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Rev. denHartog is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Redlands, California.

In the first couple of weeks of December the author of this article and Pastor Allen Brummel from our church in Edgerton, Minnesota were sent by the Foreign Mission Committee of the Protestant Reformed Churches to visit the islands of the Philippines to investigate the possibility of a mission field for our churches there. We are thankful for the exciting opportunity given to us to make this trip. In the short two weeks that we were in the Philippines we had enough interesting experiences for me to be able to write a book. We give in this article a brief report.

Let me first of all give some background and the reason for which our Foreign Mission Committee decided to send us to the Philippines. Over the years a number of contacts have been made in the Philippines with men and groups of men who profess faith in Jesus Christ and interest in particular in the precious Reformed faith which the Lord has entrusted to us and preserved in our churches. We came across brethren in the Philippines which first learned about the Reformed faith through the correspondence Bible Study program of Rev. Bernard Woudenberg. We also found people who had read the Reformed Dogmatics by Rev. Herman Hoeksema. One pastor was in fact using the dogmatics to teach other men in the Reformed faith. We contacted a young man in Manila who first came to know about our churches through the reading of one of the Reformed Free Publishing Association books. We spoke with a group of men from Negros who had learned about the faithfulness of our churches in their adherence to Reformed doctrine. They have formed themselves into an organization called “Conveners of the Historic Reformed Faith.” This organization is very interested in learning more about our churches and the truth God has given to us. Based on this history the FMC last year asked Rev. and Mrs. Jason Kortering to visit several places in the Philippines last year. They did this but were able to make only very short visits. Rev. Kortering gave a very encouraging report to the 1997 synod.

The history detailed above was the reason why the FMC, with the approval of the 1997 synod, decided to send a delegation to the Philippines to find out more about the various contacts there. Plans were made that the delegation should visit four different cities where we have some contacts, including Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. Also it was decided to organize a conference in the little town of Labo, near the city of Daet, on the island of Luzon. This location was chosen because of the presence of an established church with facilities to hold the conference. Knowing the great poverty of the people in the Philippines with whom we had contact, the FMC offered to pay the expenses of a few men from each of the areas of the Philippines where our contacts were. Moneys were sent to leaders of the various groups and they decided whom to send to the conference. This conference envisioned bringing together men from very different areas of the Philippines. To travel to Daet, some of the men would have to travel by sea and by land for two days.

Rev. Brummel and I flew into Manila on December 3 late in the evening. There we met first with a young man named Allan Bautista. We found Allan to be a vibrant young Christian man greatly interested in learning more about the Reformed faith. Allan arranged hotel accommodations for us in Manila. He also took us to our hotel the night of our arrival. That ride gave us our first taste of the traffic snarls for which Manila is famous. We soon found out that there were many advantages to having a native of the Philippines with us whenever we moved from place to place.

The next morning (Wednesday) we went to the domestic airport in Manila to fly with the Philippine Airlines to the island of Mindanao and the city of Cagayan De Oro. At the airport we had our first experience of the enthusiastic and warm welcome that we would receive everywhere we went. A group of about 30 members of a Bible Study in Cagayan De Oro met us at the airport. They displayed a large banner to welcome us that made us feel as though we were some sort of celebrities, a little embarrassing. Included in this group, interestingly, were a number of young people of high school age. Two members of the Cagayan group teach at the high school were these young people attend and have had a good influence on the students. (I was reminded of my first meeting in Singapore with the members of what was then called the Gospel Literature and Tract Society, when I went to Singapore as missionary of our churches.) We were transported from the airport by Jeepney. There is hardly anything more unique to the Philippines than the Jeepneys. There are more of them on the roads in some places than regular cars. Riding them is an experience in itself.

