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Observations in the Philippines by David Pyles

by Original Author on August 21, 2002

Originally posted by Elder David Pyles
Several have requested that I write a report of what I experienced in the Philippines on a trip there from 6/24/02 through 7/2/02. I was accompanied there by Elder Mike Gowens, who travelled with me, and by Elder Gus Harter, who is now a resident of that country.

It was my intent to simply go there and return as on any ordinary preaching trip, but the deluge of questions I have received make it apparent that my friends will not be content until I provide the details. This is probably best because some of these friends view the Philippine work with skepticism whereas others are primarily supportive. I present what follows upon the theory that people having the same information tend to arrive at the same conclusions.

As for the natural aspects of the Philippines, I confess that I was not prepared for the poverty that I witnessed. I left the Philippines feeling that I had been very naive about the extent of American prosperity. I am convinced that most who will read this report would have been similarly affected. I have not been diligent to read all the reports of ministers who have traveled there before, and perhaps this accounted for my ignorance, but I believe any American would have reacted with surprise upon first encounter, regardless of what they had ever read or heard.

Upon returning home, I examined the various photographs we took while there. I was disappointed that these did very little to capture the true scene. Our tendency had been to take photographs around facilities that had been rented to accommodate large congregations. These facilities definitely were not indicative of their surroundings. Pictures I had seen before going to the Philippines also proved misleading. In almost every case they had made things look much better than they truly appear. I suggest to the reader that Primitive Baptist preachers are better with words than they are with cameras. The old proverb that a picture is worth a thousand words definitely does not apply here.

I will summarize what I saw by saying that were one to travel to the worst slums in America and look about, they would see what would be regarded as wealth in the Philippines. I am tempted to describe this in much further detail but will not do so here. Primitive Baptists will be more interested in the spiritual aspects of this country, so I will attempt to move quickly to these.

The affect of this poverty on me was to almost completely purge any sympathy I had for the many Americans who are capable of work but are fattening themselves on welfare checks, food stamps, etc. Employers in America are constantly complaining of inability to find good workers. This shows that almost any American could find work if he had any respectable degree of diligence and conscientiousness. Such opportunity does not exist in the Philippines.

This poverty is largely the consequence of social norms and corrupt or foolish government. The population is enormous, partly owing to a prohibition on birth control by the Catholic Church. There are also laws preventing ownership of property by foreigners, and this imprudence hinders foreign industry from providing new opportunities for employment and income. Those in power are commonly accused of being self-serving and are blamed for the plight of the people. Whatever the case, it is clear that present conditions are such that even an industrious Filipino would have great difficulty emerging from poverty.

What I have just related could convey some false impressions to Americans. Most of us think of slums as being very dangerous places, so when one is traveling through the endless slums of the Philippines, they cannot help but feel a sense of danger. But the reality is that the two places are not comparable in this regard. This is not to say that one is completely safe in the Philippines, but the degree of risk is not that of an American slum. Second, the Filipinos are conscientious concerning their cleanliness. They frequently bathe in creeks, public bathing facilities and the ocean. Third, the clothing worn by the women is of western style but generally more modest than in America. Fourth, the Filipinos seem better educated than most impoverished Americans. Most I saw could speak at least two languages. Nearly all had at least some knowledge of English. They also seemed to be eager readers.

Most importantly, the Filipinos seemed to be more conversant in the scriptures than typical Americans. In this regard, going to the Philippines seemed like a return to earlier times in America when life was slower, carnal distractions were fewer, the church was the center of social life and the Bible was the primary food to the intellect.

Yet modern morality problems are also present, partly owing to strong western influence. Western music is commonly heard in urban areas. Unmarried men and women cohabit there as here, and many children are born outside of marital union. This state of affairs is partly the result of a prohibition on all divorce by the government. This prohibition is also the result of Catholic dominance. They do not even consider adultery as a basis for divorce.

From Wednesday through Friday we preached to a group consisting primarily of ministers. This group was much larger than I had expected. I was told that about 125 ministers were present, around 30 of whom were of other religious orders, and a few non ministers attended also. There were three sessions per day. Each was structured much like an ordinary worship service (i.e. singing, prayer and preaching), except that reading materials were provided, and time was given in each session for comments and questions from the congregation.

The subject matter varied, but was nearly all on basic doctrine and practice, including such issues as immediate regeneration, limited atonement, rebaptism, musical instruments, etc. The messages and questions frequently diverged from the reading materials, but it is best to reinforce what is spoken with something in writing when in the Philippines. This is because none of the Filipinos are as proficient in English as Americans, and some can barely speak the language. The reading materials afford them opportunity to reexamine what was said in their own time and at their own pace, and this helps prevent misunderstandings and false conclusions. My materials were entirely taken from the web site I manage.

