The Philippines is a beautiful country of contrasts from high-density urban sprawl communities to the open spaces in the provinces. It’s an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands and a population of 103 million people with 13 million living in metropolitan Manila. BST student Phil Gray recently visited for ministry. Read on to find out what he experienced.
Manila is a city continually on the move, honking horns, vendors at every turn, skyways rising three levels into the air, and every form of transport imaginable—the hustle and bustle day and night is like no other. It was my home for eight weeks from December 2016 to January this year. Throughout the city, some billboards and multilevel TV screens proclaim ‘Jesus is Lord’ along with every other advertisement imaginable. In contrast, the provinces with its fresh air and open spaces were relaxing. It is a most welcoming country with wonderfully hospitable people who have a growing desire to advance in all areas of life.
On my recent trip, I was able to move around the country with ease and safety. I met some people who were in agreement with the Government’s stance on crime and they felt more secure walking down the streets. However, President Duterte’s war against illegal drugs is impacting the country. There are also some tensions between the Catholic church (80% of people are Catholic) and the President on certain issues and this is an ongoing dialogue. Even in these challenging times, I believe the glory of God is being shown in the Philippines as he continues to bring people into his kingdom. The gospel at present is unhindered and is going forth and touching lives.
It’s been a while since I last ministered in the Philippines. My wife is originally from Manila so I’m familiar with the people and the culture. On my return last year, I stepped into a ‘jeepney’ and squeezed between other sitting passengers. Commuting 15 km can take up to 1-3 hours via multiple means of transportation; I had to adapt quickly as it proved vital for meeting up with my contacts. I was far from the familiar Brisbane traffic and the comfort of my car. But there I was, immersed in the local community, serving in partnership with an evangelical church in the urban poor area of Manila. God granted me the privilege of preaching in a few services and sharing my testimony. Over eight weekends I led bible studies, youth and young adult groups, and shared in men’s fellowship groups. There was eagerness in the community to learn more of God’s word. As I became enveloped in the work, I was deeply moved and my heart broken on multiple occasions as I saw the faith of Christians there and the trust they have in Jesus. Their love for Jesus is contagious; he is truly the hope of their hearts.
Connecting with the urban poor in the Philippines wasn’t always easy. Many wonderful relationships were built as we played frisbee, table tennis, basketball and sang songs to the glory of the Lord. They shared stories of their families and their struggles. I was there for the church’s Christmas services, youth and Sunday school celebrations, which were filled with joy as they reached out and invited many of those in the streets to come and learn about Jesus. And for me, to be fed and looked after by the church members each day was a blessing. One of the barriers was my limited ability to speak Tagalog, the national language. But as many of them spoke English, my ability to communicate with the locals became much easier, and by the end of the third week I was one of them and no question was off limits. I was willing to speak some words in Tagalog and this broke some of the cultural barriers which helped them to feel at ease with me. As I made myself available, the Lord encouraged us all even though I was apprehensive at times.
On a few occasions, I went to the Northern part of metropolitan Manila to help at the Torchbearers’ centre, where their primary focus is to reach out to high school students. With them, I taught and equipped ministry leaders. The high schools are open and accepting of evangelical Christians coming into the schools to share the gospel. The students, as well as teachers, are in Bible classes each week. The doors are open for these Christian brothers and sisters to share the word. The schools were delighted to have visitors to share with them. I watched in awe as the Torchbearers workers held a worship service for more than 200 Year 9 students. The experience brought joy to my heart.
For one week I went on a provincial outreach to Pangasinan with a pastor friend of mine. In one day I spent a total of six hours driving to preach at three different churches. On multiple occasions, I had the opportunity to lead a bible study for a group of doctors. I also had the privilege of co-leading a children’s barrio ministry with the wordless book for 50 children and 15 adults. The Filipino leader was gifted for children’s ministry and 15 or so children came to know the Lord. They are then placed in the wonderful hands of the church members who can guide and provide church and community development for them. I learnt I just needed to be available to the Lord. That is why I love Phil 2:13; Col 3:3; Phil 1:6; Josh 1:9.
I went to the Philippines with a set of goals. By the grace of God and his spirit enabling me to share his word and show his love to people, he far exceeded my expectations. He prepared me, provided every need and opened doors of ministry. The opportunities to share the gospel in the Philippines are endless—God is good, and his glory knows no limit. Now back home, I have a new long-term focus—a new set of goals. I want to preach and teach the gospel of God’s amazing grace in Australia and overseas, all for the glory of his name.
Phil is in his second year studying a Master of Divinity. He went to the Philippines as part of BST’s Cross-Cultural Field Education program.