I have the utmost respect for Carlos and Milagros (Mila).
In 1968, I was the ring-bearer (page boy) at their wedding in Legaspi. My sister was the flower girl. My dad was the preacher.
Carlos was from the Illocos region in far northern Luzon. Mila was from Bicol (part of the large Improsso family, many of whom we encountered in our time in the Philippines). They met as they were both studying for full-time Christian ministry in Mindanao.
Fast-forward 20+ years and they moved north to Isabela province to plant a church and ended up starting a Bible School of their own. They spent many years in this area and were very successful in their work. Numerous young men and women graduated from their Bible School which later became one of the three IGBI campuses of TCM (Philippines).
While the work was growing and new churches were being planted in the Isabela region, Carlos and Mila came to the decision to leave Isabela and do what they had been teaching young men and women to do for so many years–plant new churches. Our church at the time joined with them in this venture and contributed a small amount each month towards their living expenses. It was always great to see each new endeavour and where God was opening doors for them to serve.
They chose a location on the opposite side of the island of Luzon, just about as far north as you can go in the Philippines, near the city of Laoag–a small barangay (village) called Caaoacan. Here they built a house with an adjacent small meeting space and started a church.
That wouldn’t be anything fantastic, considering how many churches are planted in the Philippines every year. But what makes this incredible is that Carlos is 80 and Mila is in her late 70s. And while Carlos was originally from the Illocos region and spoke the native language Illocano, it took his wife 8 years to learn it well enough to be reasonably fluent.
Dad and I took a short detour north and flew into “Laoag International Airport” (called so because, once in a while, a charter flight from China or Taiwan lands there) on a warm Saturday evening. We were met by Carlos on his “tricycle” (motorbike with a sidecar attached) and, together with our luggage, crammed into his and another tricycle for the half hour journey north to Caaoacan.
With the expense of owning a car is beyond the reach of most Filipinos, the motorbike and tricycle are widely used forms of transport. Wherever you go, these vehicles crowd the roads and are even used as taxis. And, apart from the suspension on bumpy roads, they do amazingly well for the little amount of fuel they use.
We spent only a couple of days with this wonderful couple. We participated in their church services on Sunday and dad went with them to their Sunday afternoon meetings (I was in bed, sadly, not feeling too well).
Their enthusiasm for their work was contagious. Though clearly showing signs of their age (Carlos had a heart bypass operation last year and Mila has problems with her feet and hip), they not only ran a full schedule in Caaoacan, but held services Sunday afternoon in another barangay an hour’s drive away (once again via tricycle).
They are isolated. Though they are not far from a decent-sized city (Laoag has a population of 104,000) with most of the mod-cons (McDonalds being foremost), the area in which they live has no running water, sewers, telephone lines, internet, and undependable electricity supply.
They have a young pastor staying with them who also works with the youth in the village and helps them by fishing in the nearby river (a great source of little shrimp), drawing all the water from the well (via a pump in their kitchen–no running water) to water their plants, clean and drink, running errands for them in his tricycle and helping out around the church property. He is also a brilliant guitar player (a gift many Filipinos seem to possess!).
In all their work, Carlos and Mila remain selfless, generous, and dedicated to their calling. It was a privilege to stay with them for even this short visit. It also helps that Mila is a fantastic cook!
Too soon it was time to say our farewells. There were tears. Mila bemoaned the fact that “Mum Jan” (my mum) and “Mum Vicki” (my wife) couldn’t have come with us. Having just seen the beautiful local beach that morning, I wished we could have stayed longer and done some more exploring . . .
As we flew out of Laoag, I felt a sense of sadness that we had to cut our visit short (due to flight changes out of our control). Also for the fact that we, with so much at our disposal, complain so much and do so little in comparison to what these excited and dedicated senior citizens are accomplishing. Theirs is not my calling, yet, in some respects, what they do is what we all as followers of God are called to do: to serve unselfishly, to speak the good news into every part of our lives, and to be faithful in everything.
Thank you, Carlos and Milagros, for sharing with us your adventure in ministry and showing us, with such a vibrant and gracious spirit, the joy that can be found in being faithful to your calling.