Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Reflections on a Teaching Trip to the Philippines

By Roy Ciampa, PhD
Associate Professor of New Testament

Jeff Arthurs and I just returned from a 10-day trip to Quezon City (part of Greater Manila) in the Philippines. We each taught a course at CBS-Asia (Conservative Baptist Seminary – Asia). Jeff taught Advanced Preaching and I taught Introduction to New Testament Theology. We also gave a day-long seminar on The Pastor as Preacher and Theologian. (Jeff also spoke at the dedication of the seminary’s new facilities and preached twice on Sunday.) It was my first time in the Philippines and I thought I would share some observations about ministry there. I am still processing my cultural observations. Filipinos are very friendly people and extremely service oriented. They seem especially interested in pleasing and serving Americans (perhaps other Western Europeans as well). Jeff and I were greeted with great enthusiasm wherever we went (especially the local McDonalds [where we could find a free WiFi connection], where we were met by a chorus of “Good morning, sir!” from the employees, as well as having the armed security guard opening the door for us and greet us). (Manila seems to have more McDonalds per square mile than any other place I know of.)
We attended (and Jeff preached at) a Baptist church on Sunday that felt just like many Baptist churches in the States. Everything was in impeccable English (the church has separate English and Tagalog services), and the music was familiar to me from contemporary worship experiences in the U.S. The style was mainly contemporary, although perhaps slightly less “seeker-friendly” than many American churches using contemporary worship styles). Visitors were asked to identify themselves by standing up and then the congregation sang a song of welcome to them. (I noticed at least one visitor who indicated they would prefer not to stand and receive the attention.) I felt as though I could have been almost anywhere in the United States (which made me wonder whether and/or how a church might incarnate the gospel in distinctively Filipino manner). I wish I had had the opportunity to attend the Tagalog service to see what that was like.
The music at the dedication of the seminary facilities consisted mainly of hymns (with, as I recall, an older worship chorus or two [from the 60’s or 70’s] mixed in). During our time at the seminary, when we were not teaching the language tended to consist of Tagalog with English phrases (and Spanish loan-words) sprinkled in. I wonder how many churches in the Manila area have services that are more or less completely in American English and how many have worship services in Tagalog (or separate services in each language, as at the church we attended).
The area where we stayed and taught had several huge, modern shopping malls, but was also full of signs of serious poverty. Shanty towns and modern apartment and other housing are found beside each other. Christian cults have very large followings. At least one heterodox church (denying the deity of Christ) broadcasts its message 24-7 on multiple TV channels and has a huge and impressive church building in the city. We were told that since these groups tend to vote as a block their votes are eagerly courted by politicians, giving them greater political influence than their numbers would normally merit.
The students in our courses traveled from significant distances to spend a week in Quezon City, taking eight hours of class each day. I was impressed by their dedication and hard work and the sacrifices they were willing to make for the sake of their theological and pastoral training. Biblical theology was a new discipline for them but they were eager and enthusiastic students. They asked great questions and demonstrated the qualities of passionate and critical Christian minds.
CBS-Asia has a gifted, creative and dedicated leadership team and what seems to be an effective strategy for providing its pastors with a serious theological education. They have a main campus and a series of Regional Training Centers to which its faculty travel to provide pastors and other leaders with more local access to such training.
Pastors and seminaries in the Philippines certainly need tremendous wisdom and integrity to serve as effective and godly leaders (and places of pastoral formation) in a place with as many social, cultural and spiritual challenges as the Philippines. Discerning how to preach and incarnate the gospel message in such a culturally diverse environment marked by such radical socio-economic, linguistic and other differences is a great challenge. Those committed to the advancement of God’s kingdom purposes in such contexts certainly deserve our prayers as well as whatever other support we might offer members of our extended family in Christ. It was a privilege to work with and learn from such godly and committed servants of Christ during our time there. May God continue to use them to advance the cause of Christ in biblical and Spirit-empowered ways that might serve as an example to others around the world as well!

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