Monday, July 27, 2009

Worshiping in the Philippines

Grace Baptist Church, Puerto Princesa, Palawan

One of the things that struck me as we traveled through Tokyo and Manila on our way to Palawan was that the sun I saw here was the same sun I see when I’m back home in America. Japanese, Filipino, American, or whatever, we all benefit from and enjoy the same sun. This simple fact brought home to me again the truth that one God created that sun, the moon, the stars, the earth, and all that is in them. We all, wherever we may live, owe our existence to the God who is the one and only Creator of the world. This God desires his creatures from every tribe, language, people, and nation to worship him. It was my privilege this past Sunday to worship with a church family on the other side of the world from where I call home. Ironically, the name of the church was the same – Grace Baptist Church.

In some ways, the experience was totally different from what I am used to. There was no air conditioning, just fans, even though it was quite hot and humid outside. The benches were wooden and quite uncomfortable, at least to me. The preaching and Sunday School sessions were spoken in both English and Tagalog (by the same man). These external differences were things I expected. The thing I really wanted to know was, how did this Filipino church – one that was pastored by a Filipino national and that has been in existence for 30+ years – how did they worship in their culture? and how different would it be than mine? The answer is that there really was no difference from what you might see in any average Baptist church in the USA, other than those externals.

They started their worship service with a “meet and greet” time to the song, “There’s a welcome here!” One either likes these times as a way to show friendliness to those around you, or you don’t, thinking it turns a formal time of worship into a circus. I don’t like it any more in the Philippines than I do back home. They sang songs from a PowerPoint display, just like many of our churches do in America. Most of the songs were old-time gospels songs. It was great to sing “Wonderful Grace of Jesus” with church folk on the other side of the world. They also sang a praise chorus called, “I Stand in Awe.” It was a typical, shallow praise chorus that could be about one’s boyfriend. There was no rich doctrinal content or even explicit mention of whose “presence” we wanted to be in or whose “eyes” we wanted to look into. They used a worship team to help with leading the singing. They had a small choir. They had an offertory and a special number (my wife, Daphne, was privileged to minister those). Maybe they learned all this from American missionaries that ministered 40-50 years ago. The faces were different, the seating was different, the heat and humidity were different, but everything else, including typical problem areas, was about the same.

I wonder if I should have been surprised. We both worship the same God. Should we not use the same elements of worship, regardless of culture? I tend to think so.

This is the church that Daphne’s grandmother has attended since it started from another church in the area over 30 years ago. It was started as a church plant from the church that Daphne’s mom went to in another part of Puerto Princesa. Daphne’s mom was led to the Lord through the work of American missionaries, so I think the other church was founded by those same missionaries (the DeVries?). It was wonderful to see the fruit of faithful missionary activity – founding a church, installing a national pastor, and then having that church multiply itself. There were more people at Grace Baptist Church in Puerto Princesa, Palawan this past Sunday than what we normally have at Grace Baptist in Dacula, Georgia – and we have padded seats and air conditioning.

Entering the church

Inside the church

Choir singing Amazing Grace

Daphne singing "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross"

Across the street from the church

Group picture after church


At 10:52 PM, Blogger Meg said...

Thanks for all the pictures, Andy! We sure missed you at Grace on this side of the world!! It's exciting to hear what the Lord is doing in your heart, too.


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