Brethren and Sisters:
Eld. Gene Thomas and I arrived at the Huntsville International Airport about 8:00 PM last night after an eleven-day trip to the Philippine Islands. We visited several churches and had services 2-3 times a day. We had about as perfect flights and travel conditions coming home as you could ever expect although our trip over was riddled with problems and we arrived a day late. We had a wonderful trip and I really fell in love with our Filipino brethren and sisters. I know some on this forum might be opposed to the labors in the Philippines; however, after being there and seeing the faith and faithfulness of these poor and afflicted, it makes me ashamed of ever questioning anything about them. I have greater respect and admiration for those who sacrificed so much to help these people in the first place.
During the night last night, Sister Harter was scheduled to have major back surgery in which they were to insert Titanium rods through her spine to keep it aligned. They were all concerned about this serious surgery that has significant risks and potentially terrible side effects. She has been bed-ridden for almost a year and cannot walk. She is praying that she will one day recover to the point that she may resume her work of rescuing starving and dying children. I spoke with Eld. Harter this afternoon and she made it through surgery and the doctors accomplished the tasks as planned. It will be several weeks before they know for sure how successful it was.
I was amazed at the children in the Harter’s home and the way they flock to Sister Harter’s bed. She teaches them and interacts with them from the bedroom. I was also amazed at the progress of the children that doctors said would not likely live, or if they did, would never walk or do other things. Many are recovered to an almost normal state, far beyond the doctors’ predictions. I have never been in a more God honoring, Christian home than this one.
We were blessed to meet with over 100 Filipino Preachers and many of their wives. Almost all of these brethren came from being pastors in other religions and are so excited to now preach the doctrines of grace. Many came from a Reformed Theology background and are especially good at distinguishing the differences in the doctrines PBs teach and the Reformed Theology. For the most part, they are well educated, well studied, and theologically sound. They are full of zeal to serve the Lord and many gave up good salaries and living conditions to become PBs. They certainly did not become PBs for the money. Now many are living in poverty at a level that is unimaginable in the states. They ask for a few things like bibles and songbooks, which are precious to them. Some need medical attention and can’t afford it. Others are struggling just to eat or to pay a menial sum for a place to rent. The places they rent are often made from a few bamboo poles; and woven palm leaves for the roof and sometimes the walls. Others are made from scraps of materials like old torn tarps, rusty sheet metal, etc. They say their sacrifices are well worth the benefit of being able to know and preach the doctrines of grace. They say they are trusting in the faithful providence of God to see them through. Not all the ministers are this poor; but by American standards, they would all probably be very poor. The children were very impressive. One man said his children were so excited to have a bible to read that they stayed up at night reading it instead of sleeping. The congregations are full of young people who are excited about the services and their visiting ministers.
I did write a journal and hope to get it typed into a format that I can share in the future.
Eld. Thomas held up very well during the trip. Neither of us had any significant side effects or sickness from the trip. It was very educational and a great experience to travel back in time. That is what our trip to some parts of the Philippines seemed like. Most all of our food was prepared on an open fire or over coals (especially in the remote areas). I especially like their fruit, but got a little tired of rice. Although they eat rice 3 times a day, they seem to think they haven’t eaten a meal if they don’t have any. They seem to never tire of it. The Jack Fruit and Mangos are wonderful.
Best of all were the wonderful worship services and their angelic singing. God is certainly blessing a poor and afflicted people in the Philippines. They are a people that I am humbled and glad to call my brethren and sisters. We can and should learn a lot from them.
In response to a comment about misconceptions about the Philippine ministers and their coming to the PB for monetary benefits, I wrote the following response on another forum. I wanted to share this with you good brethren as well.
It is easy to see how misconception could be concluded from the plight of many of these ministers. So many have given up so much to become PBs because they were former pastors of denominational churches who supported them. There were quite a few ministers who were still considering joining the PBs and are not sure how they will survive once they give up the churches they now serve in some denomination. Some are laboring with churches they now serve to try to convert as many as possible and baptize a whole congregation like many of the other brethren have done in the Philippines. Others, like the brother that was baptized while we were there, get so convicted, they no longer wait and join with faith that God will provide some means some way. Once they join and lose all their support from denominational organizations, they immediately find themselves in poverty among millions of Filipinos who are unemployed and struggling just to find daily provisions to live. The people they serve, if they even have a congregation, are usually in need, and many of these ministers take what donations are given in the church services and give to the local needy in their communities instead of taking any for their own provision. Again, these brethren are faced with situations that require an exercise of faith that is greater than any I have ever witnessed in America. When I examine myself and my own selfish existence, it makes me quite ashamed that I haven’t helped them more, that I haven’t sacrificed more to devote my full service to the Lord’s work and to serving His people, that I have so much while lusting for more, etc. They are hungry for PB literature, books, etc. I am ashamed that I have so many books and old copies of periodicals that have been unread, but that I have selfishly stacked away in boxes or shelves instead of distributing to those hungry to read the thoughts and comments of brethren of like precious faith. I have to ask myself, if I did faithfully devote the entirety of my life to serving God and His people, (we often say we do, but even a distant view of my activities reveals otherwise) would I not look to precious rich brethren and just inform them of my plight and ask God to touch their hearts to be merciful to my family for some help? Often these brethren or their wives would just let a need be known, asking for nothing, but just proclaim that they were praying to God that he would some how remember them with providential care. Then they would proclaim, with such a positive and faithful statement, that they were fully trusting in a faithful God to provide their needs. If He did not see fit to answer their prayers they would proclaim their trust in His grace to sustain them through their trials. Very few actually asked for anything, and when they did, it was usually for their flocks, spouses, children, or someone else in need instead of themselves.
