Actually, it’s been almost two weeks since we’ve been back, so here’s a belated report on the trip that Paul Roberts, McKinley, and I took to the Philippines during the last couple of weeks of March and the first days of April.
The purpose of our trip was to do some investigation on behalf of Joy to the World Ministries, to see how the organization could possibly help Reformed Christians in the Philippines. Paul is a member of the mission congregation in P.G., and his wife Cecilia is from the Philippines. So there was already a personal connection with Cecilia’s church, the United Covenant Reformed Church in the Philippines (UCRCP) congregation in Las Pinas, which is a southern suburb of Manila, and with the pastor of that congregation and his wife – Pastor Edwin and Emy Puzon. Emy runs the Covenant of Grace Integrated Academy (see the picture) in Las Pinas, a Christian school that also serves as the worship location for the UCRCP congregation, and as the Puzons’ home (as well as allowing Pastor Puzon to minister full time without outside financial support). One of the areas that we were looking at was the possibility of sponsoring children to study at Covenant of Grace.
But our trip wasn’t limited to the urban sprawl of Manila. We also visited UCRCP congregations in Davao City, on the island of Mindanao, where we met Pastor Vic Bernales (see the picture to the left) and the elders of the church. We also had the opportunity to worship with the congregation on our first Sunday in the Philippines, and I was invited to preach during the morning service. We were also welcomed to a couple of Bible studies, and spent a fun day just being tourists, visiting the local crocodile park and a beach resort. And of course, enjoying the delicious local cuisine (that was one of the highlights of every place we went)!
From Davao City, we flew north to another city on the island of Mindanao, Cagayan de Oro, where there is a UCRCP mission congregation. We met with their elder and one of the members, and I also had the opportunity to visit with Glem Melo, another Reformed Christian from that city. The picture to the left was taken after a delicious meal at the home of Elder Laloy and his family. Once again, it was great to meet with brothers and sisters in Cagayan de Oro, and also to tour the beautiful surrounding countryside with its pineapple plantations, and (thankfully) cooler weather up in the mountains.
From Cagayan de Oro, we flew back to Manila, where we spent the next weekend. We worshipped with the congregation in Las Pinas, and I was invited to preach there as well. We did some exploration of Manila, spending a day on Corregidor, an important site in the history of the Second World War, visited a couple of extremely large malls, and white-knuckled our way around the city using several typically Philipino modes of transport, including Jeepneys. The picture to the left is of a jeepney. They’re unique vehicles, often painted with slogans and Bible verses. This one reminds us to “pray without ceasing” – and as Pastor Wes Bredenhof said, this is something that non-Philipinos are led to do when braving the traffic anywhere in the country!
While in Las Pinas, we made a day trip to Laguna, where there is another UCRCP congregation, a couple of hours south of the Metro Manila area. Our final stop was the province of Pangasinan, which is about 200 km north of Manila. There is another UCRCP congregation in San Carlos, and we met with a group of elders and deacons from that congregation as well (over dinner, of course). That’s catfish and “drunken shrimp” on the table, and there were some other delicacies available as well! Once again, it was a real blessing to meet with the brothers in Pangasinan, to visit the church building, to meet a number of church members, and to be so warmly welcomed!
This is a picture of the outside wall of the church building in San Carlos. They call it “The Comfort Wall” – and you may recognize the writing as the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism. Despite the difference in nationality, language, and culture, we share one faith, and that unites us more than anything else could. The Reformed churches in the Philippines are young, and still small. But there is great enthusiasm and great opportunity for the spread of the Reformed faith in that country. I hope to be able to return to the Philippines sometime soon, but until then, I’ll take the Jeepney’s advice: “Pray without ceasing!”