It was a strange turn of events that brought me to visit Jolly and Mary Jane back in August with a team from Westmoreland Baptist Church in Huntington, WV, and to be back there in October for the church plant's 2nd Anniversary.
The circumstances can only be identified as a "God Thing".
The story begins in February, 2000.
That is the year I made my first (of a dozen) short term mission trips to the Philippines. I was part of a team of six eastern Kentucky pastors who made a two week trip to the Province of Negros Oriental in the Central Visayan area of the archipelago. There we split up and worked with several native church planters of the Negros Oriental Southern Baptist Association. After arriving in the provincial capitol of Dumaguete City, we took a 50 minute Fast Ferry ride to the neighboring island of Siquijor, for us to spend a couple of intense days of prayer and fellowship with the Filipino pastors who would be our partners for the next 11 days.
Thirteen of us crammed into a small "Easy Ride" (a huge misnomer) and we began an up close and personal relationship that transformed my ministry. We bounced along the rough road that traversed the small "Island of Witchcraft". Loaded down with Filipinos, Americans, and all our luggage, the little easy ride couldn't quite pull itself to the crest of the hill we were crossing after leaving the port city of Larena. I wish you could have seen us all piling out of that little truck (like the clowns in the Volkswagen at the circus) and pushing the Easy Ride the rest of the way to the top of the hill.
Anyhow, we spent the next two days getting to know one another, planning our crusade strategy and itinerary, and sharing devotional time together. One of the young Filipino pastors was a man named Jolly Ampong. My first thoughts were that with his wide smile and jovial manner, he certainly lived up to his name.
When our brief retreat was over, it was time to get down to work. We returned to Negros Island and once we reached Dumaguete we all went our separate ways for the crusade activities. Bro. Charles Davis and I stayed in Dumaguete in the home of Pastor Reuben Allosa and his wife, Lolina. Joed Rice traveled to the next town of Bacong, where he worked and stayed with Pastor Josue Cadiao and his wife, Christy. Ric Frazier went north about an hour up the National Highway where he paired up with Pastor Benjamin Marcelino and his wife, Emma in Bais City. Henry Mosley, partnered with Jolly Ampong. Jolly and his late wife, Anita, were based in the town of Manjuyod, an hour and a half drive up the National Highway from Dumaguete City.
I'll skip a lot of other details, but will just say that it was a joy working with the pastors of NOSBA. I made two trips there over the next three years, working with Pastor Doming Valdez in the Upper Batinguel area. On each of those trips it was a pleasure to be associated with the Filipino pastor/church planters. We worked with Jolly on three of those trips. After Anita died from breast cancer, Jolly was unable to continue the church planting activities that had been based on Anita's family's property in Manjuyod. We were never able to work with Jolly again in the Philippines, but we did stay in touch via email, and later through Facebook.
Fast forward a decade.
Jolly had remarried. His new wife was Mary Jane Malaga from his native island of Mindinao. Mary Jane had also attended the Southern Philippines Baptist Seminary, Jolly's Alma Mater. She was in Canada working as a caregiver, and had almost given up on her dream of marrying a pastor. But through a mutual friend, they were introduced and began a long distance relationship. After marrying, Jolly began working on the papers to join Mary Jane in Metropolitan Toronto. Shortly after arriving there, they began the work together to begin a new Baptist work in the city of North York in Metropolitan Toronto.
Westmoreland Baptist Church was seeking new ways to reach out in Missions. Through a series of events, and the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board's "Send North America" initiative, my long time friendship with Jolly and their new work's affiliation with NAMB and "Send Toronto", we were able to hook up as partners for missions in the fourth largest metropolitan area in North America.
God works in mysterious ways!
I would like to ask our readers to join us in praying for Jolly and Mary Jane as they work primarily in the large Asian community in North York. The challenges are great, but the Kingdom possibilities are unlimited. Although their present membership is made up of Filipino and Chinese believers,they are seeking to reach out to others in a multi ethnic ministry. At the anniversary service there were Filipinos, Chinese, Vietnamese, African Americans, Canadians, in attendance. There was even a Muslim woman who visited, who had been invited by one of her co-workers who is a member of the church.
They have a heart to reach out to everyone with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
There are only 300 Southern Baptist Churches (Canadian Baptist Convention) in Canada. The goal is to increase that number to 1,000 by the year 2020. By God's help, this can be accomplished!
We have also become acquainted with two other Baptist Church planters in the Toronto area (David Smith and Rudy Geronimo) with whom we also hope to partner in some way. Will you join us in praying that God will use Jolly and Mary Jane and the other dedicated church planters who are working diligently for the Lord among our neighbors to the north?
The harvest is ripe but the laborers are few.