Elder Darrel Chambers’ summary of his second trip to the Philippines.
It is with joyous reflection that I pen down some accounts of my recent trip to the Philippines. On this trip, I was accompanied by Elder Shannon Whipp, pastor of Radnor Primitive Baptist Church near Nashville, TN. Elder Whipp proved to be a faithful and enjoyable traveling companion and I will cherish the memory of our time together. This, my second trip in 2007, was truly a greater blessing for me than I had imagined beforehand. Though the Filipino’s speak of the blessing we are to them, I have found that they are the greater blessing to me. I am thankful to my Heavenly Father for His gracious providential care and bountiful blessings towards one so unworthy as I am to be so highly blessed with the great privileges this trip afforded. There were many new and different experiences, but also some familiar ones that I rejoiced to experience once again.
The schedule for this trip was fast and full. Except for one day, there was little time for rest, study, journaling, or any other leisurely activities. Yet, there was much fellowship, conversation, worship, instruction, preaching, teaching, and adventure. Adventure is a word that doesn’t seem to fit the previous list of descriptive activities, but one that I did experience. Who could argue that the lives of many men of God, as recorded in the Holy Scriptures, were not lives of great adventure? For this brief period of my life, every day for 2 weeks was filled with activities that I would describe as godly adventures. There were times that I could relate to an Indiana Jones movie, except the treasure I sought were the rich experiences in the labors of my Master. The timely rewards of our Savior are much more precious than the golden jewels buried in any of the Pharaohs’ ancient tombs.
After arriving in the Philippines and getting a good night’s sleep, the activities began with an exciting meeting with several men who had been meeting with some of the local Philippine Primitive Baptist ministers. They had been studying the doctrines of grace, as embraced by the Primitive Baptists, and were interested in learning more about our beliefs, church practices, and discipline. It was refreshing to see the reflections of joy in the faces of these men as we presented New Testament doctrines and practices, and then answered their questions. Many of our answers were initially skeptically received until further biblical proofs and explanations were provided. It was equally exciting to hear some of the local Filipino ministers answer questions and raise questions that they were raising just to make some important points they wanted these inquirers to hear. In particular, I was impressed with their articulate distinctions between some men’s ideas of gospel regeneration and the immediate Holy Spirit regeneration taught in the scriptures and believed by the Primitive Baptists. I was amazed at our Filipino brethren’s adamant stand that anyone who taught the experience of the Philippian jailer as described in Acts Ch. 16 as a method to obtain eternal salvation was considered by them to be an heretic. Though I totally agreed with their assessment, the fact they felt this was important to bring out in this meeting with these inquirers was very impressive to me. It seems that several of them had come out of a Reformed Calvinistic religion or some Arminian religion and had heard this lesson misapplied to the point of disgust. I appreciated their bold stance and clear teachings to these inquiring potential converts. I was also impressed when there was no hesitation or wavering by Elder Harter to address their questions regarding the need for baptism before there could be any recognition of these men as Primitive Baptists. This would be followed by a period of preaching and then re-ordination before they would be recognized as gospel ministers with the rites to exercise the ordinances of the church. Before the meeting was over, some of these men were already recognizing their need to be baptized and expressing a desire to unite with us. It was very encouraging to see the excitement on the faces of these inquirers as they heard about our strict church discipline and to hear them express disdain for the false teaching of “easy believism” – the teaching that we can easily believe for salvation and then be content to continue in sin that grace may abound.
