Grace Triumphant - Chapter 22 - More Church Growth


More Church Growth

“Then … the churches …were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.” (Acts 9:31)

Here are three basic factors in church growth. First, churches must be strengthened. In the introduction to the previous chapter, we say they were strengthened in the faith. For church growth there must be good, solid teaching from the Word of God. The edification of the believers leads to the strengthening of the church. Second, the encouragement of the Holy Spirit is needed. He empowers the witnesses. Third, believers must live in the fear of the Lord. Growth of individual believers and their obedience to the will of the Lord will result in growth in the church.

A few years after we began the Bible School of the Air we heard reports that somewhere in Tarlac people were meeting for Bible Study, apparently as a result of getting the Emmaus course. It was difficult to get any specific information, and once we wrote offering help to what seemed a likely contact. Then one of the workers was helping Every Home Crusade in their goal of putting Gospel literature in every home. When visiting homes on a large sugar estate near San Miguel, Tarlac, he happened to visit in one home there. To his surprise he saw about seven “Certificates of Completion” from the Bible School of the Air on the wall. This led to the discovery that several in that place had taken our courses and were also meeting together for Bible study. This contact was followed up by other visits beginning in September 1964.

One Saturday afternoon I drove up to the barrio of Mapalacsiao on that sugar estate. Accompanying me to show the way was that worker, Eleazar Alfonso. Shortly after our arrival in the early evening we began a meeting. Eleazar and I took turns preaching and then in answering questions. About ten o’clock the folks there announced they had prepared some refreshments. So while we partook of rice cakes, cocoa, and other goodies, the conversation continued and went on until midnight. There was no doubt of their keen interest and desire to learn more about the Scriptures. At midnight we tore ourselves away for the three-hour drive home. We would get only a few hours sleep before being busy with the activities of the Lord’s day. As we drove away, Eleazar remarked, “You wouldn’t have got any more sleep if you had stayed---they would keep you up all night with their questions!”

Regular Sunday services were carried on with the help of visits from different missionaries and national workers. In those days there was a great deal of Huk dissident activity all through that part of central Luzon. One Sunday, Stimson Alviar couldn’t understand why the folks didn’t seem as cordial in their welcome as they usually were. However, the service began under the house as usual. While Stimson was speaking he happened to look up. Through the bamboo slats which were the floor of the home above he saw a man moving about and the man was heavily armed! There were no repercussions of that incident and that particular Huk at least heard the gospel that day.

Later on the group there received permission to erect a chapel and the work continued to grow. Now a second assembly has hived off from that first one. From there, trips were being made into Nueva Ecija, an adjoining province, where there are contacts in the towns of Aliaga and Talavera.

Just before our return to the Philippines in 1949, we learned of a young man studying at Moody Bible Institute who was interested in the work in the Philippines. During World War II he had been flying over the Philippines in a B-24 “LIBERATOR” (a flying fortress), and he would like to return there on a more peaceful mission. After correspondence, Kenneth Engle joined us in Manila in 1951. He had worked with WMBI in radio work while at Moody so he was a big help as we were resuming a radio ministry at that time. Later he was joined by his fiancée, Mary Lou Leonard, and they were married in San Juan. For some years they helped in the assembly in Binangonan. Then in 1967 they moved to Baguio for health reasons. Baguio is the beautiful mountain resort some 5,000 feet above sea level, where the climate is cooler than in the lowlands.

In Baguio they began to make contacts with neighbors with a view to establishing a work there. Among their neighbors with whom Mary Lou made friends was a Pakistani lady married to a Filipino professor. He had met her while he was studying on a grant in Lahore.  She came from a mixed Eurasian background with nominal Christian contacts.  Mary Lou got this lady, Evelyn Balanag, interested in studying the course “What the Bible Teaches.” She took home the first two lessons and before very long was back again. Having finished those two lessons she wanted the rest and before the day was done had finished them all. The following day she was taken very ill with severe hemorrhages and was rushed to the hospital. In her extreme weakness through loss of blood, she thought she was dying. Opening her eyes she saw her husband sitting by the bed in obvious concern. Then she had a terrible thought---“If I had died, I would have gone to hell.” Recalling what she had studied in the lessons, she accepted Christ as her Savior, even though still too weak to let anyone know what had transpired.

