Opportunities in the Philippines
It was a fine morning — warm and sunny — as 41 men and 4 women gathered at the William Carey School of Theology in Iloilo City in the Philippines. It was my privilege to teach the first part of their systematic theology course, lasting five days. The previous week Dr David Sloss from Canada had lectured on Old Testament Survey. The students meet like this for a fortnight on two occasions a year.
Iloilo is the largest city on the island of Panay, in the Western Visayas — roughly in the middle of the Philippines. The students came from Panay and neighbouring islands. There was a significant contingent from Negros, as well as one each from Guimaras and Caluya.
Fifteen of the men were pastors and twelve church planters. Three were involved in some other form of Christian ministry, and another three were training for full-time service. The remaining eight were active church members.
Of the women two were wives with their husbands, one was a Sunday school teacher, and the other a prospective missionary to India.
Each day began with worship at 7.45am. Lectures were from 8 until 5, with breaks mid-morning, lunchtime, and mid-afternoon. A devotional service was held each evening. In the tropical heat it was a stretching schedule for lecturer and students alike!
Topics included the doctrines of Scripture, God, creation, providence and man. There was an obvious hunger for knowledge in the students, and lively and stimulating discussions took place. For most of the men, even those in pastorates, this was their first opportunity for structured study of systematic theology.
The work of the William Carey School is run from Canada, under the leadership of Dr Bob Penhearow. The Philippines is one of an increasing number of countries where the school has an input into the training of church leaders. God willing, I shall be returning in October this year and next to complete the systematic theology course.
During my three-week visit to the Philippines, I also had opportunities to preach in places like Cubao in Manila and Balabag on the island of Boracay, as well as at the church in Iloilo pastored by Warlito Monsalud. Mr Monsalud is the Philippines director of the school and has a strategic ministry to other pastors around Panay and Negros.
The students’ stories were varied. One man received a call two years ago from a church on Negros. It was in such a low ebb that it had ceased holding services. After working with them in a voluntary capacity for a year, they were able to support him full time. A year later the church is looking for new premises, having outgrown its present building.
On the other hand, a brother from a different part of Negros had been in a pioneering situation for seven years, with still only fifteen people meeting in a home.
This session the school met for the first time on its own premises. The main lecture hall is not air-conditioned, and early in the week we held classes outside because it was oppressively hot indoors.
I am grateful to my congregation in the UK for their support, which allows me to develop this link with the Philippines. There is another need we are hoping to address. There were just over twenty men who could not attend the course because of the travel costs. We hope to raise funds to sponsor their participation — not just this coming year but as long as the need remains.