This meeting was quickly followed by several worship services, 20 baptisms, 2 ordinations of ministers, and 2 church constitutions. We met with several fellowships and outreaches that were not yet constituted, some of which did not yet have a public building for worship other than a home. We met in the homes of those interested in our doctrines, those suffering hardships, those who were faithful members, those who are faithful servants or ministers, and even in the home of a business owner who has a heart to help spread the gospel and aid churches of a variety of denominations. This all occurred in the space of about 3-4 days with barely time to catch our breaths between activities. On some days, the travel and activities took the better part of 18-20 hours. We traveled to several remote areas, wondered across beautiful tropical islands, drove through a maze of muddy paths through hundreds of acres of sugar cane fields and witnessed a joyous people who are rich in the Lord’s blessings despite their often plight of great poverty of earthly goods. We saw old church buildings, primitive church buildings, new bamboo buildings, buildings under construction, nice facilities, new concrete buildings, and buildings that were the handiwork of several American preachers and deacons. I was especially touched as we met in a building that was constructed with the aid of several American brethren I love and respect, including the late Elder James Pruitt. We often sat on primitive split log seats, bamboo seats, plastic seats, and preached in a variety of environments. We saw the fruit of the love offerings of many faithful American members and most especially through it all, we saw the manifold blessings of God. One common denominator in all the church meetings was that there were a large percentage of children in every congregation, and the services were filled with zeal and joy – especially the song services. This time of year was the rainy season in the Philippines, and it rained every day or night (at least a little) that we were there. Many of the church services were held during the middle of the workweek and often during the middle of the day. Several members were unable to attend as a result. However, the weather was often the biggest factor in the absence of some members. Sometimes members were unable to cross the swollen rivers to make it to the meetinghouses. Others were hesitant to tread through the mud and downpours to walk the several miles they normally walked to church services. Some of the mountain roads were washed out or had mudslides and were impassible by car. One minister rode a motorcycle for 7 hours to attend a meeting with us. He didn’t have the money to pay for his gas, but was glad to make the trip when we sent word via a text message that we would pay for his gas. The pastors always seemed apologetic regarding the numbers attending the services, although most were well attended, especially for the time of day and week that many occurred, and considering the weather conditions. I often wondered why so many Filipino’s thought it necessary to have a PA system in the small buildings they often meet in. These PA systems are usually nothing more than an inexpensive Karaoke machine. But, now I know how hard it is to preach over the deafening sound of a monsoon on a tin roof and recognize the necessity. I also recognize the very noisy environment around many of the churches that have to be overcome by the preacher’s voice. Many of the churches located in crowded towns have to compete with the constant sound of car horns, blasting radios, etc. I was especially touched by the sincerity of the young members who were baptized during this trip. We carefully instructed and questioned the candidates prior to baptizing them. They all appeared younger than they actually were. Some, in their mid 20’s appeared to us to be young teenagers. It was moving to baptize the wife of a pastor we were about to ordain. She had previously been satisfied with the baptism in her former religion; but had recently become convinced to be baptized again. She could now serve as a member of the church that her husband was about to be ordained to pastor, and he seemed very happy that she was submitting to baptism. This same man was one I had witnessed being baptized in January. He had served as a Charismatic minister prior to converting to the Primitive Baptists. The pastor closed the baptismal service with prayer, standing with both hands lifted upwards toward heaven as he praised and thanked God. Later, they both seemed very happy during the ordination service as they sat together during the charge with big smiles on their faces. Most of the baptisms occurred in rented swimming pools, but one baptismal service was held in a river. I performed this service and was surprised at how swift and rough the water was. It was during this service that I had water splash into my mouth during the baptism of one sister. While baptizing another, my foot slipped and I thought we were about to be swept downstream. I was glad to regain my footing after taking a couple of steps. Later, I was surprised at how calm the water looked in the photographs in comparison to how it looked in reality. I was glad that we suffered no ill effects from the swift and rocky stream; however, I did suffer the consequences of that mouthful of dirty water and had some stomach problems for much of the trip. I was also not as careful and ate more of the food that was not prepackaged or well cooked. I enjoyed eating the food, but not the results. Since January, when we visited the city of Bacolod on the Island of Negros, Elder Nolli Hechanova and the congregation there had purchased a lot containing a rough building. From that they had built a beautiful church building. The church, Gleam of Hope Primitive Baptist, had not only been upgraded from a crude building already on the lot, but freshly painted, a new tin roof installed (to replace the original leaky palm thatch roof), and a Comfort Room (CR) added. (In America, we call a CR a restroom). Elder Hechanova lived in an adjacent building that had open lattice walls, a dirt floor, and a bamboo bed (no mattress). All the children slept in one room and Elder and Sister Hechanova slept on the bamboo bed in the living room. The only other room in the small house was a kitchen. Elder Hechanova is a very humble man that is sincerely dedicated to serving our Lord. I grew to love this servant of God on my first trip. During both trips, he served as our chauffeur and guide while we were on Negros Island. Elder Hechanova gave up much when he grew to know and love the doctrines of Grace. He left a church with approximately 300 members, a good salary, a ceiled and air-conditioned house, a car, and his children’s enrollment in a private school to become a Primitive Baptist. He did this