In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, highway patrolmen at a checkpoint in the Philippines stopped a local ministry leader and three co-workers on July 29 as they traveled together.
On their way to another province on the island of Mindanao as part of a project to proclaim Christ and plant churches, the local missionaries waited for the uniformed officers to let them continue on.
“I told them not to delay us because we were on a mission trip journey, but they just ignored what I said,” the ministry leader said. “I told them, ‘Since you are holding us longer than expected, and we cannot reach our destination, I want to share with you the Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ.’”
He began telling them how Jesus of Nazareth willingly gave Himself over to death to pay for humanity’s sin and make God’s forgiveness available to all who believed in his sacrifice and resurrection, quoting John 3:16-19.
It was then that he learned they belonged to a Muslim tribe, he said.
“One of them interrupted me and said, ‘Being Muslims, our faith is in Allah,’” the leader said. “I stopped him and continued my message.”
Quoting Romans 6:23, Romans 3:23, Hebrews 9:27 and John 1:12, he told them about sin, grace, judgment and becoming children of God by receiving Christ and believing in His name.
“I then ended it by prayer,” the leader said. “After my prayer, I asked them to accept Christ as their Lord, and I rejoiced greatly when they confessed!”
Not all intents to evangelize amid the pandemic are as effective or even possible, but local missionaries are finding ways to expand the kingdom of God.
Workers from another ministry on Mindanao Island hold Bible studies and church services in an area so remote it requires three hours through rough terrain to reach by motorcycle, and five hours during the rainy season. It is untouched by the novel coronavirus but full of other dangers.
“It’s surrounded with high mountains and deep forest, and this makes it an ideal nest for the communist rebels, the New People’s Army, and the Islamic extremist Abu Sayyaf Group,” the ministry leader said. “Terrorism is rampant in the area, since it is the usual passageway to the next province.”
The armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army has waged a protracted guerrilla war against the government since 1969, and peace talks have stalled. Along with the Philippines government, the United States and the European Union have designated it as a terrorist organization.
Abu Sayyaf, responsible for the kidnapping and killing of U.S. missionary Martin Burnham in 2001, has mainly targeted Filipinos, including native missionaries. The local ministry leader said impoverished villagers are vulnerable to recruitment by both Islamic extremist and communist militants.
“Seeing the fear and anxiety faced by people who have no hope, so that most can be easily recruited by these groups, gives us the strength to carry on the mission,” he said. “Though the area is tricky and critical, seeing the eagerness and the longing of the people there to know about Jesus Christ made us set aside our own fears and worries.”
A house church in one remote village is able to meet every Saturday, while worship services in another area continue under the guidance of elders from another nearby church, he said.
“They are a group of two, handling the services alternately every Sunday,” he said. “Even with the scarcity of resources, we kept our faith and carried on the mission in those areas. Seeing how the members struggle in every way just to bring food to their tables and continue in their service to the Lord made my heart ache and made me pray hard for ways in which I could help them.”
Physical and Spiritual Needs
In other areas where lockdowns are in effect, local missionaries are using Zoom, Facebook messaging and other internet means for regular fellowship, prayer meetings and Bible studies, the director of another native ministry said.
“Many are also sharing the gospel through the internet with former classmates, friends and neighbors and, by God’s grace, several of them who heard the gospel responded positively,” the leader said. “We trust the Lord to work out conviction in their hearts.”
For those without internet access, he sends weekly printed messages to study, he added. Ministry workers are also encouraged to continue Bible studies in small groups with safe distancing, quiet times and meetings.
“In areas that are not so much affected with the pandemic, church services already resumed after four months of lockdown,” the leader said. “Before July ended, in the hinterland of Negros Oriental more than 40 brethren went through water baptism as they committed their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Physical needs have grown since the pandemic struck, but local missionaries have been able to send relief goods to areas so remote that they had received only minimal government assistance, he said. Tribal brethren have received rice and essential non-food items as well.
“The Lord Jesus promised never to leave us nor forsake us,” the leader said. “He said in John 14:27, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’”
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