Grace Triumphant - Chapter 12 - A Decade of Activity

A Decade of Activity

 “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.” (2 Cor. 9:8)

The 1930’s was a busy time, a decade of activity in the work of the Lord.  As it commenced we were just getting started in the work in San Juan.  Though we were away for furlough from 1937 to 1938, the work continued.  It was during that furlough that Lutgardo Ramos went home to be with the Lord.  We greatly missed this dear man of God just as we had earlier missed Brother Simeon Endaya.  From the first we wanted to see the assembly truly indigenous, particularly with its own elders.  In a pioneer work the missionary faces a dilemma.  Should he continue to do almost everything himself?  With his superior knowledge of the Word, he can probably do things better himself.  However, there is danger of just bringing into another culture what he has been accustomed to in his own land.  That is an area where he needs to be sure of the teaching of God’s Word and not follow his own traditions.  Or should he turn things over to the nationals, even though things may not go as smoothly or correctly, until they are better taught in the Word?  We had no doubt the latter was the only way to build up an indigenous assembly.

As is often the case, the women outnumbered the men and were usually more active and more spiritual.  Sometimes I wished some of the women were men!  Why couldn’t they pray in the prayer meeting?  That question was solved by dividing into groups for prayer.  After a time of Bible study, the prayer requests are presented.  Then we break into groups of three or four, young and old, some in English and some in Tagalog.  In this way all are involved and are able to take part.  The whole group comes together for a final prayer.

Early in the work we started a custom which still continues.  That is for the first week of the year there are prayer meetings every evening.  In this way they try to establish a spiritual tone for the whole year and pray about the projected plans for the coming year.  At the present time, they have national workers come in to give reports each evening so they can pray for the outreach in other areas.  In one of these early series, I heard someone moving about during prayer time.  This was not uncommon for people go out and come in or go to the window to spit.  However, I did notice that three men who had never prayed before, prayed that evening.  After the meeting old Tea informed me that she had gone to her husband (they rarely sat together) and nudged him to get up and pray.  Then she went to the husband of her granddaughter and to some other relative.  It may not have been the prompting of the Spirit but at least it was effectual.

That dear sister, Timotea, was unusual in her ways.  She rarely missed a meeting.  Sometimes she swam or waded across the stream when the bamboo footbridge had been washed out.  She would go to her daughter’s house to get dry clothes.  On one occasion we were away for a little while.  When we returned, Tea told us about a neighbor woman that she had led to the Lord.  This woman was moving away and Tea thought she should be baptized.  So Tea baptized her in the river!  At every service she would say “Salamat sa Panginoon” (thank the Lord).  At her husband’s funeral I thought to myself “She won’t say that today.”  I should have known better.  After the committal service at the graveside, Tea took my hand, “Salamat sa Panginoon—he is with the Lord now.”  When she heard we were going on furlough, however, she was not so thankful until we assured her we would return.  Perhaps the smallest gift but also the most precious was the one peso she gave us toward our fare.  She wanted to bring chickens and other things to the ship until her family assured her we would be well fed on the ship.  Once she did give us a kid of the goats, which our houseboy killed and skinned.

In 1940, Morales Street near the chapel was being widened to become what is now Aurora Blvd.  The widening would not involve the lot on which the chapel was built but would make it a corner lot which the owner wanted for his own use.  The assembly decided to look for land to buy and found the present property on A. Lake Street.  Their first intention was to buy only the front half, but through he negligence of the agent we had to take the whole lot. In this God overruled because now even that is too small.

One afternoon we all banded together to help move a house on the property to another location.  Long bamboo poles were tied under the house and scores of men lifted the house on those bamboos.  Since I was a bit taller than the average Filipino it felt to me that the whole weight was on my shoulder!  The old chapel was dismantled so as to use as much of the material as possible in rebuilding.  In 1941 it was all enclosed but still had a dirt floor.

During the 1930’s, in addition to the work at the chapel and the open-air meetings, there were children’s’ classes as I have already mentioned.  The weekly visits to the Santol Sanitarium have also been referred to earlier.  Anna had a Bible class on evening a week in Abiertas’ Home, a home for unwed mothers.  Usually she took some girls from San Juan to help her.  When we returned from furlough in 1929 we bought a second-hand Essex (only old-timers will remember those cars).  It served us well but needed a lot of care.  Once we were going to Baguio when suddenly there was a clatter under the hood and a terrible vibration.  When we stopped to investigate we discovered that one of the four fan blades and broken off.  Being a long way from any repair shop I decided the only was to restore balance was to break off the opposite blade.  By stopping at the bottom of the zigzag on the Kennon Road and by draining our radiator and putting in cold water, we made it up the mountain with out any difficulty.

