Christmas is my favorite time of the year. There are many opportunities to reach people and see God open hearts here in Iloilo City during this season. Since 1986 Iloilo Baptist Church and College has had a “Help the Needy” program during Christmas. Instead of going home, most of the students of Iloilo Baptist College spend their Christmas vacation helping people in need. It is amazing to see these Bible students and staff, who have so little, do so much.
For weeks the staff plan and pray about what they hope to accomplish. One person took a group of students and searched the poorest neighborhoods in our part of the city and identified 10 of the most needy families. They began to gather used clothing and they saved their money (some of them even donated some of the money they needed for their own food) to buy groceries for each family. They also offered to help repair some of the homes. They went to these homes the week before Christmas and sang Christmas songs and gave gifts to these families. More importantly, they shared the Gospel.
One lady on our staff went to local government officials to help locate the poorest children in our city. The government workers provided 300 names. This staff lady had a meal for these children and their mothers at our church. One week before Christmas some staff and students went out daily on a quest. On Tuesday they found some blind people who beg in the streets of our city and gave them gifts and sang Christmas songs to them. On Wednesday they did the same thing for several elderly people. On Thursday they went to the town plaza and searched out some lonely people and gave them gifts. On Friday they gave food and clothing to poor people in our neighborhood.
One group gave gifts to leper patients; another gave food and gifts to a young man whose arms and legs are so useless, he has to be carried everywhere (see photo above).
Another group decided to help the family of one of their classmates whose father was dying of cancer. They raised an amount that he needed for medicine. One worker took gifts to some bedridden people.
Recently two fires occurred in our city, destroying 10 houses. Most of these families lost all they had. One group had a Christmas party for the children of these fire victims and also purchased a water pump so the people there would have water. Another group went to a government hospital and gave gifts to heartbroken people. The greatest gift they gave that day was to tell them about the greatest gift of all: salvation.
The children of our church staff went to a poor area and had a Christmas party for about 80 children. As with all the other events, people were told how to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.
One group from our church went to a primitive tribal group in a rural area on our island to bring food and gifts. Two church members who teach in secular universities convinced their class to forgo their own class party and use the money to have a party for the less fortunate. One had a party for poor children, another for the handicapped.
A Christmas party was held at the church for the Street Children of our city. They received gifts, a meal, and a free medical checkup (pictured left).
Another party was held for about 50 widows with groceries and a meal. Space does not permit me to mention all of the groups and what they did.
Have you ever seen someone who had very little of this world’s goods make such an impact on the lives of others? This Christmas was the best in my life, as I was able to witness so many people sacrificing their time and money to help others, which resulted in many people opening their hearts to Jesus. Below are a few testimonies of some of the workers that I wanted to share with you:
*The students in our group raised money and donated used clothing. After church we met and divided everything; our goal was to help five needy families. One of our church members gave us a lot of groceries to help the families. The next morning we prayed and went to our area. One man we helped drives a trisikad (bike with side cart used as taxi) to feed his family. The mother abandoned her family. He told us he prayed that he’d have something to give his family for Christmas as his job barely provides their daily food. We sang Christmas songs, gave him gifts, and prayed with him.
*On Saturday some Bible students and I visited my route and gave gifts to the neediest families. One was a man named Joseph who is blind. His wife faithfully comes to our church. Joseph had a smile on his face when we left—not only because of the gifts we brought but because he received Jesus Christ as his Savior! Another blind lady we visited has a grandchild crippled with polio. We were so sad when we saw that little girl (see photo below). Some of the family members received Christ as Savior. I know the students in my group have great needs too, but they have seen people with greater needs. I believe we can do great things for the Lord if we are willing to do little things for others.
*Our group went to the poorest family in our barangay (village). We gave rice, used clothing, and groceries. We sang Christmas songs and gave a message about Christmas. We explained that the greatest gift of all isn’t these temporal gifts, but an eternal gift: Jesus! They received Him as their Savior! We invited them to the Christmas Musical at our church and they came!
*There are families that live in a squatter area near the river. The children go to the garbage dump each day to gather plastic or cans to sell to buy food for the family. On Sunday our Bible students go there to gather children and bring them to church. The families we helped were so surprised and thankful for the gifts. We sang Christmas songs and gave them groceries, gifts, and New Testaments. I was touched when one child said, “We don’t have to gather from the garbage dump today because we have food now.”
