Friday, March 15, 2013

Show Them How to Catch Fish

By Joshua Benavidez

I just recently started with my new role as Extreme Response (ER) International's Director for Asia.  I officially started at the start of the year.  Part of my job is to build and maintain healthy relationships with our partner organizations within our region.

So before the end of February, together with Russ Cline and Jerry Carnill, ER's Chief Advancement Officer and Chief Executive Officer respectively, I went to India and Nepal to be acquainted with the leaders of our partner organizations and to personally see what kind of work they are doing.

For 10 days, we went from one city to another and we saw the amazing work being done to help poor communities, street children, children living in the dump and women rescued from human trafficking.  In almost all ministries we visited, they have started a sewing livelihood program for women.

It immediately caught my interest and attention, not only because we have a sewing ministry in Manila but also because it confirms the direction God has placed in our hearts for all our ministries and partnerships.

It is based on the saying, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Aside from the sewing ministry, towards the end of January, we set up a livelihood program for a ministry among an unreached people's group in the northeastern part of the Philippines - the Dumagats.

The Dumagats, the close relatives of the Aetas, are semi-nomadic people.  They move from one place to another in search of food and better shelter although some have learned to live in permanent settlements.  Most of them are hunters and fishermen.  This particular group we are helping is in Casiguran, Aurora which is about 24 hours away from Manila by land.

Last year, we bought a generator that the pastor requested so he can go around the village and preach the Gospel.  He and his wife also attended Leader Mundial Manila Summit held last October 2012.  There we learned the hardship and difficulties they are facing not just in the ministry but also in their daily life as a family.

He narrated to us that the small boat he was using before to catch fish needed repairs including the motor that powers it. 

He also told us that the church that used to support them stopped.  If only they have the means, they would like to raise hogs so that the income can be used to help the church and the community.

The Lord answered our prayers as a donor gave enough funds to buy a new motor for a small boat and buy some pigs too.

Before we left for the US last January, he came to Manila so we can give him the funds he needed.  A few days later, he bought the hogs they will raise and he also bought a new motor for his small boat.

We also gave some extra for their family's needs.  So in a way, we gave them some “fish” because sometimes before they can catch some fish, they need to eat first too.

The pastor later on sent some pictures.  He reported that the hogs are doing well and are growing healthy.  He also said that he is now able to use the boat for catching fish and at the same time for ferrying people from one island to another which also earns him a little income.   He is so thankful to God that He provided means for them to have a source of living and that God is always on time. He understands that life in their island is still difficult, but now a glimmer of hope shines.  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Bringing Christ to the World!


I always find the Christmas season hectic and challenging.  More so this year.  On the last Sunday of November, we started a church in a nearby community located just a few minutes from our house through a simple worship service.  A culmination of 5 months of hard work of our church planting team as we tirelessly share the Gospel, lead Bible Studies and visit new contacts. 


A few days later, we went to Tingloy, for an overnight ocular inspection of the area which could be our next church planting site.  Tingloy is part of the Batangas province which is about three hours away from Manila.  It is  an isolated island and according to our contact, there has never been any evangelical work there as far as he could remember.


A day after we arrived from Tingloy, the Extreme Response (ER) Christmas Parties for street kids started.  This year, we have scheduled 13 parties for 1500 street kids in 12 different areas in the Philippines.  ER brings a team from Sunrise Community Church (Sacramento, California) and together with Youth Mobilization and IT Tender ministries, those 1500 kids will receive the love of Christ and find the true meaning of Christmas.


Aside from those events, we have reunions, church Christmas celebrations and team parties.  But the real challenge I am anticipating is the preaching of the Christmas message which I have been doing since I started preaching in 1999. 

To be honest, since the story never changes and there are a few accounts in the Gospel about the birth of Jesus, I have used similar scriptural text over and over again.
But this year, I am assigned a text that I will use.  It’s on Luke 1:46-55 - the “Magnificat”, Mary’s song of praise.  It will be my first time to use the said text for my Christmas message.

As I prepare for my preaching, it has become very evident that although Mary is not the focal point of Christmas, she plays a very significant role - that is to bring Jesus to the world.

