A New Era of Philippine Missions?

National Missions Conference 2022 (Koronadal City, Philippines)

I don’t have my finger on the pulse of Philippine Missions. As an independent missionary, I don’t go to a lot of missions meetings— especially those involving mission agencies or mobilizers. Nevertheless, it seems like there have been some changes lately in Philippine Missions… for the good.

I am part of a denomination that sends missionaries to the Philippines through one primary organization, the IMB (with a few exceptions such as my wife and I). And the denomination has a daughter/partner denomination here in the Philippines that sends out missionaries through one primary organization, the OSB. It seems like things are really entering a new age.

IMB. When I came to the Philippines in 2004, the IMB was, to a large extent, closing up shop in the Philippines. At the time, the IMB decided that the Philippines generally was a “Reached Country.” Many Evangelical mission strategists would make decisions apparently based on the belief that every person who calls himself (or herself) an Evangelical must be a “real” Christian, and every person who does not, must NOT be a “real” Christian. If a region is less than 2% Evangelical, it is treated as unreached and missionaries should be out evangelizing, discipling, and planting churches (actually, trying to establish church planting movements— CPMs). If a region is over 2% Evangelical, it is treated as reached, and the local churches should be doing pretty much all of that. It seemed like leader development, theological education, urban ministry, holistic ministry and so forth was shoved aside. Things, however, have really seemed to change in the Philippines. While there is still a strong emphasis on unreached people groups, leader development, theological education, and more has opened back up. And yet, this doesn’t seem to be a step backwards toward treating the Philippines like it is a missionary-receiving country. There are missionaries coming to the Philippines, but now in more of an activity of cross-pollination of the universal church. They are also moving away from “our way or the highway” and toward collaborative partnerships.

OSB. Perhaps the change here is even bigger. When we came to the Philippines in 2004, our denomination hardly had anything to do with sending Filipino missionaries out of the country. Yes, there were Overseas Foreign Workers who were “released” (far less than “sent”) by local churches with no support (they should be sending money home after all), or perhaps some pastors leaving to go to already established churches, or perhaps diaspora ministries in other countries. However, churches supporting Filipino missionaries (“holding the rope”) to go overseas was extremely rare. One of my friends did in 2007 but was supported by a different denomination. In the 2010s, my wife and I gave a training seminar on missionary member care that was described as “controversial” to churches in the Philippines. But it is different now. OSB was set up in the early 2000s and has grown. It now is involved in supporting and sending dozens of Filipino missionaries to many countries. They are focused on making sure support is adequate and is working to establish a better foundation for medical care and retirement. They have partnerships with many different organizations (including Bukal Life Care, Celia and my organization) to increase effectiveness through mission member care and counseling.

Back in the early 2000s many Filipino churches believed that the “ends of the earth” meant reaching out to people in their province. Today, they see the “ends of the earth” as Asia… and beyond.

Are there still changes that must happen? I am sure there are. The mission conference I attended still threw around the old rhetoric of the early Lausanne Movement (and in some things before), like UPGs, UUPGs and “finishing the task” (we are called to be faithful to the task, until God says it is finished). But I am excited to see how things are changing… for the better.

Two Missions Quotes from Miriam Adeney

“In the richer Gulf countries the gruntImage result for miriam adeney work is done by foreigners. Sometimes 80 percent of the labor force comes from outside. The Philippine economy is set up to facilitate overseas employment. Without enough jobs at home, there is a push to work in richer countries and send back foreign exchange.

Many Filipino university graduates take jobs as maids or nannies if they are women, or as construction workers if they are men. In the homes where they work they risk sexual abuse. On job sites they risk injuries. Legal protection is rare, and medical help for foreign labor is unreliable.

Meanwhile, back in the Philippines they have left their parents and brothers and sisters, and often wives and husbands and children too. Witness to local Muslims is illegal, and in countries like Saudi Arabia even Christian worship is banned. Yet many Filipinos have grown in their faith in this hard setting. For some nominal Christians it has been a wake-up call. They are stressed. They are spiritually starving. To help them, multilevel discipleship training programs have been developed on the spot.