to joyously preach the truth he now understands and to serve the Lord by pastoring His children. The Hechanova’s struggle to not complain, especially when the floods from the monsoons run into their home and muddy the dirt floor. He says he constantly reminds his wife and children that their small sacrifices are worth the joy of being blessed to know, understand, and teach the truth. After all, God sacrificed His only begotten Son for them and has providentially cared for them in so many ways, how could they complain? His wife has been healed twice from cancer and he has learned to trust in the Lord’s providence and to pray often. Since returning from this trip, I was saddened to receive a call from Elder Hechanova saying that he and his wife had been involved in an accident and his wife was in much pain in the hospital and had already undergone surgery for a broken collarbone. Recent letters have indicated that Sister Hechanova is recovering and feeling much better. The expense from this accident seems insurmountable to him at this time. I not only pray for the Lord’s blessing but know of more than one donor that has helped the Hechanova’s with a portion of the needed funds to help them through this trying time. I do hope Elder Hechanova’s wife will have a full and speedy recovery and that God will touch the hearts of others to help them through this trying time. During the service at Gleam of Hope PBC, the rain poured and the noise on the tin roof sounded like we were standing beside a speeding freight train. However, the congregation was very attentive and responsive. I was more overcome with emotion during this service than any other. I was filled with joy over the providence of God, the fruit of Elder Nolli’s labors, the good and efficient use of the funds that had been donated by American donors, and the zeal of this congregation. I believe this congregation will continue to grow and prosper under the guidance of this humble man of God. This church is located in a very poor squatter’s area of Bacolod. Though the members are mostly poor in worldly goods, they are richly blessed with joy and love. While in Negros we visited several outreaches and churches in remote areas of sugar cane plantations. On one occasion, while returning home from night services, the wheel of the van slid into a 4 foot deep trench that had been apparently dug by a backhoe. The walls of this trench were straight down and grown up with tall grass so that it was not even apparent from driving down the road that there was a ditch there. These trenches were common around the sugarcane fields. They are used to drain the water in rainy seasons and irrigate the fields in dry seasons. When the wheel went into the ditch, the van almost rolled over and remained at a steep angle with the bottom of the van resting on the road. This made it very difficult to get out. In fact, Elder Harter had difficulty getting out and a zealous Filipino, in an effort to help him lift his foot, wrenched his knee and Elder Harter suffered with a limp and pain the rest of the time we were there. About fifteen of us tried pushing and pulling the van, and even with the assistance of a jeepney attached by a cable, we were not able to pull the van from the ditch. While we were stranded there and wondering how or if we would get the van out, one of the young sisters (about 13 or 14 yrs. old) from the church we had just visited began singing songs of praise. She had a beautiful voice and I was amazed at how calming the singing was. The whole mood of the situation changed and I was reminded of how Paul and Silas had sung songs of praise after being beaten and imprisoned in Philippi. Finally we started all lifting the van and moving it over 1-2 inches at a time until we were able to get the wheel out of the ditch enough to pull it out with the other vehicle. While we were in Mindanao, Elder Harter had to fly to Manila to take care of business at the American Embassy to be able to bring his children back to the US. He arranged for Elder Whipp and I to be escorted by Elders Constacio Tojada and Manolo Dalman during his absence. Both of these faithful servants have been preaching for the Primitive Baptists for several years and are still contending for the faith. They have both traveled to the United States and preached among our people here. They sacrificed several days of their time to travel with us. Elder Dalman also provided the use of his car as we traveled several hundred kilometers across some rough and dangerous parts of Mindanao. I grew to know and love these dear brethren more on this trip and will cherish many of the memories of this time with them. I will especially cherish the memory of the one service in which we were blessed to hear several Filipino ministers preach, including our two companions. While traveling through Mindanao in Elder Dalman’s car, we actually broke a main accessory belt while ascending a mountain road in a Muslim controlled section. We spent several hours on the side of this mountain with a very scenic view of the countryside below. It took a couple of hours for Elder Tejada to ride a rented motorcycle back to a neighboring town to get a part and return. Then, we discovered the new belt was too small and he had to make the trip again. Overall we were stranded for about 6 hours in the humid sweltering heat. Some of the local church members drove to where we were stranded and picked up Elder Whipp, who went ahead to the destination and preached and met with some of the members while we took care of the car. We were able to make the evening service that night though. It was while stranded here and waiting for parts that I was able to meet some of the local children that attended a 1 room school across the road from where we were stranded. They were playing basketball on a small court with a broken goal. I played with them awhile and then while we were resting under the overhang of the school building during an afternoon shower, Elder Dalman informed me we were in a Muslim controlled area. He also told me that he and Elder Tejada had inquired when we first broke down and determined we were safe. But, being in a Muslim area, I took the opportunity to speak to the children about Jonah being swallowed by a whale. I then related this to the 3 days and nights that Jesus body lay in the tomb and how he died to pay for our sins and then rose from the grave. They had never heard of Jonah and most had never heard of Jesus. It is unclear how much they understood of my accounts of Jesus and Jonah. But I was glad to make use of this time by sharing a little bit of information about my Savior and His great sacrifice for His people. I was greatly blessed again to visit with the Harters and their precious adopted children and to spend time in their home. It was amazing to see the difference in the