“WHEN YOU PASS THROUGH THE WATERS, I WILL BE WITH YOU…WHEN YOU WALK THROUGH THE FIRE, YOU SHALL NOT BE BURNED” ISA. 43:2
These last 2 ½ years, the ministry of Church Triumphant has been through the fire and through the flood but we have found God’s promises are true and He is truly faithful at all times and in all circumstances. We give Him all the glory.
When God blessed us with the opportunity to return to the Philippines in April, 2012, we had no idea how critical that visit would prove to be. God was sending us there to strengthen and solidify the foundation of the work there because He knew what lay ahead. We were able to establish and install new leadership with a clear vision of what God was calling the ministry in the Philippines to accomplish.
On December 4, 2012, Mindanao was hit by Super Typhoon Bopha (called Pablo in the Philippines). This massive storm (equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane) was 331 miles across when it struck southern Mindanao with wind speeds of 175 mph, traveling across the region where most of our churches are located. It dropped three times the normal rainfall for December in a matter of hours. 701,224 families were affected in 40 cities and 34 provinces. 167,295 homes were damaged or destroyed. 1,100 people lost their lives. $603 million of property damage was verified and $410 million worth of crops were destroyed.
Every church we had in southern Mindanao was either damaged or destroyed. The entire suburb where our headquarters church is located had to be evacuated because of flooding. The water was knee high in their homes. It was February, 2013, before the electricity could be restored. Most of our church families, including our pastors, in the villages lost everything. Some were injured but not one of our church people lost their lives!
Even in great physical loss, God was with His people, sparing their lives and giving them hope in the midst of hopeless situations. Where the church walls were still standing even though the roof was gone, the people gathered there to worship the Lord. Where the churches were totally destroyed, the villagers met in the empty field to sing their songs of praise and thanksgiving to God for sparing their lives. Those who were among the 250,000 in evacuation centers found a place to gather daily for prayer and worship. They had lost everything but their faith in Jesus Christ and He sustained them. More than that, He gave them a burden to share their faith with others around them.
We responded to the emergency by using the internet to post prayer requests and updates, but we could not justify the expense of sending out a newsletter even to ask for help when money was desperately needed for food, safe drinking water, and shelter for so many of our people. God supplied through you, our faithful donors, and the needs were met and the rebuilding began.
During 2013, we were able to repair or replace our churches across Mindanao. Not only were we able to replace the roof of the church in Melale where the Bible School met, but we were able to add electricity. That enabled us to train two groups simultaneously – young people during the day and married people in the evening after they came home from their fields or their jobs, enabling them to care for the needs of their families while also preparing for ministry and church planting in obedience to God’s call.
Just as things seemed to be returning to normal, the Visayas and northern Mindanao were hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) on November 7, 2013, devastating most of the center of the nation. It was the deadliest typhoon in modern Philippine history, killing at least 6,300 people. Sustained winds were measured at up to 196 mph, making it the strongest typhoon recorded at landfall when it came ashore on Samar Island in the Visayas. The damage was catastrophic on the islands of Samar, Leyte, Cebu, Capiz, Negros, and northern Iloilo, affecting about 11 million people altogether and causing $2.052 billion in damage across the Philippines, including northern and central Mindanao. The city of Tacloban on Leyte was effectively destroyed by a 17 ft. storm surge.
By the grace of God, northern Mindanao was spared the worst of the high winds and storm surge but the damage was extensive. Our churches in northern Mindanao that had escaped damage a year earlier were heavily damaged or destroyed. Many of our churches in central Mindanao who were just recovering from damage caused by Super Typhoon Pablo were again damaged by Super Typhoon Yolanda.
Yet even in the midst of these challenges, God’s hand of protection was evident. About three months before Yolanda hit, the coconut plantation that owned the land on which the coastal village of Tubay was located decided they wanted to extend their plantation all the way to the sea. The entire village, including our church on the beach that God had spared when the massive earthquake and tsunamis hit Indonesia several years ago, was forced to move several miles inland. When Super Typhoon Yolanda hit just north of there, the resulting storm surge that hit northern Mindanao was not nearly as bad as what hit Leyte but the area where Tubay had been was totally demolished! Because of God’s protection, the only loss was some freshly planted coconut trees but all the people were safe further inland.
Again we used all our resources to send emergency help to sustain our people who had lost everything and to help them repair their damaged homes and churches. Again, God provided through you, our faithful givers, and again the churches were repaired or rebuilt. But it has not stopped there. God used the massive destruction to awaken in our people a greater hunger to walk with God and a greater burden for the lost. More students than ever are preparing for ministry. A new Bible school has been added in Agusan in north central Mindanao. New churches are being planted faster than we can build them. The harvest truly is plentiful and the number of laborers continues to grow. Even now, we have a list of 14 new congregations who do not yet have buildings. God is indeed reaping a great harvest of souls across Mindanao.
WHAT ABOUT AMERICA?
If we look at America with our natural eyes, it would be so easy to become discouraged. Disastrous conditions seem to be everywhere. Whether it is massive flooding across the South from Texas and Oklahoma all the way to South Carolina or raging wildfires that have brought devastation across California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, from bitter cold winters to oppressive heat and droughts so severe that lakes are drying up and communities risk losing their water supply, natural disasters are everywhere!
Beyond that, people have struggled in their personal lives. Joblessness, sickness, loss of loved ones, violence, hatred, lawlessness, divisiveness, blatant immorality, financial instability, the list seems to go on forever. Where can we turn for answers? The same God who brought victory out of the chaos on Mindanao is the same God who wants to walk with you through the midst of whatever storm you may be going through. It doesn’t matter what that storm is. It may be literal, emotional, financial, physical, or spiritual. God has not changed. He will walk with you through every storm and He will speak peace into your spirit.
If you look at America through the eyes of the spirit, you will see that God is doing exactly what He promised He would do. Everything that can be shaken is being shaken so that what remains is unshakable. God is getting this nation ready for a great harvest of souls. Even those who don’t know Him are sensing that something is about to happen and they are looking for something to hold onto as everything around them is falling apart.
You have the answer they are looking for! Be looking up and lifting up your head but also be looking around to see the harvest field that is all around you. God is looking for ordinary people who love Him that He can use to reach this lost and dying world before it is eternally too late. Let Him use you, just as He used ordinary Believers to reach lost souls on Mindanao. There are only two qualifications. You must love God and have a personal relationship with Him and you must be willing to let Him love people through you.
The Holiday season is quickly approaching. As you prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, please pray and ask the Lord what He would have you do to help advance the Kingdom of God on Mindanao as we continue to train workers to plant churches and help build church buildings in villages that are hearing the Good News of salvation for the very first time. For many, this will be the first time they have reason to celebrate Thanksgiving and to worship the Savior who gave His life to restore them to a covenant relationship with the Creator God who has become their Heavenly Father. Thank you in advance for making a difference in their lives that will count for eternity!