A journal for John Oakes’ trip to teach in Korea and the Philippines 1/2-1/18/2009

Seoul/Manila 2009 Journal

Seoul, Korea Jan 3-6, 2009

I arrived in Incheon Airport, one hour from Seoul.  Seoul is a city of 12 million + inhabitants.  It is a prosperous industrial city where everyone is in a hurry.  Korea appears to have put well behind itself its time of extreme poverty before the 1960s.  The city is very homogeneous in its population.  This is a country where respect and tradition are very important.  The families set education for their children as the highest priority, almost to an obsession.  During the day in the winter it is a bit gray and not all that attractive, but at night when the city is lit up it becomes a magical and beautiful place.  It is very cold here.  At night it is about 18oF and about 30oF during the day.  The people are reserved and seem into themselves, but when you talk, they are actually very polite and helpful-always ready with a smile and a bow of respect.  The Korean food is wonderful, although you have to be able to eat kimchi.  It is very healthy.  There seem to be almost no overweight people in this country as the people eat healthy food and do a lot of walking.

As with everywhere I am blessed to visit, the best part about Korea is to meet the people in the church.  The Seoul Church of Christ has about 650 members.  It went through some rather dark times from 2004 to 2006, even breaking up into four separate groups which did not always agree.  However, since 2006, the leadership has become united, the church meets together and much health has returned.  Now the church here has vision and hope for the future and is making plans to plant other churches.  Also, connection with sister churches in Singapore, Manila, Los Angeles and Tokyo are much stronger.   There are two other churches associated with the Seoul Church of Christ in Korea, one of them in the southern city of Busan. There are 230 singles in the church in Seoul and overall it is quite young.  The full time staff is about 14, led by Inho Bae and his wife.  On Sunday they meet in three services because their facility is rather small.  I was graciously hosted by a wonderful family; Dong Jin Kang, Young Jin Kim and their two children.

I taught a 3 hour class on Daniel Saturday PM to well over 200 people.  It was a very encouraging time to rebuild faith that God is in control.  After a wonderful dinner of Korean barbecue with region leaders Do Hyun and Se Kyung Jung, it was time to rest for a very busy Sunday.  I preached three consecutive times to three groups on Sunday.  Attendance was well over six hundred overall-a total of seven hours of church.  This was rather tiring.  The church is very encouraging and faithful.  I met many guests.  The singing is especially good, as the a capella music is about the best I have ever heard.  Between lunch with the singles leaders including Brandon Park and Fred Byeon and dinner with the singles and teen leaders, I was very full of Korean food and great fellowship.  The Christians here are eager to learn about the Bible in much greater depth and how to make the church strong.

Monday included a three hour class on church history for the staff, visiting to the Blue House (Korea’s equivalent of the White House), the spectacular palace of the former kings, wonderful Korean food, as usual, and shopping in the charming craft shops, enjoying the very lively night life in the city.  I spent the time with Hyo Jung and Lisa Lim; leaders of a satellite group of 100 in a city one hour south of Seoul.  I really want to return to Korea as soon as possible and hope that many will follow suit to visit this warm and friendly country.

Manila, Philippines Jan 6-10.

This is my second visit to Manila.  I have been looking forward for a long time to the visit as this is one of my favorite places.  I have many long-time friends here, especially Rolan Monje, Paris Murray and Koko Enrile.  Manila is a crowded city of 14 million.  The traffic is infamous.  The Philippinos are very warm and friendly.  One thing I have learned is that often the poorest countries have the happiest people.  This certainly applies to the Philippines.

The Metro Manila Christian Church has around 3000 members.  They help to support a network of 22 churches throughout the Philippines.  Over the past few years it has stressed biblical teaching to an admirable degree.  They now have a new Asian Bible school.  Gordon Ferguson will be visiting three times per year to teach for the school, which has students from many churches throughout the Philippines.  Rolan Monje has worked tirelessly for this effort.

On Thursday I taught on The Problem of Pain and Suffering in the Quezon City region of the church, to a group of 300 and on Friday the same topic to about 250 in the Manila region.  The church is quite enthusiastic.  I also had the privilege to visit one of the HOPE sites in Laguna, to the south of the city proper.  Hope has three major projects going in the city.  The focus is to provide shelter for children who have been the victims of physical, emotional and sexual abuse and education geared toward prevention of abuse.  This is a big problem in the Philippines because people tend to not talk about the problem.  HOPE runs a really wonderful program in Laguna, with five guest houses, with capacity of about 75, for children who cannot be returned to their families.  It was heartbreaking to hear some of the stories of abuse these children have experienced, but I was so proud of my brothers and sisters who give so much for these children-offering love and healing.  They do outreach to about 100,000 children in the Metro Manila, using puppet shows and other methods to teach about what is appropriate treatment by adults and how to respond to abuse.  This is revolutionary in the Philippines.  As I teach about Pain and Suffering here in the Philippines I stress that the Christian response is compassion.  This is exactly what these Christians are doing.

I also taught a three hour open class on Hebrews on Saturday to perhaps 150.  From there I went straight to the airport to fly to Iloilo.

Iloilo, Philippines Jan 10-13.

Landing in Iloilo, the capital city of Panay Island in the Visayas (a region of hundreds of populated islands in the central part of the Philippines) gives me one immediate impression.  This area is very different from Manila.  Iloilo is a more laid back-almost sleepy-provincial city of about two million.  It is the capital of one of the larger islands in the Visayas.  The city has the looks of a colonial settlement, with few modern buildings and no skyscrapers.  It has many trees and very few traffic problems.  Imagine such a large city with no functioning traffic lights.  The key to driving is to do nothing too quickly. The specialty here is seafood.  It is worth the visit just for the amazing fresh fish, shrimp, oysters and squid.

