Grace Triumphant - Chapter 9 - Back to Manila

CHAPTER 9
Back to Manila

“But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” (1 Cor. 1:27)

The time came for a decision as to our place of service for the Lord.  Should we continue in Camarines Norte and endeavor to establish an assembly work there?  Or should we return to Manila and help build up the work in that area?  It was evident it would take some time to establish an indigenous assembly in Indang.  A few individuals had sought us out but they were from other places.  Indang seemed to be too much under the influence of the priest for the adults to quickly response to our message.  We were rather isolated as travel to Manila was sometimes uncertain.  We were alone and it didn’t seem likely that any work there would stand on its own when it came time for furlough. So we decided to return to Manila.

At that time Brother Wightman had gone into business to support himself while he continued to carry on the work in the Walled City.  We rented an apartment in Ermita within walking distance to the Gospel Hall.  There were many tests of faith in those days.  Before going to Camarines there had been trials.  At one time we had a book of tickets to buy bread but we could only afford a few cents on a tin of guava jelly to put on the bread.  On January 9, 1923, I wrote, “Funds low—promises great.”  That was before the days of blaring radios, but next door the neighbor had a phonograph and a few records, which we used from morning till night.  Many an evening we walked to the waterfront and sat on the rocks to watch the famed Manila sunset and get a little quiet.

When we lived in Ermita there were severe testings.  More than once I would go out selling Scriptures in the morning to get enough cash to buy some dried beans for our meals.  One morning we had only some bread in the house.  But as we were getting dressed one of the Filipino believers arrived from the province with a “pasalubong” (a greeting gift) of eggs and fruit.  He never knew how he provided our breakfast!  We knew the Lord had a purpose in allowing such trials, which seemed so difficult at the time but there is always an “afterwards” of blessing.  “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Heb. 12:11).

It was some years later that I realized the Levites who were recipients of the tithes of Israel were required to give a tithe also.  Since we had been giving to the work of the Lord all that could be spared above actual living costs, we had not thought of giving a share of what we received.  Indeed was not all we received being spent in some way in serving he Lord?  However, we can testify that from the time we began to give a special portion to the Lord, we have never been so severely tested as we were before.  Of course, some would say that this was because by that time we were better known and no doubt that was a contributing factor.

One Saturday evening we received a letter from a friend in Victoria with a postscript expressing sympathy with us in the homecall of my Mother.  It came as a shock because we had not heard that she was even sick.  My sisters thought that rather than giving me the shock of receiving a cable, they would write a letter giving all the details.  That was before the days of airmail, and the friend’s letter just happened to catch an earlier boat.  I was booked to speak the next morning and the lesson was on the martyrdom of Stephen.  It was not easy under those circumstances.  Some time later Anna received word of the passing away of her younger sister Mae.  However, this did not come as a sudden shock because she had been ill for a long time.  Nevertheless it was hard to think of that beautiful young woman taken away in her youth; but the comfort was that both of these were “at home with the Lord.”

It was shortly after Mother’s home call that Kenneth was born on May 2, 1926, at the Mary Johnston Hospital.  In memory of Mother we gave him the middle name of Sheldon, which was my Mother’s maiden name.  He had bronchitis quite early and, though he got over it, it seemed to affect his sleeping patterns.  He would resist our efforts to put him to sleep in the evening, even to the extent of rubbing his eyes.

Another discouraging problem of that first term was difficulties with our fellow workers.  This caused a great deal of heartache.  We were young and inexperienced, and there was no one else in our group with whom we could confer.  Looking back over the years we now know we should have reacted differently, but then we needed counseling which was not available.  The experience has taught us the need for patience and love even when faced with what we then saw as wrongdoing.

Yet there were bright spots too as we resumed work in the Manila area.  In addition to the regular services at the rented hall in the Walled City, I helped out in a bookstore we had there, which afforded a number of contacts.  Also at that time I began a campaign of canvassing all the homes in the Walled City.  It took some time for scores, if not hundreds, were living in the Old Spanish houses, several in each room in very crowded conditions.  Some lived in screened-off places on landings and stairways.  Almost all morning might be spent in just one large house.  One day I was talking to a group in a courtyard when a basin of water was dumped on us from above.  It was apparently unintentional—the person threw the water and then looked!  Later this coverage with Scripture was extended through almost all the districts of Manila, south of the Pasig River.