Most American ministers would feel a bit nervous about fielding Bible questions in such an unfamiliar environment, but there was in fact nothing unfamiliar about the questions. They were the same questions that are commonly discussed by all elders, especially ones who are just beginning to preach. So any elder who can remember being a young preacher, or has had others exercising under his care, could anticipate the questions. They were questions about difficult but familiar passages, and questions about ways to defend and teach Primitive Baptist views in the face of opposition. Of course all of the ministers in the Philippines have limited experience among the Primitive Baptists, unlike in America where the landscape is speckled with experienced elders unto whom younger ministers can turn. Hence, the Filipino ministers are eager for guidance and visibly grateful when they can receive it. But they themselves are quite knowledgeable in scripture, and any American minister planning a trip there should thoroughly hone his sword before leaving.

Near the end of this meeting, we received one question that was out of character, but I was happy that it was asked. A non Primitive Baptist minister inquired as to the possibility of being baptized and ordained on the same day. Elder Harter answered this question with what I thought was a reasonable combination of firmness and charity. He explained that in the early work in the Philippines, because of the difficulties and uncertainties of the circumstances, some men were ordained without the usual period of examination. He stated that these ordinations had come under criticism in America, and that this criticism was not without merit. He then explained that if any of those present were to join the Primitive Baptists, they would relinquish their credentials and enter the church as ordinary members; they would be rebaptized; they could not expect financial relief from America, and that they would be ordained only after proving themselves. These are rigorous terms, especially given the poverty of the Filipinos, but are not unreasonable terms given the nature of the office.

A question that has been discussed in America as of late is the extent to which the preached gospel will reach all of the elect. It is commonly believed among conventional Calvinists that all the elect, except possibly infants, will be brought to an evangelical faith. Elder Harter asked that I address this point in one of the question and answer sessions. Neither he nor I nor Elder Gowens hold this view. I consider it to be simply bizarre. I believe all of the elect will be born again and that all will be taught of God, but not that all will hear gospel ministers. While I do not profess to know how many will be deprived of human preaching, the position that all of them will hear preaching is a conclusion that cannot be established by any systematic approach to the scriptures. I responded to Elder Harter’s request by presenting a few points in defense of our view. The congregation seemed content with our position on the subject.

I will also mention another issue that has been the subject of some discussion in America; namely, the Filipino practice of infant dedication. I was hoping to gain a better understanding of this while there. In the Philippine culture, ministers generally sign birth certificates rather than doctors. This is partly owing to the fact that few Filipinos are born under a doctor’s supervision. The minister typically signs the certificate after offering prayer for the infant and the parents. This is generally done in the presence of the church congregation. My primary interest had been in knowing exactly how the service was viewed. I saw four logical possibilities: 1) That the infant was being saved, 2) That church membership or similar privileges were being conferred to the infant, 3) That oaths or vows were being taken concerning the infant, or 4) That the service was nothing more than a prayer that the Lord would bless the infant and the parents in training it.

The first two possibilities are clearly objectionable. The third possibility is more complex, and my opinion concerning it would depend upon whether the service were viewed as being a part of church or as being separate from church. The case is comparable to the weddings we hold in America. There is no mention in the Bible of weddings being performed by the church, nor is there any mention of marital oaths and vows, nor is there any mention of marriage certificates. Consequently, we do not view wedding services as being a function of the church, even though we commonly hold them in church buildings under the direction of ministers.

But it was explained to me that the infant dedications in the Philippines fall under the fourth case. They are merely petitions for the aid of the Lord. I have no objection to this. Surely the liberated church of the Lord Jesus Christ has the right to present its every burden to God Almighty (Php 4:6, 1Pet 5:7).

Some Filipino ministers also spoke during our meetings. One point of emphasis in their messages was the necessity that they work toward achieving financial independence from America. They explained that a properly functioning church is self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating. Achieving total financial independence will be difficult for them, but I believe these comments showed a proper and admirable perspective concerning the charity they presently receive.

There was also emphasis on the evil of preaching for money. This is an important subject for the Philippines because the temptation for this is greater there than here. The primary temptation for an American minister is to entangle himself in lucrative secular employment. It is an honorable thing for a minister to hold a secular job, but not if his ministry is neglected because of greed for worldly possessions. But in the Philippines, there are few opportunities for secular employment, to the extent that half of the population is without work, and those who are employed are commonly paid the equivalent of $4 per day. The greater temptation there is to preach without sincerity or to preach false doctrine to appease a rewarding congregation. I was amused when one of the Filipino ministers boldly charged preachers of other orders with taking “bribes” to preach heresy. I thought his political incorrectness was refreshing.

