GC President Shares Jesus With Manila’s Rich and Powerful
The Adventist church reaches out to the often-neglected upper class with a major evangelistic initiative.
A prominent Manila businesswoman could serve as the poster child for a two-week evangelistic series that resulted in more than 3,000 baptisms in the Philippine capital.
The businesswoman, Lourdes Barbero-Ramos, attended the May 4-17 meetings led by Seventh-day Adventist world church President Ted N.C. Wilson in Manila.
But she didn’t go alone.
Barbero-Ramos, who was baptized by Wilson at an evangelistic series in 2009, brought several affluent friends including Minnie Aguilar, a nationally known television comedian.
“It wasn’t hard to bring her because she watches 3ABN and knows our teachings,” Barbero-Ramos said Wednesday by telephone. 3ABN is a privately owned satellite television channel run by Adventists..
“But when Minnie heard Elder Ted …” Barbero-Ramos said, her voice trailing off. “I’m not saying this because he is our president. I am saying this because he explained the truth very, very well.”
Wilson’s nightly “Revelation of Hope” presentations on the end-time prophecies of the book of Revelation marked the highlight of “Hope Manila 2014: iCare,” a yearlong, $1.2 million project to share Jesus with the people of Manila and especially with the city’s leading businesspeople and politicians.
Realizing the complexity of reaching affluent people, organizers encouraged well-connected church members like Barbero-Ramos to invite friends to the evangelistic series as well as to attend wellness seminars, Bible studies and other events in the run-up to Wilson’s visit.
Meanwhile, in the weeks and months before the meetings, a team of 100 volunteers aged 18-25 from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and other countries fanned out across the City of Makati, Manila’s bustling financial district, to befriend young professionals and hold Bible studies with them in upscale cafes.
Those and other efforts culminated in Wilson’s arrival for what he has identified as one of the church’s main evangelistic endeavors of 2014: two weeks of meetings with an audience of national lawmakers, business owners, actors and musicians.
As Wilson spoke to the rich and powerful guests, other visiting Adventist officials, including North American Division President Dan Jackson and Duane McKey, vice president of the U.S.-based Southwestern Union Conference, simultaneously conducted evangelistic meetings at 75 other sites in Manila, which has a population of 11.8 million.
A total of 3,152 people were baptized at the meetings led by Wilson over the first three Sabbaths of May, said E. Doug Venn, an organizer of Hope Manila.
Combined with another 7,000 baptisms since the start of the year, more than 10,000 new members have joined the church under the auspices of Hope Manila.
“Pastor Ted Wilson has modeled a comprehensive, long-term urban mission challenge for us,” said Venn, Adventist Mission director for the church’s Southern Asia-Pacific Division, which encompasses the Philippines and 13 other Asian countries. “This is something that we see in the life of Jesus Christ as well as in the Spirit of Prophecy.”
Following Jesus’ Example
Indeed, Jesus is recorded in the Bible as reaching out to the impoverished and the affluent. He dined in the homes of the wealthy, including Simon the Pharisee and Zacchaeus the tax collector, and He named another well-off tax collector, Matthew, as one of His 12 disciples. Among the women who assisted Jesus during His travels was Joanna, the wealthy wife of Chuza, the manager of King Herod’s household.
Adventist church co-founder Ellen G. White repeatedly cautions in her writings against neglecting the salvation of the wealthy — a call that Venn conceded has sometimes been forgotten.
“This was a special effort to reach a class of society that has been neglected in the past,” Venn said in a Skype interview this week from his office in Bangkok. Unfortunately, Venn said, sometimes “our reflex is we don’t care about the individual; we have other motives.”
Wilson, speaking to Hope Manila organizers as they firmed up plans in February 2013, stressed the need to focus narrowly on the affluent of the City of Makati and to draw up a holistic and comprehensive three-five year plan to support their heath and spiritual needs.
“I’m hoping that you’ll find a location for the meetings that [seats] maybe 500-700 people, a place where we can focus on the higher classes,” Wilson said in a videotaped address.
After the Manila meetings, Wilson expressed gratitude to God in an e-mailed letter sent this week to employees of the world church headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland.
"We praise God that many, many people were baptized as part of a large integrated effort across metro Manila,” Wilson said. “God is opening doors for the proclamation of His three angels’ messages everywhere around the world. Jesus is coming soon!"
It remains unclear how many affluent people were baptized at the Manila meetings. But of the 700 people who filled the Philippine International Convention Center to hear Wilson speak on weeknights, about 400 were the guests of Adventists, Venn said. Among the guests was a daughter of the Philippines vice president, the owner of five local radio stations, and the winner of a Miss Earth beauty pageant, he said.
