A Heart-Warming Visit To The Saints in Mindanao

"Where are you heading for?” the young man seated at my left asked. “To Davao City in Mindanao,” I said. “Oh… you got to be careful,” he said, sounding quite concerned. “Why? What’s wrong?” “Well, you know, that where many of the terrorists are.” “But I thought the terrorists are in the south…” “Davao is in the South!” he said quite emphatically.

So began my short trip to the land of Mindanao. A little while earlier, the church had prayed with me at the Prayer Meeting, and a number of brethren had come to the airport to send me off despite the lateness of the night. Terrorism was not in our minds at all, though I must confess that I had only a very vague idea of what the Lord would want me to do on this trip. This is why I did not ask for anyone to come with me this time. My previous visit to Mindanao was in 2004 (2 Apr - 3 May) to speak at a pastor’s conference organised by Pastor Remagio Lapiz in Cagayan de Oro. Six years have elapsed with only a spattering of communication compounded by various difficulties. I was as such very happy that by the Lord’s providence, we would have an opportunity to renew our ties even though the original purpose of this trip was really to see how we might assist Pastor Dic Togonon in Davao City.


Davao City, Deeper Life Church

Davao City, located on the Southeastern part of Mindanao, is known to be the biggest city in the world in terms of land area. It boasts a population of about 1.36 million people, of which about 84% are Roman Catholics.

On the way from the airport, one is immediately confronted with the religiosity and superstition in the land—not only because of the numerous crucifixes everywhere, but because of the plethora of Christian sects and personality cults that have sprang up everywhere—a result, no doubt, of decades of religious zeal without knowledge.

Pastor Dic G. Togonon was a prominent lawyer turned pastor. For 12 years he had worked as a lawyer serving powerful clients, who even urged him to run for political office. But the Lord had other plans for him. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mk 8:36). Deeply convicted by the Lord, he gave up the practice and all political ambitions to become a pastor 24 years ago. During this period of time, he had helped to establish many churches with his knowledge, connections and initially, wealth. However, he soon realised, in his own words, that he was “playing church.” He had travelled far and wide to seek association and to learn from various church growth groups including some in US, Korea and Singapore. But each foray left him empty and dissatisfied, until by the providence of the Lord, he discovered the Reformed Faith through the Internet. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

Providentially too, in October 2009, the Lord provided through a member of the church, an opportunity for him and his wife, Tita, to go abroad for a vacation. Pastor Togonon, having found out about PCC through our website, decided to head to Singapore to look for us. That was how he ended up at our worship services on 18 Oct 2010.

Since then, Pastor Togonon had persisted in extending an invitation for me to visit them. Sensing his urgency and importunity, the Session eventually agreed for me to visit them from 27 March till 2 April. Little was I to know what was in store for us.

Pastor and Mrs Togonon picked me up at the airport on 27 March, Saturday; and I was made to realise very quickly the complexity of the situation that our friend was facing.

In addition to overseeing a congregation in the city, Pastor Togonon manages a Christian School as well as a huge poultry farm supplying hundreds of thousands of chicks to other poultry farmers in the region! The church was Charismatic but was now being shaken as the pastor seeks to lead them in the path of reformation in doctrine, worship and life. At the same time, out of a deep desire to glorify the Lord, Pastor Togonon is seeking to move the school from a public curriculum to the ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) programme, with the potential of losing students and teachers in the next semester.

When we realise how much it costs to run the farm, our immediate thought might be, 2 Timothy 2:4—“No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life.” However, we must realise that it is not out of covetousness that Pastor Togonon is maintaining it, for it is not only Pastor Togonon’s only source of income, but it also supplies the finances to run the school and the church! Furthermore, many of the forty or so employees at the farm have found the Lord through the Bible studies regularly conducted by Pastor Togonon at the farm. In fact, there is even a congregation of perhaps 60 or so that meet at the farm on Lord’s Day evenings!

I had the privilege of preaching in the morning at the city church and in the evening at the farm church. In the morning I was asked to speak on True Religion based on Ecclesiastes 12:13-13; while in the evening I spoke on Roman 12:1-2 to challenge the members to offer their bodies a living sacrifice unto the Lord. One scene, which I cannot get out of my mind was that of a poor widow hobbling forward to cast her offering into the offering basket. Pastor Togonon had brought me to visit her in the slums the day before and I had given her some money. I wonder if she had simply returned everything to the Lord. She reminded me so much of the widow who cast in her two mites.

I also had the opportunity of touring the farm. Pastor Togonon is a very resourceful man. He has a thriving orchard of durian, coconut, banana and cocoa trees that are fertilised with the chicken droppings from the farm; and he has several ponds of large cat-fishes which are raised with the meat of chicken that had to be culled.

But the real highlights of my stay in Davao City, I think, are the meetings I had with the congregation and the opportunity to preach at the graduation ceremony of the Deeper Life Foundation. The latter was conducted in quadrangle in the middle of a shopping mall! I was assigned to preach on the Chief end of Man from 1 Corinthians 10:31. Pray that the seed sown especially in the hearts of the parents of the students and the shoppers who stopped to listen may bear forth fruits of conversion.