After the meeting, the various churches represented extended invitation for new members. Several then came forward. Though I did not count, I was told that the total number was 16. This group did not include the man who had asked about being baptized and ordained on the same day. Each gave a lengthy testimonial, spoken by some in their native language and by others in English. From what I could understand, most were describing why they had changed from Arminianism to grace.

An interesting aspect to these testimonials was that several related how Jn 1:11-13 had finalized their conversion. This text had been considered earlier in the meeting during a question and answer session. We were asked to give an explanation of the text that would clarify the meaning of the word “received” in verse 12. Apparently, some of the unconverted preachers thought the text presented somewhat of a challenge to the Primitive Baptist position. This surprised me because I have always considered the text to be a plutonium-charged, hardshell landmine. I did not understand why someone wishing to challenge our position would step right on top of it.

We explained that the real issue in this text was not the word “received” because Primitive Baptists all acknowledge that those who truly receive Christ are saved. We explained that the real issue was the “means” by which these persons received. The relevant questions were: Did they receive as an act of their own freewill? or – Did they receive because of the irresistible drawing power of God? Did they receive in order to be born again? or – Did they receive because they were already born again? We then showed there is no ambiguity concerning these questions. Verse 13 clearly states that those who received had already been born again, and that they were not born again because man willed it to be so, but because God willed it to be so; hence, they were not born again because they wanted to be born again, or because a preacher wanted them to be born again, but because God willed it to be and caused it to be.

After thinking more about it, I could better understand why this text was so significant to them. It occurred to me that Arminians are very inclined to quote verses 11 and 12 without quoting verse 13. And while Jn 1:11-13 is only a single text in the Bible, the error Arminians commit here is characteristic of the error they commit throughout the Bible; namely, they have tunnel vision when reading words like “believe” and “receive” and do not see that on the periphery of such terms are abundant scriptural teachings that natural man cannot do these things of his own freewill and ability, but that he does them only by the sovereign, electing and regenerating grace of God.

I was somewhat surprised to see so many preachers coming from Arminianism. I had been under the impression that most Filipino converts came from Calvinistic orders. This was a serious misimpression on my part. In personal conversations with other preachers, I found that they also came from Arminian orders. I think part of my misunderstanding had been borrowed from other Primitive Baptists who had assumed that because the first few converts were Calvinistic that this pattern had continued. Also, it is well known that some of the Filipinos came from Landmarker Baptists, but there is a mistaken notion among many American Primitive Baptists that Landmarkers are primarily Calvinistic. This is true of a few Landmarkers but not of most. The truth of the matter is that the Filipino Primitive Baptists have come from many different origins, but the vast majority of these converts were formerly of Arminian persuasion.

Seeing so many preachers relinquishing their credentials and joining the church was a surprise to me, and I suppose almost any American Primitive Baptist would have reacted the same. Such things are so far beyond anything in this country that they are very difficult to comprehend. The spiritual aspects of the Philippines are no less shocking than the natural, and though I was happy to be a part of it, my mind was constantly struggling to understand it. I will offer more thoughts on this shortly, but will now continue to relate what happened there so that the reader can comprehend the magnitude of it all.

On Saturday, the day after the meeting described above, and at the same location, three ministers were ordained and three churches were constituted. These ministers were not among those who were recently baptized. The congregations for these churches arrived the same morning in small buses.

Buses are a common mode of transportation for Filipinos. Very few of them own cars, and even these are generally used as taxicabs by proprietors. The cars are commonly American models. The buses are nearly all of Japanese make. Motorcycles and bicycles are also everywhere. These are commonly enclosed in bizarre housings to accommodate multiple passengers. Whatever the vehicle, it will almost invariably be old, packed beyond limit with passengers – oftentimes with people both in it and on it – and if it is a motorized vehicle, it will almost surely be emitting smoke.

I did not count the people who arrived that morning, but could safely say that the three congregations represented were not small. My general impression was that they were of average size in terms of American churches. The ministers that were ordained were to be the pastors of these churches. The ordinations were first and the churches were constituted thereafter. I learned that when the Filipinos assess a man’s qualifications to preach, his diligence in gaining converts to the Primitive Baptist faith is a potential consideration. My understanding was that the men who were ordained this day had done much to convert the prospective members of these new churches.

