Long Term Vision
We have been in Australia for a short time, just catching up with friends and having some “us” time, very relaxing and always needed. Acts 20:28.
Having been in Australia a little bit more than normal over the last few years, seems to have left a few people wondering if our time in the nation was in some way coming to an end.
This post is much longer than I normally do, but I would like to explain some things from a bigger picture view point.
As always, in our absence, the local leadership, in particular the youth, have been doing so well. In the past, the local leadership has done well, but really they have been able to “maintain” the ministry and various programs, with some, but minimal growth. But in this season of time in Australia, within a few days of being here we received photos and updates from the youth with pictures of some of the younger leaders, who had led friends to Christ and the same young leaders were baptising them in water. Since then there have been at least 8 more baptisms conducted by younger leaders. So encouraging to see.
We have now been in Manila 14 years, seeing God do many, many great things, watching peoples lives change, over all, it’s all been really good. But of course there have been failures, deaths, disappointments as well, and of course many frustrations. The vast majority of frustrations have been connected to cultural issues within the nation. For us, we see many aspects of the Filipino culture as being quite negative. There is of course good and bad in every culture. Multiple generations of corruption, dishonesty, poverty and very poor leadership, do seem to have shaped the local culture to a far greater degree than any good aspects of the culture. These negative traits are very limiting.
When we started in the country 14 years ago, the official poverty statistic said that 45% of the country was living impoverished, that same stat had risen to 65% in 2014, which does tell you, that over all there is clearly little improvement in the nation, at least for the poor. It’s also a very religious country, with multitudes of churches and so many active missionaries from all sorts of places. The religious nature of the people means that they do readily respond to missionaries and it is very easy to grow some thing large numerically in a very short time, but this does not always equal “change”, as it’s easy to “relocate the religious spirit” from this institute to a new one without changing it. So we could question, that if all of the vast christian missionary work in the country was truly being as successful as it is reported to be, surely it would be right to expect that there would be a few more positive indicators of change than there seems to be!
We don’t really talk all that much about numbers, as I don’t think that numbers alone really equate to all that much, although I realise that numbers are what most organisations use to display results. What we want is “change”, real life effecting change, transformed people, with transformed lives who become incredible examples and inspirations to those around them. We have started 5 churches from scratch, but I would honestly say, that we have seen real “change”, as mentioned above, in less than 50 people. Some would see this as failure or perhaps a waste of time, after all, 14 years for less than 50 truly transformed lives…but the truth is, we are actually just getting warmed up. Everything that has happened has been to get us to where we are now. I think we are actually ready to begin exerting real influence upon the culture.
Let me explain.
Much of what we have done has been going directly against the force of culture in almost every area. We having been walking into a fierce head wind of cultural contrast and confusion for 14 years straight, and I do think that we have made some good ground. But to expect that we can be part of exerting cultural change on a significant level after a mere 14 years, would be nothing but arrogant. Culture has been exerting it’s influence for century after century, what’s 14 years.
When we started in the nation we started with mostly adults. Very poorly educated people, many of which had been severely malnourished as children, very poor economically, incredibly religious people, people who had been hammered into a certain shape by the culture that they were living in. Of course we have seen God do amazing things with these adults and they are very different people today, compared to when we first started working with them. But there has been a lot of resistance to change in them, as culture defends itself from change very well. Culture is established in people at a very early age and then as life progress culture just gets more and more entrenched, becoming stronger and stronger. So, naturally speaking, the possibilities for change can be quiet limited due to the “base” of understanding they are starting from. Many of our adults have clearly hit their ceilings and personal development has now become very, very gradual, with some clearly stopping…but their lives have been greatly changed, so this is sort of OK for them. Of course biblically there is always more ahead, but accessing that is very much driven by personal desire, so unless “desire” sparks again in these adults, they will stay where they are, and as I said, that’s OK, because they have changed a lot, it’s not as if nothing has happened.
The adults were shaped for 20, 30 or more years by their culture as they lived out their lives before we came, and then for some, 14 years they were re-shaped and influenced by us and Jesus. Great. They are very different people now, but they still carry a lot of tradition, superstition and in many ways they have very limited understandings. This is not a criticism, but it is a fact.
Then 4 years after we started in the nation we began student sponsorship and began working with young people. In the last few years this is where our most significant growth has come, this is where so many young leaders have emerged from, the youth group is clearly bigger, more active and stronger than the adult church. Every single musician in worship is a young person, most of the better song leaders are youth. The change in the youth has been far greater than the change in the adults. Many of the youth were older children when we started ministering to them, so the effects of culture were still there, but of course they were far less. So the message of Jesus, the encouragement and teaching they received from us has been a much bigger part of their lives than the lives of their parents. The revelations that these young people have are truly amazing, their connection to the Holy Spirit would astound you…but, you can still see the marks of culture on them.
If we used the analogy of a painting, with both the adults and the young people we had to start our painting on canvass’s that had already been marked, some more than others, by the culture around them. They had already been shaped to a certain degree by culture. Both of these groups have seen great change, but in both groups there are limiting factors. The youth are very much less limited and really do have a much stronger relationship with the Holy Spirit, there is still very much unreached potential in many of them and it will be very exciting to see where they all end up. I do think that many in this group can break free from the negative aspects of their culture, but this will still require a lot of focused work on their parts. Their connection to the Holy Spirit is what will ultimately bring about the big changes, and that connection is clearly there. The same can happen with the adults, but its a lot harder.
But after 14 years, there is now a generation of younger children who have never known life without us or without Jesus. There is a generation that have always heard about Jesus, always heard prayer and been in an environment of faith and miracles. For many of these their relationship with the Holy Spirit is as natural as their relationship with their parents. Their bible knowledge would amaze you, their confidence with English, their confidence with foreigners – their predominant influence has been us and Jesus. They are still surrounded by their culture, but not shaped by it as much as others have been. It was interesting to note, that it was our 14 year old leaders who were baptising young people in water, that they had personally led to Jesus.
Our influence upon the adults has led to them having certain levels of influence upon others. Our influence on the youth has encouraged greater change, which allows them greater influence upon other youth.
Our work with the adults, then the youth has been so good, but it almost seems as if all of the last 14 years, was literally to bring us to this point now, where we have a generation who have never not known Jesus. Our adults and our youth have done and are doing great things, how much more can we expect from these younger leaders, who have been shaped as much by Jesus and the Holy Spirit as their own natural culture.
So, as I said earlier on, maybe we are just getting ready to start, seems like the foundations have been firmly laid. It’s a bit of a daunting thought to think that the last 14 years might of just been foundational to actually get us to this point, but we have plenty of time left, ministry is our life.
The future is very bright, the possibilities are limitless, our greatest challenge is our own ongoing personal change, so that we can lead this ministry into the future. I think the next decade will be far more fruitful than the previous one. We have birthed our next generation of leaders and now we just need to continue to train and coach them along into greatness.
So, we are far from over.