Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Catching Up!

After I returned to Manila from my trip to China, I left on the Wednesday for Davao City. Pastor Mene Boholst, Superintendent of the Foursquare churches of the Davao area, picked me up at the airport.

We had lunch then registered at the Bagobo House where I began preparing for our first meeting with the pastors. My series covered the numbers 1 – 7. One Lord, one body—on the unity of the church, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant. Two worlds—the visible world we live in and the invisible Kingdom of God. Three dimensions—the importance of keeping balance between our up with God, in with ourselves and our out with others. Foursquare Gospel—a rediscovery of our roots. Five senses—our pathway to intimacy with God. Six ways to pray from the Lord’s Prayer and seven gifts to be used for God’s glory.

I love the worship of the Davao Foursquare Church. This is my fifth visit to this one thousand member church who are holding their fiftieth anniversary in 2006. Again, our church gave money to help the pastors with food costs; some of the ladies prepared three meals a day for the few hundred pastors.

Their ministry to the slums is a key factor in the church’s success. By feeding and teaching some two hundred and fifty children, the parents often come, become believers and are helped spiritually as well as physically. On the Friday, I went with a few workers for a tour of the slums and to meet some of the kids the church cares for. I love the openness and hospitality that even the poorest of the poor show. They often live on only a few dollars a month, subsisting on a handful of rice, and maybe a small fish each day. There is no welfare so anyone who does not work, doesn’t eat. A mom may spend a few cents at the market at 4:00 a.m. buying a couple kilos of fish and resell it to her neighbours for a small profit.

On Saturday, November 12, after the Conference was over. Pastors Hermani and Mila Resueno, of Strength in the Valley Foundation Centre, picked me up for a tour of their ministry in Panabo City. Along the way, we stopped at a few Foursquare churches, some pastured by students in their third and fourth year at Bible school. We went to see the progress of their ministry centre which is just getting off the ground. Mila’s prayer is that this will be a resource centre for many of the poorest pastors. They will be able to receive help with food, clothes, books and encouragement to subsidize their small works. Several of the pastors serve the tribal Filipinos many hours from town. They are only accessible by jeepney and motorcycle; then horseback and a three hour walk. It’s surprising how little of our Canadian dollars can do so much to help the ministry of men and women who live on $20 a month.

We then went to an orphanage that Mila and Hermani help subsidize through their work. Boys are taken off the streets where they live by begging; are given food, housing and loving godly care. I held one little boy whose face had been hacked up by his drunken father, along with his two twin brothers. The mother is insane.

Two young boys had been picked up by police while we were there. They’d been sniffing glue and were filthy when they arrived. It was so touching to see them gobble up their fish and rice—likely the first meal they’d had in days. We then drove back to my hostel. (Only one flat tire on the way which was amazing since there was absolutely no tread on Hermani’s cracked and worn tires—he took the flat one in to get it revulcanized. How I wish I could have bought him four new tires, but by this time, I’d given away all my money.)

Back in Davao that evening, the church staff and I enjoyed a sumptuous Chinese dinner. I intended to pay, but they graciously covered my meal.

Sunday a.m., I was up at 4:00 a.m. to prepare for the 6:00 a.m. service. It always surprises me, not just to see birds flying through the sanctuary’s unglazed windows, but also to see the hundreds of people who show up so early in the morning ready to enthusiastically dance and sing to the Lord.

After that, and a 9:00 a.m. service, I headed home. Although I was scheduled to stay until Tuesday, Susan needed me, so I changed my ticket to Sunday at 1:00 p.m. Because of the sixteen hour time change, I arrived home about the same time I left! I was thoroughly exhausted and thoroughly exhilarated from my fifteen days away. But always wonderful to be greeted by my beautiful wife!

Okay, I'll admit it. It's nice to sleep in my own bed, too! We are so blessed here, aren't we?

I'm looking forward to sharing some of my experiences with you over the next few weeks. Hope you'll keep dropping by.


Monday, November 07, 2005

Back in Manilla

On Friday, I returned to Manila from Ilo Ilo in transit to China. I got to my hotel early enough to meet up with Val and Sally Chavez (President of the Foursquare Gospel Church of the Philippines) and a few other pastors and family. We enjoyed a sumptuous Chinese dinner together, before I returned to my hotel.

On the walk back I heard music coming from a large Roman Catholic church, so I went in for a visit. I was surprised to see about three hundred people on their knees praying while a woman and man sang beautiful classical hymns from the piano. I was enveloped in the presence of the worship as we sang all the verses of “Come Holy Spirit, we need you”. I lingered for about an hour before walking the two blocks back to my hotel, and enjoyed a peace-filled sleep.