Come down on that trip, as we got to the lowlands, the differential gear was stripped.  We were towed into a garage in a nearby town where the trouble was diagnosed.  No parts were available there, so we left the car and traveled home by bus and train.  My mechanic advised that a new part, even if we could find such, wouldn’t mesh with the old gears.  With his help we were able to find a complete unit for that old model in a junk shop.  I carried it up north and had it installed and it worked perfectly.

So when Anna went out alone at night, he boys would say, “Let’s pray that Mom doesn’t have any car trouble.”  I wasn’t the man who said to his wife, “I’ve had this car all these years and never had a wreck,” and she replied, “You’ve had this wreck all these years and never had a car!”  I hit a carabao on the rump once . Fortunately I was going slowly so the carabao walked off as if nothing had happened, but I had a bump in the fender and a smashed headlight.  Before leaving on furlough someone gave me P37.00 for it!  Registration which was due would have cost P35.00!

In 1931, the Manila Evangelistic Institute was commenced  by Dr. Paul Cullen of the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism.  A year or two later when they had no male missionaries in Manila, Miss Ellen Martien asked if I would teach doctrine there.  I pointed out that possibly my view of doctrine would not be acceptable.  Holding up a Bible, Miss Martien said,  “Stay within the covers of this Book and it will be acceptable.”  Under that arrangement, I agreed and in addition to teaching doctrine, I also taught Romans.  Later on Dr. Russell Bradley Jones took over direction of the Institute, and I offered my resignation because of my lack of scholastic qualifications.  He kindly refused my resignation.  We enjoyed some happy fellowship with these men.  One year I was asked to teach Revelation and Dr. Jones was teaching Daniel.  As some of he view on prophecy differed from mine, the students used to try to play one off against the other.

In December 1931, I first met Sandy Sutherland.  He was from an assembly in Scotland and had gone to the U.S. for further studies.  From there he came to the Philippines in connection with ABWE and pioneered work in Palawan.  He was not happy with their financial policies so severed connection with them and continued to serve the Lord independently in southern Palawan.  He located at Brookes Point and reached out from there.  Later on some of us in Manila, along with some Filipino believers, contacted some of the assemblies in Scotland about commending Sandy to the work of the Lord here.  In October, 1936, Sandy and Maisie were married at the Chinese Gospel Chapel, then on Gandara St. in Manila.   As I was driving Sandy down to the wedding in our dirty, dilapidated old car, he insisted that he and his bride would ride with us from the chapel to the reception at Dr. and Mrs. Culley’s home.  I didn’t have time to even get it washed!  True to its cantankerous style, the old car would not start when the bridal pair got in, so we had to get a push to start it.  Anyway, we said, their married life started out with a good push!

In was in October, 1932 that the first issue of a monthly magazine, The Philippine Evangelist, came off the press with Dr. Cullen as editor and Mr. Wightman as publisher and printer.  For seven years I wrote the Sunday school lesson notes for each week in that magazine.  For part of the time I was assistant editor, taken over for Dr. Culley whenever he was out of town.  This magazine had a useful ministry through many parts of the Philippines in those years but perforce came to an end when the war in the Pacific brought the Japanese to these shores.  For some years the English Sunday school notes were translated into Tagalog and printed as a supplement.

Dr. and Mrs. Culley were also instrumental in starting the Philippine Keswick Conference.  It was intended mainly for students when they were free from classes between Christmas and New Year.  The first conference was held at Montalban below the gorge in December 1931.  Sandy and I were invited as speakers.  They had borrowed one large canvas to shelter the ladies.  For the fellows there were shelters of cogon grass.  Early one morning it began to rain and the grass didn’t shed much rain.  Sandy and I put our camp cots over our baggage and sat in the river where it was not quite so chilly as the driving rain.  It was a precious time of fellowship though somewhat wet!

Sometime later a committee was formed and I was asked to serve as chairman.  With the help of students, we would prepare the grounds.  Branches of acacia were pounded into the ground as frames for seats in an open-door auditorium on the side of the hill.  Many of them would be sprouting leaves by conference time.  We rented two “bankas” (canoes) to make a raft to cross the river and had tents and other supplies.