*Our group went to visit the forgotten people: the leper patients at the leprosarium with some young people from our church. They enjoyed the gifts and the message about Jesus, the greatest Gift.
*I asked my group of Bible students to raise money so we could feed the Aetas—the native people from the mountains who come to Iloilo City at Christmas time to beg. There was a group of them sleeping in Jaro Plaza every night so we went there and told them we’d come the following day to give them lunch. They were very excited. The next day we went there and I preached and then we served lunch. All of us were especially touched by a little crippled boy. Later the students told me they were trying hard not to cry. I can see my students were so blessed by this activity. We went home with joy in our hearts…In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
*For 10 years I have been going to the government hospital every Christmas. I decided when my mother died that I would give a gift to a patient every Christmas. I shared it with the Bible students in our group and they decided to help. I am happy that they have a heart to help needy people. I want them to learn how to sacrifice for others. From wanting to give one gift this project has grown—this year we gave 85 gifts to the hospital patients! But more important, we shared with them about salvation and the real meaning of Christmas (see photo below). People in the hospital certainly need comfort and love and our students were so blessed to be used by God.
*We picked a poor area and started Christmas caroling. Here in the Philippines, many groups of people go around doing that, and ask money from the people that they sing to. After we sang the people said they were sorry, they had no money to give but we said, no, we were the ones to give to them! They were so surprised! One elderly lady started crying, and she hugged each person in our group, thanking them. Everyone in our group and tears in their eyes and they were happy that they sacrificed for that moment. I’m so glad to see our Bible students experience the joy in giving and helping those in need.
*We decided we would repair the little nepa hut of a poor family on my route. Many need help but this family was really hard up. There were no walls and the house was on the edge of a cliff (see photo below). We saved our money and bought materials. Everyday whenever some of the boys had spare time, they would work on the bamboo walls. When it was done they carried it to the place and put up the walls. The family was very grateful.
*All I used to care about at Christmas was what I was going to receive. From a child I always gave to Pastor Martin’s Help the Needy Program. This year I did more than give money; I went to the hospital and played my violin for the patients. While I played Christmas songs, my friends went from bed to bed, in that crowded and pitiful children’s’ ward, sharing the Gospel. Then they passed out gifts. As we were leaving a mother rushed up to me, asking if we had any more gifts. I saw behind her a 3-year-old boy with a baldhead (see photo below), suffering from leukemia. He was crying because he had no gift. We were able to find one for him but I had to turn away to keep people from seeing the tears in my eyes. That day I saw the true spirit of Christmas.
*There is a place in our city called Relocation Site because that is where indigent people have been moved, and those who are fire victims that lost their homes. It is a very poor area and our group went there with prepared food and had a party for the children. They were so happy to see us! We sang and shared a Bible story. We also had some toys for the younger ones. Many of the children were not even wearing shoes. We noticed the children when they are eating. They don’t pay attention to anyone or anything—only their food. There was no leftover food on their plate. Many of them only eat once a day. Our hearts were full.
Many workers expressed how happy this Christmas was for them because they thought more about what they were going to give, as opposed to what they were going to receive; they sacrificed their time and money, so they could give gifts to the poor, and they shared the greatest gift of all, salvation through Christ, with the needy.
For seven years our choir has had a presentation of the Christmas story with a live nativity. At the end we have preaching and many people accepted Christ. We have three presentations with about 1,100 first time visitors at the first and 700 at the second. The third is held when our graduates are here for alumni meeting. One reason we do this is because people who would normally never come to our church will come to see the drama. My son Ricky invited an atheist. He came the first night and brought his children. He came to the second and brought his wife (my wife led her to the Lord.) There are countless stories like this I wish I could share. I love looking around at the audience and seeing tears flowing as people watch the Christmas story!
In closing, please continue to pray for the radio ministry as we work on getting a franchise at a reasonable price so we can operate. Please pray God will give us wisdom as we move forward. Also, please pray for the families of two Iloilo Baptist College graduates who went home to be with the Lord: Florenda Cabaya graduated in 1993 and helped Pastor Billy Caalem (one of our graduates with a Bible college) for eight years. She then helped Pastor George Cabaya (a graduate of Bro. Caalem’s Bible college) who started a Bible college in Mindanao. She died after giving birth. Pastor Hermando Abelitado graduated in 1984 and was killed in an accident December 22. He was a good friend to me for 28 years and a faithful pastor who started several churches. In our next letter I hope to share more about his life. God used him and I will miss him.
Sincerely in Christ,