The work at Masliang near Fort McKinley (now Fort Bonifacio) continued.  However, the bamboo and thatch chapel was so dilapidated that we decided to abandon it.  On the main road leading into the camp at Guadalupe we found a storefront to rent and the work of children’s classes and Gospel preaching continued.  This area was also canvassed with literature and invitations, but the response was quite meager.  People were slow to investigate some new religion, as they viewed it.  During our furlough in 1929 this work was dropped.

While I was taking care of the bookstore one morning, a young man who had been attending the services came for a talk.  Simeon Endaya was a quiet man, a postal clerk.  He told me that he had been brought up a Roman Catholic and served as an altar boy.  Then the family switched to the independent Aglipayan Church, a breakaway from the Roman Church.  When Simeon was a high school student in Manila he wandered into a Methodist Church.  There he was received as a member and baptized by sprinkling for the second, maybe third, time.  Through the testimony at the Gospel Hall he was now a believer in Christ.  Did he need to be baptized by immersion?  I gave him some references to study and told him to see what the Lord wanted him to do and not take my word only.  He was back the next morning asking to be immersed.

One evening in his work at the registry division of the post office, he receipted for a large amount of money to be sent to the Culion Leprosarium.  The ship that was going to Culion failed to sail the next morning as scheduled.  On his return to the office Simeon checked and finally found the bag, empty of its contents.  Outside detectives were called in and they suspected Simeon seeing he had not only received the bag but also discovered it empty.  All day they grilled him but he maintained his innocence.  Towards evening one detective accused him of hiding some information from them.  Simeon replied, “Yes, there is one thing I haven’t told you.”  They shouted, “Come on then, out with it.”  He said, “I haven’t told you about my Savior.  Because of my faith in Him I could not steal that money.”  He was released but kept under surveillance.  Some months later a janitor at the post office suddenly seemed to have a lot of money—he was the guilty party.

In giving his testimony at the prayer meeting, Simeon said something like this.   “Throughout this experience I realized the peace that keeps our hearts and minds.  You will say, ‘You had peace because you knew you were innocent.’  But that was not the case.  A co-worker of mine, who also was innocent, had no peace.  He went to the Quiapo church to pray to the Black Christ (a famous image) but still had no peace.”  Simeon had an opportunity to witness to him about the source of real peace in Christ.

Often at the times of services at the Hall some of us would stand outside and try to persuade passersby to come in.  One of these was an elderly man, Lutgardo Ramos. Having been addicted to drink and gambling he was dressed very poorly and was quite reluctant to enter the hall.  Soon his life was drastically changed when he trusted Christ as his Savior.  His wife was very much opposed.  She stopped the children from coming to the Sunday school and took his Bible away from him.  Even when we visited their home she practically ignored us.  This was most unusual for Filipinos are customarily hospitable.  Brother Ramos continued faithfully in spite of the difficulties.  The change was evident even in the way he dressed.  He often mentioned this when giving his testimony.  In later years he helped us a great deal when we began the work in San Juan.  He loved to preach the Gospel and invariably from the Gospel of John.  He went home to be with the Lord during our second furlough.

About the same time a very different type of man began attending the meetings.  He was chief clerk of the Bureau of Health and well educated.  In his search for the truth he had some contacts with Seventh-Day Adventists but was not satisfied.  He found the truth in Christ as he came to the hall and soon was active for the Lord.  A meeting was started in his home in Paco district along with the help of David Shepherd.  David was a self-supporting missionary from Paisley, Scotland, managing a plate-making concern, which prepared plates for printing Bibles for the American Bible Society.  As the work in Paco grew, they rented a storefront in 1931.  Geronimo Mercado was burdened for the need in his hometown of Tanay, Rizal.  He would leave his office at noon on Saturday and go directly there.  Meetings would be held there Saturday evening and Sunday morning, often in the open air when weather permitted.  Later on this testimony was extended to the neighboring towns of Pililla and Guisao.  A small bamboo chapel was built in Pililla, and one of the converts baptized there was an old man at the age of 96.

Sunday afternoon Geronimo would return to Paco for the services there.  Another who helped for a while in these efforts was George Burns.  He was a New Englander, a veteran who was partly disabled in World War I.  He lived on his pension and had a zeal for distributing tracts and personal witnessing.  Brother Mercado later donated a lot for the building of a chapel in Tanay.  He passed away during the latter part of World War II and his widow some years later.  His daughters and their families are active in the assembly in San Juan.  Geronimo Mercado had a gift of translation and translated several worship hymns and also wrote some original Tagalog hymns which are included in hymnbooks we are using still.