As soon as she was able, she told her husband and as she recovered began witnessing to others about her newfound Savior. She began memorizing Scripture and encouraged her husband to join her in this. However, she was a bit annoyed that he, who was not yet a believer, could memorize more quickly than she, a believer. She lost interest in the paperback novels, which used to take so much of her time, but giving up smoking was harder. She once told her husband, “I could give you up, but not these cigarettes.” But the time came, in answer to prayer, when she gave up smoking too. Her husband also trusted in Christ along with some of their friends. Many of these were Filipino servicemen connected with the Philippine Military Academy.

One day some Mormon missionaries called on two of Evelyn’s friends and tried to convince them of their beliefs. Evelyn didn’t yet know enough of the Word to refute them, but she felt there was something wrong; so she got them to talk with Mary Lou who was able to show them the truth. Four of these people were baptized by Ken Engle in early 1970 and that was the beginning of the assembly there. While the Engles were on furlough from 1970 to 1972 we lived in Baguio and felt our ministry was particularly to strengthen these believers in their faith in Christ.

For a while the believers met in a home. Then permission was obtained to use a Quonset hut, which served as a guardhouse at the entrance to the military reservation called Navy Base. A Navy Base up in the mountains seems incongruous, but it got its name when used by the US Navy right after World War II. This guardhouse served as a meeting place for a few years. The folks used to say, “It is a guardhouse during the week, but on Sunday it is God’s house.” The Base had living quarters for Philippine Army personnel serving with the Philippine Military Academy. When martial law was declared in September 1972, we no longer had the use of this facility and went back to meeting in a home, or rather, in the carport of a home.

The Engles returned in 1973 and stayed until 1975, and during that time they got permission to meet in a Roman Catholic school building, which had closed, and the property was up for sale. Knowing this was only temporary, the assembly looked for land to build. They were able to purchase a lot and build a chapel quite close to the guardhouse where they had formerly met. There were then no other evangelical chapels in that part of Baguio. In more recent years two teams of workers from Gospel Literature Outreach (GLO) from Australia and New Zealand have helped in the building up of the work in Baguio. Periodic visits by different workers have helped the believers there carry on the work at times when there was no resident missionary there.

We had a number of contacts with the Philippine Military Academy, the West Point of the Philippines. At that time the Registrar, Lt. Col. D. Galia, was a fine Christian gentleman. At a time when they had no Protestant Chaplain we were invited to preach at their chapel service. The cadets were obliged to attend church service in either the Roman Catholic Church or the Protestant Chapel on base. At the time we lived in Baguio there was a good deal of student unrest in the large cities. Although under military discipline the cadets were somewhat effected by this. At one point several objected to compulsory attendance at religious services. The Commandant arranged that those who didn’t want to attend church should at that time listen to a lecture on good morals! The responsibility of arranging these lectures was turned over to our friend, Lt. Col. Galia. He invited me to give some of those lectures. This was a difficult assignment since I am a preacher, not a lecturer. To relax the atmosphere I tried to make it informal with opportunity for the cadets to participate. Yet at the same time I could not lose that opportunity to present the truth of the Gospel. No doubt when I was the lecturer, they got more religious truth than they would have heard in the church services! These young men were some of the smartest in the country; they had to be to pass the stiff requirements. They were polite and courteous and also quite frank. One of them said he thought I was an imperialist; I was able to show him that I didn’t fit in with his definition.

Beginning in 1968, Ken Engle was able to arrange for a Bible to be given to each graduate of the Philippine Military Academy. We were able to continue this until 1979 and were usually able to have this presentation included in the religious part of the graduation programs. The names of the graduates were printed in gold on the covers of the Bibles and a letter was enclosed. While the graduates usually expressed their thanks at the time, we never had any further word from any of them. It did afford us some opportunities to meet with some of the high military officials. However, in 1980, it was not possible for me to travel to Baguio to make needed arrangements. Also, we felt that the lack of response indicated that the money could be put to better use in other phases of the Lord’s work. So this practice was discontinued. We have heard that another Christian organization is now donating Bibles.

