Grace Triumphant - Chapter 26 - Fellow-workers in Christ

Fellow-workers in Christ

“Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.” (Phil. 4:1)

There is no doubt that the Apostle Paul deeply appreciated the fellowship of others serving with him in the Lord’s service. Frequently he wrote about his “fellow workers,” “fellow servants,” and “fellow soldiers.” When he traveled he was seldom alone, nor were his co-workers usually Jews like himself; more often they were Gentiles from various places. On one occasion the team was made up of men from five or six communities (Acts 20:4). When he was left alone at Athens, we sense his loneliness as he sent word for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible. The Scriptures do not envisage a man working alone in the Lord’s work, except under unusual circumstances. We cannot afford to be so individualistic in our service for the Lord. When Christ sent out the Twelve and the Seventy, they went out two by two (Mark 6:7; Luke 10:1).

So through the years we have been deeply grateful for our fellow workers. Of course, to be honest, we must admit at times there have been misunderstandings and disagreements. Now with the benefit of hindsight it is easy to see how things could have been handled more tactfully. But keeping things in perspective, we acknowledge that the fellowship and cooperation have far outweighed any difficulties.

Mention has already been made of some of our fellow missionaries, and if some names have been omitted that is not to be construed as lack of appreciation on our part. Often we have praised the Lord for the fine cooperation among the missionaries of our group here in the Philippines, but now it is time to make mention of another group of fellow workers; namely, those national brethren and sisters whom the Lord has called into full-time service for Himself. Like Paul, we love them and long for them.

In the years before World War II we sometimes had help from students at Bible school as they did their practical work assignments. These were often a valuable help, but in the main any expenses involved were carried by the missionary. This is not an ideal situation. There were not yet any full-time commended workers as the work was still in a pioneering stage in the San Juan area. However, all the time we had before us the concept of a truly indigenous work which could be carried on by nationals. This concept involved three requirements: the establishing of strong local churches, men and women called by God to give themselves fully to the Lord’s work, and the commendation and support of such workers by the local churches.

Much teaching along these lines was needed based on the Word of God, which would be new in many of the local churches. Here was a concept that was quite different from the prevailing practices in Christian work. The usual thing was for a young person to go to Bible school or seminary if they had a desire to go into Christian service. Some were sincerely desiring to do something for the Lord while others were not even sure of their salvation but thought Bible school was a less onerous path towards education. Some were following the wishes of their parents, but few had the backing of their own church. So the Bible schools became a recruiting station for missions or churches needing workers. It was presumed that a graduate from such schools was adequately equipped for Christian service. So, three lines of teaching have been needed.

First, the local churches need to be taught that only those whom God has clearly called should involve themselves in full-time service for the Lord apart from any secular occupation. Besides the personal conviction of the individual of such a call from God, and clear guidance from the Holy Spirit, there needs to be some evidence of this in his life as a Christian. He should show some indication of a gift from God with this gift being exercised in the local church. Unless he thus commends himself to his own home assembly, he should not expect to be commended by them as a servant of God.

There is a prevalent idea that missionaries and full-time workers are in some way on a higher plane spiritually, that they are specially privileged to be fulfilling the will of God. That if a believer is fully surrendered to the Lord, he will give up secular employment in order to devote his time to the Lord’s work. This is not necessarily so. The most important factor in any believer’s life is that he do God’s will for him as an individual. Undoubtedly for some it is the will of the Lord for them to remain in their profession or occupation, whatever it may be (1 Cor. 7:20). Obviously it would not be the Lord’s will for anyone to remain in a situation where his Christian testimony would be affected adversely. The Lord Jesus was just as much doing the will of His Father when He lived in obscurity as a carpenter in Nazareth, as when He carried out His redemptive work. If He had not lived in the Father’s will in Nazareth, He could not have accomplished the greater objective of His will at Calvary.

Second, a prospective worker needs to have the fellowship and commendation of the elders and believers in his own local church. If they have spiritual discernment, they will recognize not only the potential capabilities but also the leading of the Lord in the life of that prospective worker. In some cases they may be guided by the Lord to take the initiative in encouraging such. On the other hand, they will also discern any lack of fitness or any possible mistake as to the imagined guidance of the Lord. There must be close fellowship between elders and candidates so there will be a mutual understanding of the Lord’s will.

