In the Philippines, there are many stark contrasts. In the cities , you will sometimes see the signs of the ultra-rich like a passing limousine, but more often you will see the poorest of the poor. This stark contrast is more vivid in the large cities like Manila. Mostly you see great poverty everywhere. There are contrasts between the smells of smoke or animals, and the occasional aroma of the many beautiful flowers that grow on the islands. These flowers and the beautiful landscapes also provide sharp contrasts to the frequent signs of filth, especially in the slums, garbage dumps or rivers and canals. Though poor, the people are mostly beautiful and industrious, desiring to serve and find work to provide income and a better life for their families.
I want to share a small experience of a stark contrast in sounds. Though the experience was short and small in some senses, I trust it will make a great impact on my life and be remembered for many years to come. I was invited to preach at a church in Iligan City, on the 4th Sunday in January, 2011. I spoke to a large and very zealous congregation of a little over 100 folks and their Pastor inspired them with his zeal, encouragement and excitement as he spoke of God’s grace and providence. Their voices lifted together in songs of praise that sounded so joyous. I can imagine how people at this level of poverty might have oft complained, but these precious souls on this day and at this time were not focused on complaints or problems, they were rejoicing in the glory of the Lord and the grace of a sovereign GOD! They were full of praise and joy. As I spoke to them, they responded with full attention, smiles and several resounding Amens! After the services were over, I was told that 7 repentant believers were requesting baptism later that day. What an added joy to see those taking their responsibility and obediently professing Christ in this Muslim populated city.
This particular church is located in the center of a Muslim populated community with a Mosque located across the street less than a block away. The rounded tower of the mosque and its characteristic steeple with the crescent moon on top is very visible and unmistakable. Shortly after the services were ended and the congregation was enjoying fellowship, a noise began to be heard that was coming from outside. It wasn’t long before I recognized the hideous wailing sound as a Muslim call to prayer or prayer chant. It was being broadcast all over the city via loudspeakers. It was such a mournful sound and several dogs behind the church started howling at the sound which made the whole sound resemble that of coyotes or wolves howling. I was immediately able to contrast the stark difference between this mournful sound, made by a mournful people whose religion asks its members to shed their own blood as martyrs. Yet the disciples of Jesus Christ joyously worship One who gave His own precious blood and accomplished eternal salvation for us. One is a message of joy, the other a message of sorrow. One is a message of liberty, the other a message of bondage. One is a message of love, the other a message of condemnation. One worships a harsh god, the other worships and adores a God of unfathomable love and mercy. The joyous singing that was only accompanied by the precious faces filled with love and joy of a redeemed and beloved people, was a stark contrast to the wailing mournful sound of a people sold into bondage to a dreadful religion. How I shall look forward with anticipation to every occasion to sing praises to our great and loving God. Let the voices join in harmony if you will, yet even the most off-key tone deaf Christian sings a joyful song of praise that would ring like beautiful harmony in contrast to the mournful wailing of those with no hope. Let us never be ashamed to lift our voices in praise to the One who is Worthy of all praise – Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.