The rain was torrential, but the joy in the faces of the people was wonderful. It was the afternoon of Friday 26 February, and it was my privilege to be speaking at the Sovereign Grace Bible Church in Labo, a town about 225 miles south-east of Manila.
The pastor there, Val Tanierla, had invited me to preach at a three-day conference over that weekend, and the first two sessions were held that afternoon. The overall theme was ‘The Sovereignty of God’. What impressed me was the hunger of the Christian people for the Word of God. There was a young lad sitting in the front row who told me that he had been a Christian for exactly one week and that now he wanted to learn more.
The sessions the following day were held in Jose Panganiban, a seaside town about eighteen miles north of Labo. Manuel Francia, the pastor here, had kindly travelled up to Manila to meet me at the airport and accompany me on the eight-hour bus ride to the province of Camarines Norte.
As the first Filipino I met, he became a special friend. He had led his church out of a ‘foursquare gospel’ denomination and into the Reformed faith, and his people were interested to ask me all sorts of questions about things charismatic. I tried to answer as fairly as I could.
The Lord’s Day morning found me in Daet, the chief town of the province, soon to be elevated to city status. It stands about six miles to the west of Labo. My task now was to preach at the fourteenth anniversary service of the Sovereign Grace Baptist Church. Before the service began I admired a beautiful gumamela bush growing against the wall of the church — just one of the splendours in this magnificent corner of God’s creation.
The pastor here is Val Tanierla’s father. His name is Modesto, and in his later years he maintains an enthusiasm and zeal in the gospel which is admirable. A congregation of about 200 assembled, many of them unbelievers who had come because it was the anniversary service. The Lord enabled me to preach evangelistically, and I trust that good was done.
In the afternoon the final session of the conference was held back at Labo. It lasted for three hours. Pastor Val Tanierla preached first and I followed. Then there was a time for questions. During conversation before and after the meeting, I learned something of the strategic influence that Pastor Tanierla has. He is training seven young men for future ministry, and is respected as a leader by pastors across a wide area.
Over these three days I had been received so warmly by brothers and sisters in Christ whom I had come to love very dearly. Their commitment to the Word of God was joined with a vibrant enthusiasm in the singing of God’s praise. It was a blessing just to listen to them singing!
Godliness with contentment
It was my privilege on Monday to be welcomed into the homes of some of the members of the congregation at Labo. This was a very challenging experience. Their houses are small, rather flimsy, and very basic — little more than a shelter, no luxuries — and yet joy oozed from them. I remembered the words of the apostle: ‘Having food and clothing, with these we shall be content’ (1 Timothy 6:8).
On Tuesday we had to face the eight-hour bus ride back to Manila. Pastors Francia and Tanierla and another pastor accompanied me. That evening the four of us were to meet with a small group in Marikina City, a district of Metro Manila. They had left a church which had begun to teach ‘strange doctrines’, and had asked Pastor Tanierla for help. He invited me to speak to them for half an hour on the subject of election.
Circling the globe
On the Sunday evening at Labo the significance of the hymn ‘The Day Thou gavest, Lord,is ended’ struck me as never before. One verse reads:
The sun that bids us rest is waking
Our brethren ‘neath the western sky,
And hour by hour fresh lips are making
Thy wondrous doings heard on high.
It occurred to me, as our service was finishing at 5.35 p.m. and the dusk was beginning to settle, that at home in Stockton the 9.45 a.m. morning prayer meeting would be starting in ten minutes time. I glimpsed the reality of the relay of praise that circles the globe every Lord’s Day. And to realise that home was a whole action-packed day away underlined the vastness of God’s creation and emphasised how worthy he is of that praise which ascends in a succession of languages, ‘as o’er each continent and island, the dawn leads on another day’.