Part 12: Mga Kakilala at Pamamaalam
Mga Kakilala at Pamamaalam (Of Acquaintances and Farewells)
Returning for a 3rd time on this mission to the Philippines is a great joy and encouragement to me. It is hard to believe that it was 22 months ago that Pastor Dave Roberts and I were here working with this wonderful group of Pastors and church leaders. My anticipation and excitement had been growing in the days leading up to our trip this year. I was also particularly excited that my wife Leah was able to join us, as well as Andrea Mahaffey.
Our first reacquaintance in the Philippines occurred at the Cebu airport on the morning of September 23, when Leah, Pastor Dave and I were joined by Pastor John and Andrea as well as Mario and Raquel Villanueva. Finally, the entire team was together and we were heading to our first week with our brothers and sisters in Christ in Ormoc City!
We arrived in Ormoc City mid-afternoon and after a couple hours to rest and unpack, we headed to the home of Pastor Bereso for dinner. This family’s hospitality is phenomenal – over the week we were fed the most amazing (and large!) meals 3 times a day. Not only us, but all of the participating Pastors and church leaders ate together in the Bereso’s home. We feasted on Filipino dishes, delicacies and fruits all week long. I couldn’t help but ask many of the Filipinos how they can eat so much and remain so slim – NOT FAIR!
However, as delicious as these sumptuous meals were, even sweeter was the opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with more than 20 precious servants of Christ in this part of the Philippines. So many familiar faces – Pastors Vince, Adam, Kenneth and James to name a few. Unfortunately, Pastors Zosimo and Fidel were not able to attend the cohort this week. Zosimo had international visitors and Fidel has moved to Cebu to start a work there. We also were reunited with many of the ladies including Benita, Carine, Janine and my “niece” Sarileigh (she calls me Fat Uncle Paul, but don’t tell anyone). It is truly a homecoming after almost 2 long years.
It never fails to amaze me how God the Holy Spirit can form a deeply close-knit family from a group of complete strangers who live on opposite sides of the world, in very different social contexts. To me, that alone is evidence of God’s existence and love for us. The deep bonds of family are felt by all of us. So, like it is in a family, reacquainting is such a sweet experience filled with much joy, laughter, hugs, handshakes and (of course) eating!
The 4 days we spent with our family in Ormoc went by quickly – too quickly if you ask me. It is wonderful to see the growth in how the key leaders facilitated the 21 sessions we went through. As the end of our 5-year commitment to Leaders Formation in the Philippines draws to an end, it is most encouraging to see the transfer of leadership (and trust) to the leaders here. Some of the youngest men here (including Bible School students) also got the opportunity to lead a session. While they struggled a bit in the facilitation, it was very good to see them dipping their toes into the leadership waters. Particularly impressive was Joemel - it seems that God has gifted him as a future leader in the Philippines. What a joy and encouragement to us to see this. The discussion in the ladies group was very impressive as they dug into God’s word. Some of the best discussion and input to the overall sessions occurred with this group. The ladies really jumped into this with both feet!
When our final day of training rolled around on Thursday, the entire cohort was very excited. However, we also began to feel the reality that we would be saying farewell in a few short hours after the graduation ceremony. Leaving this cohort is hard. We have built deep relationships over the past 5 years and we couldn’t help but remark to them that we may never see them again this side of paradise. There were many tears, hugs and blessings exchanged as we said farewell to these wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ.
Perhaps this is exactly how Paul felt as he said goodbye to the Elders in Ephesus, or when he wrote his final letters to Timothy and Titus - the men to whom he was entrusting the deposit of God’s Word. He was essentially leaving the growth of the fledgling Christian church to 2 young men with whom he came alongside. We sense some parallels with this group and, like Paul, we trust our great God to take the leadership capabilities we see in these brothers and sisters and to bless and multiply it beyond our wildest dreams!
What a blessing these amazing brothers and sisters have been to each of us Canadians. We have learned so much from them – their love for the Lord, their trust in Him and their excitement to move His work forward. Thank God for the family we have around the world. In the words of Tiny Tim, “May God bless us everyone!”