Lala, Dave and I went to the Missions Congress held on October 17 to 19 at the Skylight Convention Center in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. As I am contemplating what to say here, I’m thinking about what I gained from attending the conference (of course, aside from the side trips and time spent with Lala and Dave). The congress was part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Churches of the Philippines’ (CAMACOP) Missions Month, in which members sent into various places to do evangelism or ministries of service are remembered and prayed for.
The congress aims to update participants on the status of missions ministry of the CAMACOP and give them an idea on what it’s like to spread God’s word in a totally unfamiliar setting. Being a missionary presents challenges that are unique from other ministries, and thus requires major commitment. In return, it allows for great spiritual, mental, and emotional growth, just as what apostle Paul experienced due to his extensive mission work in 2 Corinthians 4:7-18.
The bulk of the congress was spent on workshops where participants chose the lectures they would attend. There were six lectures in all, with two held every particular time. I attended the lectures on “Ministering to the Buddhists in Thailand,” “Ministering among Muslims,” and “Introduction to Anthropology for Cross-Cultural Mission.”
In “Ministering to the Buddhists in Thailand,” Rev. Joel Gerada spoke on what is happening on the ground in Thailand as far as CAMACOP is concerned. As a Theravada Buddhist country, Thailand has been a field of Christian missions for centuries. Generally, Thailand has been free of the problems of poverty, overpopulation, colonization and endemic wars that have plagued other countries in the region. Consequently, it’s one of the most prosperous countries in Southeast Asia, if not in all of Asia.
Protestant missions entered Thailand in 1828, yet for all the hard labor of missionaries, response to the Christian faith has been minimal. For the most part, Thais are simply not “turned on” by what they know of the Christian faith. Unofficial statistics show that Protestants in Thailand number around 540,000, or only about 0.67% of the population. While the Evangelical presence isn’t strong, the bright side is that it’s visible and growing.
The Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) entered Thailand in 1929, and after 85 years, the Thailand Christian and Missionary Alliance now has about 160 churches with inclusive members of about 10,200 people. In response to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20), the CAMACOP sent its first missionary to Thailand in 1982 and has since been a part of the missionary force of the C&MA.
Rev. Lad “Omar” Voluntad tackled the topic of preaching the Gospel among Muslims, with the aim of changing our perspective on Islam. Is it really a religion of violence or of peace? Moderate Muslims would point out a certain passage in the Quran that condemns murder, though extremists would counter that with one that encourages it.
Regarding its relation to Christian beliefs, Islam has a lot in common. Muslims believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ, his miracles, that he is the Messiah and the Word of God. What they deny is his deity, and his death and resurrection.
Rev. Voluntad then discussed two ways of equipping oneself when called to be a missionary in Muslim areas. The traditional missions work requires at least four years of biblical training, some training for missions, and focuses on evangelism and biblical studies with the aim of establishing local congregations.
The cross-cultural missions, on the other hand, needs just some biblical training (specifically in theological foundation), some Islamic studies, language acquisition, and acquisition of certain skills and development training.
In “Introduction to Anthropology for Cross-Cultural Mission,” Dr. Isaias Catorce presented the argument, “What is God’s view of culture?” How should Christians regard anthropology? Is it an anti-Christian discipline since it advocates evolution and ethical relativism? Can one be a Christian and anthropologist at the same time? What is the basic understanding and nature of anthropology?
As a behavioral science, anthropology attempts to deal with what people actually do and think as influenced by their belief systems. It is an attempt to study human beings on what they do and how they behave and think in their community, culture and in the process of development. It developed the concept of culture, which includes the study of human biology, human relationship to the environment, cultural structuring, and patterns of life, among others.
Anthropology takes a holistic view of people, avoiding compartmentalizing or segmenting people into various components, such as psychology, religion, or language. As such, it is a perspective, and not simply a subject. For instance, an American teenager’s rebellion against his parents is understood as a cultural product by anthropology, whereas other disciplines might attribute it to biological factors.
This “cross-cultural” view allows anthropology to understand and interpret people in their own socio-cultural matrix, and, in turn, understand and interpret the Bible in a cross-cultural manner in the context it is situated. This allows missionaries to know how best to communicate a message given to us from a culture other than ours to people who live by customs and assumptions other than ours.
A day before the congress, Dave and I toured Puerto Princesa. Lala, who came a day later, couldn’t join Dave and me to the Underground River in Sabang in the morning hours before the congress’ formal opening.
But we had enough time to shop after the lectures, and do a few more trips after the congress to the Viet Village and the wharf for boats departing to Honda Bay.