His younger brother, Sergio was saved in later years and after our return to the Philippines in 1949, often went with us to Tanay to help in the work there.  He also worked for the Bureau of Health, in malaria control.  His work often took him away from home, and it was on one of these trips that the bus he was riding on was ambushed by dissidents.  Brother Sergio Mercado was one of the casualties.  It was a great loss because he was a keen student of the Word and a gifted speaker like his brother.

In 1927 serious communist disturbances in Central China led two missionaries from there to join us for a time.  James Buckley was from Ottawa, Canada and Fred Pucknell was from England.  Jim bought an old Model-T Ford.  Only oldsters will remember those vehicles by which Henry Ford put cars within the reach of the working class.  They lacked the conveniences of modern cars.  But they were simple enough that a mechanically minded owner could do most repairs.  We took out the back seat and installed boxes to carry supplies, equipment, and a stock of Scriptures.

We would leave early Monday morning and be on the road till Friday evening.  Pulling into a town we would park near the public market.  One would stay with the vehicle and sell Scriptures while the other two would canvass from house to house.  In Las Pinas, just south of Manila, there is a famous pipe organ made of bamboo by a Spanish priest early in the 19th century.  As we were canvassing there, and I was walking among the houses, there was some excitement with men running in every direction.  A gambling game had hastily broken up because they thought I was a police official.  When they learned my mission they came back sheepishly and I had a crowd for a brief witness.  In another town I stumbled on a gambling session.  One man made the excuse that he had no money to buy a Bible.  As I talked with others he won a bet, but still he wasn’t ready to part with his money for the Scriptures.

In this way we could cover two or three towns a day.  In late afternoon we would look for a place to spend the night under the canvas we had with us.  It was usually easy to get the mayor or chief of police to give us a permit for an open-air meeting.  In most towns there is a plaza or square in the center of town, sometimes with a bandstand.  These were good spots for meetings, except that in many places the town church also faces on the plaza.  We stopped in Cabuyao, Laguna, on our way home one Friday evening.  The chief of police granted us a permit.  As we started our service we noticed the priest promenading in front of his church.  Shortly after a policeman came and informed us we had to stop by the mayor’s orders.  We showed our permit from the chief of police.  The policeman knew who was boss in the town, but I suggested that Jim go with him to talk to the mayor while Fred and I carried on.  We preached for a long time and then offered Scriptures for sale.  The crowd gradually faded away but still no sight of Jim.  He kept on talking until he was sure we had plenty of time to have our meeting!

In this way we covered all the Tagalog-speaking provinces.  It wasn’t always easy to find a place to camp for the night.  On a couple of occasions we got permission to spend the night in the municipal building.  One of our trips lasted two weeks when we crossed over to the east coast of Luzon, visiting Infanta by one road and Atimonan by another.  This latter road took us over a steep zigzag road crossing the hills, which are the backbone of the Island.  At first the authorities were not going to allow us to go because the grade is so steep at one point that with gravity feed the gas wouldn’t flow into the motor.  We filled the tank and signed a release and they let us through.  The old Ford made the grade without difficulty but going down the other side was a different story.  The brake bands were all worn out; even the reverse band was gone by the time we finally reached level road again.  So we had a repair job and had to be towed back by a truck.

In Lucena we came upon an elderly man who had a Tagalog Bible, which was apparently well used.  He maintained he was a Roman Catholic and was friendly when assured we were not Seventh-Day Adventists.  He was evidently a believer, and before we left he gave us a little message on the three uses of “Abba, Father” in the New Testament.  This showed he was conversant with the Scriptures and also his spiritual discernment.  However, he couldn’t justify some of the Roman practice from the Bible.

On five such trips we visited 63 towns (only one of them twice) and held 35 meetings.  About 7.000 Bibles, Testaments, and Gospels were sold and more then 20,000 tracts distributed.  Many homes were visited and personal contacts made.  The good seed of the Word was sown.  How much of it fell on good ground, only eternity will reveal.

Each year a large fair and carnival was held on what is now Rizal Park in downtown Manila.  In 1921 Brother Wightman rented a space on the temporary walls used for advertising.  He had John 3:16 painted on it in large letters.  That year a fire destroyed the carnival while it was in progress.  Mr. Wightman went to see if he could get a rebate since the text was not there for the full time of the contract.  (It must have been his Scottish thrift.)  He didn’t really expect it and didn’t get any rebate.  They told him his text was prominently displayed in news photographs of the fire so it had a wider audience.

