Grace Triumphant - Chapter 11 - The Beginning of Work in San Juan

The Beginning of Work in San Juan

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (1Cor. 15:58)

Now after the lengthy detour through “Bible land,” let us get back to our search for the next sphere of service.  Our home was in San Juan, a suburb of Manila, but only a block or two from the boundary of another suburb, Mandaluyong.  It seemed logical that we should be working near where we lived.  Along with prayer for the Lord’s guidance, I set out first to survey Mandaluyong (formerly known as San Felipe Neri).  This was done by going around from house to house with Gospel literature.  While we were noting what response there was to this, we could also look for evidence of Christian work.  Beside the large Roman Catholic church and an Aglipayan church (a split-off from the Roman Catholics at the turn of the century), there was a Methodist church.  Also we heard about others possibly working there.

So we turned our attention to San Juan where there was apparently then no Protestant work.  There was a Methodist chapel in Sta. Mesa, a mile or more from San Juan.  After waiting upon the Lord in prayer, we believed we should make an effort to evangelize this town.  In November 1929 we rented the ground floor of a house on J. Basa Street.  This was right beside the public market and faced on a vacant lot, which was opposite the San Juan Elementary School.  The Agora building now occupies the vacant lot.  Thursday afternoons when school was dismissed we had children’s meeting and once the attendance went up to 200, which was a bit more than we could properly handle.  Sunday mornings I would go through the market with tracts and mimeographed invitations to a Sunday evening meeting.  Some of the brethren from Intramuros Chapel came out to help us but the response was quite small.

However, one evening we were heartened by the influx of a group of about thirty who came together and seemed quite interested.  We learned that they were members of the Methodist church but were disgruntled with the pastor because he so seldom visited them in San Juan.  This group was led by a woman of uncertain age—she didn’t know herself!  Timotea Carreon, Tea for short (pronounced Tay-a) was certainly a believer in Christ, and she had rounded up a number of relatives and neighbors to visit our service.  Soon she was praising the Lord that someone had come to her town to preach the Gospel.  The Methodist pastor, of course, was not happy with this turn of events and he remonstrated with me for stealing his sheep.  I assured him they came of their own accord, not from any specific invitation from me.  I suggested that if he fed his flock good spiritual food, his sheep would stay with him.  I doubt whether he knew how to feed himself, let alone others.

Tea informed me that at her expense a small bamboo and thatch chapel had been erected in the Salapan district (located where the elementary school is now).  Would we go and have children’s classes there some afternoon?  So each Friday afternoon we taught the children choruses, verses, and a Bible story.  Tea rounded up the children, literally running around the area to do so in spite of her age.  Then she stood back and beamed with delight that her chapel was being used.  Almost every week we would find a little gift on the seat of the car, a few eggs, ears of corn, a bunch of bananas.

We relocated in another storefront on N. Domingo, the main street, where it would be easier to get passersby to come in.  Mr. Taylor, secretary of the Army and Navy YMCA at Fort McKinley, had given us a surplus army movie screen.  It was of heavy canvas, silvered on one side and quite large so that we had used it sometimes as a tent.  I got some sail makers to shape it into a tank and put eyelets around the top edge.  With a carpenter we made four wooden sides, which could be bolted together.  Thus we had a portable baptistry.  Among the first to be baptized in it was Gregorio, the carpenter—he had been making his own burial place!  Tea and some of her family were also baptized there.  We used it for the first time on August 31, 1931.  As I had coated the outside with tar, it was quite waterproof.

Another who was baptized there was Trinidad Dayton, a Filipino married to an American.  Though he had a responsible position on a sugar estate in Canlubang, Laguna, he maintained a home in San Juan.  Trining (as we know her) was friendly with Pelagia Alfonso, daughter of Tea.  One day Stevie, the son of Trining was sick with a fever so Pelagia suggested they have prayer for him.  It was a common practice then to call some Christians together to pray for a sick person.  Trining didn’t object though she was not accustomed to this practice.  The next day Stevie was better.  But it was not so much the answer to prayer that aroused the interest of Trining; it was the way they prayed.  “You talk to God as if you know Him and as if He is right here.”  They assured her they did have a personal knowledge of God.  Trining decided to attend the services with them, and one Sunday during the singing of a hymn she accepted Christ.  Some years later a visiting friend of ours asked her, “How did you find Christ?”  Trining’s reply was, “Oh! I didn’t find Him, He found me!”

