Grace Triumphant - Chapter 8 - Beginning Our Missionary Work


Beginning Our Missionary Work

“And, behold, I am with thee, and will
keep thee in all places whither thou goest…for I will not leave thee,
until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.” (Gen. 28:15)

Landing for the first time in a strange land is always an interesting
experience.  As soon as our ship cleared quarantine a stream of
people came aboard.  Among them was Mrs. Wightman (Mr. Wightman
was abroad just then) and Mr. Jesus Alvarez, a young brother in the
assembly in the Walled City.  He had previously been a law
student, but after he really came to know the Lord he decided to give
his life to the Lord’s service.  He was helping in the work at the
Walled City when we arrived.  Later he went to seminary and
returned to his previous denomination in which he finally became a

The first evening, December 20, 1922 (which would have been my parent’s
36th wedding anniversary), we went to the prayer meeting at the hall in
the Walled City.  There we were warmly welcomed by the believers
and for us it was a great joy to meet them.  When we complained of
the heat, they informed us it was winter! So we dreaded the hot season,
but it wasn’t so bad for we became acclimated as the temperature
rose.  Really the difference is not so great for the temperature
does not vary much more than thirty degrees Fahrenheit throughout the

Perhaps this would be a good place to digress in order to tell about
the beginning of the work here among those known as Brethren.  I
quote from an “Echoes Manual” that I wrote in 1929.

“More than one has had a part in the commencement of the work here
along Scriptural lines, but the first who started such an assembly was
Mr. William Averyt, who writes of his coming to the Philippines, thus,

“ ‘On July 8, 1911, in my room about one o’clock in Jonesboro,
Arkansas, God, through His Son, spoke peace to my soul…. He soon thrust
me forth away from human props out into the harvest field. To the
Philippine Islands I was sent to be stationed in the 13th Infantry at
the Cuartel de Espana and afterwards at Ft. McKinley…I was very
definitely led by the Holy Spirit among the high school students in the
Walled City.’

“Soon after his arrival, or early in 1912, he began to visit these
students in their rooms. Among the first to be saved was Sulpicio
Guillen and his cousin. (Mr. Guillen was for many years a linotype
operator with the Manila Daily Bulletin. After his retirement he moved
to Kapatagan, Lanao del Norte where he had some farmland. He passed
away a few years ago but we still correspond with his widow who is now
in her mid-eighties and quite frail.)

“A little later a Bible class was started in a room on Calle Victoria,
Walled City, and about that time Major (then Capt.) Moses T. Barlow was
temporarily transferred from Albay and met Mr. Averyt. They enjoyed
much fellowship together over the Word of God. Later, in 1913, Major
Barlow was again in Manila and here I give his own account of those

“ ‘Bro. Averyt was a great help to both Mrs. Barlow and myself. He
convinced Mrs. Barlow that she should obey the Lord in believer’s
baptism and baptized her in Manila Bay. He also helped me to understand
many truths.

“ ‘Bro. Averyt informed us that he had been teaching these students,
and that practically all of them had made a profession of being saved
and had been baptized. He told us that he had been working up to a
point where he hoped to begin a regular assembly, meeting in God’s
appointed way each Lord’s Day around His table in faith, knowing that
He is in the midst in fulfillment of His promise. It was while we were
in Manila that the meeting was begun. Mrs. Noronha and daughter were
also convinced that that was the proper place for them and used to
gather with us. Our understanding was imperfect, but we just took the
Scriptures, and the Lord honored our request for understanding and
graciously opened His will to us, as we trusted Him to do so. Those
meetings in that student's room on Calle Victoria were the most godly
meetings any of us attended. There was a spiritual warmth there, an
earnest seeking after God and a certain unmistakable presence of the
Holy Spirit as the result. I doubt if I shall ever attend more
spiritual meetings until we have the Great Meeting with our Savior in
the air. The assembly at that time numbered eight or nine in fellowship.