This spiritual discernment by the elders has to be developed through prayer and knowledge of the Scriptures. Some have been discouraged because elders lack discernment and consequently are hesitant to commend a worker. However, more often such lack of discernment has resulted in commending those who were not yet ready or who have not been called by God. There is still need for teaching on this subject of commending workers. This is a topic which has been discussed and taught in some of the men’s and elder’s conferences in the Philippines.

Third, there has to be a teaching about the support of workers, and there are two aspects to this. For the worker, he must clearly understand that he will be depending upon the Lord for his support. While the assemblies and the Lord’s people will be the channels the Lord uses, yet he must constantly look to the Lord as the source. Sometimes, it is true, the channels are clogged and the needed support doesn’t arrive as it should; but the Lord has promised to supply our needs and He will not fail when our trust is in Him. Nor should the national worker depend upon the foreign missionary. The work will never be truly indigenous if his support is provided by funds from abroad. This is not saying that the foreign missionary will not be aware of the national’s needs, nor that he will not give towards these needs. Nor is this to say that gifts from abroad should never be sent to help national workers. However, as a general rule, it is better that such gifts, whether from the missionary or from those in other lands, should be channeled through the local national churches or else through a fund managed by national elders to distribute gifts, either as designated or as directed by the Lord.

Along with this phase of teaching, there is its counterpart, the teaching of the believers and assemblies to give. While the worker is looking to the Lord for his support, money does not come showering down from heaven like the manna in the wilderness. It has to come out of the pockets of the Lord’s people. While the worker lives by faith, believers must give by faith. Many of the assemblies are small and composed of people with small incomes. As a result there is a tendency to shirk the responsibility of giving, hoping that someone else will shoulder the burden. Yet it has often been experienced that when an individual or an assembly begins to give, even if only in a small way, they have been surprised to find that they can do more with the Lord’s help than they had ever anticipated. Theoretically, if ten families would give a tenth of their income, that would be sufficient to support a worker on the same scale of living. Yet we do need to recognize that for a poor family raising and educating children, to give even a tenth is a real venture of faith.

In this matter of support there will probably always be some difficulty regarding the disparity between nationals and foreign workers. There does not seem to be any easy solution to this problem. In one way the foreigner has an advantage over the national brethren. Back in the homelands are many assemblies besides the one which commended him. Through letters and missionary periodicals the missionaries became known over a wide area. The national worker does not have that wider range of supporters, nor are most of these as well off as those in the missionary’s homeland. The disparity in the support creates problems for the missionary and dissatisfaction on the part of the national. Admittedly this has sometimes been aggravated by some degree of ostentation on the part of the missionaries. He is accustomed to a higher standard of living and has equipment and vehicles which the national worker cannot afford to purchase or maintain. Few national workers realize that the missionary may be living more frugally than he would at home in a secular occupation. They can only see that the missionary has a higher standard of living than do many of the nationals. Of course, even among national Christians there are differences. It is usually not wise or feasible for health and family reasons for a missionary to live entirely as do the nationals. There have to be some adjustments in food, hygiene, and housing.

It was after our return to the Philippines in 1949 that Eleazar Alfonso decided to go to Bible school. Eleazar had grown up in San Juan and was a grandson of Timotea who has been mentioned in earlier chapters. She had often prayed that her grandsons would devote themselves to the Lord’s service. Eleazar told me that he wanted to help me in serving the Lord because at that time we had so much to do. While in Bible school he met and fell in love with another student, Aurora Valdez. After graduation, they were married and spent some time at her home in Cotabato on the island of Mindanao. In 1957, they returned to San Juan believing it was the Lord’s will for him to serve Him there. The elders were happy to commend them as the first full-time national workers, even though what they had to offer as financial support was inadequate. Nevertheless, it has been observed that from that time the level of giving at the San Juan Chapel has steadily risen. The Lord’s people responded to the challenge. This has continued through the years as the responsibility to help more workers has increased. There have been years when 75% of the total giving there has been given for the support of national workers.

