Sunday, February 13, 2011

Shakin' Off Snakes

Today I had the privilege of preaching to a group of believers who know what it is to face adversity on several fronts. Yet in the midst of abject poverty, persecution, and disappointment they remain faithful in their devotion and service to the Lord.

These are the members of the faith family known as the Mayapusi Christian Fellowship who met this morning for worship at the humble home of a fellow, known to me only as Brother Pepe. This group of believers have recently experienced the loss of their house of worship. I will not go into the details here, but suffice it to say that the circumstances came about over petty jealousy and control issues by the vindictive person who claimed to hold ownership of the building. The result was, as we call it in America, a church split.

The interesting thing about this situation is that the group who left the church was not a small, disgruntled group of malcontents. In fact, once this group left the intolerable conditions placed upon them by those who claimed ownership of the building, only one family remained on the premises. Rather than put up a fight or seek legal remedy through the corrupt court system, this group of believers, led by Pastor Joseph Zerna simply chose to continue on in their service to the Lord, without a permanent place to call home. Their devotion to Christ is overwhelming. Let me give you an example.

On Tuesday of this week, our mission team drove three hours to the remote village of Lamdas for an afternoon evangelistic crusade. (see a previous post) When we arrived in Lamdas, we were greeted by six or seven of the members of the Mayapusi church, who had WALKED for two hours to be there to take part in the work. We have folks who won't walk down the block or drive for 10 minutes to be in the comfortable environs of the Lord's house, while these poor people walked miles wearing flip flops, over mountain trails in rugged terrain, simply for the joy of being in the service that day. Why? For the simple reason that they knew there were many people in Lamdas who needed Jesus, and these folks wanted to be there to help. Our entire team was blown away by their love, their dedication, and their humble spirits. That's just the kind of Christ Followers they are.

Following the ugly, unscriptural, and vindictive actions of the supposed property owner late last year, twenty five souls gathered together for worship in a member's home in mid December, and since that time they have hung together, and actively continued worship, fellowship and evangelism in their community and in outreach to nearby villages. This morning, fifty men women and children gathered in the rain, under a makeshift shelter of bamboo poles and tarps to celebrate the Lord's Day. I was honored to be in their presence.

I preached to them today from Acts 28 regarding an incident that happened in the wake of the Apostle Paul and 275 others suffering shipwreck in a terrible two week storm. Once the castaways had made it safely to shore, Paul, himself a prisoner on his way to Rome for trial, actively sought to help minister to those who had survived the harrowing experience. A fire had been started to help warm the wet cold survivors of the shipwreck. While gathering up sticks to add to a fire, Paul was bitten by a poisonous viper that had been in the bundle of brush.

The natives of the island, identified as the present day island of Malta, were horrified when they saw what had happened to Paul. Here was an innocent man, who was headed to Rome to defend himself before Caesar, against the trumped up charges of which he had been convicted. Yet, having advised the ship's captain of God's message, and having survived the shipwreck, now he went about the chore of ministering to others when tragedy struck. Here is how Paul's traveling companion, Dr. Luke, described the incident in one of the "we passages" in the Book of Acts (chapter 28, verses 1-6):

"Safely ashore, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The local people showed us extraordinary kindness, for they lit a fire and took us all in, since rain was falling and it was cold. As Paul gathered a bundle of brushwood and put it on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself to his hand. When the local people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “This man is probably a murderer, and though he has escaped the sea, Justice does not allow him to live!” However, he shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm. They expected that he would swell up or suddenly drop dead. But after they waited a long time and saw nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god." (HCSB)

There is much to be learned from Paul's actions here, and I shared some thoughts along these lines with the believers in Mayapusi.

In the midst of Crisis, Criticism, and Cynicism, Paul chose not to flee, fight, or defend his reputation. Instead, he simply shook off the serpent into the fire and went on about his business.

Much like the apostle of old, the Mayapusians are also facing Crisis, Criticism, and Cynicism. I reminded them that, like Paul, they had the Power, Presence, and Plan of Almighty God to protect them and provide for them during this time of difficulty. My advice to them, and to all who find themselves in tough circumstances beyond their personal control - shake off the snakes of Crisis, Criticism, and Cynicism, and stay busy about the Kingdom agenda!

May God richly bless Pastor Joseph Zerna, his family, and the precious Christ Followers in Mayapusi, Mabinay!

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Near Tragedy

Yesterday morning's mission activities started off with a terrible event that could have become a full fledged tragedy for our team and for one of our partner churches. Thankfully, the Lord has preserved the lives of two of our friends!