We visited in one home of a pastor who had left a supporting denomination with a large congregation to serve a few poor, but spiritually rich, PBs. They had rented a soft house (made from temporary materials that did not last very long) that had common walls with other families. The house was about 10 feet wide and probably no more than 15-20 feet deep. There was a porch that served as a storefront with shelves. I noticed nothing was on the shelves and asked what they sold. I was planning to buy some of their products. He said his wife baked cakes, bread, etc. when she could and sold to the people who lived around them (when they had materials to make these items from). After some prodding, he said they didn’t have enough money to pay the rent, much less buy the raw materials (flour and sugar, etc.) to bake any products to sell at this time. Their daughter had a birthday on the previous day, so I gave her a small amount of pesos for a gift. Then Eld. Harter and I shared some more so they could buy the supplies to bake the goods to try to sell some things just to survive. (It sometimes takes a little money to make any money) They were very appreciative, but seemed embarrassed that we had pulled the information out of them and certainly did not seem to be begging for anything. They are very industrious and creative to find ways to try to support themselves while serving God. One of the ways many Filipinos survive is to buy goods like cooking oil, vinegar, etc. in bulk (like one bottle). Then they pour the contents into small portions in clear plastic bags that looked like about 1-2 tablespoon sized portions. They sell these to people at a slightly marked up price, who cannot afford a whole bottle. They also sell fruit, rice, hand made crafts, etc. It is the same principle Wal Mart and other retail stores use to buy in bulk and sell in smaller quantities at a profit. Many homes double as store fronts for these types of products. Street vendors dangerously walk between the terrible traffic peddling items to sell. Eld. Harter said he appreciated the fact these street vendors were laboring in a very hot and dangerous environment just to squeeze out enough profit to feed a starving family.
Eld. Harter feels a heavy burden to try to wisely distribute funds that Americans send him through “White Unto Harvest”. He says he is called to preach, not be a CEO. This is a job he does not want. He is also bringing up 23 children in his home, taking care of a sick wife, and faithfully preaching and serving a growing church, overseeing the construction of a new church building and other facilities, etc. He is doing more work than any man I know. It is easy to sit back and criticize others, but I want to commend him for faithfully trying to equitably distribute and use the funds in a needful way. Primarily he is supporting the purchase of bibles, songbooks, church property and buildings, inexpensive plastic chairs (for pews), etc. He once attempted to support struggling pastors who converted to PB doctrine and were destitute. However, he has changed this practice, stating that there was no biblical precedence and he also experienced practical problems and limitations. The biblical principle is for the congregations to support the pastors as well As they can and the minister labor to provide the remainder. Despite all his criticisms from those who haven’t bothered to find out first hand, Eld. Harter has sacrificed a lot himself, and is trying his best to faithfully help these churches using the monies that are donated for that purpose. He has some strict guidelines to try to equitably and biblically distribute to the best of his ability. This man is constantly busy, receiving calls at all times of the day and night. He is doing the work of several men and I had to be reminded that he is also not healthy. You certainly could not tell that by
trying to follow in his steps for a few days for he is doing the work of a 20 year old athletic genius. I advised him to consider the advice Jethro gave to Moses. He agreed 100% and stated he was looking for men of the character, qualifications, and willingness (He called them Kingdom Men) to help.
Another thing I noticed that brought me shame, was that the Filipino ministers often held some American preachers in high regard and even quoted them. They had been able to read some of their writings in periodicals they sometimes receive and share among themselves. These same American preachers they admire are sometimes the very ones who are critical of the Philippine work. This broke my heart. If only more of our ministers really knew the overwhelming work and situations in the Philippines, instead of the few isolated cases of problems that they have dealt with, I know these admired brethren would be much less critical of their needy brethren in the Philippines and the few American preachers who have sacrificed so much to try to help establish these Children of God as sound and faithful Primitive Baptists. These newly converted preachers and congregations have never conducted a PB communion service with feetwashing until they have one. They have never conducted a PB baptism, or a PB ordination service, or conducted a PB conference meeting. One man cannot oversee 100s of congregations spread over hundreds of miles of remote islands to teach them all the practical lessons they need. The growth of the PBs in the Philippines is currently slowing a bit from the previously explosive rate, but is still significant. One of the purposes of the preachers meeting was to guide and instruct these men in practical areas, to encourage them, to foster communications and fellowship and fellowship meetings between those more closely located, etc. They are already well grounded in the truth, but they are constantly bringing other inquiring preachers to these meetings, so another purpose is to share the doctrines of grace with the newcomers and inquirers as well. The preachers meetings were certainly not a seminary or used to teach these men to preach. These men were brilliant in doctrinal theology and I was embarrassed to try to teach them anything. I could learn a lot from them.
May God grant us the wisdom, patience, charity, and willingness to help our faithful brethren instead of standing back and doing nothing but Pharisaically criticizing them. I am just presenting two extreme responses that we have a choice in making. Moses presented both the good and the evil paths to the children of Israel in his day. Will we choose the good or the evil path in our day?