SAMAR, Philippines (BP)–Evelyn Riviera has a question for the five American university students gathered around her front door.
“Is it true that Americans don’t eat rice?” she asks. “They just eat bread?”
Her visitors laugh. Sitting on wooden benches under her thatch awning in the Philippines, they make small talk, chatting about American culture and Filipino food. In the course of conversation, the University of Mobile students tell Riviera a story about Christ healing a cripple. She’s never heard the story.
The volunteer mission team’s approach to sharing their faith is simple. They don’t hold Vacation Bible Schools or medical clinics. They don’t attract crowds with music or spectacles. Instead, they arrive in a village and they ask to stay for several days, just hanging out and building relationships.
The five-member team lives like the people they came to minister to — sleeping in hammocks, taking bucket baths and washing their clothes in pans of water. They travel from village to village in boats on the Oras River. They visit people who live so deep in the jungle that no roads reach their homes.
This method of witnessing allows villagers to open their homes with true Filipino generosity.
In the first village the team visits, they stay in a family’s home. They chat with the parents, play with the children and become part of the community. Team leader Megan Hunter, whose home church is First Baptist Church of Fairview in Cullman, Ala., says she cherishes the time hanging out with several Filipinos outside their home. They relax and laugh and talk about Jesus.
“It was a lot of fun to study the Word of God with them, to hear their questions, to see it kind of start to click with them,” Hunter says. “But most of all, [I loved] just the community that we had there with those people — all crowded in that one little room around a light bulb. We didn’t have a TV. We didn’t have games. We didn’t have any of that. We had each other and the Word of God.”
The team members find most people will listen to stories from the Bible. However, the villagers have trouble comprehending the Gospel message.
Most of the country’s population adheres to a mix of Catholicism and animism. In many of the homes the team visits, there are calendars depicting Mary and Jesus and shrines containing idols of the “Santo Nino” (Christ child). In the Filipino belief system, people earn their way into heaven. They believe they must compensate for their sin by giving to the poor or helping people in need. They don’t easily grasp the idea that God would give anyone salvation as a gift.
In their next visit, the team bumps headlong into the area’s traditional belief. In the cinderblock home of another villager, Adam Morris of Bayside Baptist Church in Harrison, Tenn., explains salvation. He tells a man that a person receives salvation by asking forgiveness and dedicating their life to Jesus Christ.
“Because Jesus is God and because He is perfect, He is able to forgive sins,” Morris says. “Does all that make sense or do you have any questions about it?”
The man does have a question.
“If I ever want to go to heaven, what do I need to do?” he asks.
Morris repeats that the man simply needs to ask for forgiveness, but the villager wants a more involved answer. He says he always prays. He is always nice to his neighbor. What more can he do?
Samantha Parrott of People of Mars Hill in Mobile, Ala., says most of their listeners ask the same question: What can they do to get into heaven?
Nicole Hill of Chunchula, Ala., says she learned to relinquish control to God. They shared the Gospel. Now God will do the rest.
“We could tell them all day long what we believe, but God is the one who will help change their perspective,” she said. “I trust God that He’s going to do that.”
Although few people seem to understand the message, the Alabama students see signs of hunger for the Gospel in their listeners. Jacob Fowler of Capshaw Baptist Church in East Limestone, Ala., shared a Bible story with a man who immediately asked to hear another one. He recalls a woman who, after one Bible study, said she had never heard such a message in all her 60 years.
From conversations with these people, it seems to Morris the villagers simply feel honored the team traveled so far to share a spiritual message.
“The fact that we cared enough to come all the way around the world to share this message with them that we believed so strongly in — that in itself, spoke to them,” he says. “Through that, we got to share the Gospel with them.”
Shiloh Lane is a writer living in Southeast Asia. For more stories specific to Asia, like this one, visit www.asiastories.com