“Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.” (2 Cor. 2:14)
In a few words the Apostle paints a wonderful picture of victory. Christ has triumphed over all His foes and leads us who are His redeemed in His triumphal procession. Roman triumphal processions were accompanied by the burning of incense. In Christ’s victory parade the incense is the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. For the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord, Paul was willing to lose any gain this world could offer. But we are not only to know Him; we are to make Him known. The fragrance of that knowledge needs to be spread everywhere. One of the ways by which that knowledge has been spread has been through camps.
Mention has been made in an earlier chapter of the Philippine Keswick Camp. At the first such camp, held at Montalban from December 26, 1931 to January 2, 1932, there were 85 young people. It proved to be a time of rich blessing in spite of really inadequate facilities. In those days it was not so easy for students to attend high school or college in the provinces. Also, those who studied in Manila were often not able to go home for the Christmas holiday. So it was the idea of one missionary to have a camp at that time for students. At the fourth camp in 1934, 136 attended. Just prior to the 1937 camp a bad typhoon washed out much of the gorge at Montalban where previous camps were held. A new location was found in the hills below Antipolo.
Preparations were well in hand for the eleventh Philippine Keswick Camp at the end of 1941. The work party planned for December 8 was cancelled as the word came of the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor and places in the Philippines. Much of the camp equipment was stored at our house. The camp cots were turned over to the American committee at the Santo Tomas Internment Camp. Later in the war, a Christian Chinese family asked for the use of the tents. They were evacuating to a small island north of Luzon. It may have been those tents which attracted the attention of U.S. bombers, probably thinking they were being used by Japanese. Unfortunately, some of our Chinese friends were killed and injured in those attacks. Naturally there was no possibility of holding camps during the Japanese occupation. Nor were we in a position to resume such activities when we returned to the Philippines in 1949.
Later on, Ray Kalback and Ken Brooks with some others began the Highland Band Camp. Their first camp was held in 1954 in Tagaytay, and it was a time of blessing for the young people who gathered there. One day at this camp, the director Ray Kalback happened to go around the back of the kitchen just in time to see a carabao (water buffalo) sampling the soup for dinner. The carabao was hastily shooed away though apparently the soup met with his approval. The soup was well boiled after that and none of the campers were any the wiser. The facilities there were not ideal, so the next year the camp met on the grounds of Far Eastern Bible Institute and Seminary (FEBIAS). There was room enough for the campers, but the buildings were hot as camps are held during the hot season. Nevertheless there was sufficient interest and blessing to warrant continuing this effort.
For the years 1956 to 1961 they were able to rent facilities at the Nazarene Bible School which overlooks Trinidad Valley near Baguio. This broad flat valley is famed for its vegetable and fruit farms and has been called “the salad bowl.” Situated in the mountains the climate is cooler; in fact, some lowlanders felt it was a bit too cool at camp. Different camps for Filipinos and Chinese were held over a period of six weeks. Many have testified of the lasting blessings they received at those camps and some who attended are now in full-time service for the Lord.
One of these is our brother Elino Aragon, an elder in the Binangonan assembly and also office manager for the Bible School of the Air. He writes, “I grew up attending Sunday School so I knew the way of salvation by heart. Even though I cannot remember the time I came to the Lord and accepted Him as my Lord and Savior, I considered myself saved. However, it was not until I attended camp that I became aware of doubts I had regarding my salvation. I was in my early teens then and was so interested in the activities at camp. One of my favorite times was the Gospel Hour where we studied the First Epistle of John. When we came to 1 John 4:20, I was puzzled. The verse said that if a man says he loves God and hates his brother, he is a liar. At that time I always disagreed and quarreled with my older brother. I went to the speaker afterwards and asked him about my predicament. Is it possible for me to be saved and yet hate my brother? He counseled me, and I rededicated my life to the Lord. When I went home I tried to have a new attitude with my brother. After a few years, I realized that the verse does not refer to brothers in the flesh but to fellow Christians. Anyway that verse became the turning point in my Christian life.”