On Saturday, November 5, I awoke about 5:30 a.m., excited about my trip that day to China. I had never been to a Communist country before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. My Chinese visa was issued on the expectation that I would not preach or teach Christianity.

After a six hour flight, I arrived at the airport and met my friends. The fog was so thick it took several more hours to reach our final destination. We visited for awhile and then I went to bed. The couple was so gracious they gave me their bed. They slept in one bed with their three children in the second bedroom.

The next morning (Sunday), it was about 6:30 a.m. when I got up to join the family for a wonderful Chinese breakfast. After a social time, my host and I set off for an interesting day. It was only now that I could see the city, because of the thick fog the night before. My first observation was the multitude of bicycles—as many as cars. They seem misplaced in the modern city. Most look very old and worn (apparently their appearance discourages thievery).

In Communist China, the government owns all the land but if you’re well off you can purchase an apartment (walk up six floors) for about $40 million CDN. The average unskilled worker would earn about $300 CDN a month, while some labourers only earn less than $100. Even at that he will often live in a makeshift hovel and send money to his parents or wife and children on a distant farm.

When the Communists first defeated the Nationalist Party in 1945, they had promises of equality for all. The initial idealistic leaders did well at living like the common people. They offered free university education for anyone who could keep up their grades, and free medical, so other people bought into the socialistic system.

By the time the second generation of leaders came along, power was beginning to corrupt them. Now medical is offered by the company for the one who works (not spouse) and fifty percent for children. Only about one percent can attend university. Very often the educated leave China as soon as they can for higher wages elsewhere.

Apartments are provided as part of the responsibility of employers. They also are obligated to give a small pension to those who retire. This has been a generation who were only allowed to have one child. (Abortion on demand has helped the city dwellers have one son usually.) Although in the country-side couples often exceed the one child limit, in the city it is controlled. This has led to a new generation of “little emperors”—boys who have been spoiled by two parents and often four grandparents. Their attitude often reflects their indulgent lack of parental discipline.

China is the fourth largest nation in land, so the temperature ranges from very cold winters in the north, to warm, rainy winters in the south. Where I was, there is a constant brown haze from the blowing soil and smog. Rules on the road are minimal.

We began our Sunday adventure by attending a large government approved worship service. The government is proud of their “freedom of religion” policy. By that they mean you are free to choose your own religion, but because you are free, no one is allowed to try to convert you to theirs. Surprisingly, children under sixteen are not allowed to go to church. (They are thought to be too young to make an informed decision and of course because they are free to later make up their own minds, parents are not allowed to teach them about Jesus.)

As we arrived at the very attractive church building (the land is owned by the Communist government and the pastor is paid by the government) I was surprised by three things:

  • The handicapped and blind who were begging at the entrance reminded me of the Gate Beautiful in Acts.
  • Of course there are no children’s programs because children are not allowed to go. The predominant age of the two thousand congregants was in their twenty’s.
  • By ten to nine every seat was full and people were standing in the aisles and outside to hear from loud speakers.

I assumed the service had started at 9:00 a.m. when we started singing the traditional hymns, but I soon found out that the first half hour was congregational hymn practice. The actual service began at 9:30. Then we were able to sing the same hymns with gusto.

I loved the service. Although I didn’t understand the sermon, I truly felt the presence of God. After it was over I asked my host why the other Christians met in underground churches across the nation (estimated at well over one hundred million believers). His answer surprised me. Although this was a seemingly healthy church, it was the only government approved church for several million people. No wonder it was full!

After the service we traveled by car for several hours to visit three more groups of friends. I wish I could describe our afternoon and evening, (which included an amazing feast) but wisdom cautions me. To put it bluntly in summary, the church, although suffering persecution and constant surveillance, is alive and well in China. We arrived back at the apartment at around 10:00 p.m. It had been a full and satisfying day.

Today, I made my way by bus and plane back to Manila and right now I'm headed for bed.

Thanks for stopping by.


Thursday, November 03, 2005

Day Three in the Land of Smiles

Last evening Pastors Val and Joemarie and I had noodles and chicken (my favourite) at Chow King. Then we headed for the service at Ilo Ilo Foursquare Church.

Wow! What an inspiration to worship with these enthusiastic pastors and leaders. It seems that the more people suffer, the closer they are to God.

