The Philippines is experiencing one of the world’s longest and strictest COVID-19 lockdowns, and this has intensified the nation’s economic and human suffering. All of the brethren have been challenged—some have lost jobs or businesses and others have contracted COVID-19 and thankfully recovered. Some families also lost loved ones, so this year’s theme of “Strengthening the Brethren to Enter the Kingdom” was very apt.
For the first time in the Philippines’ Church history, due to the pandemic restrictions, the Feast of Tabernacles was observed mainly at home by about 480 brethren. These restrictions did not prevent the brethren from joyfully keeping the Feast and fellowshipping together. Some brethren gathered in small clusters with nearby families, and brethren from all over the country fellowshipped at the end of each online service. The inspired messages of God’s plan of salvation for mankind truly strengthened the brethren.
Nationwide services were held via Facebook Live streaming. A locally produced welcome video was also shown right after the welcome video provided by the home office. Other highlights included messages from our senior pastor in Alaska, David Dobson, and the inspiring message from Mr. Kubik. The local speakers also provided uplifting spiritual messages throughout the Feast.
Festival services were enhanced by the Festival virtual choir, consisting of members in the Philippines and internationally. All ages were represented by the children’s choir, the seniors’ duet and the international choir. Local and international musicians also rendered beautiful offertory music on piano and guitar.
After daily morning services, afternoon and evening online activities included special events tailored for families, youths and senior citizens. The Festival Show showcased the talents of brethren in dances and songs, with participants of all ages from the Philippines and some neighboring Asian countries.
Youth activities included a Bible study titled, “Anchored to God.” Games and contests of poster-making, essay-writing and vlogs showcased the talents of our youths and the importance of teamwork and unity. As a result, they built strong connections and formed a support group to combat the pulls of this world. A few of their comments below reflect their appreciation:
• “The pandemic this world is experiencing right now will not stop us from reaching out and strengthening each other.
• “I learned to be patient and be more friendly, to have confidence, and most of all I learned about God’s Word through the games/activities we’ve done.”
• “We are still together despite the distance.”
The singles and young adults fellowship forum focused on issues and challenges faced by young adults in the Church. Family day included games and prizes for all ages and performances to entertain. The women’s enrichment meeting theme, “Women of Faith,” provided opportunity for ladies to share experiences, learn and connect with one another. In the men’s fellowship forum, gentlemen shared their experiences, including how Spokesman Club has benefited them personally, professionally and in becoming better ambassadors for God. The seniors’ fellowship involved virtual sharing of experiences on how they came to understand the truth and join the Church of God.
These activities were all conducted via Facebook Livestream and Zoom. Many thanks to our technical crew for their vital part in providing these virtual Feast activities. They did an excellent job of connecting us all!
The challenge of intermittent Internet connection was solved by pre-recording messages for some speakers. One couple who do not receive cell phone signal in their home were given pre-recorded messages for each day of the Feast.
The small group of brethren celebrating the Festival in Davao City attracted the attention of local health workers, who made two official visits. However, the health workers were greeted by law-abiding brethren observing proper social distancing and health protocols, and no criticism was made. The brethren joyfully continued their Feast observance.
A silver lining of being unable to have three Feast sites this year is that our brethren bonded across all the regions. Indeed, this brought everyone closer and made us even more grateful for our fellow members of the same body. With the Festival theme of “Strengthening the Brethren to Enter the Kingdom,” the pandemic proved not to be a hindrance to the brethren observing the Feast because their minds were focused on the apostle Paul’s admonition in Acts 14:22 Acts 14:22Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.
American King James Version×: “Strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, it is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” The brethren also remembered that the things happening now have been prophesied to happen prior to the return of our Savior to establish His Kingdom on this earth. May “Thy Kingdom come” soon!