Gregorio, whom I have mentioned, had a bad habit of nearly always being late in getting to the services.  One year some of his children were to have a part in the Christmas program but they never showed up.  After the program was over and most of the people had left and we were just about to lock the door, Gregorio arrived with his children!  He was not a very stable Christian and after a time he left us to go to the Iglesia ni Cristo, a sect started by Felix Manalo.  Talking with Gregorio one day, I asked him why he was going there since they deny the Deity of Christ.  He said they had more discipline than we did.  Asked about this, he said that every Saturday their preachers went to the home of Mr. Manalo and were given their sermon material for Sunday.  So it was the same sermon in every church.  I replied that in the penitentiary the discipline of the government was most evident, but they had no freedom.  We preferred the liberty of the Holy Spirit to prevail in our services.

For some years we carried on classes for children in different barrios each week.  A favorite chorus then was “Joy, joy, joy, with joy my heart is ringing.”  So I got a new name; “Mr. Joy, joy.”  Many years later sitting in my car near the market, two women passed and I heard one say, “That’s Mr. Joy, joy!”  For a time an old lady who had been discharged from the Culion Leper Colony helped in this work and later on we were able to enlist the help of some of the young women in San Juan.  One day one of these was trying to list the names of the children and was having difficulty getting the surname of one child.  She asked the girl whose daughter she was, to which the child replied, “I am the daughter of my mother!”

During a typhoon in 1932 the little chapel that Tea had built was blown down.  There was a lot of damage but Tea and her husband’s ramshackle home just out of town stood amid more substantial houses, which blew down.  Said Tea to her neighbors, “You prayed to the saints, but we prayed to the Lord and He protected us.”  She was practically illiterate though she could read, but I doubt that she ever read anything much more than her Bible.  She went to visit Trining’s mother who had recently been saved and found her chewing beetlenut.  There were chairs to sit on but the old ladies preferred squatting on the floor.  Said Tea to Antonina, “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and you should keep it clean for Him.”  That was the end of that dirty habit.

Tea had been saving from her very meager income.  When she had money she would buy some GI roofing or some hardwood posts.  So in early 1933 she had some men erect the frame of a chapel on a small lot on H. Lozada Street.  Then she said to me, “Instead of paying rent for a chapel, why don’t you finish up what I have started.”  So we were able to buy some materials and on July 4th we had a working bee, a cooperative effort that the Tagalogs call “bayanihan” (a famous Filipino dance troupe adopted this as their name).  The lower parts of the walls were adobe stone and the upper part wooden siding.  The men and women worked with a will all day.  The women prepared a delicious dinner as well as snacks.  There was a happy spirit of fellowship and by nightfall the walls were up.  Later a cement floor, windows, and doors were added.  It was only a hundred yards or so from Trining Dayton’s house and she gave permission to have some of the Sunday school classes at her place.

At this time our home was about two kilometers from the main part of San Juan.  It was in a new housing area with plenty of empty lots around, an ideal place for our boys to play and roam.  We could not afford to build a fence or a wall around our property, so growing a garden was largely an exercise in futility.  One of our neighbors had goats which roamed the neighborhood and they devoured anything we attempted to grow.  I got hold of some cactus full of thorns which could only be handled with gloves.  I thought the goats wouldn’t eat those!  How wrong I was!  They found them to be a luscious meal!  One of the goats was a big billy goat to which our houseboy, Vicente at the time, had a special aversion.  One day Vicente spotted “Billy" entering our neighbor’s yard since the gate had been left open.  The neighbor’s dogs were sleeping and Vicente sneaked up and shut the gate (unknown to us).  When the dog awoke, “Billy” trotted towards where he had come in but found he couldn’t get out there.  Vicente’s glee was great—until I made him go and open the gate and apologize to our neighbor.

Missionary work isn’t all preaching and teaching.  One night, some years later, I heard a commotion in the yard.  A bull had entered our yard and Gregorio who was then our helper was trying to get him out.  In the chase the bull ran over the septic tank.  The collapse of the cover under the weight of the bull left him and us in a predicament.  Gregorio got a rope around the bull’s horns but our efforts to pull him out were ineffectual.  Jumping in the car I went to the “municipio” to enlist the aid of some policemen.  The only one there couldn’t leave, but he told me where I could probably find two men on their beat.  I found them in a primitive barbershop sound asleep on benches.  Having aroused them from their slumbers, we drove home and with their help extricated the bull form his messy environment.  He showed no appreciation for all our efforts!  He was very indignant and with difficulty we tethered him to a house post until morning.  The policemen said to take him to the municipio then.  Gregorio went ahead and I followed in my car.  Alternately the bull would refuse to budge and then dash after Gregorio.  Delivered to the police I asked them not to release him until the owner made some compensation.  When I returned the bull was gone and the owner refused to do anything.

