The reason for my recent visit to the Philippines was to accompany my dad who wanted to catch up with his friends and former students. He had taught at IGBI in Ozamiz City in the 60s and had seen many of his students go on to become pastors and leaders in their churches (Grace Gospel Churches of Christ).
We met with so many people and I, who in the best of times struggle with remembering names, could not keep up. Many of them remembered me as ‘Jon-Jon’ (from when I was 3-6 years old). My own memories flooded back on so many occasions while talking with them and hearing their stories.
But in its essence, it was purely Filipino. One of the best decisions, I believe, the American missionaries made in the early days, was to turn the entire work over to Filipino nationals. Everything was done from Day 1 with this in mind. (Dad left the Philippines in 1972 and was the last foreign Director of the Bible College in Ozamiz.)
And the national leaders excelled! We were both very impressed with the character and expertise of the leadership. The conference–the 55th annual such event–was run like a well-oiled machine. The delegates from all over the country were met at the airport, accommodated, fed, and organised to a fine standard. The program itself was well-thought-out with a wide range of leaders, musicians and speakers and took place in a beautiful old church building–the Elinwood UCCP Church in Malate, Manila.
Part of an denominational gathering is the business of making decisions and keeping the organisation running, and this was no exception. Whilst dad and I removed ourselves from most of these meetings (it wasn’t after all, our business as observers from Australia), we were privy to some of the goings-on in the churches.
I guess you could say that we discovered rather quickly that churches in the Philippines were like churches anywhere else in the world: aiming for a high goal with the cause of the gospel of Jesus as a primary purpose, yet often bogged down in the politics of running an organisation and supporting the various structures within that organisation.
Philippine churches, like ours, lose people through disagreements or differences that cannot be resolved. A few years ago, a group of churches left the denomination because they believed only an organ should be used for musical accompaniment in church services. They didn’t care for guitars or drums. Another group distanced themselves from the organisation because they came up with the idea that prayer wasn’t needed since God knows (and plans) everything.
In spite of these setbacks, the leadership has maintained a grace-filled, open door policy–and this has been rewarded with several churches rejoining the group after a short time on the “outside.”
The response of the Board is inspiring: it doesn’t matter if they are in or out, as long as the gospel is being preached. They pray for God’s blessing on all, not just those who are part of their group. In one word: grace.
The theme of the conference was “Generous Partnership,” which puts into words the character of these people: partnering together with each other in mission, as members with churches, as churches with the denomination, as the denomination with people, and the whole organisation with like-minded folk from all over the world.
And that’s the way it should be. May we be driven by the Spirit of God to the same goal of generous partnership, in all graciousness and love.