“ ‘I left Manila for the U.S.A. on December 15, 1913, and returned June
2, 1914. While in the United States, I had been admitted to fellowship
in the assembly at San Francisco and had learned many things. The
little meeting was still in existence, but meeting in the home of Mrs.
C. H. Noronha, Malate. I was surprised and thankful to find that my
company was stationed right in the city of Manila. It was only a little
over a month until it was moved elsewhere, but I frequently went into
Manila, and the meeting continued in Mrs. Noronha’s home after we
finally left the Philippines on June 19, 1919.’ ”

Mr. and Mrs. George Wightman, having been compelled by certain Mexican
laws to leave their work in Tehuacan, Mexico, were exercised before the
Lord about another field of service.  Having been put in touch
with Major Barlow, they learned of his prayers for someone to carry on
the work after his return to the United States.  Mr. Averyt had
also returned to the U.S. where he took employment on the staff of the
Chicago Tribune.  In March 1929 it was my privilege to have lunch
with him there on our first furlough.  He went home to be with the
Lord three years later.  Believing it was the Lord’s will for
them, the Wightmans came to the Islands in May 1919 arriving just a
month before Major Barlow and his family left for the U.S.

Realizing the opportunities afforded among the students in the Walled
City, and the absence of other work there, they rented a hall. 
This hall, directly opposite the Roman Catholic Cathedral, was opened
in July 1919 and used for two years.  Then a move was made to the
corner of Victoria and Magallanes Streets, also in Intramuros. 
These buildings had to be renovated to make them suitable for meeting
places.  There were then about 14,000 people living in that
section of the city.   Many of the old-style Spanish
residences were occupied by large numbers of students.  But there
was a strong Roman Catholic influence with several of their churches
and institutions in that area of a little over a square mile.

Major Barlow was an active worker, and he encouraged the holding of
services in the barrios around Fort McKinley.  This was where the
Filipino enlisted men and their families lived.  In the spring of
1920 a simple bamboo structure was purchased in Masilang and the
Wightmans continued the work there.  This was about six miles from
the city but easily accessible by an electric streetcar.

There were two problems opposing building up a permanent work in both
the Walled City and Masilang.  One was that both students and
soldiers are transient.  The students would move away from the
Walled City generally when they had completed their studies and started
to work in other places.  The soldiers were either transferred to
other places or were discharged.  The other problem was that of
language.  Both of these groups came from different parts of the
Islands and from different language areas.  The services in the
Walled City were in English as students were studying in that
language.  At Masilang it was mostly Tagalog, though many who
attended were not fluent in that language.

Upon our arrival in Manila, while I was clearing our baggage through
customs, I was approached by a Filipino in plain clothes.  He
surprised me by asking if I had a license to carry a gun.  “No,” I
replied, “I never owned a gun in my life!”  He then wanted to know
what I had in my hip pocket.  With a smile I said, “That is not a
gun—it is a sword!”  He was rather nonplussed when I produced my
pocket Bible.  Of course, he wouldn’t have understood what I meant
by a sword.  He still entertained his suspicions for when I went
to another building to get my hold baggage, he showed up again and
insisted on opening the cases.  Perhaps he still hoped to find
some weapons!

Since the services were in English I was immediately put to work. 
The last day of 1922 was a Lord’s day, just eleven days after our
arrival.  As I was asked to preach that morning, I prayed that the
Lord would bless that first Gospel message in my new field of
service.  It was my request that in His will He would grant the
salvation of a soul to confirm that He had called us to the
Philippines.  How good of the Lord to graciously answer that
prayer.  After the message a young man by the name of Joaquin dela
Cruz accepted the Lord as his Savior.  He had had some previous
knowledge of the Scriptures, but he surprised us by asking to be
baptized that day.  The senior missionary was not there; it was up
to me to make a decision.  My training and experience had never
included examining a candidate for baptism.  It was my idea,
however, that converts should wait awhile in order to prove the reality
of their conversion.  Joaquin was not to put off in that
way.  He clinched the matter for us by saying, “Tomorrow is New
Year’s Day.  I want to start the New Year in newness of
life.”  So that evening a group of us went to the waterfront at
the site of the present Manila Yacht Club.  In the bright tropical
moonlight we had a little service and I had the joy of baptizing the
first Filipino convert in my service for the Lord.