In 1962, Milton Haack arranged for a camp at Valdez, beside the river close to Floridablanca. This was primarily for believers in that area of Pampanga. Some of these folk could not afford the expense involved in traveling to Baguio. It has always been the aim of the camp committee to keep the costs as low as possible so poor students could attend. In subsequent years camps were held at Cabcaben and at the New Tribes campgrounds in Dinalupihan. Both of these places are in Bataan where the Filipino and American troops held out against superior Japanese forces in 1942. In 1974, the last year before using our own campsite, there were 69 campers from 15 churches at the Christian Training Camp in Dinalupihan along with 26 staffers. Elino Aragon was director for that camp. The young people returned home with a burden to help in the work in their different assemblies. That same year 48 attended the Pampanga Youth Camp at Floridablanca and ten of these professed faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Stimson Alviar was the director for that camp. In all of these camps, believers were strengthened in their faith and a number of unsaved came to know Christ as their Lord and Savior.
In all of these locations there were problems because camps had to be scheduled at times that were convenient to the owners of the camp property. It would be much more satisfactory to have our own camp, but where would we get the money to buy the suitable property? For some time the committee looked at different possibilities and some of the available sites. There did not seem to be any clear guidance from the Lord about any of these. Only when they were in the will of the Lord could they expect Him to supply the needs.
In 1974 one of the national workers learned about a piece of land near Malolos, the capital of Bulacan. Through a friend who was a real estate agent he found that there were two hectares (a little more than five acres) of riceland but also with some fruit trees, mostly mangoes. The price of the land was quite reasonable compared to the prevailing prices in that area. It would be necessary to buy a small strip of land for a right of way, but otherwise it was quite accessible. Being close to the main highway north from Manila, it could be reached from Manila in an hour by car. Furthermore, it was fairly central to most of the assemblies on Luzon.
After much prayer and consideration, along with calculation of available funds, it was decided to proceed with negotiations. The owners were not believers but proved to be quite reasonable to deal with and suitable terms were arranged. Money for the down payment was either available or became so through the gifts of the Lord’s people and assemblies locally. Workers Together in the U.S. was able to stir up interest among the Lord’s people in the United States and Canada. These and other channels were what the Lord used in supplying the needs so it was possible to make all the payments on time. It was a demonstration to the Lord’s people in the Philippines of how the Lord does supply the needs for His work. Since only part of the land is presently needed for camping purposes, it was the aim to make enough off the rice crops and fruit to pay for the operating costs of the property itself.
For the first two years (1975-1976) on our own property, tents were borrowed for dormitories. While these served the immediate purpose, they were uncomfortably hot. So the following year, it was possible for two dormitories of a temporary nature to be erected. These were made mostly of palm thatch roofs and sides and it was estimated that they would serve for some five or six years. It was thought by that time it would be possible to build permanent dorms. Two small houses were put up for the caretaker and the farmer and their families. Experiments in raising chickens and rabbits unfortunately did not prove successful on account of sickness and thefts at night. One of the first projects was the dining room and kitchen. It was a great advantage when these were finished and screened all round. However, at this writing (1982) these facilities are very crowded when more than a hundred are enrolled in camp; so plans are being made to enlarge these. The dining hall often serves as a meeting place, though in good weather classes are held under the shade of the trees. Also at this time several dormitory rooms of hollow block have been built with double bunk beds built in. In the next few years they hope to add to these and also build a chapel, possibly some day even a swimming pool. Electricity has been available, which has made it possible to have a pump to raise water from the well to a water tower. We do praise the Lord for His provision of all these facilities.
Naturally the question would arise as to whether the camp is used enough to justify the expenditure of the money for land and buildings. Obviously, we cannot expect the returns on this investment to be in material things. There are two ways of looking at this. First, the actual use of the property, and second, the results in the lives of men and women and children.
In this tropical climate camps don’t need to be winterized; there is not much variation in temperature throughout the year. During the worst of the rainy season (August to October) it was usually too wet underfoot. The regular camping season is in the hot season (which is also school vacation) in April and May. For some years a two-week Christian Training Camp has been a most profitable time. Mostly young people, but also some older ones, attend this camp. It is run like a “short-term” Bible school with a curriculum spread over a four-year period. Bible studies take up some books of the Bible and some doctrinal studies. There are also classes dealing with practical phases of Christian service. The objective is to instruct believers in Biblical truths, along with methods of service, so that this knowledge may be used in their home assemblies. Along with this is the desire to enrich their spiritual lives and establish them in the faith so there will be a spiritual motivation for serving the Lord.
