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5. June 1993: Philippines Expedition

Chapter 5

June 1993: Philippines Expedition

Prison ministry in Hong Kong

While we were serving in Hong Kong, I was also in­volved in the prison ministry. Why did I venture into such a ministry? I was baptized as a Roman Catholic in my childhood but did not really know God. My brother, whom I looked up to, hung around with the triads. Every time I was in trouble, I knew that my brother and his triad friends would help me out, so I never backed off from any confront­ation. As a teenager, I was admittedly a bit of a hot­head with a fiery temper and was easily agitated. Although I had encountered life-threat­ening confront­ations before, I managed to escape unscathed. And I took pride in telling that to my friends. In one of the confront­ations, I was alone against a gang of young adults. I stood my ground fear­lessly although I was totally outnumbered. The atmos­phere was electrifying and life threat­ening. But somehow they slowly retracted one at a time.

Ever since I recommitted my life to God, whenever I recall that con­frontation, I would be reminded that if it were not for God’s grace and mercy, I might have been battered with serious injury or could have been killed. I might have ended up in prison because of that fight. That was why when I was invited to join the prison ministry, I felt obligated to get involved be­cause I could have been one of the in­mates if it were not for God’s deliverance. I became more convinced that the prison ministry was of God’s leading because when I had my first meeting with the prisoners, they were not as fierce look­ing as one might have imagined given the serious crimes that they had committed. They looked like ordinary peo­ple. Some had com­mitted crimes sim­ply out of out­bursts of anger or pass­ion. It could have happened to me in any of my past con­frontations. As I left the prison after my first visit, I gave thanks to God for saving me from my wretched past and for leading me to the prison ministry.

At first I could only have one-on-one meetings with the pris­oners while sharing the word of God. But as the demand grew, more and more prisoners were interested in the word of God. We applied for special permission to meet with the pris­oners in small groups. God opened the door and I was granted authorization to conduct Bible studies in small groups. It was a wonderful exper­ience for me because I could testify of God’s power working among the prisoners, trans­forming their hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. Some were lifers but their sen­tences were reduced be­cause of their exceptionally good be­hav­ior after committing their lives to God. They became role models to other prisoners, thus attracting more inmates to seek the word of God. Some of the prisoners were Filipinos. Among them, some had com­mitted crimes in the Philippines and fled to Hong Kong for refuge. How­ever, they continued their crimi­nal activities in Hong Kong and were arrested by the police. After serv­ing their sentences in Hong Kong, they would be deported back to the Philip­pines to continue serving their sen­tences for the crimes they had committed in their own country. We were very much concerned about their spirit­ual well-being. But by the grace of God, our church was growing and our new work was spreading worldwide including the Philippines. Our coworkers there also got involved with the prison ministry and started to follow up on these inmates.

Stopover in Manila, the Philippines

When we were planning our flight to Australia, we wanted to stop over in Manila, the Philippines. It was our intention to visit the church brethren there as well as renew our fellow­ship with those inmates who had gone back to the Philip­pines. Dur­ing our visit, we had unforgettable experiences.

The weather was hot and wet when we arrived there in June 1993. The day we arrived in Manila, our dear coworker picked us up at the airport and we took some kind of taxi called a “jeepney” to go to his home. The jeepney would stop and pick up passengers along the way. At times, it was so crowded that passengers were left dang­ling outside while gripping the car frame. The traffic was chaotic but we finally arrived at our des­tination.

The worst economic times in the Philippines

The other coworkers who were waiting at home welcomed us warmly, and immediately after we dropped off our lug­gage, we tried to catch up with one another regarding recent events. The weather was hot and muggy but we had the elec­tric fans on. While we were all absorbed in our fellowship, suddenly there was a power blackout and we were left in the dark. It was alright without the lights because it was still in the afternoon, but without the electric fans, the heat became unbearable and we could hardly keep our eyes open. Our coworkers seemed unperturbed by the sudden power outage. They told us that it happened all the time.

