Friday, 8 Dec, 2023
Christmas 2009 in the Philippines

Christmas 2009 in the Philippines - Forest of Dean Community Church by Valerie Twist


Early in the morning of 14th December, 09 there was much excitement as five of us were travelling to the Philippines. The party consisted of Gary and Cheryl Twist, Linda and Duncan Murray from the Forest of Dean Community Church, myself and my husband Cyril, Gary’s parents. Gary’s wife (Pastor Boni and Odette’s eldest daughter) and their daughter Jasmine had gone out the previous week to have some special quality time with the family. This was to be my third visit and I knew that whatever unfolded, we were going to be very blessed.


Our first sight, on arriving, was Bible students and teachers, both boys and girls, mixing concrete to lay down another area of the church floor ready for the Pastor’s conference next day. It was only three weeks ago that the top floor of the church was first used for services. What a difference we saw in the building, in particular, a brand new roof.


Duncan was our preacher and what a fantastic job he did preaching 14 times. We were all caught up in what he had to say. Linda, a trained Nursery Nurse, was marvellous with the children, taking such an interest in them all and everywhere we went, teaching these precious little ones singing and acting songs which always put smiles on their faces. Being reunited with the family was so exciting. It was so good to catch up with their news. As you can imagine, Jasmine was thoroughly spoilt, particularly by her four cousins, Jericho, Jordan, Jerusalem and Judah. It was good to see previously known bible students who are such a cheerful bunch, and to see how the orphans had changed and grown.


Our job this time was mainly to encourage other churches and what a welcome we received each time, it was most humbling. Our first visit was to a very small church, but the praise and worship was tremendous and as I looked out of the window hearing the inevitable cock crowing, the odd dog wandering in and the palm leaves slightly moving, the passage, “Let every thing that has breath praise God” came to mind and turning round and seeing the faces, said it all.


We visited eight churches, as well as the many services in the home church and always the welcome was so great and sincere, the praise and worship so enthusiastic. No matter the size, so much effort had been made to brighten up the House of God, using material hung as a backcloth, material pelmets made for the window openings and beautifully made paper flowers to decorate. After each service, there was an altar call for people to give their lives to Christ, recommitment, healing, filling with the Spirit, or whatever their need. The response was enormous.


As well as preaching, witnessing and prayer, Cyril took some stories from “Open the Book” out with him. “Open the Book” is an organisation started up ten years ago in England, the idea being for a group of people, usually retired, to go out from their churches into local schools and enact Bible stories. It is a huge success and growing rapidly across the country.


A doctor and nurse in our church very kindly gave us medication and dressings to take out and, together

with a large amount that we were able to buy out there, we were all set for the medical outreach Pastor

Boni had organised. This outreach incorporated other churches and had been wanted by the Coastguards

responsible for that area. What a day that was, with doctors and dentists giving their services free, and the Coastguards all looking so smart in their uniforms. Many people received help and attention, which they would not have been able to afford. All the family were involved. The daughters in particular, assisted with the giving of medication. We had sent before us eighty pairs of reading glasses, which were gratefully received and I was glad to be caught up in the distribution of those, so that I was not witness to any of the extractions of teeth! A lovely meal was provided for all and prayers, of course, for any who needed. It was a great success.


Christmas Eve saw us giving out gifts to the students and orphans. It was so lovely to see their faces and for quite a few days, we saw the orphans taking their little bags of goodies around with them. Christmas Day was spent on the beach and the children loved playing and splashing about in the sea. A lovely lunch was provided with a roasted pig and a home-grown turkey cooked there and then on the beach! A very happy day was had by all.


We then travelled south for three and a half hours, with me revelling in all the sights and beautiful scenery, to spend three days visiting churches and the orphanage in Gatas. Due to the dangerous area, Pastor Boni arranged for two armed guards to be with us. At these churches we were able to give out some donated seed and more reading glasses that we had been able to purchase out there. Of course, these were greatly received, with one lady saying that she would now be able to read her Bible after five years.


When we were at Joshua and Amette’s Church, we noticed one of the guards was listening intently at the window to all that was being said. He was obviously very touched because when the time came for them to leave he couldn’t say thank you enough to us for coming out to his country. We pray that the Lord moved his heart and continues to do so. It was three days late for the Gatas orphans to receive their Christmas gifts and as each child came forward to receive their present, they recited a Bible passage to us in English. They were so adorable and I was most impressed with how they shared and took pleasure in what each other had received.


The next event was New Year’s Eve and after the service, a fire was lit in the middle of the church, with a pile of sticks beside it and each person in turn went to the middle confessing any mistakes they had made the previous year and saying how they would like to improve in the New Year then put a stick on the fire. What a moving spectacle it was. A few days earlier, all of us had gone out to buy fireworks. Fireworks, are very much ‘the thing’ on New Year’s Eve in the Philippines and Gary wanted to provide a great show for us all – and it was, very visual and very noisy!


On our last day, fourteen young people came from a church that Duncan, Linda and Gary had visited the previous week to be baptised in the pool. Duncan had about 15 minutes notice to say a few words and he turned up trumps again and so 14 people started a new life – what an outcome!


Finally, the evening before our departure for home, there was a party in the church with the students and orphans singing songs to us. Again, each one in turn, together with the family members, stood up individually and said prayers and thanks for us coming, it was so moving.


Reflecting on our time in the Philippines, I hope what little we did made a difference. Pastor Boni certainly stretched us. You never knew what you were going to be asked to do next. This, at times, took us out of our comfort zone, but that was good, as we had to rely on the Lord to see us through. We have all been changed. Were we blessed? Yes, amazingly so, and most of all, I thank Almighty God for the privilege

of being able to go and giving me such a heart for these precious people.