Just over a month ago on a Sunday evening, I stood in a huge church sanctuary that could fit thousands, praising God with many others around me. The service I was in was a new addition to the church’s schedule, so the sanctuary was not full. There were only about 5,000 people there; the room could have fit 10,000. Three or four other services had already taken place that weekend, all of them filling the sanctuary and the overflow auditorium’s 1,500 seats.
It was the end of the service. The pastor had just preached through a complex passage in Exodus, digging deeply into the text and helping his listeners to understand its meaning and its implications in the twenty-first century. Then the worship leaders and the band came out onto the stage again and closed the service singing together. I looked around me and tears sprang to my eyes as I heard the thousands of voices around me.
70 years ago a group of American servicemen met in Manila, Philippines for a prayer meeting. The Second World War was just ending, and these men saw both a need and an opportunity: the Philippines needed the gospel, and they were there.
From that prayer meeting, a Bible school and church-planting missions began in the Philippines. The men and women who came to know the Lord in the neighborhood Bible studies and early churches in Metro Manila and who studied in that school became the leaders of the Evangelical church in the Philippines.
I was almost born in the Philippines. My parents returned from a term as missionaries in Manila just six weeks before I made my appearance. We returned when I was 10 years old and I was baptized by my dad in the church that they helped plant. A few years ago, the mission organization they serve with, which was born out of that same prayer meeting of American servicemen, turned all ministry over to local church leaders and no longer sends Western missionaries to the northern parts of the Philippines.
That Sunday evening in the church service I visited, I was in one of the largest churches in Manila. The pastor had preached in “Tag-lish”—the combination of Tagalog and English that is commonly spoken in Manila. There are at least 45,000 people who come to their services each weekend, many of them part of the rising upper middle class in the Philippines that is currently driving the country’s economy.
As I sat there listening to the voices of the thousands of Filipinos around me, worshiping God together, I remembered the American servicemen and their prayer meeting, and I had one thought, “The gospel has taken root in the Philippines.” My tears were joyful.
The Rest of the Story
The Philippines is still on the lists of “least-reached” nations. The predominant religion, Roman Catholicism, has taken on elements of the original animistic religions of the islands and is an idolatrous form of Catholicism. Islam is entrenched in the Southern Philippines and growing as wealthy middle-eastern nations begin to pour money into the mosques there. The job is not yet “done.”
But it is begun. Thriving churches are seeking ways to reach out to those who have not yet heard the truth, both at home and abroad. Economically, the Philippines is still a relatively poor country, so traditional Western methods of sending supported missionaries don’t work. Nearly 10% of the population of the Philippines works in other countries, and hundreds of those workers are choosing to go as tent-making missionaries. One tribe in a remote part of the country that has come to know Christ is developing agricultural industries like coffee growing that they can use to support those they send out to the other tribes surrounding them. Many pastors—even of mega-churches—are bi-vocational businessmen. Believers are finding creative ways to support themselves as they take the gospel to their neighbors and around the world.
It’s easy sometimes, as we sit in our comfortable North American suburban churches, to forget that we are a part of a global Church. It’s easy to forget that there are believers in other nations who are just as passionate about the spread of the gospel as we are. It’s easy to forget that the work of men and women who left their homes 70 years ago and spent their lives in another culture bore fruit. I was delighted, a month ago in Manila, to be reminded of these things. And I was also reminded that the work is not yet finished.
As you enter 2016, perhaps you and your family could plan time throughout the year to look into how God is working all over the world through His global Church. I highly recommend Operation World as a resource for prayer for countries and people groups around the world.