Senators Nancy Binay and Cynthia Villar, who are not Adventists, spoke glowingly at the meetings about the church’s health initiatives.
Wilson ended the evangelistic series at the Cuneta Astrodome, where an estimated 13,000 people packed the indoor sporting arena on Sabbath, May 17, said Joe Orbe Jr., communication director for North Philippine Union Conference, which includes Manila.
Personal Coach’s Path to Baptism
Angel Manlapas, 45, a personal health coach to Makati businesspeople, attended the weeknight meetings conducted by Wilson. Manlapas, who was invited by an Adventist doctor, first stumbled across Adventism and its emphasis on a plant-based diet while seeking a healthier way of living.
“I like the lifestyle. I had been exploring Adventists for a couple years,” she said in a Skype interview from Manila.
Manlapas, a registered nurse, decided to be baptized at Wilson’s meetings, which were coupled with a daily wellness program by Dr. Peter Landless, Health Ministries director of the Adventist church.
“It was on the last day of Hope Manila when Elder Wilson said, ‘If you are a truth seeker and have been going around and around looking for the truth, then God is calling you,’” Manlapas said.
She was baptized by Wilson on May 17.
Manlapas said she has begun to share information on both healthy living and Jesus with her wealthy clients.
Volunteer Brings 5 Businessmen to Meetings
Five prominent businesspeople attended the meetings because of the efforts of Majintha Gunatilake, a Sri Lankan national and one of 100 volunteers who received Hope Manila training from the church’s International Field School of Urban Evangelism.
Gunatilake initially worked closely with seven business leaders — four of whom he met through their Adventist friends and three of whom he met through a local Adventist pastor. Asked by e-mail how he had managed to convince the businessmen to study the Bible with him, he replied, “Earnest prayers really work!”
He also aroused the curiosity of three businessmen by sending them a Bible-based PowerPoint presentation through a mutual Adventist friend. Seeing the interest, the friend arranged a meeting at a cafe with food, and a Bible study group was born.
Gunatilake has high hopes that all seven of his new friends will accept Jesus before he leaves Manila.
“We need more time with them,” he said. “But the work is in progress. Soon I believe we shall be able to reap all of them, including their families.”
‘Mix Something With the Salt’
The work of the volunteers, especially their Bible studies with up-and-coming young professionals in the cafes of Manila’s financial district, impressed Rex and Sheri Abbott, a married couple from Birmingham, Alabama, who helped lead an evangelistic series that resulted in 50 baptisms at one of the 75 satellite sites.
“I asked on the first day, ‘How do you reach out to young professionals?’” said Sheri Abbott, her eyes sparkling during a Skype video interview as she related her first encounter with a volunteer. “He said, “Basically I sit at [a cafe] for two hours every day.’ And I thought, ‘Well!”
Abbott, who spent the first two decades of her life in the 1960s and ’70s in Japan as the daughter of Adventist missionaries, said that the young professionals whom she has met are seeking meaning in life. “They are deeply spiritual and lonely, their families live out in the provinces,” she said. “There is a great need.”
She added that the urban evangelism methods, with their emphasis on wellness and dedicated follow-through with new believers in the months and years after baptism, should be applied more vigorously in other countries.
“I think this is a great need in the United States,” she said. “We tend to throw salt at the community and say, ‘This is what you need.’ But the community says, ‘No, mix something with the salt.’”
Rex Abbott, owner of a roof-contracting business for 30 years, agreed. “We need to mix with them just as Christ mixed with people to meet their needs,” he said.
Adventist leaders intend to take the lessons learned from Manila and use them elsewhere. Hope Manila is part of the Adventist church’s “Mission to the Cities” initiative to share Jesus in the world’s biggest urban areas. It follows a pilot program in New York called NY13 last year that resulted in annual baptisms growing by 50 percent to more than 4,000. As part of that yearlong program, Wilson delivered a three-week “Revelation of Hope” series in New York in June 2013.
In Manila, a series of other events have taken place as part of its one-year program. A month-long community service project called Love-in-Action saw church volunteers touch the lives of about 100,000 people through a cleanup drive, child guidance and soup kitchen programs, and free medical and dental checkups. That event was capped by a Feb. 22 outdoor rally of 20,000 Adventists attended by Manila Mayor and former Philippine President Joseph Ejército Estrada. On March 15, about 1,000 Adventist young people drew public attention to the notion that compassion is best communicated in practical ways by organizing a three-kilometer walk through Manila on Global Youth Day.
“Manila, for us, was a teaching model,” said Venn, the Hope Manila organizer. “We now need to reach the nearly 1 billion people in the 14 countries of the Southern Asia-Pacific Division.”