Others came prepared to witness in spite of the risk. Back home there are at least ten Philippine agencies that provide mission training for workers going abroad. On the field such laborers share their faith with office mates or house mates who show interest. And they sing. Whenever there is a lull, a Filipino sings. If he or she is a believer, Christian lyrics bubble up.

          -Miriam Adeney in “Kingdom Without Borders” chapter 1.


“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

         -Miriam Adeney  (Don’t know the source)

Missions, Government, and Motives

Historically speaking, Missions has often been thought of as being linked to the government. Some look back at the “Great Century” of missions as missionaries serving as pawns, or partners, of colonizers. But it goes back further. St. Boniface served as a missionary with an authorizing letter from the king of the Franks.  But the relationship can vary considerably. A couple of generations later, some priests blessed the Christian ‘baptism’ of Saxon soldiers, forced to walk through a river at the point of the sword and arrow by Charlemagne, partnering with the Emperor’s “missionary effort.” Others on the other hand, such as Bartolome de Casas, a Dominican Friar, spent much of his career opposing and challenging the government, both at the local and national levels– seeing God’s mission and the mission of the state as being in opposition..

For most missionaries, their relationship

by Unknown photographer, bromide print, 1918-1929
Charles Brent, First Bishop of the Episcopal Church to the Philippines

with government could best be described as “It’s Complicated.” William Carey utilized the benefits and conveniences a British colony affords a British citizen serving in India, while at the same time being persecuted by the same governing body for his missionary activity. For awhile he worked in a Danish colony where his activities were more appreciated, until the time the British colonial powers decided that his value outweighed his liabilities. But even then, Carey continued to challenge some of the policies of his government host.

Missions in China was complicated too as missionaries could at times side with abusive colonial powers… while at the same time often challenging their own governments. For more on this, consider reading a post, “Gospel and Gunboat: Strange Bedfellows.”

In the Philippines, the relationship between the American government and American Missionaries was also complicated. Part of this has to do with motives.Let’s consider the issue of Private Motives.

Dale Carnegie has noted that everyone has two types of motives: Public Motives and Private Motives. When one is  trying to convince someone to do something– one should appeal to the public motives, while, more subtly, make it clear that the Private Motives will also be satisfied. So if you as an employer are trying to hire Fred, a man who wants to “change the world” (public motive) but also wants to earn a lot of money (private motive), you should make it generally clear that the job pays well, but focus on how the job is important and can help him to fulfill his public ambitions. Focus on the public motive and Fred can answer the private motive for himself.

In the Philippine situation we see this issue of public and private motives. Consider the well-known quote of President McKinley regarding the reason for annexation:

“When I next realized that the Philippines had dropped into our laps I confess I did not know what to do with them. I sought counsel from all sides—Democrats as well as Republicans—but got little help. I thought first we would take only Manila; then Luzon; then other islands perhaps also. I walked the floor of the White House night after night until midnight; and I am not ashamed to tell you, gentlemen, that I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and guidance more than one night. And one night late it came to me this way—I don’t know how it was, but it came: (1) That we could not give them back to Spain—that would be cowardly and dishonorable; (2) that we could not turn them over to France and Germany—our commercial rivals in the Orient—that would be bad business and discreditable; (3) that we could not leave them to themselves—they were unfit for self-government—and they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain’s was; and (4) that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God’s grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died. And then I went to bed, and went to sleep, and slept soundly, and the next morning I sent for the chief engineer of the War Department (our map-maker), and I told him to put the Philippines on the map of the United States (pointing to a large map on the wall of his office), and there they are, and there they will stay while I am President!”         –James Rusling, “Interview with President William McKinley,” The Christian Advocate 22 January 1903, 17.