Those were times of much blessing in the lives of many.  The testimonies at the campfire on the last night were thrilling.  One young woman, a very attractive girl, said one evening, “I came here with my own ideas for my life.  Now I only want God’s will to be done.”  For her, how true was the hymn, “I know not what awaits me, God kindly veils my eyes.”  She married a very fine pastor in the Visayan Islands.  During the final days of Japanese occupation, some of their troops went on a rampage.  That fine young woman, with her two children, were brutally murdered by the Japanese in front of the pastor whose life was spared.

Montalban was a picturesque spot with high and steep hills lining the gorge.  Each evening it was a fascinating sight to see thousands of bats swarm out of their caves and fly down the valley at sundown.  One day a group of fellows climbed the mountain.  Darkness overtook them and they were stranded on the ledge up there all night.  They could see the camp so we kept a bonfire burning for we had been able to contact them by voice but not reach them.  In 1938, that site was washed out by floods so a location was found on a hacienda in the hills below Antipolo.  This included the partial use of a larger farmhouse.   Today the Valley Golf and Country Club occupies that place and Faith Academy is nearby.  In 1941, we were preparing for another conference there.  At noon resting on the hillside I looked down across the valley to Manila and wondered what would happen if war came.  It did come before we could have that conference.  The work party for December 8th was cancelled by news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Another activity in that decade of the 1930’s was radio ministry.  On January 7, 1934, Dr. Paul Culley began a 15-minute program called the “Gospel Singers.”  It was, I believe, the first evangelistic program on the radio here in the Philippines.  At first the radio company would not allow any preaching, as they were afraid of adverse Roman Catholic reaction.  However, Dr. Culley got around that by introducing each hymn and telling what it was about.  At the end of that year Dr.Culley was leaving for furlough and asked Dr. Jones to take it over.  But the latter was not a singer like Dr. Culley so he made it plain that he would give a short message.

Dr. Jones invited me to bring the message on February 24, 1935.  Obviously I had no experience of speaking into a microphone—we didn’t even have a public address systems then.  We didn’t own a radio to listen to others, so I was quite nervous and it was probably that which induced a sore throat and husky voice.  But Dr. Jones wouldn’t let me back out, so I brought the message I had prepared on "True Satisfaction.”

A year later, in March, 1936, when Dr. Jones was leaving the Islands he asked me to take over the responsibility for the program.  By then we called it “The Gospel Messengers.”  Our team was cosmopolitan: Mrs. Edward Bomm, and American, was soprano, Miss Josefina Orteza, a Filipino, was alto; Dr. Ho Seng Huang, a Chinese, the bass.  I forget now who the tenor was but for a time Henkey Pouw, an Indonesian, was the pianist.  That was before wire or tape recordings were discovered so every program was live.  No opportunity to replay it and correct any mistakes.  One Sunday evening our program was moved up 15 minutes and we had not been notified.  Fortunately, we were usually there in good time but that evening I was almost in a panic when the quartet strolled in casually just a minute before going on air.

Free booklets were offered on this program, and there was an encouraging response.  One lady wrote that she was so tired of her life she contemplated suicide.  Hearing the quartet singing, “All this I have done for thee, What hast thou done for Me?”, she was awakened to the goodness of God and the grace of Christ.

Another lady wrote about her difficulties with her family so we asked if we could visit her.  When we did, she poured out her story and we tried to extend to her the comfort of the Scriptures.  Before Anna and I left, I asked if we might pray for her.  She seemed a little surprised, possibly thinking we would need a shrine or something.  In simple words I prayed for her and told the Lord about her sad situation and asked Him to make Himself real to her.  As I prayed I heard her crying.  After the prayer, she looked at me with tears on her cheeks and said, “Never in my life have I heard a prayer like that!”  It made me realize afresh the privilege of talking to God in prayer.  So often we are prone to take that privilege for granted.  The war intervened and we lost contact.  Some twenty years later one of the teachers at Faith Academy brought to the evening service in San Juan a neighbor who was a believer.  This lady said, “Don’t you remember me?”  It was embarrassing to admit that I did not, but it turned out she was the lady with whom I had prayed.  She was now a believer in Christ.

The radio ministry was carried on by others during our furlough from 1937 to 1938 but upon our return I resumed it until December 7, 1941.  On that program I spoke on the Four Freedoms that President Roosevelt had declared, but I applied them in a spiritual way.  At the close I saw I had about a minute left so picked up a card which a missionary had sent me on which were listed some of the “Fear Nots” of Scripture.  Even as I spoke, the Japanese were on their way to Pearl Harbor and next morning bombed places in the Philippines.  We lost some of our freedom but learned too that we need not fear.

