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Filipino Fellowship sends out its first church planter

Victor Delacruz (front left) and his wife Radha, Filipino church planters, are being prayed over during the Filipino Southern Baptist Fellowship of North America at Lincoya Hills Baptist Church in Nashville June 14. Photo by Adam Covington

NASHVILLE (BP) – The Filipino Southern Baptist Fellowship of North America two years ago said they wanted to support Filipino church planters, and they sent out their first this January.

Celebration for this achievement was one of the highlights of the fellowship’s annual meeting, which took place Monday (June 14), at Lincoya Hills Baptist Church in Nashville, as one of several SBC ethnic gatherings in the days before the SBC annual meeting.

“This pastor didn’t think twice” about welcoming the Fellowship to use the building, Filipino Executive Director Dan Santiago said in his opening remarks about George Ibach, pastor since 2017 of the Anglo congregation.

Worship was led by the Filipino American Bible Church, a multicultural non-Southern Baptist congregation Santiago said he found in an internet search. The Filipino meal that concluded the session – shredded beef, rice, steamed vegetables and leche flan for dessert – was catered by a Nashville firm and organized by wives of Filipino national leaders.

By cobbling together an Anglo Southern Baptist church, a non-Southern Baptist worship team and a meal catered by a Korean restaurant, The Filipino Fellowship provided an ethnic experience for its members and guests. The use of English rather than Tagalog was because English is the language spoken in the Philippines in schools and work, Santiago told Baptist Press.

In addition to worship and prayer sprinkled throughout the four-hour fellowship gathering, there was recognition of and prayer for SBC partners, a message by Sonny Vitaliz, pastor of the SBC’s largest Filipino congregation, a “ministry challenge” by Filipino Fellowship President Felix Sermon, and the election of officers.

When The Filipino Fellowship at its 2019 annual meeting announced its initial goal of supporting new Filipino church planters, four churches were supporting the work of the fellowship. As of this June, 17 churches are doing so, with several sending monthly support, Santiago told Baptist Press.

“Now they see we are serious about this church planting,” Santiago said. “They want to be a part of it.”

Victor de la Cruz, a Southern Baptist church planter, shares about planting Biblical Community Church East in Mesquite, Texas, during the Filipino Southern Baptist Fellowship annual meeting June 14. Photo by Adam Covington

As of this January, Victor Delacruz of Garland, Texas, has received $1,000 a month from the Fellowship, with additional support provided by the sending church, Biblical Community Church in Richardson, Texas, and the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

The former IT professional had been ministering for more than four years to a growing group of Filipinos living in the nearby Mesquite, Texas, area when he was approached by the Filipino Fellowship to serve as its first church planter, Delacruz told Baptist Press.

“I was happy to be associate pastor, but God put His call on my life to plant His church,” Delacruz said. “This [call from the Filipino Fellowship] was an affirmation of His calling.”

Demographics indicate a large concentration of Filipinos in Texas live in Mesquite, with another 2,000 to 3,000 families anticipated to move to the area within the next year, the church planter said.

Felix Sermon, president of the Filipino Southern Baptist Fellowship of North America, gives introductory greetings at the beginning of the group’s annual gathering. Photo by Adam Covington

The COVID-19 pandemic put a bit of a crimp in growth, the planter said, but since the spring of 2020, Delacruz has led weekly online prayer meetings, and biweekly online Bible studies.

“This fall we will have one week online and the next week in-home Bible studies,” Delacruz said. He has amassed a core group of about 80 people, nine families. Three of those families have said they will rotate the in-home studies, the planter added.

He and his wife Radha have two grown sons. Her work as a physical therapist will augment the family’s income.

Nationwide, about 200 Filipino churches – mostly on the east and west coasts – minister to more than 5 million Filipinos living in the United States, Santiago said. Most who immigrate to the U.S. from the Philippines work in the medical field, though a growing number are teachers, he added.

International Christian Church in Virginia Beach, with pre-COVID Sunday morning attendance of about 300, is probably the largest church affiliated with Filipino Southern Baptists. Sonny Vitaliz has been lead pastor since 2002. The church also has an online audience of about 20,000 followers.

The message from Ephesians 1:1 Vitaliz gave at the Filipino Fellowship’s annual meeting was geared toward pastors: “Five things to know when you’re a leader.”

Vitaliz explained each: Know yourself, your job, your boss, your privilege and your people. A leader is a servant, he said.

“What are we called to do? Go and make disciples. …” he said. “God will fill you with confidence, power and strength. … What has God done for you? Therefore, walk worthy of His calling.”

Felix Sermon’s “Ministry Challenge” message stemmed from Joshua 1:1.

“Be strong and courageous,” Sermon said. “Be careful to observe all the law. … Continue fulfilling the Great Commission. … We are Southern Baptist and we are to share the gospel. That is your calling from God.”

Each of the officers was re-elected to a second two-year term: President Felix Sermon, pastor of International Christian Church in Springfield, Va.; East Coast Vice President Jessie Arca, pastor of Good Shepherd Baptist in Bear, Del.; West Coast Vice President Henry Amarilla, pastor of Filipino Ministry at Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif.; Secretary Melvin Guerrero, pastor of Christ Centered International Fellowship of Jacksonville, Fla., and Treasurer Robert Del Castillo, pastor of Harmony International Baptist Church in San Diego, Calif.

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  • Karen Willoughby