In this quote McKinley states that the US has an obligation to, education, uplift, civilize, and Christianize Filipinos. While the somewhat racist and ethnocentric tone may undermine the text to today’s reader, the arguments here don’t sound all that horrible. However, these were McKinley’s public motives. We get a hint of his private motives when he worries that allowing the Philippines to slip out of his nation’s grasp and into the hands of rival imperialistic powers would be “bad business.” This suggests private motivations of economic utilization and imperialism. McKinley had a very close relationship with the heads of a number of monopolies (less cordially described at times as the great “robber barons.”). His thinking seemed in line with (later) President Calvin Coolidge, that “The business of America is business.” It seems likely that the Philippines was seen as a valuable resource for US business interests. Likewise, imperialistic expansion was likely of interest. Around this time, over 40% of the land area of the earth was controlled in some manner or other by the British and Russian Empires. Other European powers were gaining interest in expanding their boundaries, especially as Spain and the Ottoman Empire were in decline. Belgium had joined the club of colonizers, and France and Germany (and later Italy) also were seeking to expand their borders as colonizers. The reference to France and Germany could lead one to suspect that McKinley saw the US as having similar aspirations.

But what about American missionaries and mission agencies considering entering the Philippines with the American Army, educators, and administrators? I am drawing heavily from an article by Joseph T. Raymond entitled “Colonial Apostles: A Discourse in Syncretism  and American Protestant Missions in the Philippines.” It can be read .HERE.

Positively, the US government opened doors for missionaries, especially American Protestant missionaries that had been closed to non-Catholic missions previously. Negatively, the acquisition  (against Philippine public will) of distant territories smacked too much of the European colonial expansion that the US public generally found distasteful. Protestant groups mulled options fairly similar to McKinley: return the Philippines to Spain, place it in a joint protectorate with another nation, give it self-government, or assume control over it. Eventually, Protestant groups warmed to the idea of the Philippines as a US territory and as a new mission field. Nationalism and Missionary fervor came together to drive many Protestants to embrace American acquiring new territory.

To a large extent, missionary groups embraced McKinley’s stated motives– educate, uplift, civilize, and Christianize. Of course, educate, uplift, and civilize were primarily driven by American interpretations of these terms, while Christianize generally meant to convert Filipinos from the predominant religion of syncretized “folk’ Catholicism to one of the Protestant groups. Missionaries often worked together with the American government in the form of educational and medical institutions. Missionaries worked under the legal protection of the American government.

One might assume then that these missionaries were hated by those who were seeking freedom from the US government. Again… it’s complicated. Some, such as General Emilio Aquinaldo (1st Filipino President in the break from Spain) viewed Protestantism positively. He viewed the Catholic church as working to maintain the status quo of the Spanish administration. For him, the Aglipayan movement (an independence movement of Catholics out from the control of the Vatican) as a good “first step” with Protestantism as a good next step in the Philippines.

Regardless, by 1918 (16 years after the end of the Philippine-American War, 18 years after the first Protestant mission work in the Philippines) about 1.3% of the total population of the Philippines described themselves as Protestants. That is actually pretty impressive since the number of Protestants there before that time was close to zero— limited to a few underground churches tied to secret societies.  Although the US government worked with Protestant missionaries, the relationship was not nearly as cozy as between the Catholic church and the Spanish-run colonial government.

Characteristic of early Protestant missions in the Philippines was surprising cooperation across denominational lines, including a policy of comity regarding mission regions, and focused on developing indigenized churches, led by local pastors. Quoting from Raymond,

“…by 1914, the Presbyterian mission became an autonomous church under a Philippine moderator, in the person of Pastor Jose Moleta of the Ilo-Ilo City; by 1920 the Evangelical Union had a predominant Filipino membership, three years later it elected its first Filipino president; by 1929, the Presbyterian, Congregational and United Brethren united to form the United Evangelical Church led by a Filipino, Enrique Sobrepena. In Batangas, Bohol, Dumaguete, and Leyte stations, Filipino pastors have proven their ability of self-propagation in the absence of American missionaries. This was made possible by the ordination of more Filipino pastors in order to develop a sense of responsibility for the church.”

This indigenization contrasts the dominant church in the Philippines where the Aglipayan Independent Church split off because the Catholic church, even after 300 years, discriminated against Filipino priests in favor of Spaniards. The Catholics were not alone in this. Roland Allen published his book, Missionary Methods, complaining about Protestant missionaries in many parts of the world who fail to develop localized, self-governing, self-sufficient, self-propagating churches.

