Even before COVID-19 began devastating lives, trials of another nature this year were already battering a native ministry leader in the Philippines.
The year began with the death under suspicious circumstances of one of his native missionaries working in an area of violent opposition.
“At first I thought that he had a motorcycle accident, but when I went back last February, it was confirmed that he was clubbed in the back of his neck and left half dead on the road,” the director said. “We had brought him to the hospital but, sadly, he died.”
Before that, a pastor he had grown close to since childhood died suddenly after they had enjoyed catching up on each other’s lives at a pastor’s conference, he said.
“We talked about family and ministry, and then he had to go home to buy milk for his baby,” the director said. “He planned on coming back right away. When he reached home, he had a heart attack and died. This was his first heart attack, and he was only 43 years old.”
In March he and his wife lost their adult daughter, whom they had adopted when she was 11 years old.
“She felt intense pain in her left leg for two weeks and was rushed to the hospital; she was administered 1000 cc of blood, but that did not ease the pain,” he said. “We transferred her to another hospital, where she was diagnosed with acute blood cancer. She passed away March 16, and we buried her March 21.”
As the director’s wife was tending to their dying daughter, she received word that her niece and the niece’s 4-year-old son had been hit by a van speeding out of control as they were waiting for a bus, he said. They were killed instantly.
Another loss had occurred shortly after the funeral for the ministry leader’s pastor friend. For two weeks the director and his wife had cared for his wife’s aunt, who was suffering from constant stomach pain, before she died of liver cancer.
“Amid all of this happening, we remembered James chapter 1 – that the testing of our faith produces perseverance,” the director said. “We are so deeply hurt, but the blessing is that as I preached at their funerals, many souls came to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. While all of this was happening, our team was able to pursue our heavenly mission to reach the unreached with the gospel.”
The lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 that took effect in mid-March slowed outreach and forced a change in tactics, but the ministry’s local missionaries continued to fulfill their calling. A pastor working among newly reached tribal people continued construction of a church building, for example, while the ministry director mentored disciples, pastors and other church leaders outside his region via phone texts, he said.
“Lockdowns and quarantines have changed our ministry – yes, very big changes. This is the first time that I have spent more time on my cellphone as I instruct from the Word, mentor, and disciple. It takes so much patience but, still, the results are rewarding,” he said. “The pastors and our ministries that can be reached only by foot I do not have communication with since the quarantine and lockdown were implemented. I cry to God on their behalf for their situation.”
The ministry is providing food and finances to its pastors and their families – a total of 38 families comprising 181 people, including children – to make up for the loss of support due to the pandemic, he said.
“Some of them have little babies that need milk, some have sickness that need treatment – arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, ulcers,” he said. “These are our pastors and preachers that are leading pioneer churches; pioneer churches do not have enough resources to take care of the ‘man of God.’ When they gather each Sunday, whatever offerings they give help the pastor and his family but there are now no gathering, no offerings.”
Before the lockdown, local missionaries saw a spiritual harvest in January and February, when more than 100 people put their trust in Christ in two evangelistic events, he said.
“In February, the Lord sent to us medical doctors for a medical mission we conducted,” he added. “By God’s grace, we saw many from the Muslim villages accept Jesus Christ along with 700-plus precious souls, young and old, from other tribes.”
During the lockdown, he said, he has invested much time in reading, praying, evaluating, mentoring, planning and researching, besides family time, planting and cleaning.
“I miss the other activities, but God said, ‘to everything there is a season.’ During this COVID-19 season, the Lord wants us to see the basics – that church is not the building, but the family of believers,” he said. “Our deep struggle, the danger to our lives and the limitations of our movements due to COVID-19 did not make our hearts, commitments and calling grow cold. We are waiting to jump up and press toward the mark with His mandate ringing in our hearts.”
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