We watched a great DVD which covered an informal tour of several of the surrounding island churches. The team traveled for two weeks by homemade catamarans, motorcycles, trucks and foot to reach some of the remote villages. These pastors (which are here at the Conference) live on $300 to $500 pesos a month—that’s $6 to $10 CDN. No wonder they are thrilled to receive our bags of collected hotel shampoos and soaps! The service was long (about four hours) but inspiring.

By midnight I hit the pillow and asked for a wake up call for 8:30. I woke up at what I thought was 6:00 showered, dressed and went to the lobby for a cup of Nescafe (only instant here), but all was in darkness. I asked the sleeping clerk when the cafĂ© opened—that’s when I realized it was only 4:30 a.m. Somehow I’d got the time changes confused.

At least I had a good length of time to prepare for my day. Breakfast was fish, lumpio, rice, eggs and fresh papaya. Delicious!

I loved our two morning sessions. Every morning and evening I give the pastors a ten question quiz (very obscure questions) on what I said the previous session. Then I give out dozens of Cadbury chocolate bars and my books as gifts. I’m amazed how well they remember the answers.

For example, I told a story the day before about a runner from Tanzania in the 1990 Mexico City Olympics. One question was, “What was his name?” The answer, which some remembered, was John Akwara. We also shipped a box of used Christian books a couple of months ago. Nora gives away the books as prizes for various things and they are tickled to receive a free book.

Our church paid for Life Purpose books as well as workbooks for every registered pastor. They are so grateful. We also supplied the money (amazingly our Sunday School children raised $1500) for food for the pastors. (I’ll upload pictures later.) They are fed three good balanced meals a day for about 50¢ each. Keep in mind that the average salary of a worker (store clerk, hotel maid, doorman or other unskilled worker) is 175 pesos a day (that’s about $3.50 CDN). No wonder one spouse often works in another country to send money home for the family. Even so, almost all (except for the poorest 25%) parents send their children to three or four years of college after they graduate from grade 10.

Tonight I continue teaching Life Purpose. To end the last morning session, where I spoke about how God loves to give each of us free gifts, I surprised the pastors by pulling out a couple of hundred small chocolate bars (like we give to trick or treaters on Halloween). I threw them to the crowd and they went wild trying to catch one.

After a crazy couple of minutes, where everyone was laughing and shouting, I stopped the groups and said, “Now, remember God gives us gifts so that we can give them away.” With that the pastors knew what was coming. “Now give your chocolate bar you’ve been given to someone else.” They did it with great joy and laughter!

I’m headed back to Manila tomorrow afternoon to meet with President Val and Sally Chavez—then off to China. I wish I could write more about my China visit, but cannot, so I’ll pick up the story next week when I return to Manila and off to Davao.


Images from the Philippines:

Isn't she cute?

What a sweet, sweet sound

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Half Way Around the World

On Sunday, October 30 at 10:35 p.m. a Philippine Airlines 727 jetted me off to the “Land of Smiles”. I’ve been here every year since 1998 to speak at Foursquare Pastors’ Conferences with our 1,600 churches in this beautiful nation. These are among my favourite two weeks of the year.

Somewhere along the way, I missed Halloween. (I am usually watching our six grandchildren dress up and ask the neighbours for candy, so they can share it with Nana and me.) Our plane arrived at 5:30 a.m. on November 1 in Manila. (The Philippines are 16 hours ahead of us in Vancouver.)

My next plane to Ilo Ilo did not leave until 2:00 p.m. so I headed for a hotel to catch up on some much needed sleep. By 7:00 a.m. a taxi had taken me through the streets on the drizzly, smoggy day and I laid my head on a soft pillow to rest. But within an hour there was a friendly knock on my door. Some pastors I knew were there to greet me and take care of me for the few hours I had in Manila. Filipinos are so people-oriented that they can’t conceive of a person being left alone in a strange city.

Together we rented a car and driver for about $30 for the day, and set off for some visiting. We ended our few hours with a delicious Chinese meal then I had to run to the airport to catch my plane. I left a couple of boxes of gifts at the hotel for my return.

I arrived in Ilo Ilo by 4:30 p.m., the sun was shining on this beautiful city (the fourth largest in the 84 million populated nation—the size of British Columbia). Ilo Ilo, which is named “long neck” for the piece of land it is situated on, is an attractive university town. There are 14 graduate schools here in this city of 200,000. And, by the way, four stop lights in the entire place!

I was greeted by the ever smiling Joemarie Sulmaca. I’ve known Joemarie and Nora and their three boys for several years and count him among my dearest friends. He not only pastors a great church, he serves as District Supervisor of this area and regularly conducts evangelistic rallys, has planted some 40 churches in 14 years, but now serves as Vice-President of the 1,600 Foursquare Churches here. I often lecture him on over-working, but he doesn’t listen. He’s having too much fun!

