From the monthly archives:

July 2002

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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