“Lord!” I cried out as I writhed in pain on the bamboo floor of my hut. “No one wants to hear the message of salvation that you sent me here to teach. The people are doing all that they can to kick me out. On top of that, I have been constantly sick since I got here. Please release me, Lord. I will be glad to serve you somewhere else.”
Fast forward 10 years. A line of excited, smiling faces stretches in front of me into the distance, where shimmering heat waves boil off the sand of a dry riverbed. Umbrellas, shirts and dinner plates of all sizes and colors shade the eyes of the expectant crowd as my partner and I pass out meal tickets to the expectant believers.
It is the first Mangyan camp meeting since COVID-19 hit. During the two years of lockdowns, there has been tremendous growth. The simple church plants that my parents and I started all those years ago have continued to grow. Today the Tawbuid, Alangan, Buhid and Hanunoo tribes (collectively known as the Mangyan) have active and growing Seventh-day Adventist churches led by their own leaders. They are actively working to plant more churches in the villages that have not yet been reached and have averaged one new church plant per month during the last year. Hundreds have been baptized.
After a week of lively Bible studies, shared meals, and a Bible Bowl game each evening, the more than 1,000 Mangyan believers gather by the side of the river on Sabbath afternoon. Rain pours down, soaking us all to the skin, but nothing will stop the 50 new believers from being baptized. Their joy and commitment to God are written on their faces as, one by one, they are buried under the water and brought up again with new life.
Later that afternoon, during a final meeting of all the church leaders, I ask each tribe to list their active worshiping congregations. I know that the work has grown beyond what I can keep track of, but I am not prepared for the answer they bring back to me. Today, there are 43 worshiping groups scattered through the mountains occupied by the four tribes.
Tears well up in my eyes as I remember that night, years ago, when I came so close to giving up. The Lord would not let me leave, though, and now I have proved Him faithful who has promised, “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please” (Isaiah 55:11 NKJV).