That afternoon we drove to Davao City. This is the home city of Elder Harter. Elder Gowens and I stayed in a motel because the Harter’s home is packed beyond limit with 27 children. The next morning (Sunday), we worshipped with the church pastored by Elder Harter. The meeting was in a rented building. As a sizeable congregation began to assemble, I was surprised at the large composition of young people. I felt impressed to change the subject I had intended and preached on Eccl 12 instead. I should not have been surprised at the number of youth. I already knew that life is short in the Philippines, and that only two or three percent of the population live to be 60.

I had recently preached in the mountains of Virginia and had there examined an ancient photograph of a large Primitive Baptist congregation. This picture interested me because old pictures of preachers are common but we seldom see pictures of the congregations. These people were obviously poor and living in much harder times. There were only a handful of elderly people in it. All the rest were young families. The thought occurred to me that when we speak of the “old” Primitive Baptists of bygone days, we are in fact talking about people who were younger than ourselves on average. The idealism, vigor and optimism of their youth probably contributed to the revivals of their times. Regardless of our age, it is important that these characteristics never be lost. Though our outward man is perishing, our inward man is renewed day by day as we look to the unseen, eternal works of God (2Cor 4:16-18).

After church we visited Elder Harter’s home. I can envy Elder Harter’s spiritual surroundings, but I covet nothing about his natural circumstances. The worst part is the suffocating smog in Davao City. This is the case in all Philippine cities. Nothing in America will compare with it. His home is above average in size but not large. Kids are everywhere. I have seldom seen so many people living in so little space. The children were generally adopted out of abject poverty. Some were on the verge of starvation when taken.

I picked up one child and held him high in the air. I assumed this would be a special thrill for him since no one in the Philippines is anywhere near my height (6’6”). I had not considered that, after such a hard life and now having his adult attention being divided 27 ways, this would be the equivalent of an American kid going to Six Flags. In seconds almost the entire house was at my feet jumping and begging for their turn. They simply could not get enough of it. This was a very good experience for my heart but very bad for my back!

Elder Harter’s wife manages a facility called “Beauty for Ashes.” It is a clinic for nursing starving children back to health. Many of these children are homeless. The clinic is funded by contributions specifically designated for it. Though several church members work there, the clinic is a separate entity from the church. Anyone who has seen pictures of a concentration camp could imagine the appearances of some of the children arriving at this clinic. Restoring their health is not simply a matter of feeding them. There is a science to it. When medical care is needed, it is fortunately inexpensive, and medicine is readily available without prescription. Once the health of a child is restored, finding a home for the child can be difficult, so many have been adopted by the Harters.

We left on Sunday evening for Manila. The next day we preached to a group of around 40 preachers. Nearly all of these were from other religious orders. There were some in the group who were not preachers, including women. I had been told to expect a group of this size, yet it still surprised me. It would be difficult to get a hearing out of one such preacher in America, much less could one expect a group of 40. Much of this was owing to the aggressiveness of the Filipinos in rounding up their acquaintances and friends. Elder Harter also explained to me that a group like this could be easily assembled in the Philippines if reading materials were promised. The Filipinos cannot afford books, and even if they could, the books likely would not be available. Their intellectual appetites have not been stymied by over-indulgence in television and other amusement. They will therefore stampede to literature. Elder Harter’s explanation had been confirmed by my experience of the prior days. No Filipino Primitive Baptist ever asked me for money, but I was repeatedly asked if I would send reading materials.

Time permitted us to speak on total depravity, unconditional election, irresistible grace and limited atonement. We assumed that the doctrine of preservation would automatically fall into place if we could establish the other points. Elder Harter introduced the service by talking in general terms about the various aspects of salvation, including both eternal and timely phases. I spoke next on total depravity. This was a pressured moment for me because I realized that we had to impress this point to have any success. As I presented the many scriptural proofs for this doctrine, I could initially see skepticism on some faces, but this changed to occasional nods of agreement. Finally, as I concluded by showing that the necessity of the new birth both implied and was implied by total depravity, the agreement became very vocal. This was my final experience with the remarkable receptivity of the Philippine people. It was yet another event that would be almost impossible to replicate in America.

The magnitude of the revival in the Philippines is so far beyond anything witnessed in modern America that it is difficult to comprehend. I believe that what is happening there is real. The conviction, joy and repentance are visibly evident, and many have endured as Primitive Baptists notwithstanding personal sacrifice and criticism by friends. The ultimate test of anything is the fruit that it bears (Mt 7:16-20 & 12:33), and I think the fruitfulness of the Philippine effort is undeniable at this point. Some of this work likely will not be enduring. Even the Lord had many disciples who walked away (Jn 6:66), and there were many defections from the first generation church (1Jn 2:19). We also have defections in America. This is to be expected, but I believe the bulk of the Philippine work is genuine.

