several times, but it is always a joy watching them finally singing the hymn without our help.
Electricity was cut off last evening, and so dinner was by candlelight. We were hoping it would be restored so that we could have a hymn session, but it didn't so we slept on our wooden beds and exchanged stories. Actually we use electricity only for the lights and fans, so its absence didn't bother us. Water is an important commodity here; each night, one of the brothers will have to fill up the water tank and whatever available pots and pails with the water tap from the government source. We nicknamed it "picking manna", as he has to do it every evening, as sometimes no water will be available for the rest of the day. Often at home we take such conveniences for granted, not realizing the blessings of God. Yet are we more fervent in our service to the Lord, despite the luxury of comfortable church buildings to worship Him? And are we offering more time, despite possessing modern tools to help us in our work?
Evening evangelistic service, there were not enough hymnbooks to go around, so most members have to share.?
Just a few more days before the course ends.
Thank the providence of God, except for a few cases of headaches, coughs and stomach discomfort, the three of us have been in the pink of health. The rains have also been pouring during the afternoons, keeping the weather cool and the dust from blowing. Constantly rejoice when reminded by the fact that the churches back home have been very concerned and are praying for our safety and health.
No more lessons today, most of the outstation members are returning home. Two full-time workers left at 3am this morning to board the bus to the harbor for a 12-hour ferry journey to visit a few families of believers, before returning home. Another worker will embark on a 30-hour journey through a series of packed buses and ferry.
Most of them had left home and family for almost 3 weeks to learn more of the Word of God. Some had brought their families along. Their faith is simple, and though poverty and illiteracy is a hindrance, they have great zeal in reaching out to remote areas to make disciples and establish churches for the Lord.
Took an opportunity to go to the town market. The land here is full of contrasts, you see the road dividers and walls here filled with pickets and banners proclaiming Bible verses, yet crime is rampant. Being a predominantly Catholic country doesn't help either. Yet again, we believe there are still many sincere 'Corneliuses', devout people awaiting the Truth to reach them.?
The other hindrance to the gospel work here is the lack of workers to prepare the gospel tracts in the local dialects. May God help them soon. Will leave for Cebu tomorrow and continue onto Bacolod on Thursday to visit the church at Mansilingan.
Arrived safely in Bacolod yesterday. The truth arrived in the Philippines with this first church in Mansilingan when in June 1983, the International Assembly sent two missionaries there in response to their 'Macedonian call'. Henceforth, this church has undergone many spiritual tribulations and many have left the church as a result.
Despite these and other financial hardships, the members gather to pray together at 5:30 in the mornings and evenings for the church's progress.?
The congregation gathered for additional services in the morning. After that we walked through the muddy tracks and in the rain with two workers to evangelize to a few families of truth-seekers. It's rainy season in the Philippines!
Will leave Bacolod for Manila tomorrow.
Did not stay on in Manila with Pr Kam as had to return home.?
Heard that Manila church still does not have a place of worship, as land prices here are exorbitantly high. She is also prone to flooding, and because of the traffic situation in this city, it can take 2 - 3 hours to cover a short distance to attend service. Pr Kam writes later, "At Manila, we only had four services and less than twenty souls turned up due to the rain."?
Yes, let's continue to pray and show our concern for the newly evangelized areas around the world. In the Philippines alone, there is still much to do. May the Lord continue to bless and give guidance to the work here.
Brother John Chua accompanied Preacher Thomas Kam (of the Sabah General Assembly) as a voluntary worker to the Philippines from 3 to 28 July 1997. Together with another voluntary worker from Taiwan, they visited churches at Pagadian and Mansilingan. During this period, John kept a diary of his experience and reflections, and Manna is now publishing excerpts from this diary, to encourage more brethren to participate in this aspect of the holy work. It is only when we join in the work that we can realize the urgency in the Lord's comment that "the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers few".