The days activities were scheduled to begin with me speaking at a local warehouse and shipping point in a Bible Study that is hosted by Pastor Arnel Agaban, weekly. The plan was to speak there and give Cebuano Bibles to the 80-90 employees who work for that company. When Pastor Josue Cadiao and Joseph Zerna arrived at the hotel to pick us up at 7:00 AM, they and the other Filipinos with them were visibly shaken, and Josue's arm and slacks were splattered in blood.

One of Josue's church families (and a family that had been an important part of our team) had just been in a terrible crash on the National Highway and had been transported to Holy Child Hospital, just two blocks from our hotel.

Guillermo Pusan had been instrumental all week in helping transport the generator, and all the light and sound equipment to the various venues around southern Negros, where we met for crusade activities. His little "easy ride" family vehicle was perfect for that duty. It's half car/half truck body style made it easy to transport people and equipment from place to place.

Guillermo and his wife and children left the house early yesterday morning with a fully loaded vehicle. The plan was to drop daughter, Angelica, off at school and then transport the sound equipment to the warehouse to get set up in time for our 7:30 AM Bible study there. Shortly after turning onto the main highway in their hometown of Bacong, the unimaginable happened.

Two drunken men on a Honda motorcycle swerved into their lane hitting them head on, and flying through the windshield into Guillermo's vehicle.

The impact was powerful, and as you can see from the photo above, the damage was severe. Pastor Josue and the other Easy Ride (which was carrying boxes of Bibles and other members of our team) arrived on the scene just after the crash. He saw Guillermo's damaged vehicle and the twisted remains of the motorcycle along with the two cyclists sprawled out on the highway.

"I thought they were dead already!" Josue told me with tears in his eyes. "The blood was flowing from Guillermo's head and leg wounds and little Angelica was also severely injured." he said in a shaken voice.

Josue, his driver, Dodong, and others provided first aid at the scene to the Pusan family and to the two cyclists whose injuries were severe - if not life threatening. The injured parties were transported to Holy Child Hospital. Josue's wife, Christy, stayed at the ER with Mrs. Pusan and the little boy, who were miraculously only shaken up. Josue came on to meet us at the Hotel where Pastor Joseph was here to pick up our team.

"We must have prayer" he cried, as we gathered around on the street, holding hands and pouring our heart out to God for the Pusan family and the two cyclists.

After the Bible Study ended, we made our way back to Holy Child to minister to the family as much as possible. We were able to see Guillermo and Angelica and to have prayer with them and also with the two men from the motorcycle, whose injuries can only be described as severe. It appeared that they would survive, but there is the possibility that both of them will suffer amputations.

Guillermo and Angelica were admitted to the hospital with broken bones and lacerations, but, thankfully, they will survive. This was a severe blow to the Bacong Christian Fellowship church family and to our mission work here. The results could have been much, much worse.Hopefully they will be released today or tomorrow.

We certainly thank God for His protection and for sparing their lives.

Even though most readers will never meet this family, please lift them up to God for their physical, financial and emotional needs. Also pray for the other two men. I know that Pastor Josue will also minister to them and their families as much as they will allow.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


On Wednesday, God reminded me again of a lesson He has been teaching me for some time now.

I am not indispensable. Not even close.

As leader of this mission team, there are some responsibilities that fall to me. After all, someone has to organize. Someone has to purchase tickets, make reservations, and serve as a liaison between our team and the native pastors with whom we work. Someone has to assume responsibility to take care of details. The new team members need that. They need someone to answer their questions and give direction to their activities. On this trip, I have been that guy. And, even though two of our members have also made multiple trips here, they have looked to me in the past to handle the basic details., But the truth of the matter is, that with me or without me, God can certainly get the job done.

I was reminded of that again on Wednesday.

Wednesday was going to be a big day. It was the day that we would leave Dumaguete at 7:00 AM do do ministry and evangelism all day in Bais City and points north. I looked forward to working in the field of Pastor Roberto Martin. He is the Chairman of the local Negros Oriental Southern Baptist Association of churches, here on this island. Pastor Martin had been with us in other ministry activities since last Friday. When we traveled to Manjuyod, he and his wife arrived via motor bike to assist with the Crusade effort. When we made the long trip to Lamdas he also came. At Mabinay, he was there, helping to work the crowd and record decisions. I was looking forward now to spending the day with him in ministry.

Martin had a full day of activities planned for us in Bais. After the one and one half hour drive up the coast, we would start with jail ministry in the morning at the Bais City Jail. Pastor Martin has a regular service there each Wednesday morning, and has done so for several years. Then the team would split into two teams, with my group going on north to Bindoy, and Brother Randall's team heading for the area known as Riverside, Each group would do house to house evangelism in their respective locations. Plans further called for both teams to join back together at Bais for a large outdoor crusade at 6:00PM.