So in the Philippines, the relationship between the American government and the American Protestant missionaries was cordial, but not completely in agreement. In addition to the protection that the government gave to the missionaries, the missionaries appeared to support America’s public motives for the Philippines. However, it is less clear that they supported the imperialistic and economic motives of the McKinley administration. It seems to me that the actions of the missions were both supportive of American goals, as well as subversive. While the Thomasite educators were seeking to Americanize the Philippines, missionaries were both Americanizing in some ways and Indigenizing in others.

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“… within reasonable limits, we should give the Asiatic churches freedom to develop their own forms and adapt themselves to their peculiar environment.”  -Arthur Judson Brown, 1903.

Working with the government can always be a challenge for missionaries. The pressure to align with government motives (whether publicly acknowledged or private)  can easily lead to compromise. Missionaries need to be motivated by the Great Commandment (love and obedience to God, and concern for the welfare of those to whom they serve). Since no government is perfect, missionaries will at times have to assume a more subversive role, even supporting in some form or another elements seeking change or liberation.

10 Years in the Philippines: Reflections Past and Present

I and my family have been serving in the Philippines for 10 years. I found some colored papers with my handwriting on it. It was reflections from the first two weeks in the Philippines (back in early 2004).

Days 1-8.

We have been in the Philippines for 13 days. The first 8 days we spent in Alabang and Cavite, just south of Manila. We have seen Laguna Bay from the 31st floor of our hotel. We have seen squatter neighborhoods where families live in a level of poverty that we Americans cannot fathom. We have seen the Taal volcano, a small active volcano which is an island in a lake which has formed within the crater of a much larger volcano. Manila is the center of everything in the Philippines. It has the richest and the poorest of the nation. We over 11 million people, Manila ranks among the largest cities in the world. The heavy smog and equally heavy traffic jams do little to dampen the generally pleasant dispositions of its inhabitants. But what is the most memorable thing about Manila? The city has gigantic shopping malls that put malls in the US to shame. They are gigantic multi-story architectural works of art, filled with almost everything. They are not merely places for buying clothes and food. They have large entertainment areas, worship services, sporting events, and huge food courts. In tropical Manila, air-conditioning is still for the homes of the privileged but in the malls, it is a free gift for the masses. They are crowded at all hours with Filipinos, many having no interest in purchasing, but simply enjoying the sights and sounds in air-conditioned splendor.

Day 9.

We decided to rent a driver and van to drive us to Baguio City rather than take a bus since we had so much luggage. It took us about 9 hours including a long lunch break in Tarlac. Baguio City is only about 130 miles from where we were staying in Cavite. So, outside of lunch, why did it take so long? That’s the way it is in the Philippines. First we had to traverse the 24 hour a day gridlock that is Manila. Then we had beautiful super highway driving through the Provinces of Bulacan and Pampanga. Pampanga is where Celia was born and spent her early years. But no time to stop now, have to visit another day. At Angeles City (downwind of Mt. Pinatubo) the expressway ends and we are sharing narrow roads with all manner of car and truck, bicycle, bus, jeepney and tri-car. Especially irksome are the tri-cars. These are small motorcycles with side cars. They act as mini-taxis carrying 1-5 people (not including the driver). They slow us down a lot. We pass through the Provinces of Tarlac, and Pangasinan and La Union.

In Tarlac in the Province of Tarlac, we and our driver stopped to eat. We spent maybe an hour and a half at Max’s Restaurant. (In the Philippines, food is meant to be enjoyed, not merely eaten). Then we hit the Province of Benguet. Until then everything was flat coastal plain. Now suddenly springs up these mile high rugged mountains. We snake our way up into these mountains. Some of the construction costs must have been amazing. In one area the risk of landslide was apparently so great, that they built a long concrete roof over that stretch followed by a long bridge curving along the mountain but keeping the road up and off the rock face. After an hour and a half of this we see a mountain that looks different from the rest. Other mountains have rocky tops with trees, grass, tree ferns and such growing on them, but this new mountain is covered with buildings. As we draw closer we see there are several mountains covered with buildings separated by steep ravines– also covered with buildings. In between these buildings are narrow, twisting, steep roads full of people and diesel vehicles. Sadly, the diesel vehicles need serious tune-ups. The temperature is mild year around. The attitude is different here. Many dress in clothes more reminiscent of the Western states. Many wear Western-style jackets, boots, and listen to Country-Western music. But you aren’t in Kansas anymore. Baguio city is like no other.

