Crying Out for the Gospel in Manila

By Jerri Menges   •   January 11, 2006

In 1977, when Billy Graham came to Manila, Philippines, God sparked a fire that burned for months among the local churches on the Philippine Islands. James Tioco, then 15, was one of 412,000 who attended the Rizal Park Crusade, and one of more than 22,000 who came forward at the invitation to receive Christ.

“After Mr. Graham left, there was a revival among the churches,” says Tioco, now a local businessman. “Churches all over the country started to bear fruit.”

But poverty and economic stress have doused the fire, and growth has become stagnant, sending the faith community to its knees. They are asking God to set the Church ablaze again through the Metro Manila Franklin Graham Festival, Feb. 2-5 in Rizal Park, one of the largest parks in Southeast Asia, which runs from Taft Avenue to the walls of the famous Manila Bay.

In this cosmopolitan city, where poverty is masked by skyscraper office buildings and lavish malls, people are looking for something, says Tioco, who is the Festival’s chief of staff. “We’re looking for another wave of revival. When the Lord moves, it’s like a tidal wave. And we want to ride along with it and pray that it will bring us to the next level of service to the Lord.”

Filipinos are spiritually malnourished, Tioco says. “We have a lot of evangelists who come through, but they are mainly targeted to a certain church organization,” he says.

Once a colony of Spain, the Philippines is 85 percent Roman Catholic, with the remainder being equally divided between Protestant, Muslim and other faiths, including cults. More than 11 million people live in the 17 municipalities that make up Metro Manila, and the 5 percent that are Protestant are divided among five major church organizations–which have worshiped only on their own turfs for 28 years.

“It’s only this year, since we’ve been working on the Festival, that we’ve seen them come together,” Tioco says. “I believe something big is going to happen.”

Bishop Reuben Abante, general secretary for the Festival, is also hopeful. “The Philippines is simply crying out for preaching of the Gospel and the spiritual regeneration it brings,” he says. “Various surveys have shown that corruption is still seen as a major problem of the Philippines.”

Abante cites the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy, Ltd., which, in its December Corruption in Asia report, ranked the Philippines third-worst in a list of 12 Asian countries.

Recent studies show that up to 75 percent of Filipinos consider themselves poor. About 40 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day, and high unemployment rates have forced more than 7 million Filipinos to work in other countries. Their remittances back home of about $8 billion annually constitute the largest source of foreign income for the country.

“What these figures indicate is that the country needs the Gospel,” Abante says. “And we need to get churches and Christians active in evangelism and soul-winning. Filipinos need to hear that they can still hope for a better future–in God.”

Festival organizers sense the Filipinos’ urgency for a move of the Holy Spirit.

“I’ve heard many of them say: ‘We need to draw closer to God,'” says Bob Kendig, Christian Life and Witness (CLW) instructor and coordinator of counseling and follow-up. “I sense that they are hungry to see God work in a way that can’t be explained in human terms.”

And God has already lit the spark for a mighty move of His Spirit in February. A 5,000-member choir is preparing to sing. A recent prayer walk drew 300 people to pray over the Grandstand at Rizal Park; the women’s committee has organized over 9,500 “Carriers of Hope” who have personally visited more than 170,000 homes in Metro Manila to pray with people and share the Gospel. On Jan. 7, the youth committee launched “Agents of Change,” with hundreds of young people conducting questionnaires in malls, leading to opportunities to share the Gospel; and the children’s committee is organizing a children’s Festival.

More than 16,000 attended CLW classes in November, with 6 percent making decisions for Christ. “It’s an amazing thing to see people come to the realization that they’re training to help somebody else do something that they’ve never really done themselves,” says Jim Mullen, BGEA managing director for counseling and follow-up, and CLW instructor. “These are all people who go to church regularly. That’s why they’re in the class. But for the first time many realized that although they had been in church all their lives, they had never confessed their sins and asked Jesus to come into their heart.”

The CLW classes provide a perfect opportunity for people to make such a decision. “People don’t talk to each other about their faith,” Mullen says. “That just doesn’t happen. So we start at the beginning, letting them know: ‘You can do this. You are going to get good training. These are your friends, your family members, your co-workers, your fellow students, your neighbors, and we’re going to give you every tool you need to go to the Festival and help someone who’s making the decision to follow Christ.'” The CLW classes make it clear that serving Christ is more than going to church. “You can go and stand in a garage for the next year, but that’s not going to make you a Ford,” Mullen tells class participants. “And you can go and sit in church for years, but that won’t make you a Christian. The only reason you’ll ever be a Christian is that you’ve confessed your sin and asked Jesus to come into your heart. If you’ve never done that, you’re not a Christian. You may be a good person, but you’re not a Christian.”

The theme for the Festival is “There Is Hope,” says Dan Cura, communications committee chair.

“We have always had a spiritual consciousness here,” Cura says. “But most Filipinos are distraught. We want to encourage Filipinos that there is hope, and that hope is in Jesus Christ. It starts with your family and your work, and spreads to the government and then to the nation.”

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