President’s Trip to Asia, Part 1: Philippines, June 9-14
By Jim Franks
My first visit to the Philippines was for the Feast of Tabernacles in 2005. It was a grueling Feast in many ways. I spoke 11 times in eight days while traveling to all three Feast sites that year—Baguio, Iloilo and Davao. But the warmth we experienced made it easy to fall in love with the people of this island country.
Now I have made several trips to the Philippines—for the Feast twice (2005 and 2008), along with additional trips for leadership development programs. We are currently here in the Philippines enjoying the Sabbath and Day of Pentecost, followed by a one-day ministerial conference.
While I enjoy seeing the sites in the places where we travel, I am not really big into sightseeing. My real joy comes from interacting with the brethren, and this trip has been wonderful so far! We spent our first day in Manila with two member families—Rafael Uy, and Gil and Elda Ellamil and their daughter Gizelle. Gizelle mentioned in the car that she had to stare at me for a few minutes. Since she was only familiar with me via In Accord, she wanted to examine for herself what I really looked like! She made no comment as to her conclusion, and I chose not to ask her!
We drove south from Manila to Tagaytay, where we ate lunch on Friday, June 10. The city is located on a lake that has an active volcano in the middle of it. Actually the lake itself is the crater of the volcano. The scenery was beautiful, especially when compared to the hustle and bustle of Manila, but I most enjoyed getting to know the two families. Mr. Uy’s wife died just about a year ago, and he is still grieving. You may remember the case. She died of an extremely rare disorder that caused an inflammation in the lining of the arteries. The doctor in the Philippines, who was an older and very experienced doctor, told Mr. Uy that he had seen only one other case of this disorder in his lifetime of practicing medicine. You may recall some of the prayer requests that went out for Mrs. Uy at that time.
Our first Sabbath on this trip was a real treat. We got up at 2:30 a.m. in order to catch an early morning flight to Bacolod for a morning service. We were met at the airport by the local pastor, Florante Siopan, and the local elder, Norman Julag-ay. It was good to see them again. At services we were greeted warmly by the brethren. It was a great day of worship and fellowship. We didn’t leave until 3 p.m., and then because of a number of delays at the airport, we did not get back to our hotel room in Manila until around 10:30 p.m., a full 18-hour day!
One of my passions over the years has been to study Church history, primarily from the U.S. colonial period. In recent years, I have focused on the modern history of the Church, beginning with the Radio Church of God in 1933 and continuing through to our day. The Philippines has a rich Church history in that regard. The first person to contact the Radio Church of God from the Philippines was Pedro Ortiguero in the 1950s. He was ultimately visited by Gerald Waterhouse in 1959. And in 1961 the Feast of Tabernacles was held by the Radio Church of God in the Philippines with over 400 in attendance. In 1962 Mr. Waterhouse returned to the Philippines and opened an office in the Manila area.
From that meager beginning, the Church of God in the Philippines grew to more than 4,500 members with 75 pastors/elders in multiple congregations. In 1982 Herbert Armstrong held a public appearance campaign in Manila with 4,500 in attendance. But the Worldwide Church of God came apart beginning in 1995 because of massive doctrinal changes. The Church in the Philippines, as was the case in most other parts of the world, also imploded with people going in many directions.
In Bacolod on the Sabbath I asked how many of the members currently attending had roots back in the Worldwide Church of God or the Radio Church of God, and approximately 50 percent affirmed that their beginning was during those years. The local pastor Mr. Siopan and his wife, Lina, came into the Church in the 1970s, as did Mr. and Mrs. Julag-ay. One of the current members in Bacolod is Bernardo Castillon. His father, also named Bernardo, died last year. He was an elder in the Worldwide Church of God and one of the first members in Iloilo. He was celebrating his 90th birthday when he died.
But this isn’t the total story from Bacolod. I was privileged to meet the newest member, Thomas Lim. Thomas is of Chinese descent and spent most of his life in Singapore. He came to the Philippines about 10 years ago when he married a Filipina. He was a Baptist, but he wasn’t satisfied with the religion when he began to read various articles online about the Church of God. His Baptist pastor told him that there were no Churches of God in the Philippines, and he would have to go to the U.S. to find one. But Thomas didn’t give up, and one day while on Facebook he found a link to the Church of God in the Philippines. The rest is history! He began attending the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, more than a year ago, and he was baptized last week. Thomas is friendly and outgoing with a quick smile. He attended his first Feast last year and is looking forward to his second one this year. His wife is still a Baptist, but that doesn’t discourage Thomas. He laughingly says that all his efforts to convert her have failed, but that he won’t give up trying!
So it was a wonderful Sabbath—fellowshipping with people who have been in the Church for more than 40 years and meeting a brand-new member. Sharron and I returned to our hotel in Manila exhausted but feeling very good about what we had experienced.
The next morning, Sunday, we relaxed in our hotel room until it was time to get dressed and head out for Pentecost services with the Manila congregation. We were again given a warm welcome by the members. The Manila congregation is pastored by Eriz Dizon, a longtime elder in the Church of God going back to the days of the Worldwide Church of God. Just as in the case of Bacolod, more than half the congregation have been Church members since the 1960s and ’70s. The two oldest members were baptized in 1967 and 1968. Another interesting aspect of the Manila congregation is the family connection. Many of them are related: parents, children, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.
In the case of Gil Ellamil, his wife and four grown children were all in attendance. They are all active in serving in the local congregation. Mr. Ellamil gave the sermonette prior to the offertory, which was given by the pastor, Mr. Dizon. After the choir sang a beautiful piece for special music, I gave the sermon explaining the meaning and importance of the Day of Pentecost. It was on Pentecost in A.D. 31 that the New Testament Church was founded. From that point to our day, the Church of God has been the instrument for preaching the gospel and caring for the brethren. The message is the same, the Spirit is the same, and our desire for unity is the same. The group that came together in Acts 2 is described as being “with one accord” (verse 1). And once the day was over, there was an entity called the “church” with 3,000 new members. They are described as “continuing daily with one accord” (verse 46).
We have several challenges in the Church today. How do we preach the gospel in a world filled with violence with less and less interest in religion? How do we care for the brethren in a world that promotes immorality and rejects any moral authority? As I write this report, I am watching the news out of Orlando, Florida, where 49 were killed and 53 wounded in the worst mass shooting in American history. Clearly, there is an evil and violent spirit loose in the world, and we must be ever vigilant. We rely on God for His protection, but we must not be foolish about Satan’s hatred for the Church. When He gave the model for prayer in Matthew 6, Christ encouraged us to pray “do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” The evil one is all around us and will continue to stir up hatred and destruction.
After we finished our ministerial meetings on Tuesday, June 14, we headed for Singapore, where we plan to get together with all the members for lunch and a discussion. I am looking forward to seeing them. I hope to write from each stop along the way, so my next report will be from Singapore.
Please keep the spirit of Pentecost alive as we go forward and pray for those who are suffering, in and out of the Church.