We were brought to a modest but very adequate hotel in Cagayan where we would stay the next several days. We were immediately impressed by the low economic standard of the people in the Philippines, especially on the islands away from Manila. This became even more apparent when we attended the first meeting in Cagayan, a Bible Study with about 10 people. The Bible Study was around an old table, outdoors, in the dark, with a few lights, surrounded by shanties which are people’s living quarters, pretty far from the luxurious homes we live in here in America. After the Bible Study we had a ride around some of the city before we went back to the hotel.

The next day there was a planned conference. This conference was for ministers and church leaders from the area. It was sponsored by the Bible Study group of Cagayan. One thing we learned very soon was that there are many men who call themselves pastors and who are taking care of small groups which are called churches but are hardly organized churches as we know them. The “pastors” are not all well trained. Many evangelical organizations have Bible schools in the Philippines that turn out one “pastor” after another with minimal training, and then commission them to start a work in an area of their choice by trying to get a following. As you can imagine, this has resulted in many tragic situations. Some of these men get very little financial support. They cannot find other jobs because of the high unemployment (30%) in the Philippines. Tiny so-called churches are found everywhere.

The conference was attended by about 30 people. At the day-time meeting I gave a lecture on the subject “What is the Reformed Faith?” This was only a general summary because we knew that a number of the men from Cagayan were coming to the conference in Labo the following week, and we did not want to present the subjects of this conference in Cagayan already. After the lecture we experienced our first response to messages given in the Philippines. All of the speeches would generate very lengthy and lively discussions. The discussions indicated that there was a definite interest in the Reformed faith. Most of those attending the meeting were infants in understanding Reformed doctrine. Some were hearing Reformed truth for the first time. A few had learned enough heresy to be strongly opposed to Reformed doctrine.

The Bible Study group in Cagayan De Oro is mostly self supporting. They rent an upstairs hall in a building which, though poor by American standards, is nevertheless adequate for their needs. The Bible Study holds Sunday worship services with regular attendance of about 50 people. They have three pastors, some of whom are better informed and more gifted than others. We were encouraged by the interest in God’s Word. We saw also the need of instruction in so many basic areas, even such as what a pastor is and what a church is. But there is an openness and desire to learn. They have some good men with good potential for leadership as the Lord might direct them in developing and growing in the truth. The Cagayan group is commendable in that it is self supporting. This is not very common for church groups in the Philippines. Many depend on support from Western churches.

In the afternoon we visited with Pastor Romegio Lapiz. He seemed to be a good man with a pastoral heart and a good grasp of Reformed truth. We were also impressed with his wife and family. They obviously have a serious Christian home. The family lives in pretty humble circumstances. Pastor Lapiz supplements his support from the Bible Study group with income from teaching a class in “values” in the high school mentioned earlier in this article. We had a very pleasant visit with this family.

In the evening of the same day there was a special preaching service at which Rev. Brummel preached the Word. The young people from the high school were present at this meeting, as well as a number of the other members of the Bible Study group. To the surprise of Pastor Brummel there was a request to translate his message into the Philippine dialect of the people. From all our contacts in the Philippines we learned that if a missionary were to go there from us he would almost certainly have to learn the Filipino dialect of the people to whom he is ministering.

On Saturday morning we boarded a plane to another city on the island of Mindanao called Davao City. This city seemed to be just a little more prosperous than Cagayan De Oro, though Filipinos told us later that this was not true. At the airport in Davao we were met by another group of people with whom our churches have had contact. This time we rode in a regular taxi from the airport to an outdoor park, where we had lunch, and after that we were brought to our hotel. Later in the day we planned for the activities scheduled for the evening. The group in Davao City meets at the home of Elder Ronald Jacutin. He is a squatter, and the living conditions of his family are pathetically impoverished. The group that met together at Elder Jacutin’s residence were from other small works in the area. Many of these men are called pastors for the reason mentioned earlier. At the evening meetings we gave a summary presentation on the Reformed faith. Pastor Brummel dealt with some of the difficult passages in scripture often used to attempt to refute Reformed doctrine.

