Monday, March 26, 2012

Catching you up on the latests

It's late evening in Iloilo, and outside the thunderstorm is just pouring. We've done our team devotions and prayer time, debriefed today's seminar a bit, and most of us are headed quickly toward unconsciousness. It's been a pretty intense couple of days.

Yesterday morning we worshipped at Grace Church. Grace is a petite church building, neat and clean in a ceramic tile style, with a small congregation -- maybe sixty people? -- that loves to worship in a loud, rock-and-roll kind of style including liturgical dancers in flowing blue gowns who dance a flawless tambourine accompaniment to each contemporary worship song. Pretty cool. I had the privilege to preach, and worked verse-by-verse through the last few verses of Mark 4. In the evening we worshipped at the Iloilo Foursquare Gospel Church on Fuentes, just a few buildings down from our hotel.

After the worship service, several of us, including the newly arrived members of the National Alpha Organization who are in town for the seminars this week, were planning to go out for a meal. (Unknown to us, Pastor Ramon Plaza from the church on Fuentes had made reservations at a truly amazing Chinese restaurant. Oh my goodness. We started with shark's fin soup and it just got more incredible from there. Part of the ambience of the meal was that there were conversations going around the table in at least four languages.) Before we could go out for supper, though, three young people approached us to ask for prayer. One was a young man who has wandered far from God, but who happened to come back to his home church last night. Because it happened to be his birthday, two of his friends accompanied him. Both friends were raised Roman Catholic, but they never connected with Jesus in that upbringing. One still attends her parents' RC church regularly, but in her words it is totally out of a sense of obligation. The young man hasn't been to a church in years. During last night's worship, God touched their hearts and they came forward after the worship to ask if I would pray with them to receive Jesus and start a relationship with him as Lord. I quickly pulled Julie K. and Sharon from our team in, and we spent fifteen or twenty minutes praying with and talking with them. Then it turns out that the birthday boy -- he's probably in his mid-20's -- who brought them has been distant from God partly due to some medical issues. He's supposed to receive some kind of test results tomorrow, so I prayed with him for healing, and that he would surrender to God and stop running away from him. He told me that he's always had a powerful sense that God wants to do great things in his life; he's just been running away from that lately. I pointed to his two friends a few feet away, in tears, holding onto each other and being held by Julie and Sharon. "This is a pretty great thing that God has done tonight through your life," I reminded him.

Please pray for these three. When we explained that there are many believers back home following our work here and lifting us up in prayer, and that these Americans would be praying for them as well, we experienced a whole new round of tears. Thanks for your prayers!

After a way-too-much-food-way-too-late-night, we got up early this morning and made our way to the church where today we start our real work -- the GAT seminars, training local church leaders to lead Alpha in their churches. The whole day went very, very well. One of the strongest impressions from today was the amount of fatigue that the pastors and church leaders are carrying. We prayed for pastors in the morning, just having them stand where they were, and then offered that those who needed prayer in their roles as church leaders could come forward for prayer near the end of the day today. We probably prayed for at least forty people. Some of the stories of what these leaders are facing were pretty daunting.

So after a long day of Alpha training, many pastors and church leaders are considering, tonight, how their churches might start Alpha. Some are cool to the idea, others are pretty excited. They are recognizing that Alpha might be a powerful tool for evangelism. I am more convinced than ever of a couple truths. First, Alpha is a great fit for the Philippines. One pastor I talked to yesterday said that the statistics are that 70% of Filipinos are nominal believers, meaning that though they claim the name of "Christian" (or more likely they would claim the name "Catholic") they are not practicing their faith. So there is a basic loyalty to Jesus over other religions, but there is little knowledge and no relationship in a huge segment of the population here. The three young adults we prayed with Sunday evening are perfect evidence for this. Second, I'm convinced that I have the best mission team imaginable, both the ground crew back home and the flight crew that I am privileged to work with here. They stepped up and taught the Filipinos about Alpha with amazing clarity and joy. They bit down on their fears and prayed over the Filipino pastors at the end of the day today even though it was a real challenge for some of our team. What a great group of people!

Tomorrow we will spend the day with them again, talking more specifically about prayer and the Holy Spirit weekend / retreat.

Then on Wednesday morning, even earlier, we will board the ferry to Bacolod, where we repeat the same two-day cycle of GAT seminars. Also, Wednesday evening I'll be speaking at HisLife ministries where Joebert Ramos is pastor. Here is a picture of the promo one of JR's staff put together:

Thursday we present day two of the seminar, then return to Iloilo and check back into our hotel for one night. I'm afraid our life of relative luxury and ease is coming to an end and we'll be quite busy for the next few days! Keep us -- and those who are being touched, especially the three young adults described above -- in your prayers. Thank you!

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