But perhaps the true enigma is not the Philippines but rather America. I have considered the number of times I have spoken to the unconverted in America; how I have presented to them doctrinal issues; how I have logically and scripturally proven Primitive Baptist views beyond all reasonable doubt; how I have logically and scripturally destroyed the alternative views; how my fellow ministers have done precisely the same on numerous occasions, yet, the reaction we have become accustomed to expect is for our hearers to return directly to their football games, car races and televisions without doing a thing in reaction to what was preached. This is not logical behavior. No amount of replication can make it logical. What is happening in the Philippines is unusual but not illogical.

The problem is that in America there is little conviction about what is the truth (see Jer 5:1), and this is largely because Americans have become masters of seeing what they want to see, hearing what they want to hear, and believing what they want to believe. This is true regardless of whether they are examining the Bible, the Constitution or the bone of an extinct monkey. In America, truth is whatever people want it to be. In the Philippines, truth is whatever God says it to be. These statements are admittedly extreme and have numerous exceptions, but I believe they properly convey the relative tendencies.

The poverty and hardship of natural life in the Philippines is also a contributing factor to spiritual success. Natural life promises them little, and they perceive that they are each insignificant drops in an ocean of 75 million people. Church is about the only respite they know, and it is the gem of their social life. Their primary comfort is in the love of Christ and His children, and they understand that their only significance as individuals must be found in the everlasting love of God and His electing grace. Almost any American Primitive Baptist would find natural life in the Philippines deplorable, but would find spiritual life among the Filipino Primitive Baptists a real joy. To better understand the revival there, assume that a Filipino perceives the Philippines much the same as you would.

Almost all American Primitive Baptists have preached that natural prosperity in America and the contamination of the American mind by relativism have been great hindrances to the truth. A trip to the Philippines would probably impress the reader that the half of this has never yet been told. The declining number of Primitive Baptists in America is largely owing to these very things, and while our own failings are often blamed, these criticisms are not always reasonable or fair. What is being preached here is all the same with what is being preached there. The difference is in the spiritual climate. Any American preacher who is skeptical about the Philippine effort because of its unusual success should consider that if he were preaching there himself, the results likely would not substantially differ.

One thing that impressed me about the Philippines was the extent to which the revival there is owing to the Filipinos themselves. The contribution of Americans is relatively minor. At this stage, Americans are mostly troubleshooters. For example, the Filipinos did most of the work in converting the 16 preachers I mentioned earlier. The various churches had done much labor with these men prior to our meeting. Our role was merely to knock the final obstacles out of the way. The footwork in the Philippines is being done by the Filipinos. They carry the message to their family and friends with great energy and zeal. They teach others the doctrines and practices of Primitive Baptists with competence and visible conviction. They have a remarkable ability to assemble large congregations to hear preaching.

The important principle in this is that, while biblical evangelism is both far and near, the vast majority of it is near. This has important implications for the position Primitive Baptists have historically taken toward evangelism. Some have viewed the Philippine work as a challenge to the historic Primitive Baptist position against missionism. It seems to me that it should be viewed as a vindication of that position. The fact that so much has been accomplished there without a mission society, and by a body so small as the Primitive Baptists, and with so few resources, definitely says something about this issue.

It shows that the foreign evangelist is merely a match in the hand of the Holy Spirit. The fuel for the fire is dispersed in the regenerate hearts of the hearers. The fire builds exponentially as one heart ignites another (Rom 1:17). In the resulting blaze, the significance of the match must decrease, and it becomes increasingly evident that Christ and the Holy Spirit are the power behind it all. The supposition that a manmade institution is necessary for all of this, and that the church and its ministry are insufficient to the task, not only shows disregard for the New Testament pattern, but also reveals a misunderstanding of how the Holy Spirit works and the degree to which He works. It supposes that the foreign evangelist must supply both the fuel and the match, and thereby gives an exaggerated sense of his importance.

While Filipinos are anxious to learn from American Primitive Baptists, I am sure the reader will agree that we must not be pompous in supposing that we have nothing to learn from them. I believe the most valuable lesson may be derived by comparing the Filipino view of the Primitive Baptist cause with our own. With respect to this cause, the American is much too inclined to be preoccupied with what man has made wrong about it, whereas the Filipino is exulting over what God has made right about it. The American tends to scrutinize the old fort to see what needs to be fixed, whereas a Filipino simply fixes his bayonet and charges. This he does not with a maddened zeal, but being driven with conviction that his cause is right and worthy and momentous. He is furthermore inspired with the confidence that he can conquer anything with his newly found doctrine and practice.

