500 years ago at the Diet of Worms, one man – Martin Luther – took a stand against his many accusers and famously declared: ‘My conscience is captive to the Word of God… here I stand!’
It was in that very same year, 1521, that another significant event was taking place. On the other side of the globe, a group of islands called the Philippines had just been discovered for Spain on an expedition led by explorer Ferdinand Magellan.
Soon after, the Spanish conquistadores moved in and a 333-year period of colonisation began (lasting until the turn of the 20th century). Many natives began to blend their animistic worldview with this new-found Roman Catholicism to form a unique religious hybrid of East and West sometimes referred to as ‘folk-Catholicism’.
Old pagan superstitions were partly substituted and partly amalgamated with a new kind of superstition. Worst of all, any form of Protestant missionary work throughout this period was outlawed, and so the Philippines at large was spiritually left in the dark.
The need for mission
Fast-forward to the present day and, although there has been some steady gospel progress and an increasing appetite for sound theology and the Reformed faith across the islands, there remains an urgent need for faithful, Bible-believing, gospel-preaching, Christ-exalting churches to be established.
This is particularly the case (according to my own conviction) in Bulacan, the largest province in the largest island of the Philippines. Bulacan has an estimated population of more than 3.5 million, with 90% professing Roman Catholicism (Spain’s lasting legacy). There is, therefore, a critical need for evangelical and gospel witness.
Missionary work in a culture like this might not meet intense levels of hostility, but there are great challenges. A chief concern is to help Filipinos see the futility and failure of nominalism and false religion, and the need to turn to the light and life that is found not in superstitions, rituals, and idols, but solely in Jesus Christ, as revealed in the Word of God.
The call to mission
My wife and I were born and raised in Christian families on opposite sides of the globe – Cathy in Hong Kong and myself in England. But the Lord providentially brought us together at a Christian Union meeting while we were freshers at Aberystwyth University. Our wedding day followed soon after, then the birth of our first child, and then graduation.
The next move was to London Seminary where I trained for the ministry and got involved in regular itinerant preaching. It was also there that I began to feel torn between pastoral work in the UK and overseas mission. We now live in Folkestone, serving at Grace Chapel, and keep busy with ministry and raising our three boys.
When at Aberystwyth, our very first conversation (and countless since) centred on our mutual love for the Philippines and desire to see the gospel reach the thousands of communities which still lack a church.
I had recently returned from six months in Manila, having been sent on a short-term mission placement by Grace Baptist Mission (GBM). The focus was on Christian Compassion Ministries – the flagship ministry of Cubao Reformed Baptist Church. It was while away on this trip that I first felt the Lord’s call to the ministry.
My wife is a half-Filipina and a fluent Tagalog speaker. She was brought up to know and love the culture, and made regular trips each year to visit family. For as long as she has been a Christian, she has hoped to devote her life to sharing the good news with Filipinos.
In light of these experiences, the mission field was very much on our hearts and in our prayers from the moment we met.
Eight years on and that desire to be sent out has only grown stronger. Earlier this year we made the decision to ‘push on the door’, and now it seems to have swung wide open!
The goal of mission
The vast majority in the Philippines claim to be religious, and yet many have not heard or responded to the true gospel of Jesus Christ. We long to be a means of making Christ known to those who are already known to us – blood relatives and friends; and to others that the Lord may sovereignly bring into our lives when we arrive. The harvest is plentiful.
Thanks to the sound advice of godly saints, the unanimous recommendation of our home church, confirmation from GBM, requests from Filipino friends and pastors – all combined with our own internal sense of God’s calling – we are excited at the prospect of finally beginning the work of church planting in an area that has been the centre-point of our prayers for almost a decade.
Perhaps you might like to partner with us in prayer as we make all the necessary practical and spiritual preparations for our move to the heart of the province of Bulacan – an area called Santa Maria – sometime in early 2022.
We believe that the local church is both the origin and the goal of mission. The model and pattern for missionary work in the Word of God is evidently for churches to be planting churches, so that new converts on the mission field might be gathered into a local body of believers where they can learn and grow under the regular exposition and application of God’s Word.
That is our plan: to work alongside like-minded local pastors to see this vision of a sound evangelical church and thriving Christian community in Santa Maria come to fruition.
Other opportunities include taking Bible studies into slums and on the streets. Although much of the Philippines is fast developing, it is still very much viewed as a third-world country. More than half the population live in poverty. Healthcare and education are expensive and considered a luxury. Disease and death are common.
Alongside our proclamation of Christ’s love, we plan to practically show the love of Christ to those who are sick and suffering, all the while recognising that their ultimate need is one that only the gospel can meet.
We are aware that such plans will not come about overnight and without the guidance, support, contributions, and efforts of fellow Filipino brothers and sisters and the wider Reformed Baptist community, and the prayers of the saints across the globe.
Pray for my family as we get ready to say goodbye to those that we love, for my language learning and studies at a church planting course, for a smooth transition and quick acclimation to a new culture and context – and, above all, for God’s glory to be exhibited, God’s gospel to be extended, and God’s grace to be experienced by many in this spiritually needy part of our world.
You can request our prayer letter or arrange a deputation visit at your church by emailing [email protected]
Reuben Saywell is an itinerant preacher and member of Grace Chapel, Folkestone