The Gospel Hall was the only Protestant work in the Walled City. 
The services were in English and attended mostly by young men who were
students.  Besides the missionaries there were only two married
couples but no young women.  Being newlyweds, Anna and I felt that
was not a satisfactory situation.  Those young men would look for
female companionship elsewhere and we would lose them.  But
getting young women into the services in those days was no easy
matter.  They were carefully chaperoned and did not go out
alone.  A young man and young woman never went out together
without someone else with them.  The girls who came to the city to
study would promise their mothers to remain true to their church. 
They lacked the venturesome spirit of the young men.

We talked with a missionary friend about this problem.  He felt
that there was a weakness in student work in regard to building up a
permanent work.  It was necessary to reach the families, for when
the parents were won the children would probably follow.  Our
efforts to attract young women to the services proved rather futile.

Since there was no Sunday school, we began one and got some of the
children of the neighborhood to attend. In this, Tagalog was needed so
our part was limited to teaching the children to sing choruses and to
memorize verses in English.  Others helped us with the teaching
and one of these was Joaquin, even though he was a Visayan.  The
Lord worked in the hearts of some of the older children, and we had the
joy of seeing some of them trust in Christ for their salvation.

Somewhat later we invited two teenage girls to spend a few days in our
home.  One night they had gone to their room and I was working at
my desk on the other side of the thin wall.  The girls were having
a discussion.  One said that after you are saved you will not sin
any more and the other was disagreeing.  I couldn’t help
overhearing them.  To prove her point, one girl pointed to me as
an example saying that I was saved and I didn’t sin!  In our
devotions at the breakfast table next morning, we endeavored to
straighten them out on that theological matter!

Very soon we realized that we needed to learn Tagalog.  While
English is widely spoken because all education then was based on
English, knowledge of Tagalog, the principal Philippine language, was
essential to get closer to the people.  However, there was no
language school and very few grammars or dictionaries.  Mrs.
Guillen, one of the believers, helped us with conversational
Tagalog.  For a while we paid an elementary school principal to
give us lessons on Saturdays.  It was not very satisfactory as she
was not prepared and did not understand the problems facing a
non-Filipino in learning the language.  One day after she had
given us some rules and some vocabulary, we asked her, “Can you give us
some rules on the formation and structure of sentences?”  After
pondering it a bit, she said, “Whichever way sounds best!”  None
of it sounded best to us!  Yet she was right, for Tagalog is a
euphonious language and there are ways which do sound best.

We were fortunate to have acquired a couple of old grammars and an old
dictionary which had been left behind by Major Barlow, but a language
cannot be learned simply through books.  We needed to get away
from Manila where English was widely spoken and where there was a
multiplicity of languages.  Though Jesus Alvarez was a Bicolano
from Camarines Sur, he arranged for us to go to Camarines Norte, the
southern limit of the Tagalog-speaking area in those days.  First
we rented the house of a Chinese merchant in Daet, the capital, for two
months.  This gave us a base to look around for another place in
that province.  During our two months there, a fire nearby burned
down a number of houses.  Awakened by the shouting we saw the fire
was across the street at the back of the property.  Hastily we
threw most of our few belongings into trunks and suitcases and loaded
them on a carabao cart in the yard.  We were ready to evacuate if
the fire leaped across the street.  Beside the cart was a
warehouse made of galvanized iron.  I wondered why the Chinese
were putting wet sacks on the roof.  Later we learned it was where
they stored their stocks of gasoline and kerosene!  The fire was
brought under control by tearing down some shacks in its path and by a
vigorous bucket brigade bringing water from the river.

We located a house in Indang (now Vinzons) and rented the upstairs
floor for ten Pesos ($5.00) a month.  We hoped to be able to rent
the lower part for a Gospel Hall but the owner had rice stored
there.  Soon we learned that this attracted rats, and we got used
to seeing rats running along the rafters over our heads at night. 
A mosquito net wasn’t much protection but fortunately the rats were
sure-footed!  Traps didn’t do much good, but one evening a rice
snake disposed of one rat.

There was no evangelical work in Indang and to our knowledge only one
man who claimed to be a nominal Protestant.  The community was
under the control of the parish priest.  Every day the church
bells tolled for a wedding, a birth celebration, or a funeral.  A
minimum charge of P25.00 for any of these was a burden to poor
people.  So often we were asked for a contribution to help. 
One day our laundry woman wanted to know where I had gone.  Anna
told her I was out in the barrios selling Bibles.  The illiterate
woman said the priest told them the Bible was a bad book and they
shouldn’t read it.  She also averred that the priest had made
himself rich at their expense but still they went to him to
confess.  Yet she admitted he was not a good man because he had
daughters of his own living in the church house.

