In the course of the past years, I have occasionally had the opportunity to speak to some of our Protestant Reformed high school classes (usually via Skype, and usually in the wee morning hours here) concerning our Philippines mission field. This has always been enjoyable and an encouragement. I appreciate the fact that our teachers keep their students mindful of our denomination’s mission work. But I am also grateful for the interest the students themselves show in the work and in the saints here. That interest is clearly evident from the questions they ask. This was again the case with the questions I received (over 40 of them) this past January from the church history class of Heritage Christian High School in Dyer, IN. Recently it occurred to me that perhaps some of those questions, along with the answers, would give you an insight into the work here. Thus, here follow a few Philippines FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)!
Question: How many churches do you preach at? Are there a lot of children?
Under the Lord’s blessing, a denomination of Reformed churches was formed here on April 9, 2014. The name of the denomination is the “Federation of Protestant Reformed Churches in the Philippines.” This federation consists of two congregations: the Berean PRC (23 families) and the PRC in Bulacan (17 families). Each of these churches has a good number of children, including many young people. It is encouraging to see the Lord’s covenant blessings on the churches and saints here. Currently, we also preach and teach in two other churches. These are not yet part of the PRC denomination here, but we trust that they will be ready to join in the future, the Lord willing. In addition to all this, we regularly received requests from others to teach them the Reformed faith. In fact, many more requests than we are able to fill. The harvest is indeed plenteous here in the Philippines. In all our work, the most significant and encouraging aspect is not the actual number of people, but the Lord’s blessing on the Word that is proclaimed through the belief in the truth and the spiritual growth of the saints here.
Question: How is preaching and teaching in the Philippines different from here? Is it difficult to teach people who have not been Reformed from their youth?
The main difference is that many of the saints here are hearing the truths for the first time. My work mostly involves teaching Reformed doctrines, Reformed church government, and various Reformed subjects to existing pastors. The fact that many are hearing these Reformed teachings for the first time means a number of things. First, it is necessary to take more time to explain things carefully, in detail, and with clear, biblical proofs. Secondly, one needs to be ready to answer many questions. Often a class or lecture is followed by an hour or more of question and answers. I find this an excellent time of learning, not only for those in the class, but also for myself. The latter is true because I’m often challenged by questions I’ve never been asked before. But their questions also give me an insight into their current understanding as well their former beliefs. The most rewarding aspect of it all is to witness them embracing the truth, by the grace and Spirit of God.
Question: How did the people react to you coming and maybe hearing something they had not heard before? Have you had people angry at you because of your doctrines?
No one has become publicly angry with us for what we have taught, but it is, nevertheless, interesting to observe the reactions to teaching and truth that is new, or with which some might initially disagree. One reaction is that some will begin talking with each other about what I am teaching while I am still teaching it. That is certainly a clear indicator that they are hearing something for the first time. The other indicator is their many questions—very good questions, I might add, and often with biblical texts in support of their current views. The Q&A sessions provide an excellent opportunity to clarify the truth and to demonstrate that it is biblical. We have also experienced some leaving because of the truth—for example, in connection with the truths of double predestination, particular grace, infant baptism, and limited atonement.
Question: How do you talk to someone who does not know the faith and does not believe you?
We regularly have attendees in our classes and worship services who are not yet convinced of the truths of Scripture and the Reformed faith. Always the proper and most effective approach is to open up the Bible and show as clearly as possible that the truth is thoroughly biblical. In this way we are also able to make clear that being “Reformed” is really synonymous with being “biblical.” What has also helped is providing them with pamphlets to read (usually for free), or books (which we sell at a significant discount—something we are able to do because of the collections taken in our churches for the Philippine Book Fund). To date, we have not had opportunity to explain the Bible to someone who has never heard it, since the Lord has given us so many contacts and groups of saints who are already Christian, although not yet fully Reformed.
Question: Do you have a common language? Do you understand what people tell you?
The Philippines has two official languages—Tagalog and English—but we are able to do most of our preaching and teaching in English. As regards learning Tagalog, we have reached the point where we are able to understand most things that Filipinos say, although sometimes it requires asking them to repeat what they have said. The interesting thing is that while Tagalog is the main Filipino language on the island of Luzon (where we live and do most of our work), there are close to 70 other Filipino dialects. That means that if we would ever move to and take up a work in a different part of the country, we would probably need to learn another dialect.
Question: What are some of the changes you had to make to adjust to life in the Philippines? What is the most significant struggle you face in doing mission work there?
Some of the changes we have experienced include the climate (summer all year around), the language (learning Tagalog), food (which has included trying “balut”), communication, traffic, being easily noticed (because of skin color and height), etc. Perhaps the most significant challenge has been communication. Filipinos are bilingual, knowing both Tagalog and English. But Tagalog is their first language and thus the language they use in most of their conversation and communication. Mostly, they understand English well, but they are most comfortable speaking in Tagalog. The result is that I sometimes communicate with someone in two languages, each of us using some English and some Tagalog. That is, the conversation is done in “Taglish.”
Question: How long will you work with someone to show him the truth?