Then I realized that we are no different. Just as God has chosen Mary, to be the physical mother of Jesus in order to bring Jesus to the world, we too are called and chosen to bring Christ to the world not just during the Christmas season but at all times and at all given opportunities.

This world needs people who would say, "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said (Luke 1:38).”

We need, as the Lord’s servants to bring Christ to wherever God will lead us.  Whether in the nearby community or in the province, I find that people long for a kind of love that lasts.  Not the kind that is here today, gone tomorrow.  A true love that only Christ can bring.

This Christmas, I believe God is giving us the many opportunities to bring Christ to each person we will meet.  1500 kids are now getting that opportunity.  That community a few minutes away from us continues to get it.  Tingloy soon will first get that opportunity.  If each one of us will respond to God’s call, it won’t be impossible for us to bring Christ to the world.  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Comforted to Comfort Others!


Once, I saw a movie about a man who is about to take his life by jumping off a bridge because of his problems.  But when he was about to do it, he saw a woman at the other side of the bridge wanting to jump off too.  So instead of pursuing his end, he hurried to the other side to prevent the woman from jumping.  Soon after saving her from committing suicide, he realized how tiny his problems were compared to hers.  He then helped her overcome her difficulties, forgetting his own problems and the desire to take his life.

I just felt the same way.  Not that I am contemplating to jump off a bridge (I need to travel at least 30 minutes to find a  bridge where I can jump off and I am afraid of drowning) but, many times, in the last four months that I realized how small my problems were compared to what other people are experiencing.  After helping them, I didn't just forget my own problems; my heart is also filled with an overflowing joy.  It is as if, my own problems are solved when I see other people recovering from theirs.

Just like when me and my son got sick with a viral infection which rendered us so weak with high fever and rashes for two days.  It was scary because it happened during the height of the Dengue incidence in Metro Manila.  Josiah almost died three years ago because of this virus.  Thank God it was not, on the third day, we recovered as if nothing happened.

A few days after, we heard that a pastor friend of ours lost his wife and daughter due to complications while she was giving birth.

I found myself forgetting my own problem and made all possible means to visit him.  What a joy indeed just to provide a listening ear and an encouragement to a grieving friend.  We left knowing that God has strengthened and encouraged him.

Same thing happened when Lois, my daughter injured her knee.  We're back at the hospital again in a span of three months.  With mounting bills to pay, we couldn't afford another trip to the hospital.  To make it worse, I know that we don't have a house to stay in a matter of months.  We're staying in a parsonage of the church we are serving and according to the agreement we made with the church leaders, we can only stay until October 2012.  If not for the goodness of the leadership of the church who extended our stay in the house we are using right now, I don't know where we will be staying.

While her knee was receiving treatment, an urban poor community close to where we are ministering was being demolished.  Violence erupted and a score people were injured.  A lot of people lose their houses, illegal they may be, they now don't have a place to stay.  Members of our church who are also using a plot of land not their own just a stone throw away from the demolition site are now in fear that they will suffer the same fate.  Where are we going to put more than 20 families if the owner of their land decides to evict them?  It doesn't help either to know that Christmas is just around the corner.

Again, all my troubles seem to evaporate in the light of what my members might face in the near future.  That week, as I think of how I will encourage them, the opposite happened.  Instead of me encouraging them, they are the ones who encouraged me. 

One of my workers told me that instead of being afraid, some of our youth in that community started to say, “Let's dream that God one day will give us a house of our own - a big house with many floors and rooms.  All families can live there.  We have a big God; there is nothing impossible for Him!

When I heard that, I realized how small my faith is.  I also realized why the Lord is letting us pass through some difficulties, trials and challenges the past few months.  So that we can encourage those who need it by the same encouragement we receive from the Lord. 

I remember Paul once said, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).    

Monday, September 17, 2012

Changing of the Guards!


As I write this newsletter, exactly eight years after me and my friend started Youth Mobilization (YM), I am no longer the team leader of YM.  In a simple but memorable ceremony last September 12, held at the International Teams Philippines (ITP) office, I formally turned over the team to new leadership.

With regards to my new role, it will be decided by the end of  September, so I can't make full announcements until the first week of October.