American Primitive Baptists sometimes focus too narrowly on what is wrong about their cause and fail to appreciate all that is right about it. Some are preoccupied with what they think was wrong in the past. Others are preoccupied with what they think is wrong with the present. We must endeavor to correct what is wrong, but not become so obsessed with it and discouraged by it that we lose sight of all that is right. The Primitive Baptist cause is right. Salvation by grace is right. The word of God is right. The sufficiency of the scriptures is right. The simplicity and sufficiency of the church is right. Biblical morality is right. And a host of other things represented by the Primitive Baptist cause are right and worthy and important.

Above all, God is right, and only He can make things right. If we entertain the illusion that we were ever entirely right, or that we can somehow make everything right, then we are placing too much confidence in the potentiality of man. Such confidence places us at contradiction without own doctrine. Our treasure is in earthen vessels that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us (2Cor 4:7). But what God has given to us is in fact a treasure, and it represents the greatest and most important cause on the earth.

All of us are highly indebted to people who saw the preponderate worthiness of their cause and sacrificed themselves for it notwithstanding the inevitable fault they might have found in themselves and their fellows. For example, we are a free people because a recent generation of Americans did not become preoccupied with their blunders at Pearl Harbor and elsewhere, but saw that notwithstanding these errors, their general cause was right, that freedom is right, that tyranny is wrong, and they united themselves and sacrificed themselves with conviction and zeal to secure what we are blessed to have today.

Not everything Primitive Baptists have done in America is right. Not everything we have done in the Philippines is right. It will never be entirely right. The process of self-correction and self-repair never ends, but too much criticism will lead to skepticism and too much analysis will lead to paralysis. I think the Filipinos have the better perspective: Our cause is right! Fix bayonet and charge!! The rest will tend to fix itself.

On the long flight home, I was seated by a man who was apparently extremely wealthy. He owned factories in several nations. His knowledge of the world and its various countries, their governments, their societies and their economies, was very impressive. He was Indian and born in India but now a U.S. citizen. He was extremely patriotic. In fact, he was making monthly trips to the Philippines attempting to move some of his factories in China to the Philippines. He claimed that this move would hurt his profitability, but that he considered China an enemy to America and he was not going to support it any further. He expressed disappointment that other American businessmen were not doing the same.

He expressed his concern that America was being destroyed by its own lawyers and by irresponsible people. But he told me to appreciate this: That America is the most compassionate nation in the world; that it will sacrifice itself to free others; that it will even put food in the mouths of its enemies. He thought this is why America is great. The rest of the world, he said, is generally heartless and self-serving. I believe his analysis concerning America is right. And I will summarize my thoughts concerning the Philippines by saying that whatever you think of my efforts there, or whatever you think of other preachers who have gone there, let none of this extinguish your compassion for the Filipinos themselves. They are trying to be faithful Primitive Baptists to the best of their knowledge and ability.

As the shoreline of America came in view, the excitement of my fellow passenger became very visible. It was as though he was approaching holy ground. It was beautiful to me also, but seeing this in a former foreigner, and in a man who made such trips monthly, enabled me to see just how much that I will never be able to see concerning what God has done for all of us!

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Originally posted by Elder Michael Gowens
3 July 2002- Upon my safe arrival at home from an eight-day journey to the Philippines, I have a new appreciation for the great things the Lord is doing in that distant land. I found the Primitive Baptist ministry there to be sound in both doctrine and practice, zealous for the cause of God and truth, and committed to working hard for their Lord and His church. The churches continue to grow toward spiritual maturity and increasing stability. To see the borders of Zion increase as more and more people are brought to understand the joyful sound of the true gospel and to embrace the truths that have been so precious to my own soul inspires me with a new courage and resolve in ministry.

My trip began on June 24 with a family prayer in the living room of our home. After counseling the children concerning my expectations for them during my absence, I read Psalm 31, made some brief comments on selected verses, and we bowed in prayer. The heartfelt prayers offered by my two boys asking for God’s providential care and blessing upon me while I would be “a stranger in a strange land” touched me deeply. It was a very precious moment with the children and the Lord gave me great peace as we prayed together. After embracing one another, the kids drove me to the airport in Louisville.