It was actually the worst time for the people of the Philip­pines. The whole nation suffered from the aftermath of corrupt­ion in the previous govern­ment, and was crippled with a shortage of water and electricity. The water and electricity sup­plies were regulated to run at different time intervals, but sometimes either supply would be cut off without warning such as what we experienced that afternoon.

In any case, our coworkers suggested we take a nap in­stead. So we all retreated to our own rooms and tried to catch an afternoon nap. Although we were tired after the flight in the morning, it was hard for us to fall sound asleep because we were all so sweaty and uncom­fortable. We silently praised our coworkers who had to endure this kind of pow­er outage as part of their daily lives. Later when we got up and walked past one of our coworkers’ rooms, we saw a coworker sitting by the window, totally absorbed in her read­ing. Without elect­ricity and under intense heat, she simply sat near the window in order to have enough light to prepare her work. We were amazed by her endurance. By the way, even wash­ing our faces to refresh ourselves was deemed a luxury because of the lack of water. We had only a few large buckets to hold water for the day’s use. With the addition of the two of us, we were rat­her strained in our water usage.

Prison visit

Unlike the prisons in Hong Kong which were surrounded by tight security, the prisons in Manila were dangerous to visit. But our coworkers took up the ministry to follow up on some of the prisoners who were deported from Hong Kong and con­tinued to serve their sentences in the Philippines.

Our female coworkers were advised not to visit the male pris­on because of the lack of security measures in the prison. So our cowork­ers arranged a prison visit for me with two of our male coworkers. It was indeed an eye opener for me be­cause it was clearly not the same as the pris­ons in Hong Kong. We met in an open area where the prisoners got toget­her in separate groups. I was thrilled to renew fellowship with the prisoners I got acquainted with in Hong Kong. Actually, one of them was originally a gang leader with many follow­ers. When he came back to the Philippines to continue his prison sen­tence, he met up with some of his followers in the prison. They still respected him as their leader. His con­version to Christian­ity actually drew some of them to join the Bible study which our coworkers con­ducted in the prison. Because of that, the prison ministry was growing by the mercy and grace of God.

Wet and windy weather

When it rained in the Philippines during our visit, it was like pouring buckets of water that flooded the streets. For the locals who were used to the wind and rain, they would wear raincoats instead. We were not used to wearing or carrying raincoats because the weather was hot and muggy. We preferred to carry an umbrella. I remember one incident in which we were on our way to Sunday worship. One of the church brethren picked us and our coworkers up, and drove us to the meeting place. It was windy and pouring rain. We were only meters from the entrance when the driver stopped to let us off. We dashed to the entrance, but our umbrella was no contest against the strong wind and rain. It flipped out and we were totally soaked. We met one of the brethren who had al­ready arrived. The heavy rain had paralyzed the city traffic and he had to walk a long way to the meeting place. With his rain­coat on, he wasn’t soaked by the rain, yet was still wet all over because of the perspiration. However he car­ried an extra shirt in his knapsack as a spare because he had experienced such situations before. When he saw us soaking wet, he kindly offered the extra shirt to our coworker who had to preach.

Again there was no electricity and the meeting place was hot and stuffy. It would be really hard to concentrate. But our coworker preached with intensity. We could see the sweat on his face, and his borrowed shirt was soaked with sweat. Yet the power of his message awoke our spirits, and despite the heavy stormy weather we thanked God for a blessed day.

Farewell, Philippines

The time of our stay in the Philippines was short, but it left us with much encouragement from God. We learned much from our dear co­workers in their relentless labor of love and tena­city in serving there, despite the fact that their living conditions often lacked the most basic needs of electricity and water. They re­mained joyful in serving and we were touched by their lives. We were also grateful for the work that was being done in the inmates’ lives. We sowed the seed in Hong Kong but God caused it to germinate in their hearts. We witnessed their lives being transformed even though they were still serving their prison sentences in the Philippines.

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church