So officially, Mackie now heads YM, while John heads Tender and Tender has become a new team directly under ITP and separate from YM.  Me and Anne chose to remain with YM as a support to Mackie and we are still IT missionaries. Although the two are now different and separate teams, we have agreed to stay as one team in spirit as we promise to work together, as if nothing has changed.

It wasn’t an easy decision for me since YM was my “baby” but I have learned to obey the Lord no matter how difficult His command is.  It is a process I started to pray for and struggle with for the last two years.  Finally, me and Anne agreed that this is the time we have been waiting for.  The two new leaders are ready and the two teams can now stand on their own even without me as their team leader.

As to my new role, continue to pray for God’s will and direction.  As soon as everything is confirmed we will certainly let everyone now.  The only thing clear for us is that God is leading us to pursue and expand what God has called us to do and that is to come alongside and empower leaders so that they can be effective in their ministry to the poor, the hopeless and the helpless.  We covet and appreciate all your prayers and support.


Towards the end of May, our summer vacation, our family, together with 20 others went to Roxas and Iloilo (Visayan Region - an hour by plane from Manila) to minister and help a couple churches through medical mission, hygiene clinic and personal evangelism.  Josiah and another missionary are seen here helping with the dental service.

The Golden Hands Sewing Ministry is growing.  Since  Anne started it last July, 8 mothers have already involved.  Aside from getting extra income, the mothers also have started a small group ministry.  They use their time together not just to sew but also to share God’s Word and encourage one another.

To continue YM’s legacy of equipping youth leaders, Anne and Mackie, the new YM Team Leader, gather 15 youth leaders from different churches for an overnight summit.  They used this opportunity last September 14 & 15 to teach Leader Mundial’s ABC of Leadership and to launch YM’s newest project, the online mentoring of Youth Leaders.

The Leader Mundial Manila Summit will kick-off our last quarter activities.  We are expecting 35 leaders to attend this 4-day summit from October 17-20.  This year’s venue is the Rizal Re-Creation Center in Laguna (about a two-hour drive from Manila) and the theme is, “Renewing One’s Passion in Serving the Lord.” 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Harvest Time!

My first encounter with Zanzibar happened more than 15 years ago.  I was a young staff then of a local church involved in feeding little children in this street located in Baranggay San Isidro, MakatiMakati City is known as the business district of the Philippines but maybe unknown to many, it is home to many urban poor communities.  Zanzibar is one of them. 

I remember so well how the children would recognize our vehicle as it turns from Batangas street towards them, a 1975 Yellow Ford Fierra.  Young and old alike would then run, grab a bowl and a spoon and line up towards our vehicle.  We would do this week after week – for almost an hour, we would give food and then take some time to share God’s Word to the people. 

I don’t know why I stopped being part of that ministry, but maybe I was assigned to another area or I was given more responsibilities and I had to train and ask someone to take my place.

15 years later, I am back in Zanzibar.  The place looks the same although recognizing a single face is a bit difficult.  The many shanties are still there.  Children roam everywhere at any given time.  The one side of that street that is home to many jeepneys still operates as a garage/repair shop/garden (one man thought of using an abandoned dilapidated jeepney as a plant rack.  He has about ten ornamental plants on top of that jeepney).  There are still those who congregate to kill time in their own unique and special way.  Some would drink and sing while the others play a locally popular game called bingo for some small amount of money.  Others still set up a tent where they can relax and sleep during the heat of the day.

But amidst all of these, something different can be seen.  A young man in his early twenties holds a Bible while his companion happily strums his guitar while leading in singing spiritual songs.  Around them is a group of about twenty, mostly mothers while 2 or three are young people.  Fathers would drop in and out as the singing continues.

The one who holds the Bible and the one who leads the singing are my staff.  Lacking a place large enough to hold twenty people, we have decided to hold our weekly Bible Study on the street.  It encourages me a lot to see them lead the people in studying the Word of God, not minding the noise and the other things happening around them.  It is a good sight indeed, considering that these people used to do what the other people normally do for their past time.

Now, aside from the Bible study, they regularly attend church.  Many of them are already serving in different capacities.  Some are part of the ushering ministry while some are committed prayer warriors.  They are also very much involved in the women’s ministry, advocating what it means to be a godly woman in the house.  The church responds by providing venues for them to grow in the Lord and be productive.  They have a regular fellowship among other housewives of the church as well as out of town special activities, like the Women’s Camp that is scheduled on August 3 and 4.