The next morning being Sunday, I was asked to speak at the church of one of the men who was part of the group at Elder Jacutin’s home. The church, to my dismay, had a very Pentecostal worship service. Pentecostalism is widespread in the Philippines. It has engulfed even churches with connections to Western denominations that have Presbyterian and Reformed traditions. Pastor Brummel preached at a worship service in Elder Jacutin’s residence. I joined the meetings there in the afternoon and evenings. At these meetings there were speeches and discussions on subjects like infant baptism and on what it means to be a pastor and what it means to be a church. Discussions at these meetings were lively. The men there showed varying degrees of knowledge and understanding of Reformed doctrine. Most of the speeches were translated into the Filipino dialect of the men present. This dialect is called Cebuano.

On Monday morning we had a little opportunity to walk the streets of Davao near our hotel. We found out what a rarity Americans are in most of the Philippines. An American really attracts attention when he walks down the streets. Even the downtown areas of Davao City are pretty poor by American standards. We did not encounter any hostility from the people there, though we were told of the need of being careful. Many of the people were very pleasant and gracious. It seemed to us that Davao City was a place where an American missionary family could live without severe hardships.

Later that day we boarded a plane to travel back to Manila. Flights into Daet, our next stop, were scheduled only on Tuesdays and Saturdays, only one flight on each of these days. The city of Daet is about 60,000 in population but obviously pretty isolated. It is probably almost fifty years behind the Western world in development.

Tuesday morning we traveled to Daet. We were met there at the airport again by an enthusiastic group. There are two Reformed pastors in Daet with whom our Foreign Mission Committee has had extensive contact. They are a father and son, Pastor Modesto Tanierla (69 years old) and his son Pastor Percival Tanierla (42 years old). These two men proved to be delightful. They are pastors in the true biblical sense of the word. They are wholly devoted to their work in the church, and they have real love for the Reformed truth and for the people to whom they minister. They zealously desire to teach the truth to as many as the Lord in His providence will bring to them. We had a very blessed time of fellowship with these two men.

We rode from the airport in a small open jeep. This jeep and its faithful driver ( a member of the church) would take us on many journeys during the next several days. Again I must limit myself in giving details of the interesting experiences we had in Daet in this little jeep, usually loaded down, with people sometimes even hanging out of the sides. The city of Daet is in a rural setting. We drove through the country to get to the church and meeting place of the conference in a town called Labo. The countryside reminds one of pictures from Vietnam during the days of American involvement there. All around you see rice paddies submersed in water. There are the typical water buffalo pulling crude implements through the water-filled fields divided into small square sections. There were torrential rains almost every day, which made travel in an open jeep interesting.

The conference was the main event of our stay in the Philippines. We were told the first day what the schedule would be. The planned speeches were scheduled for the evening so that members of the church who worked during the day could attend the meetings. We were faced with having to keep the four groups of men at the conference busy the whole day. There were no nearby resorts to drive off to. The groups at the conference traveled from Manila, Negros, and Mindanao. Some traveled for two days to come to the conference. Meals were made by the ladies of the church (three a day for a group of about 40 to 50 people). They did an excellent job. The food was different but good. The attendees ate heartily, probably because they were getting better food than they were used to at home. Accommodations were makeshift. Some slept on the church pews, others in huts around the church sanctuary.

Conversations with men at the conference soon gave us all kinds of good topics to give presentations on. The presentations were on infant baptism, the work of the Holy Spirit, Reformed church government, and the three views of the millennium, including especially a critique of dispensationalism. Lectures had to be prepared early in the mornings, beginning usually at 5:00 a.m. Needless to say, we were kept very busy. There was very little time for sight-seeing; but, then, that was not the purpose of our visit anyway. There was great interest in all the lectures. Discussions and debates afterwards always had to be cut off long before all questions were answered. We had an exciting time of presenting the truth to men who ranged from a good measure of knowledge and full agreement with almost all we had to say, to men who were hearing the things we were teaching for the first time in their lives, and some who were strongly opposed to what they heard. One has to be a walking Bible commentary in a situation like this. It was heartening to hear from men who have a good grasp of Reformed doctrine. It was also amazing to hear heresy of almost every sort that had been brought by various denominational works of Western churches into the Philippines.

