In a previous post I shared the background to my recent trip to the Philippines. Here’s a follow up report. It’s long, I know, but this is the short version!
Ten people ended up going on the trip. Representing Sovereign Grace Ministries were Steve Cook and myself, along with Jena Baumer, who is serving as an intern. We also brought the five guys in the Norton Hall band: my son Devon, Jonny Barahona, Jared Hoffman, Jacob Bozarth, and Jeff Dyke. It was a great opportunity to partner with the Division of Biblical Worship at Southern Seminary in gospel mission. The team also included Lynn Baird, a Sovereign Grace pastor who has been visiting the Philippines for the past ten years, and his daughter Meghan.
The first event was a WorshipGod conference held Thursday morning through Saturday noon in Cebu, and graciously hosted by Living Word Christian Church, pastored by Mel Caparros. Nearly 1000 pastors, musicians, and church members from 50 churches participated in 5 main sessions and 4 breakout sessions, including ones on songwriting, arranging a band, and sound tech. We also had guests from Thailand, Papua New Guinea, and Singapore.
Sunday morning we led the singing and I preached at His Dwelling Church, pastored by Nilo Ebo, who attended the Sovereign Grace Pastors College two years ago. Sunday night we played an evangelistic concert on a beautiful outdoor stage in the middle of the Ayala Terraces Mall. Between 1500-2000 people showed up, including the mayor of Cebu City. A few hours after the concert the guys in Norton Hall flew back for school.
Monday morning the five of us who were left took a two hour boat ride over to Tagbilaran City, Bohol, to meet our host, Pastor Pete Valdez. We arrived in time for me to lead a symposium from 1-4 PM on Gathering Around the Gospel and Pastoring Through Song. From there we went to rehearse for “The Gathering” event, which took place from 7:30-9:30. Amazingly, around 1200 people showed up.
We were scheduled to take a boat back to Cebu the next day and fly out late that night, but were awakened at 8 AM by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that lasted for about 20 seconds. No one on our team was hurt, but tragically a banquet hall roof on the grounds of our hotel collapsed, killing two employees. Although most roads around us were passable, you didn’t have to go far to find fallen debris, landslides, and buckled roads. Power was out for most of the day and no boats left Tagbilaran that day. Pete was intent on getting us on a boat the next morning, which he succeeded in doing. We flew back late Wednesday night, exhausted, grateful, and praying for those who would be serving those affected by the earthquake. [I have an update on the earthquake at the end of this post.]
A Few Things I Learned or Was Reminded Of
Gratefulness, hospitality, servanthood, generosity, joy, and excellence don’t depend upon economic prosperity.
While the Philippines isn’t among the poorest countries of the world, it is far from the richest. Signs of poverty abound, especially in rural regions. But everywhere we went we met gracious and grateful people, eager to serve, and generous with their resources. Not every piece of equipment was the latest model or in the best condition, but everything was well taken care of and gladly shared with us. Before we arrived our hosts had attended to a gazillion details with zealous precision, and as soon as they learned something was missed or had to be changed they were already working on it. The musicians in Tagbilaran City who filled in for the Norton Hall band on Monday night knew their parts cold.
You don’t need a piano, a sustain pedal, or a voice for that matter, to lead congregational worship.
After we arrived I learned that Nilo’s church doesn’t own a piano and couldn’t secure one. Jonny Barahona played a small synth but the sustain pedal didn’t work. He did a masterful job playing without sustain, and I actually enjoyed leading with no piano. But by Monday I had developed a cold and my vocal cords were shot. So I had no voice. Like, none. So I led the evening event with raspy words, and cut my message “Why Do We Sing?” down to about 20 minutes. Not one person mentioned they missed my singing that night. I tried not to take it personally.
If taking photos was an Olympic event Filipinos would easily be contenders for the gold medal.
Really. I have never seen so many pictures taken of me or those around me in my life. “1-2-3 – SMILE!” and “Just one more, just one more!” were mantras. I was so influenced I couldn’t resist taking two pictures of everything. Often, the person who took the picture first would switch places with someone already in the group and have them take another picture. Sometimes, as others became aware of what was going on, 5, 10, even 15 people would add themselves to the group. When I asked about the picture taking phenomenon someone said that Filipinos love to share pictures with each other, and it can sometimes be a means of sharing the gospel when unbelievers want to know where the pictures were taken.
It didn’t surprise me to learn that late night prayer meetings had been going on weekly for the conference and other events for a couple months before we came. We experienced an unusual degree of strength, smooth administration, and encouraging conversations. One night we took about 10 minutes to break down in groups and pray for revival in the Philippines. It was a roar. A roar that caused me to think I often undervalue the place prayer plays in God’s plans.
The Filipino churches seem ripe for a move of God characterized by a deep love for God’s word, the gospel, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Many of the attendees at the conference came from Pentecostal churches, which in my experience can lean towards an emphasis on subjective emotion more than systematic Bible teaching and the primacy of the gospel. It was deeply encouraging and faith building to see their enthusiastic response to songs filled with rich theology and teachings grounded in Scripture.
The gospel is the power of God – everywhere.
People repeatedly expressed gratefulness for our focus on the gospel and told us how surprised they were by the effect. One pastor said he felt like he had been born again. Another expressed a conviction to be more careful about the songs they sing in their church. Many thanked us profusely for keeping Jesus Christ – crucified and risen – the main point of our songs and messages. Numerous pastors told us that this is what the Filipino churches need – gospel-centered songs and preaching. We couldn’t agree more. The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:17). We have nothing better to offer.
In a very short time we developed a deep bond of affection for many of our Filipino brothers and sisters. As of today, nearly 200 people have died from the earthquake, and aftershocks continue to leave many people fearful. More than a few people have written me to say the quake has brought a greater openness to the gospel. Please join us in praying that the aftershocks would subside, that the 36,000+ families with damaged or destroyed homes would find permanent shelter, that supplies would be abundant and quickly find their way to the neediest areas, and that people’s eyes and hearts would be open to the sovereign God who offers salvation to anyone who turns from their sins and trusts in Jesus Christ for forgiveness. If you live in the Philippines and know of any others ways to help, please feel free to leave a comment.