Moreover, we have set up a livelihood program for them.  Initially, there’s the sewing project where women are involved in making inexpensive wash cloths and pillow casing.  Proceeds from the sale of these help the women earn income as well as some portion go to help fund church ministries.

I realize that the Lord never forgets what He has started.  15 years ago, we started to plant the seeds of the Gospel.  Now we are harvesting.  The Apostle Paul was right when he confidently said that that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  God is so good and faithful indeed!   

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Reaching the Unreached

It’s been a year since Pastor Jordan Dela Cruz started a ministry among the Dumagats in a remote island (Baranggay Cozo, Sitio Dimaguipo) off Casiguran, Aurora.  His first encounter with the Dumagats was when he and his wife visited the island right after their wedding.  Pastor Jordan, an Aeta from Zambales married Zyra, a Dumagat.  After their third visit, Pastor Jordan responded to the call fo God to minister to the Dumagats.

The Dumagats, the close relatives of the Aetas, are semi-nomadic people.  They move from one place to another in search of food and better shelter although some have learned to live in permanent settlements.  Most of them are hunters and fishermen.  They inhabit the coastal areas of Aurora and Quezon and some are dispersed in smaller groups in the mountains.  They speak 6 different languages.

In spite of the obvious difficulties and challenges they will face in the island (the island is very remote and there’s no clean, running water and there is no electricity), Pastor Jordan started a Bible study in April 2011.  Immediately, 30 souls surrendered their lives to Jesus.  With those 30 regularly attending their Bible Studies, soon, they started a worship service.

Their worship sanctuary says it all – a make-shift structure built out of tree branches which serve as the posts and braces while a used polyester and nylon fabric serves as the roof.  Since, most of the members are poor they don’t have any funds to build a better worship place.  The church does not even have enough funds to support Pastor Jordan and his family.  But these conditions did not deter Pastor Jordan from pursuing God’s call for his life. 

Instead of being discouraged, he started evangelizing the area by going from one community to the other preaching the Gospel.  After a few meetings, he wondered what difference it will make if he had a portable generator he can use to power a sound system so the people can hear the Gospel better.  He started praying for it.  Meanwhile, his senior pastor shared this to us and we too started praying for it.  

God does answer our prayers.  When Joshua was in the US, someone approached him after he spoke to a mission’s class about the Dumagats.  He pledged to give funds enough to buy a portable generator.

After coordinating and sharing this wonderful news to Pastor Jordan, on June 14, Rico, Elisha and Ramon all Junior Pastors of JKKCC, volunteered to represent the Youth Mobilization Team and brought a generator that will help Pastor Jordan and his Gospel ministry.

The three traveled a total of 24 hours, including a 10-hour drive from Cabanatuan to Casiguran that started at 2:30 am, just to reach the island where the Dumagats live. It was a long drive indeed, but the hardship they encountered is nothing compared to what Pastor Jordan and his family experience in the island everyday.  They went home encouraged and so much challenged.

On the other hand, Pastor Jordan was so thankful.  He sees the generator as God’s proof that He will provide for all their needs.  He said in the interview, “The Lord commanded me to be here.  He was the one who brought me here; He will be the one to bring me out of here.  In all the trials and challenges we have experienced here, the Lord has proven Himself faithful.  I don’t know how to hunt nor to fish, and so I am totally dependent to Him who called me for this prupose.  This generator is just one of the many answer to prayers we have received from God

Now, we have officially started of our ministry to the unreached.  As they board the boat that will bring them out of the island, they did’t say good bye but instead they said, we will meet again.  True enough, we are now planning to mobilize a bigger group to help Pastor Jordan and his ministry.  Please pray for us as we target to help build their worship place and his damaged boat.  That includes bringing a sound system and musical instruments.  We are also looking at bringing a medical team because many people in the island are sick and without any medical assistance.  The nearest hospital is at least 5 hours away by bus.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Article from our March Prayer Letter


As I write our 2nd Prayer letter for the year 2012, I am in Palmdale, California.  I am staying with Chuck Keortge, a friend whom I first met in Quito, Ecuador during the first year of the Leader Mundial summit in 2007.  Ever since that year, I’ve been passing through South California after the summit but this year, for the first time, I have decided to visit them before the summit starts.  He’s more than a friend, in so many times and so many ways, he has shown to be my mentor, teacher and most especially a loving father.  I learn a lot from him and through him I have made many connections in the ministry both in the Philippines and in California, particularly his home church in Lancaster, Grace Chapel.