For a time Dave and Ruth Harvey, along with national workers Rey and Norma Cervantes, lived in Baliwag, a large commercial center in the province of Bulacan. A good deal of evangelism was carried on in that area and a student center was carried on in the town. The Cervantes continued to work there after the Harveys left for furlough. There is now a company of believers meeting there and they have purchased a lot, but have not yet been able to build a chapel due to lack of funds.

A friend of Rey Cervantes became interested in fellowshipping with some of the workers in Bulacan. He was serving the Lord in a part of Malolos, the capital of Bulacan, and eventually decided to throw in his lot with us. The work at that place, Sumapa, has grown both in members and in outreach. The assembly there is active with a good number of young people. One Sunday afternoon when they were going out in groups to witness and distribute Gospel literature, one group was in a quandary. Coming to an intersection they couldn’t remember whether they were supposed to turn right or left. Actually they turned in the opposite direction to what they had been told but it was of the Lord’s leading no doubt. They encountered an older man who was already interested and whose heart had been prepared to receive the Gospel. Besides the first leaders, Oscar and Gloria de Leon, there have been others who have been commended by this assembly to full-time service for the Lord.

A family in San Juan came to know the Lord through the witness of the first Gospel Literature Outreach team. Later this family moved to Bicol provinces, and we thought there might be a possibility of starting a work there. However, before long they moved back to a barrio, Tuctucan, in the town of Guiguinto, Bulacan, a few miles north of Manila. Through the help of some from San Juan and from nearby Sumapa, souls have been saved and a work started in that place. For some time they met in the home of one of the believers, but as numbers increased they felt the need of acquiring a small lot and building a chapel.

Peter and Sue Booth are workers from assemblies in New Zealand. In their first term here they were associated with Open Air Campaigners, but on their return from furlough in 1979 they were commended to work more closely with the assembly work here. They rented a home on the compound of the Far East Broadcasting Company, north of Manila, in the town of Valenzuela. They were led to begin a work near there by distributing literature and having some home Bible studies. These led to the development of an assembly in an area called Malinta. This group of believers has been active in reaching out to nearby districts.

In 1972, the senior national worker, Stimson Alviar went with Sgt. Resultan of the Basa Air Force to visit places in Pangasinam where Sgt. Resultan had some relatives. Pangasinan is a populous province about 150 miles north of Manila. The people there have their own language, Pangasinan, which is related to Ilocano, an area just north of Pangasinan. In the early days of Bible School of the Air there were more requests each week for the free course from Pangasinan than from any other province in the country. The two men visited Urbiztondo and Basista in that province. While there have been some contacts in the former, it has been in Basista where the work has grown, especially in a barrio called Balaybuaya (crocodile’s house). There being an open door for the Gospel, Ken Brooks and others visited there. Then two young women went to witness to the women and children. They were later followed by John and Gloria Paglinawan and in later years by Rod and Aida Miano. For some reason these workers all had health problems and were not able to stay long. Nevertheless, the work went ahead and quite a number were saved and baptized. Among them was a schoolteacher who later took leave of absence from his teaching to devote two years to the Lord’s work there.

A few miles from there the first GLO team had made some contacts in the town of Asingan. Progress there was rather slow for some time. However, in 1982, Leonard and Mary Savill of New Zealand took up residence in Urdaneta, a large commercial town on the main north highway. Len and Mary had been here with the second GLO team and then had spent most of their time in Baguio. When they returned from their first furlough, they felt led to help in the work in Pangasinan. Largely due to their efforts, there are groups of believers in Toboy and San Vicente, both barrios in Asingan.