It is not unusual for Filipinos to speak two or three languages, especially if they live in an area where languages overlap. Many also speak English, depending upon how far their education has gone. Eleazar could speak Tagalog, Pampangan, and Ilocano besides English. The Lord gave him a gift in preaching and this was particularly evident in his preaching of the Gospel. It was a joy to hear him preaching in the open air to a crowd of people. For a time he also helped Every Home Crusade in literature distribution. It was while engaged in this ministry that he came upon the group in Tarlac who had become believers through the courses from the Bible School of the Air. We felt it was a real loss to the Lord’s work in the Philippines when, in 1968, Eleazar decided to go to the United States and later was joined by his family there.

Zaccheus overcame the difficulty of his short stature by climbing a tree. Stimson Alviar may have climbed some trees, too; I don’t know. But I do know he has overcome the problem of his short stature in other ways. In his unsaved days he was a boxer, featherweight probably, and also took care of riding horses for a wealthy landowner! Perhaps his slight build made him look like a jockey! These days Stimson is senior among the national workers and highly respected and beloved by his fellow workers and other Christians. They call him “Tatang” (Daddy) a term of both respect and affection. He was commended to the work of the Lord by the assemblies in San Juan and in Pampanga. His growth in grace and knowledge has been aided by his study of many of the Emmaus courses obtained through the Bible School of the Air. Much of his labor for the Lord has been in his native province of Pampanga where he and his wife make their home. They have five children, and the eldest son and his wife are also devoting themselves to the Lord’s work caring for an orphanage under the auspices of the Philippine Faith Mission. While Stimson is a short man, almost hidden behind the pulpit when he preaches in San Juan, there is a power in his preaching. Stimson has helped in teaching at Christian Training Camp and Bible school, but most of his ministry has been in establishing and building up small local churches in different places in Central Luzon. This has involved a lot of traveling and being away from home.

Nestor Dedel was brought up in a Roman Catholic home and was without God and without hope. As a young man his life was in a turmoil which was not relieved by his desire for liquor. One day he was given a New Testament by a friend and read it through in one week. It was in Mindanao that he then also gained peace of heart, assurance of salvation, and a new way of life. Two months after his conversion, he felt that the Lord was calling him into His service and enrolled in a short-term Bible institute in Mindanao. From there Nestor went to the mountains to preach the Gospel to the Manobo tribespeople. After a year of such pioneering work he felt the need for a deeper knowledge of the Scriptures. So he came to Manila and enrolled at the Far Eastern Bible Institute and Seminary (FEBIAS). During his time there he became acquainted with the Castro Family at Bahay-pare and eventually fell in love with and married Ligaya Castro, a public school teacher. In this way he learned about the brethren assemblies. After his graduation from FEBIAS he served the Lord in Pampanga and in 1969 was commended as a full-time worker by the San Juan Gospel Chapel. For some years they helped build up the work in San Juan. Nestor’s gift is not so much in the realm of teaching but as an evangelist and pastor. When a new work opened up in Cotabato in 1981, Nestor and Ligaya spent some time there helping to establish the believers.

Working with our brother and sister Milton and Marjorie Haack in Pampanga are a couple by the names of Simeon and Tessie Susi, Jr. As is the custom of this country, Simeon is more often spoken of as Jun or Junior. His testimony was given in the November 1971 issue of KAMANGGAGAWA and I take the liberty of condensing this:

“My parents were Protestants and my grandfather was a Protestant minister, so I heard about the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ from childhood, but I never really understood what it meant to have faith in Christ. When I attended school in Manila, friends enticed me to go to nightspots and join in worldly pleasures which soon led me to habitual drinking. Often I was convicted of this, but my efforts at self-reform were always in vain. I prayed that God would lead me to the truth, and I believe that God did just that. I remembered meeting a missionary, Mr. Milton Haack, a couple of years earlier, so I determined to find him. When I saw him with his wife in San Fernando I asked how to be saved. As Mr. Haack explained verses to me from the Bible, I knew this was the wonderful plan of God’s salvation. That same night I kneeled in prayer and thanked God for our Lord Jesus Christ who I accepted as my Lord and Savior. A few days later Mr. Haack taught the subject of baptism. I decided I wanted to be baptized. After I was saved I told my wife Tessie, and she too received the Lord as her personal Savior. My brother too trusted Christ. All three of us have been baptized at the Basa Air Base Chapel and after the baptism we joined the Christians at the Lord’s Supper. In my unsaved days, besides drinking, I was a chain smoker. Today, God has given me the victory over it, too.”