Camps for young people are also held each year for high school age and also for others who are older. In these camps there is a mixture of believers and unbelievers, so there is more of an evangelistic outreach. Each year there are reports of some being saved and brought into a personal relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. As much as possible these are followed up so they may become involved in young people’s activities in the local churches.
About 1969, Miss Tessie Castro, whose conversion led to the beginning of the work in Bahay-pare area, had a vision of a children’s camp. During the Christmas vacation time children from that area were invited. Tessie’s father, in previous years, had an egg business and kept the laying hens in structures on his land. After the business had been given up, they cleaned up the hen houses and used them as temporary dormitories for the children’s camp. The facilities were far from ideal, and the resources were meager; but it was an opportunity to bring some of the children under the influence of the Gospel. In recent years the children’s camp has been transferred to the new campsite and has a wider outreach and better facilities.
At one time we had to rent camp facilities but now we are in a position to rent the camp to approved evangelical organizations at times that are convenient to our own group. This brings in a little revenue to help with upkeep and improvements. During the year the camp is frequently used for overnight or weekend conferences. Each year a men’s conference is held over some public holiday. Men from different assemblies gather for a time of fellowship and instruction in the Word of God. The topics chosen are often practical to help in the life of the local church, such as The Choice and Function of Elders; Discipline in the Local Church; or the Lord’s Supper, what it means and how it is to be observed.
In recent years there have been women’s conferences. The husbands are exhorted to take over the care of the home for a couple of days so their wives can be free to participate in these conferences. It is not only a great time of fellowship as they gather together from different places but also a time of learning. Here too the teaching is along practical lines about the place of sisters in the local church and in the home. Other groups such as Boy’s Brigade, Pioneer Girls, and young people’s fellowships use the camp for some special gatherings. After a lapse of some years, in 1982, a name was chosen from among several suggestions. It is now known as “Emmaus Bible Camp.” It is the prayer of all concerned that this camp will indeed be like the Emmaus road, a place where people learn to walk with Christ and listen to His teaching.
Ever since the camp property was acquired the brethren have had a vision of using it also for a Bible school. There are many good Bible schools and seminaries in the Philippines. However, whether denominational or nondenominational, they are not in a position to teach New Testament truth as we understand it. Moreover, it has been our experience that some of our young people who have attended such schools have been attracted to other groups. When offered the choice of a regular salary or trusting the Lord for their needs, the former sometimes seems more appealing. The first Bible school was held from January to March 1982, with 15 students. Some of these were commended workers who felt the need to add to their knowledge of the Word. Others came from different assemblies, the eldest among them being a retired army man from Baguio. Since the basis of education in the Philippines is in English, many Bible schools use that language. One of the reasons for this is that their students come from different language areas. A problem resulting from this is that often students have difficulty expressing theological concepts in their own language. There have been occasions when preachers have said something in English and have turned to me, “How do you say that in Tagalog?” So in our small school the teaching has been in Tagalog. Later on, it is hoped to develop the school into a full term school, using the camping facilities when it is not the regular camping season.
Yet all of these activities avail for nothing unless there are spiritual results in the lives of men and women. Indeed there have been such results for which we praise the Lord. In the May-June 1973 issue of KAMANGGAGAWA, we find testimonies like this. From a young lady in San Juan: “This camp has been a great blessing to me. When I came, I came with a hungry heart for real Christian fellowship. I had some questions that were troubling me. My questions were answered here and I got what I wanted—fellowship among Christians my age. It was satisfying because it was shared in Jesus’ Name.”
Here is a translation of a Tagalog testimony by a young man from Sumapa which is the nearest assembly to the camp: “Here I found true assurance of my salvation. I yielded my life to Him and I know that if I will be faithful, I will have victory in my faith all the time.”
A young lady from Caloocan City gives this testimony: “I came from a Roman Catholic background, so I knew nothing about salvation. Through the personal witness of my counselor and the messages given, I came to know Jesus Christ and surrendered my life to Him who is now my Lord. I am so happy! Thank God for camps like this.”
There can be no doubt that the camp ministry has been and will continue to be a valuable contribution to the furtherance of the work of the Lord and the building up of God’s people in their most holy faith. This, of course, leads to spiritual growth and the development of local churches.