We didn’t have enough Tagalog to conduct services but we did have
classes for children in our home, where we taught them verses and
choruses.  One evening as we went for a walk, just as we passed
the priest we heard children’s voices in a home singing, “The best book
to read is the Bible.”  We had a large blackboard on which I wrote
a Gospel verse each day and placed it on a rack in front of the
house.  It could be seen by all passersby and yet was out of reach
of children.

The first Good Friday we were there the procession passed our
house.  On every other house a candle was burning; we had the
light from God’s Word which everyone read as they slowly passed
by.  Among the various images carried in the procession was the
town’s lone hearse.  It was the burial of Christ!  In the
hearse was a coffin and in the coffin a life-sized image of
Christ.  For a moment the incongruity of Christ (even as an image)
in a coffin appalled us. Then led by the Spirit, I said to Anna
standing beside me, “He is alive!”  The truth of the resurrection
became very real at that moment.

Itinerating on foot with a bag of Scriptures had a two-fold
purpose.  It was one way of spreading the Word of God, and it
afforded an opportunity to hear and use Tagalog.  We not only went
through the town of Indang but also covered other towns.  What we
particularly enjoyed was traveling through the coconut groves or across
the rice paddies to isolated hamlets.  We would carry a sandwich
for lunch and buy a green coconut, a drink safe and sterile, bottled by
nature.  After a while Anna had to stay home as she was expecting
our first baby.  Outside of Labo was a river, so at noon I would
go out of town a little to take a dip in the river and eat my
lunch.  The school principal in Indang lived across the street,
and he warned me there were crocodiles in that river.

It was also a way to learn about the culture of the people.  I
learned that often the women held the purse.  More than one man
was convinced to buy a Bible until he asked his wife for the money—then
the sale was off!  Sometimes they didn’t have money so I accepted
some fresh eggs or a few ears of fresh corn instead.  The people
laughed at the mistakes of this crazy Americano but were good-natured
and, as is customary in the Philippines, most hospitable.  They
would look at the four Gospels—San Mateo, San Marcos, San Lucas, and
San Juan—and want to know if I had San Geronimo or Santa Maria.  I
sold more than one New Testament by showing the letters of San Pedro!

Living was primitive.  We had running water when we ran with it
from the well just outside our door!  Just as we were getting up
one morning I heard the boy from across the street drawing water. 
The first plunk was the bucket but the second plunk must be the
boy!  Sure enough the boy was down the well.  The neighbors
quickly gathered and were discussing how he fell into the well. 
“Never mind,” I said, “let’s get him out.”  So a long bamboo was
put down and the boy climbed out and stood, dripping wet, in their
midst while they scolded him for his carelessness.  Our neighbor
told our helper that Americans were dirty people—he never saw them
taking a bath beside the well!  She told him we had made a corner
of our kitchen into a bathroom—with bamboo slat floors there was no
trouble with clogged drains!  He was not impressed—seeing is

One afternoon we sat in our house studying Tagalog and munching on
finger-size bananas when suddenly it seemed to cloud over. 
Strange, because it was not the rainy season.  We heard sounds of
people shouting and running about; they were quickly covering the
well.  A swarm of locusts was coming.  They covered the
ground and roofs when they landed and some people scooped them up in
sacks.  Some ate them but others didn’t.  The locusts had
evidently fed elsewhere as we heard later they had ruined crops and
even coconut palms in other places.  I was watching a long low
building across the street, when for a split second it seemed the roof
was levitating but really it was the mass of locusts lifting off

Some months later a devastating typhoon passed over that area.  In
one place I later saw an area of abaca plants which had been sheared
off as with a giant scythe.  In the early morning the wind was
strong, lifting up the nipa thatch so the rain was soaking us. 
Thinking it might be more secure on the ground floor, I
investigated.  I could hardly hold my ground against the wind. The
front wall downstairs had fallen outwards, so with difficulty we took
refuge there, with the rice and rats!  Soon our roof was “Gone
with the wind.”  In mid-morning the wind and rain stopped quite
quickly—we were in the eye of the storm.  Knowing that soon the
storm would hit us again but the wind blowing in the opposite
direction, we took refuge with crowds of others in the bakery down the
street.  It was a substantial low building and his stocks of baked
goods were soon sold out.  We all huddled together there until