Brother Susi also relates how he gave up politics and how he had a bonfire in his yard when he burned the literature of Herbert Armstrong and the Mormons. Several assemblies have been established in Pampanga through the labors of the Haack’s and Susi’s and other workers. This too in an area where Roman Catholicism has been very strong.

When Ken Engle and others began a Christian Service Brigade group in San Juan, one of the boys was Rudolfo Ponce de Leon. His parents who formerly lived on the island of Cuyo in Palawan were friends of Sandy and Maisie Sutherland. Mr. Javier Ponce de Leon was for many years active in the Boy Scout movement and was a most gracious Christian gentleman. Before I give you Rudy’s own testimony, I want to mention one thing which he, in his modesty, does not mention. The highest award in the Christian Service Brigade is “Herald of Christ”—like being an Eagle Scout. Rudy was the first one outside the continental United States to earn this award. A few years later, his nephew Pete Barotilla also earned that award. But here now is Rudy’s testimony:

“I came under the influence of the gospel through San Juan Gospel Chapel’s Sunday school and Christian Service Brigade programs in 1952. Although I could not now point to the exact moment of my conversion to Christ, it was sometime in November of 1956 that I gained full assurance of salvation. Through the influence of godly men, missionaries in particular, my spiritual and social development was enhanced.  Through service and leadership opportunities I grew in my capacity to be useful for the Lord. When I was finishing my college studies in Commercial Art, conviction came to me regarding total dedication of my self and my ambitions, my future to my Lord and Savior. This was followed almost immediately by employment as staff announcer with Far East Broadcasting Company. During my four or five years with the FEBC I continued to be active in church, in Sunday school, in youth fellowship, and especially in the Brigade where I had taken over the leadership. As the challenge to expand the work of the Brigade to other churches throughout the country increased, I felt called of God to resign from FEBC in order to devote fulltime to Brigade. This I did in 1965. As I resigned from FEBC, I let the elders know of my exercise before the Lord to serve Him full-time and to trust Him for meeting my needs. Sometime later, within a few months, the church through the elders commended me to the Lord’s work with boys. My ministry was to be both with our church’s local chapter as well as to the national headquarters as the Brigade office was called. For ten years I served as executive secretary seeing encouraging fruit in all the 25 local churches where Brigade clubs had been formed. In 1975, with inflation as well as inadequate local church support making it extremely difficult to maintain a national office, it was decided to close up the national effort and to put all information we had on boy’s work into a book that churches could buy and use to organize their own clubs. I then met with the elders to let them know that at this stage I was inclined to go into the ministry of the assembly as a whole and not just for young people. In 1977, I took advantage of an opportunity to study at the Bible College of New Zealand with my wife simultaneously taking further studies as a doctor in the medical field. We returned in 1980 to resume work at the chapel and in other ministries connected with the assemblies.”

It would be too tedious to write about all of our valued national fellow-workers, but I would like to mention three other couples. The young people in the region of Bahay-pare held rallies under the name of the Bulacan Youth Fellowship. Some from other groups were invited to share in this fellowship. Through this Rey Cervantes from Plaridel became acquainted not only with the assembly work at Bahay-pare, but also with Norma Castro. Both of them also attended camp and studied at the Philippine Missionary Institute. Following their studies there they were married and were commended to the Lord’s work by the assemblies in Bahay-pare and Baguio. For some time they worked along with Dave Harvey in Baliwag, particularly in student work.  Baliwag is an important commercial town in Bulacan, the focal point of a large farming area. When the campsite was purchased, Rey and Norma moved there to oversee that work. Later on they went back to Baliwag and then took time out to complete their studies at the Philippine Missionary Institute. Now they are back in Baliwag endeavoring to see the work there built up. In addition to this they accepted the responsibility of preparing the radio program for the Bible School of the Air in Tagalog. This has been a most acceptable ministry bringing in good response.