A flood control engineer working in Malauli, Pampanga heard the Gospel there and was saved. He too was concerned about his family and relatives in Mapandan, another town in Pangasinan. So with the help of workers Alex Lopez and Ben Manansala a work has begun in that town also. Some have been saved and a small assembly begun there also.

On the north shore of Manila Bay where the Pampanga River enters the Bay is the town of Masantol. Some of the barrios around Masantol can only be reached by “bangka” (canoe). In one of these barrios, called Malauli, there is a family which had been quite active in local politics and influential in the community. One of this family, Elpidio Manansala, also has a home in Pasig, the capital of Rizal province. He became interested in spiritual things through reading the Bible while still a Roman Catholic. While reading the tract “God’s Way of Salvation,” by Theodore Epp, he put his trust in Christ for salvation. The tract was published by Back to the Bible Broadcasters. One day Elpidio and a companion noticed the office of Back to the Bible as they were going to Manila from Pasig. They were interested in baptism and when the counselor at Back to the Bible heard their story, he suggested they talk with the elders at the San Juan assembly. The counselor was an elder from the assembly in Binangonan.

The elders in San Juan were convinced as to the visitors’ salvation but suggested it would be a better testimony for them to be baptized in their own community of Malauli. Up to that point Elpidio thought of remaining in the Catholic Church to influence others of his fellow church members. It was arranged that two of the elders from San Juan and a missionary should spend a Saturday and Sunday in Malauli. Arriving in the afternoon, an evening service was arranged. One would preach the Gospel, another would speak on the Christian life, and the other would speak about the church and baptism. The meeting went on till after midnight so keen was the interest. They met again all Sunday morning and finished up with a baptism.

This was in September 1975, and the work continued to grow. The baptism brought out some opposition so that they knew the Roman Catholics no longer welcomed them. The father of Elpidio was threatened with death because he no longer supported his former political position. On one occasion the opponents of the Gospel challenged the Christians to a debate. Filipinos love the excitement of a debate and some religious groups get involved to such a degree that violence sometimes results. The believers at Malauli called for help from some workers and elders in accepting this challenge. However, the workers said they would not debate but would welcome the opportunity to explain from the Scriptures what we believe. So this became a wonderful opportunity to proclaim the Gospel and to manifest the meekness of Christ in the face of opposition.

The work grew remarkably as many more were baptized. So it was only a few years before as many as 150 would gather to remember the Lord. They built a chapel alongside the Manansala home. They have also reached out to another barrio nearby, a place called Nigue where there is now an assembly, as well as witnessing through home Bible studies in the nearby towns in Bulacan province, such as Hagonoy and Paombong. A brother of Elpidio, Ceferino, along with his wife, are active in San Juan assembly, where he is an elder. They have had children’s classes and home Bible studies in their home also.

This church growth had reached out in three other parts of the Philippines. First, there were meetings held in Elpidio’s home in Pasig and now there is an assembly meeting there. This was partly due to the fact that some from Malauli went to Pasig to work in factories there. In 1982 the group meeting there was too large to meet in a home and their plans are to build a chapel.

A family from Malauli moved to Dadiangas (renamed Gen. Santos) in the province of Cotabato on the island of Mindanao in the southern part of the Philippines. The Ducot family was a large one, but only a few were believers. In 1980, two of the national workers, Stimson Alviar and Nestor Dedel, responded to a call for help and went there to preach the Gospel. At first the people were a bit suspicious of the two preachers, but after hearing them they opened their hearts to the message. As a result several were baptized and meetings were commenced in the Ducot home. In 1981 Nestor and his wife Ligaya, who is a schoolteacher, were led of the Lord to move there and have seen the Lord’s blessing upon their labors so that the work has grown. Also in that year, one of the elders from San Juan and some of his family moved to a ranch near there and have been a great help in that new work. The work there has continued to expand and in 1983 two other assemblies were started in Polomolok and Marbel. Plans are underway to have a camp in that area also.

