The first team during the send off by OMF Missionaries
Last week, I became part of the first ever Beach Mission here in the Philippines. The first team, where I was a part of, journeyed to and ministered in the coast of Pundaquit, Zambales. It is my aim that this post will encourage believers to ponder hard about their witnessing life.
It was introduced to me by one of my mentors in Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, a retired missionary named Dave Griffiths (also known as lolo Dave to IVCFers). The Beach Mission is patterned after the United Beach Mission that is done in the UK and Australia.
Lolo Dave, in his farewell (due to retirement) in 2009, said that he will come back (ala MacArthur) to do a Beach Mission in the Philippines. And true enough, he spearheaded the program this year. It was a privilege that he appointed me to plan along with Jaylord, one of my peers and mentors way back during my SVCF days. We planned for a few months, meeting once a week to discover where to go and what to do when we arrive there. The venue changed several times but it was a glad experience to know that it was the Lord who guided us through the months of planning.
As a challenge and reminder to the team when we first met, kuya Dave pointed out to us that the Lord Jesus started His public ministry at a beach. He called out Peter and his brother, to be fishers of men.
“While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” – Matt. 4:18-19 (ESV)
The day for the first trip finally came last April 14, and even then, we continued to trust the Lord first rather than our plans. Before heading to Zambales, the team was prayed for and sent off by a few OMF missionaries (who got up early in the morning). It was a rather interesting morning. Typical kuya Dave, grabbed a sponge and a tub of water and commissioned the missionaries to go take the sponge, immerse it in water and squeeze it over the team members.
Most of us were trained, in our churches and IVCF, but have had few instances of concretely applying the lessons (witnessing) that we’ve learned along the years as believers. It may have been unnecessary, but it was a great illustration of what we will be doing in the beach at Pundaquit: squeezing the sponge!
I will try to encapsulate the praises and experiences in the manner of the Beach Team’s aptly acronymed prayer items, BEACH:
First dinner at the beach (kuya Marlon at the rightmost)
Thankfully, no one in the first team was allergic to anything or was suffering from any illness. One of our first GMT (good missionary training) was adapting to the comfort rooms. It went well for some. 🙂
The food… was great! Kuya Marlon was our cook for this year (and hopefully every year). He’s the staple IVCF camp cook and his budgeting skills are beyond anyone I know (and this is not an overstatement). I met him back in 2007, in my first ever Christian camp. I knew very little about him then but the mission allowed me to know more about him and how the Lord is transforming his life.
Also, no one got injured during the mission with the exception of wounds in our feet (as the sands were very course) and the usual sunburn.
The team was united, not in an emotional, touchy-feely way. This is one of the things I’ve observed and greatly appreciated. It was a joy serving alongside committed brethren. We enjoyed facilitating and playing the games that we prepared for children and adults.
Tug of Warrr!
Now, a few words about preparing for the games: we decided what game to play when we were in there with the kids! We did not plan any activity. We just brought a rope, a couple of balls, tracts and gospel bracelets and we went into the crowd of people in the sea. In the first few trips to the sea, it felt like walking towards a losing war. How can we get people to join the games? I was never a great people person. Amazingly, people started joining our games despite our clear inexperience and hesitation. It was plain to see that it was not by our strength nor by our power. As the days progressed, we grew more confident. That also meant that we grew more excited how the Lord would bring people to the games we prepared.
Break times meant eating and resting, but we found our way into fellowshipping with one another. However tired the team was after the games, we found time to relax, snack, and talk with one another. It was almost always filled with enjoyment as everyone shared about the people they got to talk to. Some of us had “staple” people that we talk to. I got to talk to older men, Jeremy and Justin with teenage boys, Tot with children. What was funny (and amazing) was when Jade, the youngest of the ladies in the team, almost always have a counseling session with the women she talked to.
I tried to talk with the Uy siblings (Justin and Jade) more as it was the first time that I got to work closely with them. Thankfully, it was a happy experience. I got to nitpick Jade’s iPod and her artist selections but no judgments were passed (with the exception for Justin Bieber. I apologize to his fans. I really don’t like his music.)
It was actually to our good that the team was smaller than it was. We had more time to enjoy and be bonded with one another.
Apply the Spirit
The trip started by prayerfully asking the Lord for guidance way, way back when kuya Dave and I were planning for the event. Before leaving for Zambales, the IVCF staff sent us off in prayer then headed to the OMF Philippines office. Some of the missionaries staying there commissioned and encouraged and prayed for the team, mirroring Acts 13-Paul’s first missionary journey then we’re off to Zambales.
There was much squeezing of the sponge during the whole of the trip. Even in the littlest of tasks, everyone was serving and working. Regarding this part, I have scattered my experience in the other points.