In Plaridel, Rey had a friend who was also a believer, Oscar de Leon. He was an insurance underwriter; and he married a girl, Gloria, who was from Sumapa, a section of Malolos, the capital of Bulacan. Through attending camps, conferences, and other meetings with Rey, Oscar became interested in serving the Lord with the assemblies. He was convinced of the Scripturalness of their position. He was commended to the work by the assembly in San Juan and has been working in the province of Bulacan, principally in Sumapa where there is an active assembly. This assembly has grown and has also commended others to the Lord’s work. It was through Oscar’s contacts that we learned about the property which was purchased for the camp. This is not far from Sumapa, so Oscar and Glo have been near at hand to help in camp activities. Oscar has also given a great deal of help in teaching at camp and at the Bible school there.

John Paglinawan and Gloria Latagan met at one of the Christian Training Camps held in Bataan before we had our own campsite. John was from Basa Air Force base in Pampanga and Gloria from San Juan. Later they attended Philippine Missionary Institute and as man and wife were commended by the assembly in San Juan for the Lord’s work, working initially in a new work in Basista, Pangasinan, and later in San Juan. They had a burden for missionary work overseas. Several Filipinos with other groups have gone to other countries as missionaries. John and Glo applied and were accepted by the Overseas Missionary Fellowship. This mission has the policy of accepting nationals from different countries for missionary work outside their native land. The assembly in San Juan recommended them for this service and pledged to continue to minister to them as they had done previously. However, the support from local assemblies was not sufficient to meet all their needs. After a time of language study in Malaysia, John and Glo left their two children in the missionary school there and went to Thailand. During their first four-year term they learned many lessons. With their trust in God, they were reaching a people of entirely different culture, language, and religious background. In spite of the difficulties they gained a good command of the Thai language. The Lord blessed their labors, and they had the joy of seeing a young church established. At this time, they are back in the Philippines for further studies and to serve as representatives for the Philippine Council of the Overseas Missionary Fellowship. They would like to return to the work in Thailand in the Lord’s will.

Needless to say, it was a great joy to us to see those first missionaries going forth from our fellowship to another land, to see that the Philippines is not only a land where missionaries from other lands are received but from where missionaries are sent forth. But what of the future in this direction? There are no doubt other young people here who would be willing to respond to the challenge of missionary work overseas. Thousands of Filipinos go overseas every year in pursuit of secular employment. There are many of them today in the Middle East among the oil-rich countries. They earn good money, much of which is sent back here to support their families. With missionaries the flow of money would have to be in the opposite direction and that’s where the rub comes. The assemblies here are too few, too small, and too poor to be able to adequately support foreign workers. Supporting the national workers at home base is difficult. No doubt, there are some who would glibly say, “Let them go forth in faith, trusting in God to supply their needs.” Such people often quote Philippians 4:19, forgetting this was written by a missionary and addressed to a local church, a church which was already giving liberally and whose needs would be supplied as they could give more.

In the Third World today there are young people who are a potential source of foreign workers. They have some advantage in that they are not identified with nations who were formerly colonizers. They are not white-skinned, fair-headed Europeans or Americans. Already they are familiar with a multi-lingual situation in their own countries. But how could such Third World missionaries be supported, not only in their own living expenses, but also those involved in their service for the Lord? It would be neither wise nor practical for their names to be included in lists of workers from Western lands. There would be problems involved in making known their work through mission magazines, like Missions or Echoes. From experience we know it would not be wise for such workers to be directly supported by churches or individuals in Western lands.

It seems like thought has been given to the possibility of encouraging this phase of missionary endeavor. Yet it is high time it should be considered. If the Lord does not come soon, this may be the way missions will go in the near future. One possibility would be for some responsible elders and leaders in a country such as the Philippines to form a committee which could function like the CMML or MSC. Then foreign funds could be channeled through that committee to further their objective of missionary outreach to other lands.