Grace Enough for Every Challenge
Southern Asia-Pacific Division
By Ferdinand O. Regalado
The wonderful diversity of the Southern Asia-Pacific Division (SSD) embraces some 18 countries from Bangladesh to Vietnam,1 with an Adventist membership of more than 1 million.2 Its different cultures and languages feature predominantly Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and animist peoples, with only the Philippines including a majority of Christians. Many different dialects augment the 10 languages officially recognized in the division.3 The Philippines itself uses about 170 of these dialects,4 making evangelism to different ethnic groups an even greater challenge. In spite of this, membership shows significant growth in some areas. The following experiences illustrate God’s presence and power in our work.
Reclaiming Lost Sheep
When I served as a pastor in the Philippines I visited all my church members, especially the inactive ones. I listened to their concerns, read scripture, and prayed for them. Sometimes, when invited, I ate with them. For them it was an honor that their pastor, would grace their home and join their meal.
Some said to me, “Because you visited me in my home and prayed for me, I decided to attend church and become actively involved in church again.” By God’s grace, faithful pastors in the SSD are making a difference.
Winning With Adventist Education
She always sat at the front of my religion class, more than a dozen years ago, keen to hear every topic I discussed. I could see that she was older than her classmates, but I knew little about her until the last exam she took.
In that exam I asked students which topic discussed in the class interested them most and why. She wrote that the topic that interested her most was the topic “Unpardonable Sin.” Then she candidly exposed her long-hurting soul. She wrote, “Honestly, I am not married, yet I have two kids. On the first day of the class when I received the syllabus and saw that topic, I waited for you to discuss it.”
She continued: “Since 1994 when that man came into my life, feelings of guilt have burdened me.” She wrote: “Should I ask God for forgiveness after living with and having children with this married man?”
To atone for her sins, she gave offerings to the Lord. As a faithful Roman Catholic she did a novena several times,5 asking God to forgive her sins. “When troubles came into our life, I asked God if it was punishment for what I had done. I knelt and cried out loud for forgiveness until you discussed this topic,” she indicated. “Somehow in your explanation and with the help of the Bible, my burdens were lessened. Through this class I really experienced the love of God.”
This former student also wrote, “When I enrolled in this campus, I often heard from non-Adventists, ‘Is that where you enrolled? It’s boring there; they always use the Bible.’ Now I can tell them that they are wrong, that through this class I was enlightened that even though I am a sinner, God loves me.”
Her words “even though I am a sinner, God loves me” are my testament that Adventist education makes an impact. Inside and outside the classroom I tell my students, “Your religion teacher is not a saint; he is just forgiven.” Every day I try to live and share that good news of God’s grace.
I was expecting Charlie that night. It was his follow-up call on whether I would speak at the commitment service for their weekend spiritual retreat. I invited him in. He had dark circles under his eyes, his hair was unkempt. I saw relief on his face when I said I would speak. He had been desperate about getting a speaker.
Charlie wore faded denim shorts that revealed his knees and legs powdered with cement. “I’m sorry, Pastor, for being dressed like this; I just came from work.” Charlie was interested in more than my appointment. He wanted to talk. As we did, the story of his life began to unfold.
Charlie started working when he was in fourth grade. His father had shot and killed a troublemaker in their barangay (village). Accused of a crime, he pleaded guilty and was put in jail. The eldest among his siblings, Charlie became the man of the house. He worked hard to help his mother, who earned 200 Philippine pesos (US$4.59) per month for her three children, making baby clothes. At 500 Philippine pesos (US$11.50) per month, Charlie’s wage, for a child, was not bad.
But his work making uling (hard coal for cooking, made from tree bark) gave him tuberculosis. He was told he should rest to regain his health. He rested, recovered, and pressed on, working and struggling until he finished grade school and high school.
Any college education would be expensive. But in 1996 Charlie enrolled at the Adventist University of the Philippines (AUP) as a working student. When the tuberculosis came back, he stopped for four years. Then Charlie was back again. He wanted to study theology, to become a pastor and work for the Lord. It would take him several years, earning 15 Philippine pesos (US$.35) per hour to pay living and school expenses. He found a narrow room, a rectangular boxlike structure with a small window. It looked like a prison cell, but it was free.
My wife prepared a meal for Charlie, and I prayed for him. He thanked us and left with a pensive face, perhaps still contemplating his duties for the coming retreat. Charlie may have been hungry and living in a box, but he was faithful in his duties as president of his religion club.
There are many theology graduates in the Philippines, but few pastoral positions available. Charlie surrendered his childhood dream of becoming a pastor, and graduated from college in 2006 as a secondary education major. God blessed faithful Charlie with a good wife, an elementary school teacher whom he met at the university; and with two children as well. Finding a decent job continues to be a struggle. But in spite of it, he is actively involved in his local church and a faithful Adventist Christian.
The SSD has many Charlies grappling with life challenges and following their God-inspired visions. In the midst of their challenges, God’s grace and love are always present. In the SSD we affirm every day the promise of Jesus: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). His grace is enough for every challenge.
5 A novena is a nine-day prayer ritual often dedicated to an angel or saint, or member of the Trinity.
Ferdinand O. Regalado, professor of Biblical Studies at Walla Walla University, Washington, U.S.A., is a native of the Philippines, who has also taught at the Adventist University of the Philippines and Montemorelos University in Mexico.