Day 10.

We settle into our house. We have, in this chaotic city, a peaceful tiny apartment which is part of a bigger house owned by Celia’s family. We have no heating or cooling, but in Baguio they aren’t really needed. Like most Filipinos, we have no hot water heater. We also have no car— which is a blessing. First, public transportation is excellent. Second, the people drive like maniacs. Traffic laws are suggestions only. Strangely, in 13 days, I have seen no accidents. I can only see one reason for this lack of catastrophe. There seems to be no road rage here. In the US, people become indignant when cut off on the road. US drives tend to get aggressive and foolhardy over trite offenses. In the Philippines, if someone is cut off on the road… “Bahala na” or “No worries.” Everyone cuts off everyone else at some point. It doesn’t mean anything. The use of the horn is a normal and healthy part of driving. In the US it tends to be looked upon as a personal affront.

Days 11-13.

These are days for shopping, visiting the seminary, visiting relatives, and so forth. We won’t bore you with all of this. The seminary is beautiful. We look forward to starting with summer classes in late April. On day 13, we stopped by the Baptist church near our house, the one Celia was saved in 31 years ago. We talked with Pastor _A__ and he introduced us to ___B__, a lay leader in the church. ___B___ had been in the US Navy and had served on the same ship I was on (but at a different time). He is now retired in the Philippines and works at doing mission work in rural areas. He is preparing a medical/dental trip to Iloilo later in April and another one to Palawan in June. We went to his house Friday evening for a Purpose-Driven Life group meeting. The church is finishing up its campaign. They had about 30 cell groups formed for PDL. One girl was saved at the meeting we attended.

Reading these notes from 10 years ago, I note a few interesting things.

  1. As far as basic information, it is fairly accurate, although not particularly insightful. There are a few minor factual errors, and some things that were true then that are no longer true. But most of the observations are pretty surface level. Some of the deeper insights may have came from my wife (who was raised in the Philippines) or from travel books.
  2. Almost nothing important that was going on in my inner life was noted here. I remember leaving the airport on day 1 and riding in a car through rough neighborhoods and feeling the nervousness of being in a very 3rd-world nation. I remember being put (by my brother-in-law and family) the next day in a fancy hotel and feeling so out-of-place there… a room of marble. The juxtposition of poverty and wealth was disorienting and I felt out of place in both. I felt the terror of our young children trying to look over the rail of the hollow hotel that wold lead to a potential 20+ story fall. I remember the frustration of traffic and smog, of slow-moving traffic, and of taking so long for lunch when we were (in my mind) running so late. I remember a generalized sense of dread… wondering if we were in the right place, and whether I was right to quit my job, leave a comfortable house, and move to a place where we all were living in one tiny room, and we were spending more than we were earning (via missions support). This is what was real… not the little notes about roads and provinces.
  3. I am surprised at how much of our present was set into place in the first two weeks. The house we stayed in for only a few days upon arrival in Baguio has since become our home of 9 years. The seminary we visited back then has become a central part of both our training and our ministry up until the present. The church we visited was our church for three years (and school for our children for about the same amount of time). The other person we met was our ministry partner from 2004 until 2009, and set in motion much of what we are still doing even today.

Pulling these thoughts together, Despite being scary, it still was a time of affirmation and preparation. Even in the first two weeks, we were being trained and prepared by God for His work. It occurs to me that a lot of Short-term missions are around 2-weeks long. It occurs to me that God can do a lot of training and preparation in STMers… if they are willing to feel, listen, and learn.