I met Elder David Pyles in Los Angeles and was glad to see a familiar face. The fifteen hour flight to Manila passed without incident. We were greeted at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila by our dear and beloved friend in Christ, Elder Gus Harter. Words fail to express my admiration for this godly man. His faith and courage in the face of relentless challenges; his steady zeal and enthusiasm for spreading the gospel of grace; his work ethic and willingness to sacrifice for the cause of Christ; his godly wisdom, ministerial integrity, joyful attitude, and evident love for the Primitive Baptist people is exemplary. Our loss in America since his departure is certainly the Filipino’s gain. I felt myself very blessed to see him again.

We boarded a connecting flight to Cagayan do Oro where we were met by Elder Manolo Dalman, who drove us the last twenty miles or so to Tubigan in Misamis Oriental for the Minister’s Conference. This three-day meeting with our brethren from the Philippines began on Wednesday night, June 26. Approximately 130 ministers, the majority of whom were already Primitive Baptists, gathered for this time of fellowship around the word of God. It was a blessing to finally meet in person so many ministers that I knew only by written correspondence prior to this time. I feel that the Lord blessed the meeting with His presence and grace so that it was a very profitable time together.

Brother Pyles was wonderfully blessed to preach and to explain the great principles and practices of the Church. His messages on the everlasting love of God, the reasons we practice rebaptism of those who come to the church from other orders, and the priority of laboring for unity among the brethren were simply outstanding. His final sermon on Friday evening concerning the Book of Job was especially blessed to my soul.

In fact, God especially crowned this final service with a special portion of His Spirit. Brother Harter concluded the meeting with a very powerful message from Nehemiah entitled “Let Us Rise Up and Build”. Brethren embraced one another in a spirit of brotherly love and fellowship and tears of joy were shed as the meeting concluded.

I felt good preaching liberty in most of my efforts there. I spent the bulk of my time in the book of Ephesians, speaking on such themes as “Grace Promotes Godliness”, “Trinitarian Salvation”, “The Covenant of Grace”, “Paul’s Doctrine of the Christian Life”, and “Practical Sanctification”. I also gave one presentation on the popular Charismatic movement offering four arguments to prove that sign gifts and mediate miracles were unique to the apostolic era and not normative for the church in subsequent ages. My final message focused on 2 Corinthians 4 concerning how Paul dealt with discouragement in ministry.

The Filipino ministers exhibited a very teachable spirit and expressed gratitude for our efforts to minister the word to them. I was encouraged by their theological maturity and versatility in the Scriptures. They asked a number of very substantive questions dealing with everything from the proper interpretation of certain verses of Scripture to issues of church practice to the more technical theological disciplines of eschatology and ecclesiology. A dozen or so of the non-Primitive Baptist men present expressed that they were brought to see the truth of God’s sovereignty in salvation for the first time in their lives. We were glad to be able to distribute several hundred pamphlets on various subjects, together with copies of Elder Bradley’s periodical entitled “The Baptist Witness” to the ministers there. They are eager students and seemed very appreciative of any literature to assist them in their studies.

It was certainly an interesting and unique experience to me to hear them sing their Cebuano hymns, pray in their native dialects, and to interact with these men at a personal level of conversation. I was impressed by the sincerity of their devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ and their soundness in the faith. Over and again during the course of the meeting, the theme of integrity in ministry surfaced and we were all challenged to be men of irreproachable behavior, indefatigable labor, and uncompromising faith in the service of the Savior. How encouraging to hear God’s servants challenge each other to maintain the high ethical standards the New Testament specifies for gospel ministers! May the Lord continue to work in each man’s heart to bring him to ever increasing degrees of holiness in doctrine, thought, word, and deed.

On Saturday, we journeyed south to Davao City. This eight-hour drive through the heart of Mindanao took us along the very edge of the section where various Muslim extremists have been active in recent months. Inclement weather, i.e. rain and heavy fog, however, was to our advantage and we made the trip without incident. Our journey was extended for an additional hour, though, because of a mudslide on the mountain—a complication that reduced passage to a single lane and backed up traffic for miles in both directions.

On this journey, we were able to witness some of the severe poverty that characterizes this land. Tiny, crude dwellings akin to huts line the highways, especially in rural sections, and everywhere the struggle for daily survival is evident. I was admittedly naïve regarding the degree to which oppressive regimes and public policies of the past have impoverished this land and was deeply moved at the plight of the common man. One can only imagine how much the economy might improve if the government would allow outsiders to develop industry and build factories on Filipino soil. This would go a long way to remedy the problems of epidemic unemployment, pervasive poverty, and the general disorder of society. Though the Filipino people are evidently industrious and hard-working, the lack of social organization seems to perpetuate a very loosely defined culture marked by an individual quest for daily subsistence.