We do not have a set time for this, but in general we take the approach that as long as someone is still interested in the truth and has not actively rejected it, we continue teaching. We believe the Lord uses the receptivity to our teaching to indicate whether or not we still have an open door. We must always remind ourselves that while the Lord may use us to bring His Word, the fruit is His work. God gives the increase (). And our confidence is that His Word does not return to Him void, but accomplishes His purpose ( ).
Question: How many people do you preach to at a time?
Mostly, the number of people to whom I preach at a time is in the 30s or 40s. In some instances, I preach to a group of about 15 people. Thus, while the interest in the Reformed faith is widespread here, most of God’s faithful people are in small groups—a small pocket here and there, a remnant, a hut in a garden of cucumbers and a besieged city (). Filipinos themselves, however, consider 30 to 40 as a relatively large group.
Question: What kind of controversies do you have there?
The Philippines is mostly Roman Catholic (about 90%), thus many controversies and disagreements involve Roman Catholic errors. One example of such a disagreement in the churches in which we labor centered on the question of whether or not to accept Roman Catholic baptisms. (By the way, the position eventually taken by the PRCP denomination was to follow the historic Reformed practice of accepting them.) Another significant area of controversy concerns our rejection of common grace and the well-meant offer of the gospel. A few others arise on account of the views of the Baptists: dispensationalism and believers’ baptism. But perhaps the most prominent belief (error) that we confront is Arminianism. Many of our contacts have come from Arminian backgrounds. Some have not yet fully overcome their Arminian thinking. Others, on the other hand, have become so determined in their rejection of Arminianism that they are inclined to become Antinomian and to reject the law as well as the demand of Scripture that we do good works. This provides a significant challenge in our preaching and teaching.
Question: What are some of the Roman Catholic superstitions you know about or face?
Here is a brief listing of some of the superstitions we have heard about and/or observed: 1) that you can be healed by touching certain images of Jesus; 2) that the spirits of dead relatives are still around you; 3) that you need to pray for your dead relatives or friends to get them out of purgatory; 4) that you should not use knives or go out of your house on Black Saturday (the day after Good Friday) because something bad might happen to you since Jesus is dead and unable to protect you; 5) that if you run a store, you should take the money received from the first sale of the day and touch everything in your store as that will bring you good business for that day; 6) that if a business name, or name on a public vehicle, has reference to God, Jesus, Mary, or the Bible, that will guarantee success; 7) that a new car/bike/truck/bus/ motorcycle should be sprinkled with holy water and receive the priest’s blessing (for a fee, of course) in order for it to be safe on the road. These are just a few. Some are indeed very strange, and remind us of the terribleness of the darkness of unbelief.
Question: Do the Roman Catholics dislike the Protestants?
The Roman Catholics do not show this so much in ordinary day-to-day life and interaction. But if you speak out publicly against them, they do become antagonistic. Because of the prominence of Roman Catholicism, we frequently need to address their errors in our preaching and teaching. But we have not yet faced any open or significant opposition because of it. Question: Have you ever seen a pagan worship service? No, not yet. We have been inside Roman Catholic churches and observed some of their worship activities. And in many ways, that is close to pagan worship. The reason for this is that when the Spanish occupied the Philippines (from 1521-1898) and introduced Roman Catholicism, they allowed Filipinos to hold on to their pagan beliefs and practices. Thus, the Romish church here is a mix of paganism and Roman Catholicism, as is evident from their superstitious practices, their animism, etc.
Question: How do you go about your work?
When we have a new contact or group, we usually meet with them in order to get to know each other. Then after receiving our consistory’s approval (Doon PRC), we often start our work in that group with a monthly or weekly Bible study. Eventually we include them, if possible, in our schedule for Sunday preaching. Our teaching centers on leading them to understand what it means to be historically and confessionally Reformed in 1) doctrine, 2) church government, 3) worship, and 4) life/living. We also assist the consistories in their work, and provide instruction for the pastors in courses or subjects they have not yet received, or did not receive from a Reformed perspective. In all this work, we have as a goal that the churches and groups might join the Federation of Protestant Reformed Churches here.
Question: Would you say that everyone would benefit from seeing what is happening in our mission field in the Philippines, if this could be done?
Yes. I believe that if any PRCA member has the opportunity to visit here, he or she would grow in love for the universal church of Christ. Visitors would also benefit from seeing the different struggles the people of God face here compared to the struggles in North America (as well as the similar struggles), and thus be able to pray for them in a more meaningful way. I know that such visits would also be an encouragement to the saints here, as has proven to be the case in the past.
Question: Do you enjoy your work?
Yes, I certainly do. We consider the work a privilege and a blessing. For a more detailed answer to this question, please refer to the recent Standard Bearer article I wrote entitled “Mission Work Privileges” (January 1, 2015 issue of the Standard Bearer).
In conclusion, I cannot help but mention—especially because this becomes clear from the above answers—that the harvest in the Philippines is plenteous, and the laborers are few. It is my prayer that the interest our young people have in the work here may be an indicator that the Lord will direct some of our young men to pursue the call to be ministers and missionaries of His gospel.