I was 15 years old when Billy Graham came to Manila in 1977. Like many teenagers, I was idealistic but at the same time confused.
When I was about 12, I started to have a growing fear of death because I was not sure where I would go after I died. My school, which was a religious, sectarian school, said that because I was not going to their church I was committing a grave sin, which deserved hell. But my church said that I was OK; I was going to heaven. Because of this conflicting teaching I was really scared. I did not want to die. I avoided funerals and all references to death. About that time, a friend of mine was hit by a bus and killed, and that compounded my fear.
In 1977, my church was preparing for the coming of Billy Graham. My brother was rehearsing for the 1,000-voice choir. The pastor asked everyone to go to the Crusade, if only for one night. My mother said the children should all go, so we did.
For part of the program we were not really paying attention–we were just there to obey our pastor and our mother. But I was constantly attracted to the bright light in the middle of the platform. I cannot remember everything Billy Graham said that evening, but one thing I will never forget is the invitation. He said, “Come, just as you are,” and they sang that hymn, “Just as I Am.”
I immediately recognized that this was the answer that I wanted for the fear that I was paralyzed with. I went forward and surrendered my life to Christ. I received eternal life and was assured of my forgiveness, based on what I had just read from the Word of God. I was not going to hell, and I didn’t have to be afraid of death anymore. My brother also prayed to receive Christ that evening. The depression that I had experienced for the past years disappeared. The kind of music I listened to changed. My outlook on life changed. I believe physically my face brightened up. I had a desire to know Christ more.
A few months later, I graduated from high school and went to college. On my first day at college, there was a young man surveying the horizon for lost souls to win to the Lord. I told him I was already a believer, and he invited me into a fellowship called Campus Crusade for Christ. That started my spiritual growth.
After college I worked as a corporate planning analyst with a major power company in the Philippines. After a few years in the corporate world I sensed the Lord was calling me into the ministry. I prayed hard about it, talked to my pastor and to Dahl, who was not yet my wife. Finally in 1986, Dahl and I made a decision to go into full-time ministry. We went to seminary together and married in 1988. We earned our master of divinity degrees and did church planting. I have been a pastor now for 20 years.
Recently I joined Wycliffe Bible Translators International. A few language groups in the Philippines still don’t have good Bibles, and translation projects are ongoing for those groups. Within 10 years all translation projects will be finished in the Philippines, so I am mobilizing people and missionaries for other Bible-less people groups, mainly in the Asia-Pacific region. There are about 1,300 Bible-less people groups among Asia-Pacific groups alone.
Although most people in the Philippines have Bibles, the term “Christian” is not a very clear term. The population is divided mainly between Christian and Muslim. People will say that they have religion already and that their religion will save them. But religion does not save. People need to be in a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. It takes time to teach this because people think they are already followers of Jesus. Filipinos have an inadequate understanding of Jesus Christ. The devotion to the child Jesus is fanatical. Of course, Jesus was born a baby and grew up as a child. But we don’t worship a child. We worship our risen Lord. Many Filipinos also believe that Jesus is still hanging on the cross. But as Christians we believe that Jesus Christ died, was buried, rose on the third day and now sits at the right hand of the Father.
Many Filipino households will show you a mixed religion–people show signs that they worship Jesus, but they will have an altar to another god as well. They see Jesus as one of the saviors, not the only one. In case they make a mistake about following Jesus, they have a Plan B, and they hope this plan will save them. Filipinos need to realize that Jesus Christ is the only Savior.
I would like to encourage people who think they have a relationship with the Lord to honestly examine their hearts and see if they are truly intimate in that relationship.
It’s one thing to know certain Bible verses and certain doctrines of the Scriptures, but it’s another thing to be following the Lord. That comes only when we actively respond to God’s initiative in pursuing a growing relationship with us. James tells us that we are not simply to be hearers of the Word but doers of the Word. Since Jesus said we are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls and minds, we can’t just listen to that verse. We have to apply it in our lives and really love God with all our hearts, souls and minds. That affects our everyday schedules and all of our relationships. It means making Jesus the center of our life every day.