Joemarie’s latest passion is planting house churches in the poor barangay (grouping of households with an overseer and council). He has one pastor for each three churches.

In the Bible School here, where we are meeting for our Conference, every student who graduates will be required to plant a church. Most are single and about 19 – 21 years old (men and women). The way they start house churches is by feeding the poor children. One bag of rice (20 kg) costs about $20.00 CAN and will feed twenty-five families. Remember that even in Manila the average nurse, teacher or policeman will exist on $20 - $60 CAN a month and eat a bowl of rice (maybe some beans or fish) a day. Of course there are a few who do well and live lives as prosperously as we do.

Our Conference is going great! Even though it’s easy to feel the pain and depression of the society (some barangays have one or two suicides a week) the evangelistic churches are alive and well. I wish I could express the joy in their singing, on paper. I often just stand among them as they worship, listen and feel the palpable presence of God’s Spirit. The Filipinos love to sing and dance.

After I finished the first service, speaking on Finding Our Purpose, I headed for bed around 11:00 p.m. and slept well.

Up at 6:00 for a breakfast of fish laden scrambled eggs, rice, corned beef, fried fish and fresh fruit, I prepared for my first two sessions this morning. The pastors listened with enthusiasm even though they’ve slept (200 of them) on a concrete floor in the Bible College. (Our church provided them money for food and two or three women cook and feed everyone.)

After lunch Joemarie and I had to talk business so we headed out for barbecued chicken and rice (no utensils—we eat with our fingers). In a moment we go together to the airport to pick up Pastor Val Chavez, the President of the Foursquare Gospel Church of the Philippines. Val and Sally are very dear friends of mine and I always look forward to our time together.

It’s a beautiful, sunny day (about 80 degrees F), and I’m looking forward to our afternoon. Tonight Pastor Val will speak at the Conference.

We're expecting great things! Pray for us.


Tuesday, November 01, 2005


I had a comment a couple days ago asking about tattoos. [By the time I get to post this, I'll have missed a day due to my travels. I left Sunday night October 30, but when I arrive in the Philippines it will be Tuesday, November 1.]

Anyway, thanks for the question, anonymous blogger!

You are right; there is a verse in the book of Leviticus that forbids cutting or tattooing your body. Leviticus 19:28 says, “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead, nor make any tattoo marks on yourself: I am the Lord.”

According to what I’ve read of customs from 3,500 years ago, pagan religions were represented by certain tattoos (perhaps like we may tattoo a cross or “Jesus loves me” on our bodies today). Having a pagan god or symbol tattooed on a person’s body would violate the prohibition of worshiping pagan gods, icons or images (Exodus 20:4 – the second of the ten commandments).

Your friend is right that many of the Old Testament laws concerning health laws, personal cleanliness, eating, etc., are not necessary today because of our modern conveniences such as refrigeration and health care. Most of the Old Testament laws had to do with spiritual, social, psychological or physical well being; and are as valid as ever. Others were pictures fulfilled when Jesus came to earth, died and was resurrected. Biblically, I still believe we should adhere to commands such as Leviticus 20:28.

In light of this scripture and your own tattoos, here’s what I would counsel you:
  1. Don’t get any further tattooing done on your body;
  2. If you have satanic, occult, pornographic or profane tattoos, you may want to have them removed because of your Christian testimony. We should reflect Christ in our body, conversation and behaviour.
  3. You may want to consider your tattoos part of your testimony. “This is who I was – now I am a new creation. This is my old body, one day I’ll get a new one.”
  4. The way you treated your body as a non-believer is forgiven, every bit as much as any of your past words, thoughts or behaviour. There is nothing in your past that has not been washed clean by Jesus’ gift of forgiveness and life (if you have confessed and turned from that former behaviour).
  5. Lastly, read I Corinthians 8 and Romans 14 and you will see that we each stand before God and not before the judgements and opinions of others. If you feel in your conscience that the tattoos are wrong, then you have to decide what to do. If someone else does, but you do not, then you are not obligated to please them. The exception might be if your tattoos are offensive and get in the way of someone’s faith (for example, if I were married or had children and they were embarrassed or offended, I’d do anything to please them).

Well, hopefully these several thoughts will help you make a wise decision. Pray and ask God for wisdom. He promises to give it to you (James 1:5), but don’t do what I recommend without thinking it through for yourself.

Blessings to you. I love your submissive and soft heart.