As for the church meetings, I had the opportunity to meet the men in the church to challenge and encourage them to take up leadership in the church according to the biblical mandate. Then, on my final night, I was able to discuss with the core members of the church what are the marks of a true church, and also the importance of having a confessional standard to unite and found the church upon. We ended the night with a secret vote in which the members present indicated almost unanimously that they would remain as committed members if the church reconstitute with the Westminster Standards as her doctrinal basis and Pastor Togonon as the minister. I could sense the excitement of the brethren and their eagerness to walk in the path of reformation that their pastor was guiding them towards. May the Lord grant them that as they are transformed by the renewing of their minds, they will seek to be obedient to the Word even to the extent to giving up unbiblical practices to which they had emotional attachments.

Pray with Pastor Togonon. He has a lot on his plate and a heavy burden on his shoulders. He will need to lead the congregation to reconstitute herself over several sabbaths and to organise the election of deacons. He will also need to instruct church using the Westminster Shorter Catechism for a start. Furthermore, he will need to find the investors or a source of financing for the farm and the school within the next month or so.


Surigao City, Family Camp

As I mentioned earlier, we had more or less ceased contact with Pastor Remegio Lapiz in Cagayan. However, in October 2009, the Session and Diaconate of PCC, after hearing about how a massive typhoon had affected many churches in the Philippines, felt it necessary to write to Pastor Lapiz to ask if they are affected by the storm and whether they needed any assistance. The reply that came back indicated that by the mercies of the Lord, they were spared the full brunt of the storm. However, we also learned that Mrs Elizabeth Lapiz suffered a severe cervical injury a year ago and was still recovering in the ICU!

Well, it was in the exchange of emails expressing concern and promising prayers, that I broached the possibility of swinging by to Cagayan to visit during my stay in Davao. However, when I realised that it would take 7-8 hours by car to reach Cagayan from Davao, I thought we would have to abandon the idea. But as it turned out, providentially, the brethren in Cagayan had planned to assemble with a few other congregations in a family camp to be held at Surigao from 1-3 April; and immediately Pastor Lapiz wrote to see if I could drop by to speak at the camp. Well, in the marvellous plan of the Lord, I was scheduled to fly back via Manila on 2 April. It occurred to me then, I could leave one day early and fly to Surigao before heading back to Manila to catch my connecting flight home.

That was how I ended up in Surigao participating in the family camp with 137 souls from eight Reformed Congregations! I spoke on the Role of Husbands and Wives. It was quite an experience, especially as the second message had to be preached in darkness and semi-darkness due to a brownout (what we call blackout here is called brownout in the Philippines because it happens so regularly).

Judging from the profuse expressions of gratitude at the end of the messages, I believe they were well received. But honestly, what really thrilled my heart was to see how the brethren had grown in the Reformed Faith over the last five years! Pastor Lapiz and a few ministers kept reminding me that the Reformed congregation that have been raised were a direct result of the 2004 seminar when I taught the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Apparently after the seminar, a number of the ministers who attended it, were so convicted of the Reformed Faith, that they went back either to seek a reformation in their congregation, or to leave their denomination to start a new Reformed work. Thank God that they persisted despite the trials and sufferings they had to endure in the process. Today, they are all singing the Psalms using the Scottish Psalter unaccompanied and with many of the same tunes that we use. Most of the women have also learned the importance of dressing modestly for worship. It was a sight that both brought joy to my heart as well as a sense of poignancy as I realise that in our own congregation, we are still battling to inculcate a habit of decent and modest dressing.

My time at the camp was very short. But it left a deep gratitude to the Lord in my heart as well as a new resolve to labour faithfully for Him without being discouraged if I do not see immediate results.

Pray for Pastor Lapiz and the ministers associated with him (Ps Luciano Bandigan, Davao; Ps Jan Marcos, Davao; Ps Anselmo Lait, Cagayan; Ps Abelardo Antoniom Gingo’og; Ps Anotonio Decena, Surigao; Ps Ebenezer Nombre, Surigao; Ps Jay Nombre, Bakolo City; Ps Barnon Sumagang, Ozamis City). Remember the congregations that assemble each Lord’s Day (totally about 200+ souls). Pray that the Lord will continue to add to the churches such as would be saved. Many in the Philippines are hungering for the truth. Let us pray that they will be led to the truth before they are led astray by all manner of false teachings and ideas of men that are spreading like cancer through the land.



There are obvious needs in all the congregations that I visited. I am not sure if we will be able to provide for their temporal needs at all. But I know the Lord willing, we can help them with the spiritual needs. Both Pastor Togonon and Pastor Lapiz have requested for me to return or to send men who are able to teach them the Reformed Faith. Let us pray with them that the Lord will open the door for us to visit again.

But in the meantime, let us not forget to pray for these our brethren, that the Lord may continue to bless their efforts as they seek to build up the church in the fear of the Lord and unto His glory. Amen.

—JJ Lim