During our first term I was asked to conduct services for Filipino veterans who were patients at the Santol Tuberculosis Infirmary (later Quezon Institute).  This was an extension work of the Army and Navy YMCA which was turned over to me.  Later this led to a program of visitation through the whole place.  Anna and I went every Tuesday afternoon to distribute reading material and to talk to the patients who showed any interest.  Sometimes we were able to take small bouquets of flowers too.  Patients were mostly long term and in addition to the occasional believer we had the joy of leading others to Christ.  A man who was dying of T.B. had a bright testimony and when I prayed with him he would, with great effort, say, “When I am weak, then am I strong.”  Some, of course, were unresponsive, like the man who would not believe in God’s love because he too was dying and leaving behind a family.  An American confided that his case was hopeless; he had sinned the unpardonable sin, he thought.  His sin was great but I assured him not beyond the reach of God’s grace.  He did not accept Christ, and when I returned the next week he had passed into eternity.  Should I have been more persistent in my appeal?

One of those saved there was Mr. Candido Aguilar who had been a sales manager for Singer Sewing Machine.  He made a partial recovery but suffered a great deal at the hands of the Japanese police during the war because of his contacts with the guerillas.  After the war he was a great help in the work at Binangonan and Tanay.

We often had open-air meetings in different parts of San Juan as we endeavored to reach the townspeople with the Gospel.  At one time we had two weeks of nightly evangelistic meetings in the little chapel.  For the first week there was no response.  We had invited a preacher friend, Mr. Gebala, to preach the Word.  After one week he came to me and was frustrated because he felt he had no liberty in preaching.  Something was wrong so he thought he should not continue.  I urged him to continue because I felt sure that the problem was not with him but with the believers.  There was some disagreement among them and there seemed to be two factions.  So after the Sunday evening meeting I asked them to all go with me to the basement of Mrs. Dayton’s house where we would try to unravel this problem among ourselves.

After some discussion and even some argument, one of the young women replied to accusations some were making regarding her.  While she spoke, she had what seemed to be an epileptic attack.  Now that I have had more experience I am inclined to think it was a demonic attack.  There never has been any recurrence.  We took him to a doctor and then to our home where she recovered after a few days.  The shock of this experience seemed to awaken the believers to a sense of their own failure and a better spirit prevailed.

As a result, in the second week we saw some blessing.  One of those saved was the sister of Trining Dayton.  Domingo Capati was a good golf player and went on to become ladies’ champion, which she held for several years here in the Philippines.  Unfortunately, she did not take a stand on playing on Sunday and golf took a larger place in her life than the Lord.  She had represented the Canlubang Sugar Estate in playing golf.  When she passed away a few years ago the Estate took care of the funeral arrangements, with a priest to officiate at the graveside.  The family wanted a Protestant service so the owner of the estate compromised, “Let both take part.”  The only service was at the graveside, so I asked the Filipino priest if he had any preference that should go first.  He suggested that I should.  There was a large crowd, people for the Estate and sports writers.  I took the opportunity to preach the Gospel and spoke in Tagalog, which aroused more attention.  The priest followed and all his service was in Latin.  Later on we heard that the son of the owner of the Estate was disgusted with the priest’s performance.  “The American spoke in our language but our Filipino priest spoke a foreign language.”

On the last afternoon of our evangelistic campaign, Brother Gebala gave an invitation for anyone who was willing to trust Christ to stand.  Almost right away a woman, Felisa Mallari, sitting near the front, stood up.  Her husband had not been as interested as she, but that afternoon he wanted to see what was going on.  So he slipped into a seat in the corner on the back row.  Nicolas was like Zaccheus in that he was a short man and also curious.  When the preacher remarked that one had stood up, Nicolas wondered who it could be.  His curiosity led him to stand up and to his surprise it was his wife who was standing.  The preacher, not knowing he stood out of curiosity, expressed his thanks that a man in the back row had also stood up.  He was not saved that day but it was not long before he was.  Soon after his conversion, working on a job as a carpenter, he was being teased by his workmates about becoming a Protestant.  “Don’t you know,” they said, “the Protestants are divided into many different branches.  The Roman Catholic church is one; it must be the right one.”  Being a young Christian, Nicolas didn’t know how to answer but asked the Lord for help.  They were sitting in the shade of a large mango tree as they ate their lunch.   Pointing to a telephone pole nearby, he said, “Look at that pole!  It is all one—no branches!  But it is dead!  Where do we come for shade and fruit?  To this mango tree with its many branches, for it is alive.”