The following year on the opening night I went with an armful of tracts and began handing them out at the entrance.  I didn’t have to hand them out, people just took them from me.  Some took a handful and stood beside me helping.  In half an hour my armful was gone.  I went around to see how many had been thrown away and there were hardly any.  Another year we were stopped by the police on the second night; if people threw them away we were contributing to littering.  A commercial firm had hired a plane go broadcast advertising leaflets from the air.  Instead of doing it in the late afternoon when the crowds were there to pick them up, they scattered them Sunday morning.  It was a case of massive littering.

In later years we rented a booth among the exhibits and sold Scriptures and distributed literature.  With posters and slides and with personal conversations there were many opportunities to make known the way of salvation.  One evening a group of Roman Catholic seminarians came by primed for a discussion.  I didn’t want this, but with a crowd around I dared not back down.  I tried to use the discussion and answering of questions as an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel.  At one point they referred to the Pope as Head of the Church.  I asked, “Do you believe the Bible?”  Since they did, I referred to Colossians 1:18, reading it out to the interested crowd.  Their reply was that the Church had two heads, one in heaven and one on earth.  I retorted, “Now I can understand the defect in your church.  Any body that has two heads is abnormal and would be exhibited among the freaks here at the carnival.”  It wasn’t the kindest thing to say, but it pleased the crowd and discomfited them as well as bringing the discussion to an end.

For five years we had carried on under what were often discouraging difficulties.  A vacation in the mountains was more than we could afford, and we were getting weary.  However, in January 1928, the Lord made it possible for us to spend some time in Baguio.  We traveled third class by train to Damortis, Anna, Len, Ken, and I.  Then by bus we climbed 5000 feet to Baguio by the Kennon Road.  This was wide enough then for only one vehicle so the traffic was controlled by a system of gates.  There were no sides on the bus and as I sat on the outside seat at the front it seemed as if my feet were often dangling over a deep ravine beside the road.  The driver was careful but fast because he knew the road and knew he would meet no oncoming traffic.  The view from the top of the final zigzag was really impressive.

The house we rented belonged to the Methodists, beside Easter School, an Anglican school for mountain children.  Behind the cottage was a high hill from the top of which we could see Baguio on one side and the Trinidad Valley on the other.  This fertile valley is famous for growing vegetables and strawberries.  Fred Pucknell joined us for part of the time.  One morning we took a taxi to the foot of Mt. Sto. Tomas, seven kilometers out of Baguio.  From that point, Fred and I followed an eight kilometer trail to the top where there was a rest house.  We were tired and hungry when we arrived, so we went inside to get warm and eat our lunch.  It was a mistake—while we ate the clouds rolled in.  We really never had a glimpse of the view over the surrounding mountains or the Lingayen Gulf below.  We met some survey men there, and they offered to lead us to an Igorot burial cave on the way down.  The entrance was quite low, but inside we could stand up amid the skulls and skeletons.  Chiefs had apparently been buried in a crude coffin made from a hollowed-out pine tree.  Fred remarked that if he would have such a skull in his room in China he would never have had to worry about thieves!  The mountain people were formerly headhunters.  So to make sure we retained that essential part of our anatomy, we did not disturb anything.  In later years we climbed Sto. Tomas on a bright moonlight night to see the gorgeous sunrise over the mountains.  Then after breakfast at the rest house we would return home by early afternoon.

On the way home from Baguio the train was very crowded.  Anna went to the restroom.  Almost immediately a woman began knocking on the door.  Naturally Anna thought it was someone who was impatient so didn’t respond.  Then they called me to intervene.  The woman was quite plump and because the train was crowded she was standing.  When Anna closed the door it caught a part of her fleshy arm and she couldn’t get free.  Above the noise of the train and the crowd, I at last got Anna’s attention by shouting.  When the woman was released there was a long ridge of flesh on her upper arm.

A year previous to that we had begun to buy a house five miles from downtown Manila in the suburb of San Juan.  It was a newly developed area where the Wightmans had purchased a home.  A gift form a good friend provided the down payment and the monthly installments were less than we had been paying in rent.  One reason for the move was that Leonard had developed rickets and we needed a place where he could get out in the sunshine more.  With our own place I could improve it myself, as we were able.

After our trip to Baguio we began to plan for furlough.  In those days missionaries were expected to stay for a term of seven years.  Some brethren in Britain expressed their concern that we were only in our sixth year.  In January Fred Pucknell decided to return to China, as things seemed quieter there.  In the meantime Jim Buckley had been married to Margaret Dryden from Seattle.  Our family had been friends for some years with the Dryden family.  They were planning to stay on for the present in Manila, so we thought it would be a good time to get away.