Thursday, December 13, 2012

Barrio Obrero...

Dear Family & friends:

Barrio Obrero.  We had never heard of the place till earlier this year when discussing where to conduct the evangelistic series for our fall session of PAFCOE.  The local brethren decided to do a church-plant there.  We later learned that the place is considered one of the roughest, low-class areas of Iloilo—known for drinking, gambling, and evil.

The barangay, or suburb as we would refer to it, has a massive Iglesia ni Christo church, whose towering spires can be seen from many parts of the suburb and beyond.  The Iglesia ni Christo (Christ of Christ in Tagalog, the local language here in the Philippines) church was started back in the early 1900s by a former Seventh-day Adventist who became embittered toward the church, and left to start his own.  Today it is one largest, most influential churches in the Philippines, next the Catholic Church.  When we started outreach in Barrio Obrero, we quickly learned that the vast majority of its inhabitants belonged to the big Iglesia ni Christo Church.

Our only option for a place to conduct the meetings, turned out to be a large covered gym near the center of the barangay.  This was where the street kids hung out, to play basketball or other games, or worse to smoke and socialize.  Teenage mothers are quite common, and we met many children 10 years old or less, who were already smoking.  Safety was a prime concern of the local brethren, since stealing and other crimes are part of the sub-culture of the suburb. 

Barrio Obrero lies along the sea, and is bordered on one side by swampland.  Many squatters live in the area, their bamboo shacks clinging to the banks, or built over the swamp edge. Poverty is the picture in these areas, and the only escape from the misery is alcohol, gambling, or sinful pleasure—or so it seems to the locals.  Our “Revelations of Prophecy” seminar offered something better!

We began the meetings with a Health Expo which attracted only a small group, since the word had spread around the suburb that “the Adventists have come to our barangay, and if you join them, you’ll have to give up your gambling, drinking, and your pork!”  The group who did come were those who needed help—stroke victims, and those unsatisfied with the low-life of the street.

On the night that we began the Prophecy Seminar, there was a brown-out (black-out as we call it) in the area, so with nothing else to do for entertainment, curious residents wandered into the gym to see what “Revelations of Prophecy” was all about, in spite of the rumors.  Since we had a generator, the lights and sound blazed out the open sides of the covered-gym until there were over a hundred-and-fifty sitting inside listening, with many more outside.

The next night, Saturday night, things did not go as well.  A tropical storm blew in that evening, and the driving rain watered our attendance down to around fifty.  Since the sides of the gym are open, even those inside struggled to stay dry.  Many put up their umbrellas and the site from the stage was unforgettable!  The was camera crew huddled under umbrellas, trying to keep themselves and their equipment dry; the sheets of rain blowing in on one side of the open gym, illuminated by the stage lights; the water spreading out over the concrete floor, unable to drain away fast enough in the downpour; the electrical and microphone cables suspended on plastic chairs above the circulating water; and the audience, seated under their umbrellas in the driest side of the gym—how could we ever forget that night!

Just as memorable was the noise!  Since the covered gym has a tin roof, the tropical downpour sounded like a million tiny jackhammers above our heads.  Even with our speakers at max volume, it was difficult to be heard.  The noise grew so loud at one point, we simply had to suspend the meeting and wait.  In the din, we prayed with the mist blowing in our faces, that God would still the storm.  As we prayed, and watched, and waited, gradually the noise decreased as the rain started to let up, until we were able to begin preaching again (I say “we” because I had a translator).  The rain continued throughout most of the meeting, but with less intensity so that we could be distinctly heard.  We had a “captive” audience since no one wanted to leave the gym during the storm!

Later in the series, we had a rainstorm during a Sabbath morning meeting that was even worse.  It rained so hard that we actually had water flowing across the floor of the gym like a river, and the water was nearly six inches deep beneath the stage that we were preaching from.  Again we prayed and waited for the noise to lessen, and although we had to wait longer this time, God did answer our prayers and still another storm.

The meetings in Barrio Obrero were unique in other ways as well.  It was the first time in all our years of evangelism, that we parked our car inside the meeting hall!  Since it was considered unsafe to park outside on the street, we parked inside the gym along one wall. 

The gym has walls that are about eight feet high, with another fifteen to twenty feet of open space between that and the tin roof.  We would drive in from the street through the same entrance that our audience would later walk in.  On weekends when more church members from the city would attend, we had a parking lot along one wall of the meeting hall!

One night while I was preaching I saw a transformer across the street latterly explode in a fireball of electricity, and then the arch danced back along the wires till a main breaker somewhere tripped and ended the fireworks.  Instantly, one section of the suburb was in complete darkness.  For several moments, I lost everyone’s attention, and part of the audience rushed outside to see what had happened.  Thankfully, the lights stayed on in our hall.

There were other unforgettable events during the evangelistic meetings in Barrio Obrero, but most memorable were the lives transformed by the power of the gospel.  We’ll share some of their testimonies in our next report.  One lady, a stroke victim said to me, “Pastor, God sent you here.  Of all the places in the Philippines that you could have gone, and of all the barangays in Iloilo that you could have held meetings, God directed you to Barrio Obrero so that we could learn the truth!”

Yes, God sent us to Barrio Obrero, but He used people like you to support the work of evangelism with your prayers and funds.  We, together with the little church that has been “planted” in the rough suburb of Barrio Obrero, say “Thank you so much!”

Your friends,

Pastor Lowell & family & the PAFCOE staff