Sometimes we make plans regarding church growth, and this is wise. Some of the workers, stirred by what has happened in some of these places, have had a vision to establish a line of local churches across the province of Bulacan. This started off with a zealous effort and some helpful contacts were made. Yet there have also been disappointments and difficulties. The work at Malauli and what has developed from it has not been because of a planned effort. It has been a thrill to see how the Holy Spirit came in and worked in the lives of men and women. So, while planning has its place, there needs to be above all else a dependence upon the guidance and working of the Holy Spirit. Without Him there can be no real church growth.

Two activities have helped foster and establish this church growth. One of these has been the conferences that have been held over the years. In early years, conferences were held and hosted by different assemblies. At one of the conferences two elderly brethren were surprised to meet each other. One from Canlubang and the other from Dau, they had been schoolmates’ years before. Neither had known that the other had become a believer until they met that day. These conferences were precious times of fellowship together and also of profitable ministry of the Word. However, it was observed that the hosting assembly spent so much time in preparing food and serving it that they derived little benefit from the ministry and preaching.

Since obtaining the campsite, this has been a favorite location for conferences as it also provided accommodations for staying overnight. The conferences for elders and men in general have been very helpful. A topic is chosen for each occasion usually dealing with some phase of church life. In between the messages there are times for open discussion with freedom for questions and answers on the topic. In this way it has been possible to deal with church life in a practical way. A conference on the Lord’s Supper dealt with the practical way of observing this, as well as the Scriptural teaching on why we observe it. The conference ended with an actual observance so that those who are from small groups would get a better idea.

Women’s conferences have also been held at the camp. These give some of the women an opportunity to meet with women from other assemblies and spend a night away from home and its continual responsibilities. Practical ministry is also given by women concerning marital and family responsibilities from a Scriptural viewpoint. Also, there are opportunities for them to consider functions of women in the church, in their services for the Lord, and also being supportive of their husbands, especially if the latter are elders.

The other factor in strengthening the churches is the publication of a bi-monthly paper called KAMANGGAGAWA (Co-worker). The first issue of this was published in June 1968. Listed on the front cover were nine churches in three provinces, on Luzon (not those in Palawan). Fourteen years later the corresponding figures would be about 35 churches in nine provinces. There was a lapse of over three years before the second issue was published. This issue set forth some of the purposes of the project: to give news of the Lord’s work in various places to foster fellowship between the believers in the different churches; to be a teaching tool, not only to teach the Word but also provide materials for others in their teaching; to stimulate the gifts among the Lord’s people, both in writing and in ministering the Word. In that second issue I began a series of messages on church discipline. The first issue of volume 2 was very kindly dedicated to my wife and I on the occasion of our fiftieth wedding anniversary, September 20, 1922, and of our arrival in the Philippines on December 20 of that year.

For some years Miss Elvira (Bebs) Clavecilla had been editor of KAMANGGAGAWA in spite of severe health problems. She needed to have open-heart surgery and some thought was given to having her fly to the United States for this. However, it was decided this operation could be done in Manila in the University of Santo Tomas Hospital. The Lord wonderfully supplied the great needs for this expensive operation and she entered the hospital at the end of January 1974. The operation seemed to be successful, but she developed lung congestion and, due to her weakened condition, this proved fatal. She went home to be with the Lord on February 2, 1974. In spite of her frailty she was deeply devoted to the Lord.

Beside the Bible teaching and ministry in this paper are reports about the Lord’s work in different parts of the Philippines. This helps to foster fellowship and stimulate prayer among the Lord’s people. Those in small assemblies don’t feel quite so alone as they learn of others, and those who may not be seeing much fruit for their labors are encouraged by knowing that God is working in other places.

While foreign missionaries are sometimes invited to provide articles the editorial work is carried on by the national brethren and sisters. Occasionally significant articles from magazines like INTEREST are translated into Tagalog (with permission). Local brethren and sisters are being encouraged to develop their ability for writing articles or poems.

For several years KAMANGGAGAWA was mimeographed in the office of the Bible School of the Air. In recent years, it has been typed on an IBM machine and thus prepared for printing. Many have commented on the blessing they have derived from this magazine.