physical condition of Sister Betty Jo Harter since January. God has indeed miraculously blessed her with a great recovery of her ability to walk. Although she still has much pain at times, she is at least mobile and very active. I am sure that she must feel that the progress has been slow in coming, but I marvel at how well she appears to be. The Harter children seemed to really fall in love with Elder Shannon Whipp as did the children in most places we visited. He not only has a wonderful gift to preach, but was also blessed to communicate and relate to the younger folks in many of the congregations. Somewhere along the way, Elder Whipp picked up the nickname of “Goliath” because of his stature. However, Elder Harter’s secretary, Rey jokingly commented, “I thought Goliath had muscles?” On our last evening in the Harter’s home, the younger children decorated “Goliath” with their blankets, crawled all over him, gave him a new hairdo as he made funny faces, and the children giggled a lot. The scene was so funny, that I could barely stop laughing long enough to take a few pictures. This was a fun and relaxing break from the very serious labor we were conducting during the rest of the trip. We visited Providence Primitive Baptist Church and spoke on Sunday Morning and Night. I spoke to Providence Church on Sunday Night about the scriptural examples of having multiple elders serve them. They will be served by 3 capable pastors once Elder Harter leaves. I admonished them from the scriptures and used many personal experiences that I have had while serving as a pastor of a church with two other pastors. (Elder Gene Thomas and Elder Leon Etheredge) I was also blessed to spend time with the 3 pastors and answer questions regarding my experiences and several biblical principles that I feel are very applicable to their situation. We also visited Beauty for Ashes and witnessed the progress of the newly completed facilities. It was a joy once again to see the children of Beauty for Ashes and to hear them sing songs of praise to God. They had prepared banners and personalized pictures and letters they had colored for me and Elder Whipp. Their new facilities are great, and the children are surrounded by a caring and capable staff. We were pleased to tour the facilities and to see the excellent provisions that have been built with donations from so many caring people. The farming operation had expanded since the January visit. It is very productive, and has the prospects of providing most of their food as well as extra cash crops to keep the workers employed so that Beauty for Ashes may be somewhat financially self-sustaining. On the return leg of our trip we traveled back to Luzon and preached in the Manila area. There, we had a meeting with over 100 ministers of mostly Charismatic backgrounds. This is a multi-denominational group of ministers that meets monthly, and we had been granted the opportunity to speak at one of their monthly meetings. We presented the doctrines of grace and gave out many books (mostly books authored by Elder Michael Gowens) and some of the standard TULIP flyers that Elder Harter has distributed here and in the US for many years. We met for several hours and the doctrines appeared to be well received by many. After about two hours of preaching on the phases of Salvation by Elder Harter, each of us made a presentation of one of the doctrines of grace. We were each allowed to choose the topic we would present. I chose to speak on the Preservation of the Saints and enjoyed discussing this doctrine with those who, as a group, often do not believe that our salvation is eternally sure. It is a great blessing and assurance to know that our salvation is just as sure as our Savior and rests on His finished work and strength to maintain the everlasting covenant with His Father. This was a very exciting meeting for all of us and the local Primitive Baptist Ministers in the Manila area who also attended. Two of the Filipino ministers presented two of the discourses. We heard many say, “Amen” on several occasions. At the conclusion of the presentation though, as expected, we did receive some rebuttals and questions regarding the points we taught. One member of this group, who is a Reformed Calvinist, was very excited to have these doctrines presented, although he disagreed with a couple of our teachings (as we did with his). I think Elder Harter gave out about 150 copies of the various books and pamphlets he brought and seemed very excited about the prospects from this meeting. We concluded the session with a short question and answer session followed by photographs with the group. Overall, this was a very blessed trip. The time was filled with joyous services and instructions in the word of God. Many new friendships were developed and familiar friends were met again. More time was spent in the remote areas where we met with local congregations and actually saw the living conditions and beautiful landscapes of the countryside. Though many Filipinos are poor in this world’s goods, I have found them to be rich in the Spiritual blessings of God. In comparison, I fear many of our American brethren are growing colder to their Spiritual needs and neglecting the blessed service of God while growing richer in worldly goods. The concept of giving to those in need is a scriptural one and there are many blessings to be experienced when we are obedient to this command. Many have been blessed to participate in this service and the recipients have been blessed by your gifts. Yet the ones I fear that are in the greatest need are those in America who are rich in this worlds goods and poor in Spiritual things. It is easy to see one’s natural poverty, but Satan attempts to deceive us into believing we have no spiritual needs. Oftentimes, I find myself in the condition of a Laodicean – God forgive and God help!
By traveling to the Philippines, I have once again been given a great gift that I hope will be used of God to overcome some of my Spiritual poverty. Let us remember that God has a poor and afflicted people all over this world. Many of His children in the Philippines are a meek and loving people who are thankful to be associated with the Primitive Baptists. Let us be equally thankful to be associated with such loving, devoted, and faithful brethren as these precious Children of God are. Let us remember to reach out to those around us and let our lights shine to the glory of God. Let us also remember to encourage, help and support those of like precious faith wherever they are in this world. It is easy to find fault and criticize others and become like the Pharisees. But, I’d rather have the fellowship that Christ showed the sinners, than the rebuke He gave the Pharisees. I will cherish my precious memories among God’s children and my brethren in Christ, both here and abroad.