Rev. Lanning is pastor of Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, Michigan.
The following is one of many letters (e-mails) that Rev. Lanning wrote to his family and friends while in the Philippines recently on behalf of the Foreign Mission Committee of the PRC. With his permission we share it with our readers here.
Saturday, May 9, 2009 The events of today are sure to be among the highlights of our trip. But they are also the most difficult, so far, to recount. In thinking back on the day, there is such a confused mingling of joy and sorrow that I am not sure where one leaves off and the other begins.
The day began very early. We were picked up at 4 a.m. Our destination was the provinces to the north of Manila, where can be found the village of Gabaldon.
* The provinces we drove through were dominated by rice paddies. Green, wet land; sometimes flat, sometimes slightly terraced. Flowing through the paddies were little streams, marked by the meandering lines of palm trees and shrubs.
* As the rice paddies receded toward the horizon, lush green foothills rose to take their place. Ravines and peaks and deep gorges could be seen, but all covered with a verdant tropical blanket.
* It was toward these hills that we were heading, for Gabaldon is located within a ring of them. We soon were crossing bridges with clean, clear water rushing below, the green hills stretching up away from us into the low clouds.
* Finally we arrived in the town of Gabaldon itself. Nipa huts were set back just a little from the roads; all around and over us was the tropical foliage. The air was humid, the sky fairly overcast. It would be hard to imagine a more tropical village than this. A few notes about the work in Gabaldon:
* The Berean PRC has been actively supporting this mission field. When Seminarian Vernon Ibe was still living there, he would travel every weekend to lead the saints in worship.
* Now that Vernon is studying in the PRC seminary, the elders of Berean PRC have taken over the care of the saints in Gabaldon as much as they are able. Whenever a delegation comes to preach for the Berean PRC, the elders are eager to take them to Gabaldon to minister to the saints there.
* With a little help, the saints have been able to construct a building for their worship. It is an open-air nipa hut like all of the buildings in the village, but sturdy, having a cement and wood frame. Now, to the worship.
* Tagalog is the only language they speak in Gabaldon. They have a few English words, but not nearly enough to keep up with a sermon. Therefore, I read Psalm 23 in English, after which brother Rod read the Tagalog version. Then I preached, one sentence at a time. After every one, brother Rod translated into Tagalog. I am still deciding whether I liked preaching that way or not.
* It was not an actual worship service, but more of an hour of meditation. There were two prayers by the elders, a couple of Psalter numbers, the message, and we were finished. So, why was this day so moving?
* For one thing, we got to meet some of our family today. These were brothers and sisters in Christ. We have known about them, and have prayed for them, but we never had opportunity to see them until now. Even though we don’ t know their language, and they hardly know ours, there is an almost instant connection between saints in Christ. I still cannot get over how joyful it was to meet them.
* For another thing, we had to say goodbye to family today. For all I know, this is the last time we will see the saints of Gabaldon until glory. Our goodbyes were not “See you later,” but, “Goodbye.” We had poked our heads in just long enough to realize how much we love these brothers and sisters, and now we have to wait until glory to be reunited. It is almost like losing a loved one.
* But for all our mixed feelings, God is taking care of His people in Gabaldon. We took our leave, but God does not. This in itself is overwhelming. The faithfulness of God moves us when we know it in our own lives, but also when we see it in the lives of His other children.
There was one event during our two hours in Gabaldon that stands out in my mind. After the worship service was over, I sat down next to Mama Guarina. She is an aged woman in the church, a widow. She reminded me very much of a certain saintly widow at Faith. Mama Guarina knew hardly any English; I knew even less Tagalog. How could we ever communicate? We found a couple of words we did know that were important to us: mga bata (children). Even though we couldn’t talk much, we could communicate by holding up fingers to tell each other how many children we had and how old they were. She also knew the word “husband.” When I asked, her eyes filled with tears. Four years ago, she signaled. No words between us, but her grief didn’t need words. We sat some more on the bench in the church. I held her hand while she cried a little. In English, I repeated the text of the sermon: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” I think she understood. Almost nothing in common, not even the language; only this: the hope of the gospel. And that was enough.