(Above is a pic taken by Sharon of me writing this post.) I am sitting just outside the door of our room at Villa Igang Resort on the island of Guimaras. The Pacific Ocean -- or at least a little bay of it -- laps at the bottom of the concrete steps twelve feet below me. A fish just swirled the water in the roots of a mangrove to my left, and the sun is just climbing out of the jungles straight ahead of me. Last night when I sat on these steps in the dark, I could have sworn that I was facing south -- but maybe that’s because the thunderheads were marching in from my right, and I assumed that they were coming from the west. So it turns out they were coming in from the south.
We have completed three GAT training seminars -- two days each in Iloilo and Bacolod, and one brief day on Guimaras. We had about 200 participants in Iloilo, about 120 in Bacolod, and about 70 on Guimaras. I cannot say for sure how many Alpha courses will start out of this work, but I know that many, many people were very interested, and we did as good a job as we could of providing resources for them to be equipped to do Alpha. Each participant received an Alpha Guest Manual (the green book) and we had many other resources available for purchase. In addition, we will have a resource library at the Iloilo Foursquare Bible College to provide people access to some of the other Alpha books and DVDs. If I had to guess, I might say that the churches represented here might try starting fifty different Alpha courses, and that about half of those will continue after the first attempt.
There are many elements that will make it difficult for these people to do Alpha successfully. One is that they can’t afford, most of them, to provide a meal of any kind. We told them again and again that it is the fellowship time that is important, and that even just a pot of tea provides enough for that fellowship time. Another obstacle is that some of them have theological objections or agendas that will prevent them from doing Alpha as it is intended -- either they may leave out the Holy Spirit retreat and the healing night because they believe that the gifts of the Spirit and things like healing ended with the time of the apostles (these are the minority), or they (more likely) will adapt the Holy Spirit retreat and the healing night into their own much more forceful Pentecostal style and will frighten away the Roman Catholic-trained people who make up the bulk of the Philippines. But for those who are willing to “follow the recipe” of Alpha, there is so much potential here! My hope has shifted from starting a large number of courses, which still might happen, and now instead my hope is that a few really strong Alpha courses will begin in some of the key churches in each area. If these key churches are willing to invest some energy and resources and people into their Alpha courses, they could become centers and examples that encourage other churches to try Alpha. (We have certainly seen the effectiveness of this “lighthouse” approach in the Twin Cities. Central has learned a lot from other churches like North Heights, Hosanna!, Calvary, and others that have developed strong Alpha programs. In turn, Central has been able to help other churches get started doing Alpha.)
It is good to sit quietly for a while here. Ronald, Lyn, and Peachy Baynosa were able to join us overnight here so in between incredible thunderstorms we had a delightful supper with them last night including two different kinds of chicken, grilled fish (we’re talking the WHOLE bangus, which is a kind of freshwater fish something like a large, skinny perch), mangoes, and of course tons of rice. This stay at VIlla Igang is sort of a sabbath rest after a hard week’s work, and it is such a gift.
I have to say that our team has done an amazing job. Each one has done a presentation or two during our training seminars, and they have done a great job of communicating about Alpha clearly and in a way that helps the Filipinos understand both the content and the spirit of Alpha. Aside from their prepared presentations, I have done a lot of the up front work and while I have been standing up front talking, or during our breaks, I’ve seen them connecting with people, visiting with them, encouraging them, praying with them, joking and laughing with them. Each one has found a special niche, their own way of connecting with individuals. It has been such a gift to see them growing and leading and experiencing and reaching out beyond themselves! I am incredibly proud to lead such a team.