News Articles

Filipino Fellowship celebrates freedom

Felix Sermon, outgoing president of the Filipino Southern Baptist Fellowship and pastor of Grace International Christian Church in Springfield, Va., speaks during the annual gathering of the Filipino Southern Baptist Fellowship of North America June 12 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. Photo by Robin Cornetet

Editor’s note: This article was updated after initial publication to correct the names of those quoted.

NEW ORLEANS – The 125th anniversary June 12 of Filipino Independence Day coincided with the annual gathering June 12 of the Filipino Southern Baptist Fellowship of North America.

The Fellowship’s event also coincided with the 2023 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, both of which took place at the New Orleans Convention Center.

Filipino Southern Baptist Fellowship of North America annual meeting attendees took a group photo June 12 after the meeting in New Orleans. Front row (left to right): Jessie Arce, of Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Bear, Del.; Val Natcher of Filipino Bible Church in Anchorage, Alaska; Henry Amarila, Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif.; Lito Lucas of Philippine International Christian Fellowship in Lakeland, Fla.; Dan Santiago of Covenant Christian Church in Jacksonville, Fla.; Paul Chitwood, president of the International Mission Board; Felix Sermon of Grace International Christian Church in Springfield, Va.; Peter Yanas, SBC Association Vice President of Asian Relations; Noel Geniza of International Christian Fellowship of Pottstown, Pa.; Jeremy Sin, NAMB National Church Planting Catalyst; and Ezra Bae, IMB Asian Church Mobilization Strategist. Photo by Robin Cornetet

“Freedom is not free,” President Felix Sermon told his 100 and more listeners. “Jesus died for our freedom.”

After opening prayer and worship songs came the Philippine National Anthem, followed by Sermon giving a brief history of the 7,000-plus island chain and its connection to the United States..

In 1763, Filipino sailors on Spanish galleons escaped and founded the first Asian-American settlement in what is now the United States. It was in St. Malo, 23 miles southeast of New Orleans. Three hurricanes later, neither town nor artifacts remain, though a historical marker was erected in 2019.

On June 5, 1898, Spain turned the Philippines over to the United States, which got it as part of a $20 million deal for Cuba. June 12 was declared a day of independence from Spain. However, other nations and the Filipino revolutionary government all refused to acknowledge the independence, “and as a result, a 48-year-long and bloody struggle ensued between the Filipinos and Americans,” Santiago read from an essay written by church planter Glenn Plastina, who was unable to be at the Filipino’s annual gathering.

Then came World War II, Japanese occupation of what was technically an American colony, and finally on July 4, 1946, freedom from domination by another nation.

“Independence Day is also a stark reminder of the difficult struggles for freedom that Filipinos fought and won,” Sermon continued. “Let this day be a celebration of our rich culture, Philippine history and our journey as Filipino-American Christians.” Freedom allows for the cooperation enjoyed by Filipinos in the SBC.

“’Don’t pastor alone’ is our motto,” Executive Director Dan Santiago said. “We are to encourage and support one another in ministry.”

He commended the 15 churches that financially support the Filipino Fellowship, and thanked Peter Yanes, associate vice president for Asian American relations at the SBC Executive Committee, for helping the group secure a place to meet.

Lemuel Villano, pastor of Oak Harbor Southern Baptist Church in Oak Harbor, Wash., worships during the Filipino Southern Baptist Fellowship of North America annual meeting June 12 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. Photo by Robin Cornetet

The Filipino Fellowship started more than 50 years ago “to unite all Filipino churches,” Santiago said. “I believe we can do better when we all work together.”

The two-year term of officers was extended because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Santiago explained before leading in the election of the next team of officers.

Pablito Lucas, pastor of Philippine International Christian Fellowship in Lakeland, Fla., was elected president for the next two years.

Valentino Natcher, pastor of Filipino Bible Church in Anchorage, Alaska, was elected West Coast vice president.

Darius Noble, pastor of The Church of the Good Shepherd in Cherry Hill, N.J., was elected East Coast vice president.

Vener Rafael, pastor of Filipino American Christian Church in Miami Shores, Fla., was elected treasurer.

John Paul “JP” Arceno was elected secretary. He is pastor of Union Community Bible Church in Annandale, N.J.

Short messages by both International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood and North American President Kevin Ezell were among high points of this year’s annual meeting of the Filipino Southern Baptist Fellowship of North America.

Chitwood also spoke of historical matters.

In 1941 the first Southern Baptist missionaries arrived in the Philippines. They were fleeing China. Dec. 8 of the same year, the Japanese arrived, and those missionaries were sent to internment camps.

“Four years of war, a crucible of suffering and a binding of hearts of missionaries and the Filipino people led in 1952 to the first missionaries assigned to the Philippines,” Chitwood said. “The work soon became very strong and in 2019, we were sending missionaries from the Philippines to other nations. It is our desire and our prayer to send more missionaries from the Philippines.”

Chitwood read from Revelation chapter 20 before asking his listeners what is the world’s greatest problem. His answer: Lostness.

“This is the only eternal problem,” he preached. “Those who die lost are separated from God forever. There’s no comfort in hell. No joy.”

Sixty percent of IMB missionaries “are going to places where they are not welcomed,” Chitwood said. The problem: lostness. The solution: the Gospel.

Ezell spoke about the need for church planters to reach Filipinos.

The need for more Filipino churches is “greater than we have the ability to accomplish” without the support of the existing Filipino churches, Ezell said.

About 837,000 Filipinos live in California, half of whom live in Daly City, Ezell said. There’s a need for at least 100 churches in California alone, to say nothing of the other 49 states.

“If we do not have church planters, nothing happens,” Ezell said. “We are all together in this. What God has called us to do is not easy. God often calls us to do things beyond our ability. … As you go, we go. We’ve got your back.”

The Filipino Fellowship’s annual meeting included time for prayer “for the homeland. There are a lot of pastors struggling over there,” Sermon told his listeners.

A sandwiches and sweets meal followed, with plenty of time for personal interaction.

Ernest Dagohoy, a pastor for 20 years at First Filipino Baptist Church in Houston and now an area representative for Texas Baptist’s Center for Ministerial Health, turned with a wide smile to Baptist Press.

“This is why we come,” to the Filipino Fellowship’s annual gathering, Dagohoy said as his smile grew even wider. “We went to the same school, the same seminary, but we only meet once a year, here.” He gestured to the room at large. “It’s just encouraging to see these pastors faithfully serving the Lord. It brings me great encouragement.”

Sanitago, who serves as volunteer executive director, told Baptist Press he was pleased with this year’s Filipino Fellowship.

“I am so happy to bless the pastors,” he said. “We have good speakers, gifts for the pastors, books, time to visit, and even dinner.

“The new officers are excited to serve,” Santiago added. “They are faithful in ministry, active in the Fellowship, and they want to help.”