All the evening meetings were well attended. The little church was almost full to capacity. Among those who attended the evening meetings were also young people, some of whom were receiving instruction from Pastors Percival and Modesto Tanierla. Some of these were new to Reformed teaching and were just so eager to listen to what we had to bring to them. Giving the speeches on the great doctrines of grace was exciting in ways that words can hardly describe. We have taught these truths for years in our own churches and on so many occasions that we might become complacent in regards to the wonder of these truths. How exciting it is to teach this glorious and blessed truth of the gospel to those who are eagerly discovering and hearing about them for the first time.

I must still tell you about our particular joy in fellowship with the brethren from Negros. They are members of the group called Conveners of the Historic Reformed Faith. These men are obviously more advanced in their knowledge of Reformed teachings than some of the others. They are men who have a good formal education as well. The group includes one who is a medical doctor, one who is an attorney, another a physical therapist, and some who are teachers, as well as those who have had a good measure of training in theology. They are conversant with the writings of many Reformed theologians. They are able to see more deeply the importance of maintaining a distinctively Reformed position. They have learned to combat heresy as they have grown in their knowledge of the truth of the Word of God.

In conclusion, the brethren at the conference were easy to love and a joy to have fellowship with. On the Friday evening before our departure from Daet, both Pastor Brummel and I

preached in the

church in downtown

Daet that is cared for by Pastor Tanierla senior. We had occasion to demonstrate in sermons how Reformed truth is present in the regular preaching in church.

We left with sad good-byes from Daet. Bonds in the truth had been formed in our short visit there. On Saturday morning we flew back to Manila. In Manila we stayed at Shalom Mission, which is a modest accommodation for missionaries and church workers from various denominations. The cost of staying there is considerably less than hotel accommodations.

We had made arrangements to meet with the director of the Christian Reformed Missions in the Philippines on Sunday and also to attend a worship service in one of their congregations in the Philippines. Pastor Lee Baas was very helpful in giving us an overview of the mission work which the Christian Reformed Church and some other denominations have done in the Philippines. Having been in the Philippines for eight years he could tell us about the difficulties and problems they have faced as well as the joys. We believe our meeting with Pastor Baas will be valuable for advising the Foreign Mission Committee regarding the physical aspects of setting up a mission work in the Philippines, should the Lord so direct our churches.

Because of traffic conditions in Manila we were not able to attend the church we had planned to visit in the evening. We did however have another opportunity to visit more with the young man mentioned at the beginning of our report. This was done in the cool of the evening while walking along scenic Manila Bay.

It is our prayer that the Lord will guide our Foreign Mission Committee and our synod this summer so that we might know what is the Lord’s will for our churches as far as future mission work in the Philippines is concerned. We believe there is an open door in the Philippines. We met with a number of dear saints of God. There are a number of these who would greatly welcome the help of our churches in teaching them the gospel as we believe it is outlined in our Reformed creeds. They want our help in establishing Reformed churches. Some expressly stated this to us.

For various reasons a missionary family would face many difficulties living in the Philippines. However, there are many Western missionaries who have coped with living there for many years. As in all fields, there are problems that would have to be faced. There is the problem of the poverty of many of the people. There is the problem of the difficulty of establishing self-supporting churches in such a situation. Roman Catholicism is very strong in the Philippines. Pentecostalism has had widespread influence. There are other heresies that have had a strong influence in the country. The “peace and order” situation, using the slogan of the Philippines, can present some danger in parts of the Philippines. Foreign mission work is always very difficult. May the Lord enable us as churches and ministers of the gospel for the salvation of God’s people to face the challenges.