In those early years of the work in San Juan we were often distressed and discouraged because of the immaturity of many of the believers.  They were so often like the Corinthians.  “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.  I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.  For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (1Cor. 3:1-3).  So often the things they were quarreling about seemed so trivial and childish.

One evening on our way home from prayer meeting, we gave a lift to one of the men.  He was telling us about some of these difficulties and problems.  After he got out of the car and we drove on, I was feeling very sorry for myself and very much discouraged.  What was the use of going on!  I thought, “If they want to squabble over such childish matters, I think I’ll leave them to do it on their own.  I’ll leave them and start up a new work somewhere else.  I just can’t put up with them.”  Then as I drove on it seemed I heard the Lord speaking, not audibly but very clearly.  “They are my children and I put up with them.”  Still felling very sorry for myself, I thought, “Well, Lord, if You can endure them, then I guess I’ll have to as well.”  But the Lord wasn’t through with me yet, for again I heard His voice, “Yes, and I put up with you too.”  That blow hit me where it hurts, right on target.  I got a fresh look at myself, my miserable self-pity and pride.   How much had I been showing the Spirit of Christ to those young believers?  Also I realized afresh the patient mercy and longsuffering grace of our Lord to one so unworthy.

It was during that second term, in the early 1930’s, that we passed through times of severe testing financially.  It was the time of the depression in the United States and many banks in the U.S. were failing.  Early in 1934, I had several checks on U.S. banks but the local bank would not accept them, even for collection.  For all they knew the bank might have closed since the check was written a month earlier.  Our good fiend, Bruce Cameron of the American Bible Society, kindly came to our assistance.  The Bible Society had received its annual subsidy before the bank failure, so they had substantial peso funds on hand here.  He kindly accepted my checks and gave me the local currency.  None of the checks were returned.

As a result of these critical times we were falling behind on our monthly installments on our home.  We expected that the real estate company would foreclose on the mortgage.  One day I called on the manager, P.D. Carman, and frankly told him our predicament and that I thought he would be warranted in foreclosing.  He was very considerate.  He said, “I don’t consider myself a Christian, but I do have a heart for those in difficulty and I know you have been trying.”  Instead of foreclosing he arranged for the mortgage to be transferred and renegotiated by a Filipino bank.    Since we were then British we could not have done this ourselves.

Later on we saw how the Lord was working in all these things.  During the Japanese occupation all alien property was taken over by the Japanese.  Even if the owners were allowed to stay in their own homes they had to pay rent to the Japanese.  Whenever they questioned me as to who owned the property I always told them it was mortgaged to a Filipino bank.  They never pursued the matter any further.  However, the bank notified me that they needed to renew the mortgage as its time had expired.  When I explained the situation, they told me to go home and they would notify me in due course, because the renewal of a mortgage had to be approved by the Japanese.  They just let it ride because they didn’t want to lose their claim on the property.

So we lived in the house rent-free and no payments until we were interned.  So even in those financial trials years before, the Lord was providing for the future.

One evening chance visitors stopped by just at suppertime.  All we had to offer them was bread and butter and fried banana.  From my diary on August 12, 1936, I cull this, “No gifts.  Stocks of food very low.  Wonder what the Lord is trying to fit us for.  Praise is indeed a sacrifice.  He is able!  Outlook couldn’t be blacker.”  Then four days later on the 16th was this entry, “Received several gifts.  Prayer heard.”  The Lord has graciously showed His great faithfulness to us through all the years.  Praise His name!

On November 19, 1931, our daughter, Rose Ellen was born and named after her two grandmothers.  At that time, Miss Jeannette Lape, a fellow missionary from Glendale, California, was living with us.  Kenneth had expressed one day his desire to have a baby sister.  Jeannette told him that babies come from God so he should ask God for a baby sister.  This he did but for some time after there was no more mention of their desire.  Jeannette said, “Ken, I don’t hear you praying any more for a sister.”  He looked at her with wide-eyed surprise, “God doesn’t forget!  I asked Him once and that was enough; I don’t want a dozen.”  As the time drew near, Anna wanted to prepare his mind to the possibility that the baby might be a boy, so she said, “Ken, if the Lord sends us another boy, we’ll love him just the same, won’t we?”  To this she got the reply, ”Indeed we won’t, we’ll send him back!”  God honored a little child’s faith—the new arrival was a girl.