The storm was over.  The only dry thing in our house was Leonard’s
crib, which we had covered with a piece of oilcloth.  At least the
baby had a dry bed.  The wooden parts of the sewing machine lay in
a heap below the iron frame.  Letters from velvet texts were
plastered in odd places on the walls.  A box of Scriptures which
had just arrived was blown open and its contents soaked and
scattered.  Not the ideal way of scattering the seed of the
Word!  A friendly storekeeper allowed us to stay temporarily in a
room over his store, where he also lived.  The priest was angry
with him about this, thinking this was a way to get us out of
town.  He also persuaded the owner not to repair the roof, until I
told the owner that his rice was starting to sprout.  Then he put
his own interest ahead of that of the church.  That was the only
time we ever had what has been called “$1000.00 salad.”  A
mentally deficient man in the town brought us the heart of a coconut
tree which had blown down.  It was very delicious.  It was
expensive because to take the heart kills the tree.

We had some amusing problems with language study.  There is a word
in Tagalog which is used when quoting what someone else has said. 
People would ask me the price of a Gospel.  “Two centavos” I would
reply.  Then someone would tell the others “Two centavos
daw.”  I didn’t know what “daw” meant but when I used it they
would roar with laughter.  Then we repeatedly heard a word “Kwan.”

Every time we asked what “Kwan” meant we got a different answer. 
It was utterly confusing until one afternoon the light dawned and I
said to Anna, “Kwan” means “What-you-may-call-it” and can be used for
people as well as things.  Very often we would try to talk in
Tagalog (with an American accent) and it was frustrating to get the
reply, “I don’t understand English.”  It was a great achievement
when one day a person replied in Tagalog—he understood what I was
trying to say!

Some Sunday mornings I would go to the Presbyterian Church in Daet as
we had gotten to know them there when we lived in Daet.  They
would often ask me to preach.  I found that sometimes interpreters
would sometimes not repeat what I had said but what they thought I
should have said, according to their ideas.  So it was there that
I made my first stumbling attempts to preach or rather read a sermon in
Tagalog.  Sunday afternoons, Anna and I would simply remember the
Lord in the Lord’s Supper, just the two of us.  One day after our
little service I had an unusual sense of the Lord’s presence. 
Leaving the table I knelt at a camp cot which we used as a couch in the
living room.  In a few moments Anna joined me there as we silently
continued our worship and praise to God for all His grace.  We
were overwhelmed by a realization that the Lord was with us, even
though we knew of no other believer within miles.

During our stay in Indang we had to go to Manila for the birth of our
first child.  There were no adequate facilities then in Camarines
Norte.  On our way, we had to pass through Naga the capital of
Camarines Sur.  Fortunately there was a hotel of sorts there
because we were delayed there almost a week.  The ship that was to
take us from Pasacao to Aloneros was in dry-dock.  In Manila we
stayed with Mr. and Mrs. G. B. Cameron, agents of the American Bible
Society.  Anna had rather a hard time with the birth of
Leonard.  We went to the Mary Johnston Hospital shortly after five
in the morning and the baby was born shortly before midnight.  Dr.
Rebecca Parish was in charge of this maternity hospital—a very fine
doctor and also a fine Christian.  Nowadays Mary Johnston Hospital
is several blocks from the water’s edge, surrounded by slums and a
harbor area.  Then it was on the waterfront of Manila Bay and the
fishermen would spread their nets to dry on the sea wall of the
hospital.  A lot of land has been reclaimed from the sea.

Leonard was a good baby and rarely woke up at night.  He was a
source of attraction in Indang as he was the first white baby in that
community.  The children loved to watch him getting his morning
bath, and he delighted to splash the water over them.  When we
took him out for a walk in the late afternoon, old ladies would say,
“He has no hair.”  Then as they gently stroked his head and blond
hair, they said, “Oh, yes, he does have hair—it’s like hemp.”