The church I am visiting here has about 45 members.  It is one of about six in the Visayas.  The largest church in this network is in Cebu, with about 250 Christians.  About ten from Cebu come for the lessons here in Iloilo, along with several from a church in Bacolod.  The church here has mostly very young Christians.  I only see one or two who are over forty years old and most seem to be in their twenties.  The spirit here is very hopeful, but there are many needs as there is not a lot of maturity.  Of course, this is normal for a younger church planting.   I made some wonderful friends here, including Danny and his wife from Cebu, Richard and Grace who lead in Iloilo and John who works with the singles along with Grace.

On Sunday I taught on the Christian response to suffering.  This seems particularly appropriate as there was a devastating typhoon here with much death and destruction this past.  About 80 are in attendance.  I also taught a class on the Book of Daniel Sunday evening to about 50.  At this point I am very tired and losing my voice, especially as we had very helpful discussions over coffee well into the night.

On Monday I had what was for me a unique experience.  I taught at the Iloilo Central High School on Science and God to over two hundred of the top students in the school.  Many teachers came and the principle was extremely enthusiastic at having someone teach about God to the students.  This could never happen in the US.  More than one teacher said that he or she plans on coming to the church here.  The students here are very respectful and also quite shy.  They were not willing to ask questions for a Q & A session, so I had to make up my own questions.  After this, I was invited to teach on the same subject for the West Visaya State University.  Most of the 70 or so attendees were biology majors at the university.  Only about ten were from the church I was visiting and many agreed to begin studying the Bible.  Here students hesitated, but finally began to ask some very penetrating questions. 

Monday evening was a session on From Shadow to Reality for the church.  This group really wants to learn from the Bible.  On Tuesday, I taught two different sessions on God and Science-this time at the University of Philippines, Iloilo.  Here the students appeared to be a bit more self confident.  Both sessions had about 50 attendees, nearly all of whom were guests invited from the University.  I got some really penetrating questions.  Students here do not struggle so much with intellectual pressure not to believe as in the US, but they have most of the other struggles of students everywhere, being pulled toward success and worldly things.  That night I taught one more time for the church here on Freedom in Christ.  Tomorrow I am off early for the southern city of Davao, where there are many Muslims in the city.  This should be an adventure.

Davao, Mindanao, Philippines  Jan 13-17

Davao is the chief city on the southern island of Mindanao.  Outsiders think of this area as unsafe due to the insurgency of Abu Saif.  There is much trouble in Zamboanga, the westernmost city on the island, on smaller islands such as Jolo (where a kidnapping of ICRC workers happened while I was here) and in the mountains.  However, contrary to the reputation of outsiders, Davao is quite peaceful and safe.  In fact, this city of 1.8 million has a good government which fights strongly against the corruption which is endemic to the Philippines.  It may well be the safest and most efficient city in the country.  Add to that the fact that this is a beautiful area, with wonderful beaches and stunning forested mountains.  I was able to visit the sanctuary of the Philippino eagle here.  This was a wonderful experience.  Davao has many of the problems which come with poverty, but there is much growth and a feeling of optimism in this bustling melting-pot city.  The seafood here is fantastic.  Raw tuna salad with cucumbers and chilis may not sound good to the uninitiated, but it is amazing.  Jaw of tuna is another which sounds questionable, but with truly fresh tuna (a major product here) is is great.  They love to eat here.  Fellowship with the Christians is great here, and it is always over a meal.

The church I visited here has about 120 members.  This is a fairly mature group, with several older and experienced couples to provide stability and wisdom.  The church is led by Edgar and his wife Lani, helped by the able leadership of Ray and Ethel, Ariel and mature couples such as Kaloy and his wife.  Despite the maturity, there is still a great need for Bible teaching here.  Philipinos tend to want a "policy" on biblical questions which require wisdom rather than a rule.  I try to be careful to give advice and not impose American thinking on a culture which is not my own.  The church could really use guests from outside the Philippines to help with Bible teaching and wisdom on things such as marriage and family.  They have much vision to plant churches in Mindanao, but need funds to help make it happen.  I find out that divorce is illegal in the Philippines, which creates a difficult question.  Jesus taught that divorce for marital unfaithfulness is acceptable to the injured party, yet the church cannot implement that teaching because the country does not allow it.

On Thursday I taught on God and Science to the church, with 180 in attendance there were almost as many guests as members.  Friday and Saturday were teaching events on From Shadow to Reality for the members and Hebrews for the leaders.  I also did a lesson on dynamic Bible study at 6:00 AM with about 40.  It is clear there is hunger for God here!  Question and answer sessions lasted for over an hour each time.

Manila Jan 17-19

From Davao I flew back to Manila.  My two remaining days gave opportunity for a class to the "zealots" group of about 50 on From Shadow to Reality as well as preaching for the Manila sector with about 300 in attendance and the AMS sector (arts, media, sports) of about 230 on Freedom in Christ and Jesus in the Old Testament.  I am inspired by Roland Monje’s vision to bring deeper biblical teaching to the Philippines as well as the vision of Koko and Farida Enrile to plant twenty new churches in the Philippines in the next six years.  They could use plenty of support for this great work.

John Oakes

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