I went to bed late Tuesday night with a feeling of anticipation. I also took with me a feeling of a slight pressure in my head, what seemed like the beginnings of a sore throat and a little tickle in my right ear.

When the alarm went off at 5:00AM, my fears were confirmed. I had a full blown sinus infection, sore throat and ear ache. It felt as if someone had blown up a balloon in my head, and the stark reality hit me that there is no way I could be a positive addition to the team that day. After a quick meeting with a couple of other members of the team, it was decided that I should remain behind, take meds, rest, and pray for the rest of the team as they proceeded on to Bais City.

Talk about frustration! I did not travel half way around the world to lie in a hotel room, while the rest of the mission team went on without me, but God apparently had other plans for me - and for the work that day.

The long day passed slowly, and I was anxious to hear something from the rest of the group, but there was no contact from them. Finally, my roommate and brother in law, Gene Bennett, came into the room about 10:30 PM, with the news that they had experienced a wonderful day of ministry - and had seen the power of God exhibited as 327 people had made professions of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in that one day! The conversions in that one day alone nearly doubled the number of previous decisions from the full week up to that point - and God did it all WITHOUT my assistance and expertise!

To God be the glory.

And once again, He reminded me, that His work can be accomplished - with my help or without my participation. A lesson in humility that I have known for a long time, but also need to be reminded of, now and again.

Sometimes we pastors act like the work cannot go on without us - but it certainly can - and sometimes does...

Now don't get me wrong here. God CAN and DOES use individuals to accomplish the task. But we must realize that He doesn't have do depend fully on us to get the job done.

An old friend once used this illustration to show how indispensable each of us really are. "Hold your arm in a bucket of water" he said, "and then pull it out. How big of a hole does it leave? That's how indispensable you are to God's work!"

I remember Granny talking about folks who "get too big for their britches". Well as the old song says:
"One monkey don't stop no show.
One monkey don't stop no show.
And let him do anything he choose.
There's a million men who can fill his shoes.
One monkey don't stop no show!"

Thanks for the reminder, Lord.
Lesson learned - again.

Monday, February 7, 2011

One Particular Guy at the Crusade

The trip took nearly three hours today as our team went to a place called Lamdas. I had been there once before, about four years ago. To say it is a remote spot would be a tremendous understatement. In fact, when Jesus said to take the Gospel to the "uttermost part of the earth", I suspect that Lamdas might have been the place He had in mind! It certainly qualifies.

Lamdas is in the remote inland mountains of Negros Island, not far from the border that separates the two provinces of Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental. It is in an area where Pastor Joseph Zerna ministers to a congregation, known as Mayapusi Christian Fellowship Church.

Here in Dumaguete, there are numerous evangelical works around the city. But Lamdas is another story. In this remote location in the volcanic highlands MCFC appears to be the only evangelical work that is going on. We are told that some of the people in this area have rarely seen a white visitor. It is that far off the beaten path.

When we arrived today, more than 200 people had gathered out of curiosity at the barangay basketball court. As we played the music, the number of people increased. By the time the service was over, the crowd had nearly doubled, and 186 of them responded to the Gospel invitation.

The tall (bald) guy wearing the "wife beater" on the ldft side of this photo is one of those who came forward when the invitation was given.

While the girls sang, he, along with several other young men, were shooting pool just outside the basketball court. I approached the fence area to say hello and to invite them over, but it was obvious they wanted nothing to do with us. They laughed and muttered something under their breaths and treated us with disdain. The same attitude was exhibited as the service progressed. Brenda Lincoln and Randall Robertson offered songs. Randy Lincoln gave his testimony. A drama skit was offered. Through it all these guys continued to laugh in a manner that was obviously one of mockery.

As I began my message (with Pastor Josue Cadiao interpreting) I issued a challenge to these - and other men who sat beyond the basketball court. "God is not only for women and children" I said loudly. "He is a God who desires relationship with men as well", I continued, as I began to tell the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who were thrown into the fiery furnace. "In fact", I reminded them, "REAL men worship God!"

I noticed that this man looked up from the pool table, and fixed his eyes upon me. As I preached and Bro. Josue translated, the fellow moved closer and closer to the court. I will never forget the look on his face. At first, it appeared to be a look of anger, but soon it became obvious that he was listening intently.

By the time the invitation was given, he was on the basketball court, and coming forward with scores of others. When he stepped forward, several of the other men followed his lead as well.

It never ceases to amaze me regarding how God can work on those who you would think would never be interested in "churchy stuff".

