After arriving in Manila on Wednesday evening, Jan. 9, we visited the Manila congregation on the Sabbath of Jan. 12. Average attendance in Manila is between 80 and 90. It is always a joy to be with the local Manila brethren who welcome everyone as family. As is common around the world among God’s people, several local members have been facing serious health issues.
The National Council Meeting held on Sunday, Jan. 13, was attended by all 10 faithful elders who serve the members throughout the Philippines. This year we also invited deacon Ireneo Suaner and his wife Glory Ann from Sabah, Malaysia to join us as guests and representatives of the Sabah congregation.
Morning and afternoon meetings involved reading the minutes from the 2018 meeting, followed by updates on our finances, UYC camps and Feast sites. It was agreed that the UYC camp program this year will combine the three local congregational camps into a single national camp that will include as many campers as possible. Several will come over from Sabah to attend.
We also were updated on the recent LifeNets project at the Correctional Institute for Women in Mindanao. A second report discussed the LifeNets project that rebuilt a family’s home on the island of Leyte. It was destroyed in a fire last year at the end of the Days of Unleavened Bread. The congregation’s meeting hall next door was completely destroyed by the fire as well. We are still waiting for the local government to approve the rebuilding of the structure.
Another report was given on a Good Works project that has been completed in Bukidnon, Mindanao. With funds from the home office, the Kiara church hall has been repaired and made acceptable for use once again for weekly Sabbath services.
On Jan. 19, we traveled with pastor Rey Evasco and his wife Cynthia to visit the friendly and hospitable San Carlos City congregation. Located about 100 miles north of Manila, this is the only other congregation in Luzon. The congregation began several years ago as a result of a Kingdom of God seminar. The church there continues to grow, and several baptisms have taken place in the last couple of years.
The traffic north to San Carlos City and then back south to Manila was horrible. The Philippines has experienced a tremendous population boom. This means more cars, motorcycles, taxis, buses, jeepneys and tricycle taxis. It took longer than expected to make the trip to church.
On weekdays in Manila we spent time working in the Church’s national office located in Makati, the business district of Manila. We always enjoy and appreciate the time we are able to spend with our two dedicated office employees: Richard Macaraeg and Stella Cambare. Denise enjoyed helping Stella prepare a mailing of literature and Beyond Today Magazines, many of which were sent to brand new subscribers!
On Wednesday, Jan. 23, we flew down to Mindanao, the big island in the south. Local pastor Raul Villacote, his wife Marita and their son James, picked us up at the Davao airport and drove us to the hotel where we stayed.
The next morning we traveled with the Villacotes to visit Jed and her brother Jong in their respective prisons. They are the brother and sister who have been unjustly imprisoned for over 15 years. Their story has been published in the United News in the past.
We were happy to see that the new water system made possible by LifeNets funds is working well and the visitor kiosks are being used on a daily basis. The prisoners and the administration appreciate the generosity of those who made it possible.
Jed and Jong looked good and were doing well in the midst of very difficult circumstances. Both mentioned several trials of faith in the last few months, but they are faithful and thankful for God’s direction and deliverance. Jed and Jong always ask us to thank the brethren for their continuing prayers. Even in prison they shine as lights to those around them, and they have been given great favor. In many ways they remind us of Joseph who spent time in prison in Egypt. The day came when he was given greater favor and honor. Let us all pray for Jed and Jong to have the strength to endure their present circumstances. Let us also beseech God that His will be done with respect to their possible future release.
We visited the Davao, Mindanao congregation on the Sabbath, Jan. 26. We always enjoy spending time with the Davao congregation. We first met many of the members during the Feast 2011 and they have become our long-time cherished friends.
On Saturday night we were able to share dinner with Gem and Sarah Nagtalon who serve as elder and wife in the Davao and Santo Tomas congregations. It is always a delight to spend time with the men and women who selflessly serve among God’s people.
On Friday, Feb. 1, we flew to Tacloban on the island of Leyte. We have been to Tacloban a few times since our first visit in 2014. That visit was less than a year after the devastation brought by Typhoon Haiyan in late 2013. A great deal of reconstruction has taken place but there still is so much more that needs to be rebuilt.
We spent Friday and Saturday nights at the Alejandro Hotel. It is an older historic hotel that was used by General Douglas MacArthur as his headquarters after the Allies landed on Leyte late in World War 2. Many photos from the World War 2 era decorate the walls of the hotel. Walking the halls looking at photos provides a trip back to a time when the American and Filipino people fought together to liberate these islands.
On Sabbath, Feb. 2, we spent a long day with Jose and Deodita Campos who serve as pastor and wife of the congregations in the central Visayas islands. Mr. Campos is very busy with his responsibilities with his work in a government office, oversight of several congregations and coordinating the Leyte Feast site. We discussed a number of ways to lighten their load.
We enjoyed visiting the enthusiastic congregation at Tubod, a small, loving group of less than 20. We had met the members at the Feast site but this was our first visit to the local church. As I have done each Sabbath, I extended greetings from Mr. Kubik and Mr. Roemer. Following services, we discussed their need for some additional concrete steps up to the church hall with a railing for the elderly and handicapped attendees.
The church is stable and solid in the Philippine Islands. If you ever have the opportunity to visit for a Feast or at any other time, you will never forget it. As we were told before our first visit, “They will steal your hearts!” UN