Maybe you’ve seen the photos during Easter. Thousands of penitent Filipino Catholics lash their bare backs with whips and rods, expressing their devotion to Christ and anguish for their sins. Some are nailed to crosses and crucified.
Those media images reveal the kind of ingrained cultural and religious obstacles faced by Christians spreading the gospel in the Philippines.
Just over 80 percent of the nearly 100 million people in the Philippines classify themselves as Roman Catholics. Of the 10 million or so Protestants, relatively few have a solid grasp on Biblical doctrine.
Craig Sturm, pastor of Water’s Edge Bible Church in West Chicago, says the Protestant church in the Philippines is growing, “but unfortunately there are strong negative influences from cults and junk Christianity, such as the prosperity gospel.”
“Access to solid, biblical resources and training is a challenge in most settings, with minimal resources available. Pastors and church leaders typically cannot afford books or advanced training. Overall the Philippine church culture does not value robust theological thinking. When I lived in the Philippines, access to affordable resources was limited largely to sparse ‘in-country’ publications,” Craig says.
He and his wife Kathy served as church planters in the Philippines from 2002 to 2004 and have been back many times to minister. In January 2013 they returned to the Philippines, where they distributed 100 copies of John Piper’s book, The Supremacy of God in Preaching and 200 DVD’s of Don Carson’s The God Who Is There, donated by TGC International Outreach. English language resources are greatly useful to most church leaders in the Phiippines.
Encouraged by International Outreach Resources
In spite of the difficulties inherent to ministry in the Philippines—including a growing Muslim population—Craig and Kathy Sturm found many reasons for hope.
In Cebu, they visited the Baptist Theological College and Cebu Graduate School of Theology, where they gave students copies of the Piper and Carson books. The students were thrilled to receive these inspiring resources—rare for the Philippines.The Sturms later traveled to the city of Los Banos, Laguna, where they visited Pastor Ephraim Toribio and his staff at New Century Church.“I’ve known the folks at NCC for 14 years, having been there a number of times to preach, teach, and do ministry projects with them,” Craig says. “They have done a great job of holistic ministry among the poorest of the poor in their area. They now have five mission sites. Their vision is to have seven by 2015.”
Preparing elders to oversee those missions is a huge challenge. Craig explains,
“Their leaders are mostly young men and women in their early to mid-20s who have grown up in NCC’s ministry. None of them has any formal training in theology, pastoral ministry or church leadership. They cannot afford that education unaided, nor can they afford books and resources.”
During his recent spiritual leadership seminar at the church, Craig gave members of the leadership team copies of the book and DVD provided by The Gospel Coalition-International Outreach (TGC-IO). He said, “The day we left the Philippines, Pastor Ephraim was already beginning to work through The Supremacy of God in Preaching with his ministry leaders. They were so excited and encouraged. It was true refreshment to many of them amid the struggles of day-to-day ministry in hard places.”
Since returning to the United States, Craig has received several thank-you notes from NCC’s staff. A youth pastor, Dodge Iranon, wrote to say, “It gave me again the interest and passion to read more books . . . the Holy Spirit is using this book to give me ideas for messages to be shared in the pulpit. For God be the glory!”
Mission Pastor Leo Pullian said he was especially blessed by Piper’s book.
“It personally inspired me as a leader and pastor. That book reminded me to always lift God’s name on high and to glorify Him every time I deliver messages. I am using it as my personal devotion, and I have also shared it with the people at the mission site I serve.”
Tethered to Truth
Craig plans to return to Los Banos soon to teach a workshop on expository preaching, both to the leaders of New Century Church and to other pastors in the area. He says that in addition to more biblical resources Filipino churches need prayer, especially for their leaders. “My prayer is that their zeal for Jesus and the work of God in their midst would be joyfully tethered to truth.”
God willing, TGC-IO will be able to offer both joy and truth through partners like Craig and Kathy Sturm, getting much-needed resources to hungry Christians around the globe.