We serve an awesome, life changing God. Please pray for this guy at Lamdas, that God will use him in a mighty way to lead other men to Christ!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Mission Trip Report

Monday, February 7

Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental

Republic of Philippines

12:50 AM

Our first Sunday in the Philippines is now over, and we are thrilled to report that 159 people have made professions of faith in Jesus Christ, since the opening service at Bacong Christian Fellowship on Thursday evening.

Although we have had a couple of minor health issues, our team is well, and our members have been 100% able to take part in the activities of Saturday and Sunday.

On Friday and Saturday, we made the three hour trip to Manjuyod to do evangelism activities and to assist mission Pastor Nico Folio and the congregation of the Maaslum Southern Baptist Church, in reaching their community for Christ. Nico and Jocelyn are working hard to followup on prospects, and on those who made decisions for Christ as a result of our activities. I cannot begin to describe the condition of the roads that led up into the mountains of Manjuyod, but let me just say they were the worst I have ever travelled. Mostly unpaved, they are narrow and winding, with no guardrails. Although the view of the gorges and valleys is breathtaking, the reality of the danger is ever present. The huge sugar cane trucks that have rutted out the dirt roads, leave very little room to pass when one is encountered.

This morning, our team split into two teams for morning worship activities. Randall Robertson and Randy and Brenda Lincoln made the long trip back to Maaslum for morning worship today. On the way back, near Tanjay, the Easy Ride of Brother Joseph broke down with mechanical problems. After waiting a long time along the highway on the way home, eventually Joseph put them on a Ceres liner bus, which brought them back to Dumaguete. Eventually Jospeh got the problem repaired, and he and wife Juvy were able to make it to our evangelistic service at Sandupan, Bacong tonight.

I preached in two services at Bacong Christian Fellowship Sunday morning. The church is nice but rather small, and unable to accommodate the crowds who attend special emphasis services. Today, the children from the Christian School sponsored by the Bacong Church performed in each service, and their families came to see the program, and to hear the Gospel. The number of students and their parents far exceeded the seating capacity, so two services were held this morning. My congregation would be shocked to know that I preached two messages on Sunday morning, and we were done before 11:00 AM! ( Of course the services started at 8:00AM)

Tomorrow's plans call for another crusade in the mountains, as we will be driving back into the mountains for evangelistic activities in Lamdas, Mabinay.

Right now, I can barely hold my eyes open, so I am going to sign off for now.

Thank you for your prayers and support which have allowed us to purchase over 1,700 Bibles for distribution, and will also purchase rice for the churches and their pastors. I look forward to tomorrow's activities, and pray that God will go before us!

Good night and may God bless!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Our American/Filipino Team

Earlier computer problems have been diagnosed and corrected! Mostly operator error (if you can imagine such a thing!)

At any rate, our "Official" mission trip activities got under way this morning with a 30 minute drive up the coast where we met together with our host and partner Filipino Pastors and church planters and their wives for the "orientation" session. Pictured here are (front row, l to r) Thamer Calhoun, Juvy Zerna, Brenda Lincoln, Elainita Agaban, Jocelyn Folio, Pastor Roberto Martin, Pastor Josue Cadiao, Christy Cadiao, and Pastor Joseph Zerna. Back row - L to R: Randy Lincoln, Dodong (last name escapes me right now) Pastor Arnel Agaban, Pastor Nico Folio, me, Gene Bennett, and Randall Robertson.

We had the meeting at a rather new facility near the town of San Jose, on the road leading up the mountain to the Twin Lakes.

The view was breathtaking as one could look across a deep valley from the Azalea restaurant, where we met, to the towering mountains on the other side of the river which rushed down toward the sea. In the distance the island of Cebu could be seen. The day began overcast, and a shower fell while we were there, but by the time our meeting was over, the sun had come out, and the ocean sparkled in the distance.

The orientation session included a time of worship and fellowship, and covered the basics of the planned activities for the next 11 days. Tonight we will begin with a joint welcome service for our team at the Bacong church. People from several of the other churches will also be in attendance there.

After a wonderful Filipino lunch we came to what was the highlight of the day. Our American team and our Filipino counterparts joined together in a season of prayer that lasted over an hour! God was in the house as we poured our hearts out to Him.

I am certainly looking forward to what He has in store for us over the next few days. As I write this, I realize it is only 3:30 AM back home, and most of our loved ones are sound asleep. I simply ask that when you read this post, that you will take a moment to stop and ask God to do a mighty work. Remember that while you are sleeping, we will be at work and while you are working, we will be attempting to get some needed rest.

To our loved ones back home, our team members want you to know that we love and miss you all. We are all well and rearing to hit the ground running tonight, Please keep us in your prayers.