Under such adverse conditions, the need for hands-on, physical ministry is significant. Scarcely did we stop in traffic, whether in Cagayan, Davao, or Manila, but destitute people would approach the car to beg for a few pesos. It was not uncommon to see mothers sitting beside the street with an infant asleep on a piece of plastic or cardboard. We witnessed a number of children, some as young as three or four years of age, begging or doing unsolicited jobs like washing the windows of a parked car to earn enough for their daily supply of food. The opportunity for the ministry of mercy in the face of such abject circumstances is great.

An especially startling problem is malnutrition. To minister to the needs of these malnourished children, Sister Harter has opened a clinic called “Beauty for Ashes” in Davao City. The work of this facility is making a difference for good in the lives of many needy people. Several little ones were being treated for malnutrition and its complications when we visited the clinic. Competent nurses worked diligently to care for the needs of these very frail and sickly children. One little boy named Rex was especially impressive to me. Rex had almost died of kidney failure shortly after his admission. On this day, however, Rex walked from bed to bed, tenderly stroking the little hands or feet of the other patients. I was deeply touched to watch the demonstration of compassion of this little boy to others who now faced the same plight that he had faced just months ago. As I looked at a picture of Rex when he first came to the clinic, then looked at him standing before me, I said, “Rex, you are doing so much better.” He replied with the brightest smile I’ve ever seen. “Beauty for Ashes” is a noble ministry of compassion and I pray that God would bless Sister Harter and the entire staff to continue to help the helpless in this very tangible expression of the gospel of Christ.

On Sunday morning, Br. Pyles and I shared pulpit duties during the worship of Providence Primitive Baptist Church in Davao. This church, pastured by Elder Harter, has grown to almost one hundred fifty worshippers in the past year. Brother David preached from Ecclesiastes 12 and I followed with a message from John 17. After a noon meal, Elder Rolly de Guzman baptized a new member into the fellowship of the church.

We retired to the Harter’s home on Sunday afternoon where we visited and played with the kids. It had been a few years since I had seen the older kids and I was thrilled to get to spend some time with them again. They seem to be very mature and responsible and are, no doubt, a real help in caring for their younger siblings. I sensed a genuine spirit of love and concern for one another, even among the smallest of the children, and feel blessed to have the privilege of visiting in the Harter home.

Sunday evening found us back on a plane for Manila. This city of 17 million people is the most crowded I’ve ever witnessed, even more congested than New York City. I’ve never seen anything like Manila traffic and riding in a Manila taxi is a hair-raising experience, to say the least. Judges 21:25 is the rule of the road: “Every man does that which is right in his own eyes.” These drivers proved to me that it is possible to turn two lanes into three and four lanes into six as a regular matter of course. We were amazed to notice that accidents are considerably rare.

On Monday morning, we began a one day meeting on the “Doctrines of Grace” with about forty ministers from the Metro Manila area. Only ten or so were Primitive Baptists, the others coming from various denominational backgrounds including Baptist and Charismatic. Brother Harter began the meeting by speaking on the “Five Phases of Salvation”, an excellent presentation. Brother David spoke on Total Depravity and Limited Atonement. I spoke on Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace. Brother Gus concluded the presentations with some comments on the doctrine of Eternal Preservation. It was a good day of fellowship and I trust some seed was sown that will produce fruit in the lives of some of those who were present.

We boarded our plane for the return flight home on Monday night at 10:00 p.m. and made it back to our families and churches without event. Though I am a bit physically weary, I am spiritually encouraged. The future is bright for the kingdom of God. The Lord is doing great things in that distant land. May we continue to pray for His blessing upon Elder Harter and all of the brethren and churches there. And may we, while it is day, be ready to extend a helping hand to them for the honor and glory of Christ’s worthy name. Freely we have received, brethren. Let us freely give. To God be the glory.

With hearty thanks to all who prayed for us during this journey, I remain, your friend and servant, for Jesus’ sake,

Michael L. Gowens
Lexington, Kentucky.

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Our Trip to the Philippines, by Elder Zack Guess

May 14, 2001

Originally posted by Elder Zack Guess In the last part of January Elder Gus Harter called me and asked if I could come to the Philippines and help him. He said that the gospel was spreading throughout the islands and that many ministers were being converted to the truth as preached by Primitive Baptists and […]

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Impressions from a Recent Trip to the Philippines, by Elder Dan Hall

November 30, 1998

Originally posted by Elder Dan Hall When I became aware of the opportunity to visit the Philippines for the purpose of visiting among several of the churches that have been established in the Davao City area during the past few years, I set some goals for myself as to what I hoped would be accomplished […]

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