I made my first visit to the Philippines in February, 2000. I went as a part of a five man team of pastors from eastern Kentucky, to work with indigenous Baptist pastors and church planters in the Province of Negros Oriental. Negros Island is divided by a mountain range running between two volcanos - Mt. Canlaon in the north and Mt. Talinis (or the "Horns of Negros") in the south. Politically the island is divided roughly from north east to south west into two provinces - Negros Occidental in the west and Negros Oriental in the east. Most of our time and ministry has been expended in Oriental, within a two hour radius of the Provincial Capital city of Dumaguete. We have also done some evangelistic work on the nearby islands of Siquijor and Apo.
Negros Island, the third largest island in the Philippines, is believed to have once been part of the island of Mindanao, but was cut off by rising waters at the end of the last ice age. Among the early inhabitants of the island were Negritos, as well as Han Chinese and Malays. They called the island "Buglas", a native word which is believed to mean "cut off".
Miguel Lopez de Legazpi first came to the island in April 1565. Legazpi dropped anchor at the nearby island of Bohol and sent his men to scout the island now known as Negros. Because of the strong currents of the Tañon Strait between Cebu and Negros, they were carried for several days and forced to land on the western side of the island. They reported seeing many dark-skinned inhabitants, and they called the island "Negros" ("Negro" means "black" in Spanish). The island was sparsely settled at the time, except for a few coastal settlements.
The topography of the southern end of Negros island is dominated by the Cuernos de Negros (Horns of Negros) stratovolcano . Two large geothermal power plants on Mt. Talinas generate enough electricity to provide power for the entire island as well as a nearby island.
Negros Oriental's total population as of the 2010 census is 1,286,666. It is a province that has a large urban center (Dumaguete City) as well as smaller cities and remote mountainous villages. The predominant religion on the island is Roman Catholicism, yet in speaking with many of the natives who identify themselves as "Christians", the vast majority claim no personal relationship with Jesus Christ. There is a tremendous dearth of Biblical understanding, and many of the people do not even possess a Bible of their own. One Filipino pastor told me many years ago that the Spaniards "brought missionaries with the cross, but behind it they brought the gun!" Hence the Christian "religion" was planted in Negros, but for the vast majority of the people there, it is only about the "church" and its rituals.
Dumaguete City boasts several universities and colleges - including Silliman University, St. Paul's, Foundation University, Negros Oriental State University (NORSU) and the Asian College of Science and Technology. As in many college towns here, there have sprung up fast food places, bars and clubs, and even a modern shopping mall. However, one does not have to drive far from Rizal Boulevard on the ocean front to find rural areas of sugar cane farming, smaller towns, fishing villages, and remote areas where many live in deep poverty, even without the basics of water and electricity for their houses and nippa huts. The one thing the peoples in these various locations have in common is the need for a Savior. The pastors and members of the NESBAC churches are committed to knowing Christ and making him known all over Negros.
One week from today, I will be leading a six person team on my 12th short term mission trip to Negros. It is my pleasure and honor to be hosted by, and working along side of Pastor Josue Cadiao and the other pastors of the Negros Southern Baptist Association of Churches (NESBAC). The other members of our team are Pastor Randall Robertson of Locust Grove Baptist Church in Huntington, WV; Pastor Paul Harris of Abundant Hope Baptist Church in Barboursville, WV, my Youth Pastor, Bub Amis from Westmoreland Baptist in Huntington, and Randy and Brenda Lincoln, also of Locust Grove. Randall has been part of our mission work there for several years. Randy and Brenda were with us two years ago, and Paul and Bub will be making their first overseas mission trip. We are all excited about being part of what God is doing in that beautiful part of the world.
The Dumaguete Belfry along Perdices Street was used as a watchtower during the 19th Century to warn the inhabitants (by ringing the bells) of the then small fishing village of impending raids by marauding pirates from the south of the islands. From its top could be seen the island of Mindanao on the horizon. These raids were so rampant in the area during those times that this little fishing village came to be known as “Dumagit” or “Dagit” which means “kidnap” in the local Cebuano language. The Spanish authorities later adopted and restructured or “hispanized” the name to “Dumaguete”.
The Bell Tower is a landmark in Dumaguete City. It has a long history, but when I see it I am reminded of the fact that Satan seeks to kidnap the souls of every man, woman, boy and girl on the island. I pray that God will anoint and strengthen the good people of the NESBAC churches (as well as other evangelical groups in the area) to be a watchtower and a warning voice to those dear lost people.
Will you pray for our team as we travel across 12 time zones to spend much of our "vacation time" in doing what we can to help strengthen the Kingdom work that is going on year round in Negros Oriental?