William Carey School of Theology
It was a dull morning but the sea was calm as I emerged on deck. This was the most relaxing part of my journey.
I had flown from Durham to London Heathrow, and on to Hong Kong, finally arriving in Manila on the morning of Friday 13 October 2006. I then headed straight for the port and booked an overnight sailing to Iloilo on the Philippine island of Panay.
Now here I was sitting on the deck of St Joseph the Worker on Saturday morning alternately reading and watching, as the islands went by in the tropical heat.
The purpose of my trip was to teach part 3 of the systematic theology course at the William Carey School of Theology in Iloilo City. The School is a branch of the Carey Outreach Ministries, based in Canada. ‘Carey’ is Reformed Baptist in ethos and provides theological education for pastors in various countries. It is led by Pastor Bob Penhearow from Guelph, Ontario.
Since it began in 1997 with the School of Theology in Constanta, Romania, the work has expanded into several countries. The work in the Philippines began in 2001. By 2006 courses were running in Peru, Cuba, Nepal and Mongolia, with invitations coming from other countries.
Carey’s policy is to serve indigenous churches. We only enter a country by invitation. The Romanian School is administered by the Constanta Baptist Association. The work in the Philippines takes place under the auspices of the Conservative Bible Believers Ministers’ Fellowship, which is headed up by Pastor Warlito Monsalod.
Carey’s work is focussed around 2-3 week intensive courses. Pastors and aspiring pastors gather in a central location in their own region, and Carey sends lecturers from the USA, Canada, and the UK to teach them.
In the Philippines, two fortnights per year – one in May and one in October – are set aside for these courses. The students assemble on Monday morning, and four days of lectures and discussion follow.
In Iloilo a gruelling schedule runs from 8am to 5pm each day. Then on the Friday morning the men sit an exam, followed by a personal tutorial with the lecturer for each student. The second week follows the same pattern, but with a different lecturer and a different subject.
This was my fifth visit to the Philippines and my third to Iloilo. I taught parts 1 and 2 of the Systematic Theology course in 2004 and 2005, and this year brought the whole course to a conclusion as we looked at the doctrines of the Church and the Last Things.
Just over 60 men were present this time – an encouraging increase on the previous two years. Students came from several Philippine islands, including Panay, Guimaras, Negros, Boracay, Cebu, Palawan, Luzon and Mindanao.
Much discussion was provoked by the topics. The quality and thoughtfulness of the questions and comments is always impressive. Most students came from a dispensationalist background, and to be introduced to Reformed eschatology (historic premillennialism, amillennialism, and postmillennialism) was a challenge.
But a one-week course can be a stepping-stone on the way to a richer biblical understanding. We pray they will think issues through and reach their own conclusions as they continue to study God’s Word.
In studying the doctrine of the Church the issue of biblically regulated worship stimulated much interest. We pray that the worship life of the Philippine churches will be enhanced as a result.
As my boat had pulled into Iloilo that Saturday afternoon I was struck when a woman’s voice came over the PA system inviting all passengers to be quiet for prayer. She thanked our heavenly Father for bringing the boat from Manila to Iloilo without mishap. However, this is a Roman Catholic country, so I had to be quick to insert my own ‘Amen’ before she went on to ask Mary to pray for us! Some of our students face subtle forms of persecution in the Catholic environment.
In addition to lecturing, it was a joy to preach in two churches on the Sunday. I was challenged by the faith and vision of Community Bible Baptist Church in Iloilo City. This is a young work – they celebrated their third church anniversary last November.
There were 15-20 in the congregation on the Sunday morning, but the pastor (a Carey student) announced that they were praying for 200 first time visitors over the next anniversary weekend. This was not merely for prestige reasons, but expressed a genuine longing that many unconverted people should hear the gospel.
For the second week this year the lecturer was Perry Edwards from Oromocto, Canada. His topic was Early Church History. Perry realised how important the Bible School is to the pastors who attend when he saw an outline of one of his lectures on a church notice board where he preached at the end of the week. The pastor had begun passing on what he had learned to his adult Sunday school at the very first opportunity!
Perry visited one church in a mountain village where the pastor (another Carey student) has been asked by the local school to teach the children the Bible for three hours every Friday afternoon. Every child in his village is being taught the doctrines of grace and confronted with the gospel of Jesus Christ.