Anyway, on our way home from Grace Chapel last Saturday, the rain started to pour out as forecasted.  In here, it is so true the saying, “When it rains, it pours!”  What was coming down was not just water, it was snow. I thought there will be a blanket of snow in the morning because of the downpour, but it stopped a few minutes after we reached Chuck’s house.  But as we were traveling, I couldn’t help it but see the analogy between the down pour of rain and another kind of down pour we are experiencing in our ministry in the Philippines.

Indeed, we are experiencing a down pour of trials and problems as of the moment.  It started last year when many of our donors stopped giving, both personal and ministry.  It is due to the economic recession the whole world is experiencing right now.  Many of these donors have supported us faithfully in the last five years and if not for what they are experiencing personally, they would have continued supporting us.  We lose more than 60 percent of our personal and ministry support.

Then some of our team members also started experiencing persecution from their own family.  It seems connected to the economic situation but what bothers me is that their family would rather see them go back to their old sinful ways for as long as they can bring home money.  When they stood for their faith consequently, they were literally thrown out of their house.  In our most difficult time, we had to take in one of them because he won’t have any place to stay.  A price both of us had to pay because of the Gospel.

But the down pour didn’t stop there, a few months before the year ends, one calamity after the other struck the Philippines.  Storms came our way damaging many areas, including properties of our ministry partners, specifically, the farm we help put out for the Aetas of Morong, Bataan.  Then two months into 2012, an earthquake hit the southern islands of the Philippines bringing death and destruction to the Visayan region.  Family members of Pastor Junie, who leads the Seed of Love ministry, one of our ministry partners, were cut off from food and water supply as a result of the landslides and other damages brought about by the earthquake.

As the team leader, honestly, I contemplated quitting.  It seems that these are clear signs from God that I should stop, throw in the towel and change career.  They are signs indeed but are they really from God?

Then God made me remember a passage I preached onto at the beginning of the year.   It’s on Ezekiel 37 – the valley of dry bones.  In verse three it says, “He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said, "O Sovereign LORD, you alone know."

In this particular passage, after the Lord has brought Ezekiel to valley, a valley full of dry bones, and after showing him around, how all the bones were very dry, He then asked Ezekiel a very important question.  “Can these dry bones live?”

Like many of us, I being the first one on the list, it is so easy for us to be affected by what we see, hear and experience.  Our decisions, most of the time, are based on logical thinking and those decisions are affected for sure by the factors that surround us.  Ezekiel could have easily answered, “Of course Lord, it is impossible, can’t you see that the bones are very dry?  They can’t, they are dead, and they have met their end.  It is an irreversible situation they are in.”

To be honest, that’s how I feel.  Everything is pointing to it, we have met our end.  “We have to stop now.  It is an irreversible process and there’s no way out.  It is impossible; we can’t continue without support, the damage is just too big, it is time to quit.”

Then Elijah gave a very powerful answer and I really like how he responded.  He said, "O Sovereign LORD, you alone know."  He was actually saying it is not the dry bones who will determine whether they will live or not, but it is the Lord!  The Sovereign Lord, the God who is in full control of everything!  It is not our situation, nor even what the whole world is experiencing right now that will dictate whether we will continue serving the Lord or not but it is the Lord.  It is the Lord who called us into the ministry; it is Him who knows our beginning and end.  He who started a good work in us knows how to faithfully complete it in Christ Jesus.

We know how the dry bones ended.  They lived!  The valley of dry bones became a valley of an army of the living!  God knows indeed and He completed His work!  He will do the same for us, no matter situation we are in right now!

It is amazing, how God’s word can truly turn you around even though the situation has not turned around yet.  As soon as we decided to keep on believing and serving the Lord with or without support, the Lord started to show us what He can really do.  They are too many to mention, and so I just wrote them one by one in our Praise Items!   One thing’s for sure it is the Lord who knows!