At the invitation of Brian Ellis, a veteran Reformed Baptist missionary pastor, I recently had the privilege of participating in the wonderful life of Cubao Reformed Baptist Church in Quezon City, a large city constituting part of greater Manila.
In 1978, Pastor Ellis began a church in his home. Now 25 years later, it has grown into a vibrant assembly, with multiple outreach to its surrounding community. Over 200 people attend the worship services weekly, conducted mainly in the Tagalog language.
I was invited to participate in the annual Pastors’ Conference sponsored by the church, and to teach a modular course at the Grace Ministerial Academy (GMA), a training school for ministerial candidates – also sponsored by the church.
In addition, I was privileged to preach in several other churches in the Manila area. While the common language is Tagalog, almost everyone has a good grasp of English.
The Pastors’ Conference was the 13th or 14th annual conference. At least 230 men attended, an increase of almost 60 from the previous year.
Many of them are committed Reformed Baptists, but even more are men at various stages in the process of reformation. I was amazed to meet many pastors from fundamentalist Bible Baptist churches, as well as a good contingent from a major Charismatic denomination.
In one of the most powerful sessions of the conference, Ronnie Santos, a man who had been principal of this Charismatic group’s Bible College in the Philippines, told the story of his journey to the Reformed Faith.
He had been asked to teach a course on expository preaching, and as he read in preparation for the course, he realised that his denomination did not reflect the teaching of Scripture, especially in its primary witness to Christ.
As he studied, he was led inexorably to the conclusion that the Bible required reformation in his beliefs and practices.
As he followed the Scriptures, more and more changes were made, until finally he was removed from his position, and cast adrift by the leadership of this denomination.
But our brother testified that the truth is far more valuable than any earthly goods, and rejoiced in God’s providence to him.
The other speakers at the conference included Noel Espinosa, principal of Grace Ministerial Academy and pastor of a church in Los Baños; Professor Gilbert McAdam, a Scotsman who serves on the faculty of GMA; Pastor Wei En Yi from Shalom Reformed Baptist Church, Singapore; and me.
The men attending the conference expressed much appreciation for each man’s labours, many saying that they intended to return next year.
The second week was scheduled as a modular course at Grace Ministerial Academy. While GMA has 43 students registered for their full training programme, there were 58 men registered for the modular course.
Many were the same pastors who had been present the week before, having arranged to participate in both weeks’ meetings.
The title given to the course was ‘The History and Theology of The 1689 Confession’, which meant that we spent the first day discussing the history of the events leading to the writing of the Confession, and the next three days doing a whirlwind survey of most (though not all) of the chapters in the document.
The students were very focused, asking excellent and challenging questions. Seldom did my inability to speak in Tagalog seem to be a hindrance. I was greatly encouraged by their attentiveness and grasp of the material we covered.
Another important part of the visit was observation of the outreach activities of the Cubao church. On the first Lord’s Day, I accompanied about 15 people to an open-air preaching service held in one of the ‘squatter’ areas not far from the church building.
These areas (and there seem to be many in Manila) house the poorest of the city’s inhabitants. They live in very small shacks, built next to and on top of one another.
The squatter area where the open-air service was held is approximately half the size of a football field, and about 200 families live in that space.
The men from the church go into the heart of these places, set up a small PA system, and preach. Three or four men from the church spoke, and Pastor Ellis concluded with a brief evangelistic sermon.
The messages were in Tagalog. On another day, I sat on the floor of one of these squatter homes, listening as one of the GMA students led a Bible study. The Lord is using the preaching of his Word to reach the poor of Manila.
In addition to these preaching opportunities, Cubao Reformed Baptist Church sponsors Christian Compassion Ministries (CCM). This ministry cares for girls who have been abandoned or abused by their families.
Over 50 girls live in two CCM homes, one in the neighbourhood of the church and the other a few miles away.
In both places, it was evident that the love of Christ was being extended to these young women, and that the Lord was using this as a means of bringing them to faith in Christ. The officers of the church and students of GMA regularly lead devotions, and the girls attend all of the regular meetings of the church.
Beyond this, funds have been raised to assist over 200 other children in the squatter communities to attend school, and come under the influence of the gospel.
I was deeply moved by these efforts – so appropriate to the circumstances of the local culture – to reach people with the gospel of Christ.
God is at work in the Philippines. In fact, the things I saw there made me jealous to see similar things happen here in the USA. Few Reformed Pastors’ Conferences in the USA have 230 men in attendance, and seldom do we see so many interested in theological training.
We should rejoice at this work the Lord is doing, pleading with him to continue to develop a strong, indigenous Reformed Baptist movement in the Philippines.
And may the Lord do the same all around the world!