Commitment and Confession
I found myself repeating to people that I’ve talked to that it’s not in the number of people working alongside you. It’s in their commitment and focus on the tasks at hand, for it is the Lord who works. The team was 15 on Thursday, down to 12 on Friday and finally, down to 8 on Saturday until Monday. I felt very little burden with laboring for the gospel as I found myself working with committed people. I grew tired every day but at the end of each day, the labor was not burdensome. The other 7 individuals that I were with had very different personalities. It was a happy bunch, to say the least, as we found ways and means to enjoying the company of one another.
Team 1 before leaving Pundaquit with Ray, the cottage manager
A trivia: this was my first mission outreach (that is outside a camp). I’ve always had an apprehension in one-on-one witnessing with strangers. Through the quiet times and the actual witnessing, I found myself confident in going to people and starting a conversation with them. This is not to say that I was not afraid, I still felt being nervous just talking to people. However, I found more confidence that the message that I was sharing was of primary importance. I found it to be true, for myself and for all people. Like Peter and Paul and the other apostles, they considered their lives moot compared to the gospel. Why? For the gospel is true and that it is indeed good news. What is better than the true good news? It’s truthfulness echoes the truthfulness of the One who has given the message in the first place. Believers are called to herald the gospel, not only because it is true in itself, but also because the God Who proclaimed it first to us is true.
Honor the Lord
In everyday, the first thing in the morning we found ourselves searching the Word and being schooled by the Truth. Before we go into the sea, we sang and asked the Lord for desperately needed help. And after every session, we ascribed to Him the glory in praises, songs and exhortations to one another. There was a clear sensibility in the team members that we can do nothing on our own accord and strength. It was also plain that whatever we have done in the ministry to the people was not of us. Isn’t it wonderful that people were called into this purpose? Isn’t it amazing that God, who needs no help, mighty in sovereignty and power, uses people to call on other people into His glorious light?
Morning praise and prayer
To close, the most moving moment in the mission for me came in our last afternoon in Olongapo. After the Sunday service in the afternoon, I suggested to kuya Dave that we had time to witness in the fishing village nearby the church. He originally planned it the next morning, but it would have been better to just rest in the morning before we head home to Manila. It was also fitting as Jade needed to be at her school before 4PM. So we headed to the village by the sea. It was an impoverished village, where there are families residing in just one house. We walked along the coast, and I took the camera to capture images that would help the second team who would be ministering to the village for a longer time than us. There were lots of children, and the adults were somewhat apathetic. However, one of the adults who were having a drinking session, walked towards my direction. At that time I was looking out to the sea when I noticed him towards me. I grew nervous, as it was clear he was drinking. I had no idea what to do as he came closer. Suddenly, he spoke, asking me if I was a foreigner like the rest of my group (Trivia: I was with kuya Dave from Wales, and Jeremy and Justin, who clearly looked like Chinese for they have Chinese blood). I asked him back, trying to joke, if I looked like an Indian, as I was sun burnt and I thought that that was on his mind. He quipped that I looked Chinese, but the ice-breaker stopped there.
Praying with Mang Boy
He quickly went into the tragic disaster that Japan experienced, the earthquake and tsunami. It was evident, as he spoke, that he was fearful for his life and that life could end swiftly. Before moving on with our conversation, he grew interested in the gospel bracelet. I went to ask his name, Mang Boy, and started sharing the gospel to him using the bracelet. He was the most responsive person I’ve ever talked to. It could have been the alcohol, but he was thinking and speaking clearly, answering my questions and also interacting with what the gospel means. I am not certain if he indeed accepted the Lord, for it is only the Lord Who can truly know.
What moved me was his reaction after hearing the gospel. He invited me and my group to his house to hold Bible studies! It was a such beautiful moment. However, I was a bit saddened that I wouldn’t be able to join the second Beach Mission team to go and follow him up. Thankfully, Pastor John was with me when I prayed for him so I hope the church will be committed in following up those who we’ve ministered to.
Team 1 (Top L-R: Jeremy Ramos, me/RG Guillermo, Mark Gicain, Phoebe Guerra, Chela Mequila, Alvin Pacion, Dave Griffiths, Jeremy Rocha, Bryan Ugaddan, Justin and Jade Uy || Bottom L-R: k. Marlon Cama, John Ledesma, Raff Magdaong, Jacky Rosete)
As of this writing, the second Beach Mission team is on their way home. I am all the more excited to hear their stories. But as for me: the labor was hard, sure, as no labor is ever easy; but I attest to the truth and the experience that it was not burdensome. Praise and glory be to God alone!
P.S. We’ll do it again next year (God-willing)!