It was that radio ministry that led us into another sphere of activity as we entered the 1940’s.  It was the custom of the U.S. Fleet in the Far East to spend the summer at Tsingtao in China and the winter in Manila Bay.  On a submarine tender, the USS Canopus, was a Christian sailor, Virgil Wemmer.  He was discouraged because he had not found a Gospel preaching church and could not locate a Christian program on his radio.  He chanced on our program and wrote that he was hungry for Christian fellowship, even though a few fellows used to meet in the apartment that one Chief and his wife rented in Manila.

We had often been concerned about U.S. servicemen in Manila.  Quite a number were stationed in Manila or out at Fort McKinley.  It seemed that nothing was being done in a spiritual way for them.   In earlier years, the secretary of the YMCA at Fort McKinley was a fine Christian.  But our hands were so full of other work and we felt our first responsibility was to the Filipinos.  Occasionally we had contacted some fellows.  During our first term we were able to help a Navy man.  In a watch night service he testified, “Once I thought Christianity was a matter of right creeds, but now I know it is centered in a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  He seemed to be getting cold spiritually just before he returned to the U.S.  We had not seen him for sometime, but I learned when he was leaving.  Wrapping a New Testament with his name I left it at the ship by which he was leaving.  While on furlough I learned he was at Moody though I had not heard from him.  When I called on him there, he told me that it was the New Testament that brought him back into fellowship with the Lord and led into his going into the Lord’s service as a teacher.

We met with Virgil Wemmer and some of the fellows at the apartment of CPO King.  Soon after it was decided to look for another place to meet with more room.  Many of the fellows would congregate at the Army and Navy YMCA in the Walled City, so we asked Mr. Wightman for permission to use the Gospel Hall in that district on Saturday evenings.  Yet even this was not exactly suitable; what they needed was a home atmosphere.  I thought our home was too far out and too difficult to find, but the fellows didn’t think so.  So a regular Saturday evening meeting was begun there.  Some would come out in the afternoon and stay until Sunday afternoon.  We got permission to use a vacant lot at the back where they put up lights and a volleyball court.

One fellow said, “Since I left my home in the States, this is the first time I have been in a home.”  One of the regulars, Archuletta, or Archie, was a great pal with our boys.  He asked if he could bring another fellow who was not a Christian.  A good bit of Saturday afternoon was spent with that fellow, and he seemed very close to a decision for Christ.  Finally he said, “I don’t know whether I could hold out!  It is tough being on a submarine.  If I could try it out for a week or two and see how it goes.”  I assured him he couldn’t take Christ “on approval” to see if it works.  I assured him that when he received Christ the needed strength would be given him.  Whether or not he subsequently trusted Christ, we don’t know.

One of the fellows who came to our home was John Tinkle, a really keen Christian.  He had come to know the Lord at Long Beach, California, through the ministry of Dawson Trotman in the early days of the Navigator work.  He was an enthusiastic memorizer of Scripture who had memorized some 600 verses.  He was keen on getting others to the same.  As they washed and wiped dishes in the kitchen they would drill on their verses.  Later John’s ship was sunk by the Japanese in the battle of the Java Sea.  Some would say he went down with his ship; his body did, but his spirit went home to be with the Lord.

Two young fellows in the army Air Corps (before the days of USAF) stationed at Nichols Air Base were nominal Christians.  John Bristow and Jesse Miller were only 18, lonely and homesick.  One Saturday evening they went to the YMCA thinking they might as well take in a show, though they weren’t happy about doing that.  A sailor invited them to go out to our home, which proved a turning point in their lives.  However, John’s war experiences seemed to have adversely affected his spiritual life and we lost touch with him.  Up to that time Jesse had thought of the Bible as a book to carry to church.  Then he learned it was to have a vital part in his life.  Through the blessings he received in our home, Jesse made up his mind that if ever he had a home of his own it would be open to servicemen.  The story of how that determination came true must be left to a later chapter.  We thank God for the contacts that were made at that time and also for the influence that those Christian fellows had upon our two teenage sons.  Sometimes it seemed our time and strength was being stretched to the limit.  How much longer could we keep it up?  Sandy and Maisie Sutherland were with us for a while around Thanksgiving, 1941.  Sandy said, “Cyril, you can’t keep up this pace.  You will have to give up something.”  Only a few days later, after the Sutherlands had returned to Palawan, the Lord took care of that situation with the outbreak of war in the Pacific.