We both felt called, from opposite sides of the ocean. For Elvie, it was when she was in high school, and attending VBS at church. During missions time, she felt God impress upon her heart to go to Hong Kong or Bolivia, but the specific destination was not so clear.
Her Christian parents said that since she was such a good student, the government would pay for her college tuition if she attended government college (same with high school, as it is not free here). They said she should not waste a free education on ministry work. Since a high regard is placed in this country on obedience to parents, even to the extent that you cannot marry a sweetheart if the parents do not like them, she had to comply. She graduated with honors and taught for two years in public school. Yet the call of God was still very strong upon her life.
After the first 6 months of her teaching 6th grade in the rural school, her principal was so impressed with her abilities that he recommended her for teaching in the much larger and better paying city schools. So before that first school year was finished she was transferred, making a good salary. Her parents were pleased, as she bought things for them which they never had had, like a refrigerator and a television set.
Yet inwardly she struggled with the deep heartfelt calling that God had placed upon her heart to be in the ministry. After her second year, she heard that a scholarship was being offered to go to seminary from a businessman in a local church. How she heard of it was not understood, as the scholarship was only for men, not women. She waited at the church all day, to be called upon. But even at the end of the day she was ignored. Then it was that she was told by one of the male applicants that the scholarship was just for men.
She felt bad, but nonetheless the calling upon her still burned from within. So she gave a copy of her application to the young man she'd been talking to, and said, "Sir, if you are accepted, please give these applications to the registrar at the seminary". A few weeks later, a friend spoke to her and said, "Elvie, they just broadcast your name on the Christian radio station! You are to report to the Narra church to pick up your scholarship right away before the team leaves for Zamboanga to school!"
Excited yet confused, she took the jeepney to the church and was informed that the young man had given the application to the secretary of the church instead of bringing it with him to Zamboanga. That morning God had impressed it upon the wealthy businessman's heart to include one female (an unprecedented event in the ten years he'd been sponsoring seminary students), for her seminary degree. She joyfully packed up her belongings and told her parents of her decision.
Her parents were upset. The one child of their ten kids who had the most promise was giving it all up to become a poor person in ministry. Since all the pastors and missionaries they knew were about as poor as the beggars on the street, they figured the same for their daughter. Her father was so crazed by his anger that he threatened suicide, drinking insecticide when she refused to relent. He was rushed to the hospital, yet even to this day one of his eyes is partially blind as a side effect of the poison.
Her brother had said to her, "If papa dies, I will kill you!" In fear she stood her ground, saying, "God, why are you doing this to me? I know that I must go to answer your call upon my life. Yet it is so difficult. Everything is going against me! Nevertheless I trust in you." So she got on the boat and three days later was at the seminary.
Although her tuition and books were subsidized for her seminary training, her food and personal expenses were not. So her youngest sister often sent her allowance to her in the mail. Also her oldest sister occasionally helped. When she received this money in the mail while away at seminary, she would buy a dozen eggs, hard boil them, and then enter the cock pits, where dirty men gamble their paychecks away on rooster fights.
Since these hundreds of men get hungry with all their yelling, Elvie sold the eggs there. "Itlog...itlog...itlog-it!" ("eggs! eggs! eggs!"). One man got so excited that he raised his arms while cheering for his rooster, and knocked over Elvie's tray of hard-boiled eggs. Tears came to her eyes as all the money that came from her sister's allowance was represented by the sticky little white eggs that rolled down into the dust under the thongs of the feet of the bruisers that were hollering around her. She knew that there was no money left for her to have any dinner that night, nor any for rice for breakfast the next morning.
Then the man who'd hit her noticed her tears and said to her that he was sorry. She explained over the noise that she was in the seminary and had no money left. So he made a deal with her. "Pray that my cock wins the fight, and I'll pay you a hundred pesos for your eggs!" Well, she prayed with all her might, and God's mercy showered down upon her. The man came true on his promise and paid up after retrieving his winnings. And Elvie ate that night, even supplying some food to her roommates in the dorm, in the Filipino fashion of sharing when you have more than others.
Four years later the tears were on the cheeks of her proud parents as Elvie received her Masters Degree in Religious Education, Magna Cum Laude, in Zamboanga. Because of her great merits, and since most of her classmates had dropped out from the pressure over the years, she was chosen by the large Narra church to join their staff in charge of youth, children, and evangelism. Two years later I met her when I visited that Davao church, and we were married two years after that, in 1996.
When I was a child, I felt called to be a missionary to the Philippines. While attending summer Bible Camp, I listened to a missionary from the Philippines as he showed his slides from his work in Davao City. It was then, at ten years old, that God called me to missions.
Over the years, I focused on the goal of being a missionary. I attended Bible College and seminary. I became a pastor and was ordained. In 1990, as pastor in New Jersey, I had my first opportunity of visiting the Philippines on a short term missions trip, counseling during an eleven day Christian concert tour. It was awesome. To actually experience the country I'd dreamed about for nearly 2 decades! I was in heaven.
After my return, I continued my ministry in NJ and eventually accepted another pastoral position in Missouri, after two outreach efforts in Washington and Colorado. In 1993, while pastoring in Missouri, one of my members mentioned to me about a second opportunity of visiting the Philippines, through the Rotary club, on a group study exchange program (GSE).
I snatched up the opportunity and the following January was whisked over the ocean once again, but this time for 6 weeks. We toured most of the country, and ended our trip in Davao City. While there, I longed to visit the church which was spoken of by that missionary to Davao 23 years earlier. Two days before our departure from the country, I found the church and visited it with a Baptist missionary.
It was that chance last-minute visit that was to redirect the course of my entire life. For, as the pastor of the Davao church toured me around the building, the curtain to a lecture room was drawn aside, and my eyes caught hold on a beautiful woman teaching a class on prayer.
One thing led to another (yet another story) and we were married two years later. My decision was to remain in the Philippines after the wedding until her visa would be approved by the USA. What was supposed to take four months instead took four years.
Those were God-appointed years. Perhaps the Lord took the papers at the embassy through the hands of an angel, and hid them under the desk, or perhaps a gust from heaven blew the paper under the desk in a dark corner of the embassy.
But during those four years, we started a church, a school, and a foundation to reach the poor and lost in the Philippines for Jesus. Mormons, Catholics, Muslims, Pentecostals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christians, Buddhists, and other faiths all send their kids to the kinderschool which we built. Today over 100 learn about Jesus each day through the ministry of the Barner Learning Center.
God is good, and supplies the challenges we need to grow in amazing directions through this brief course of life. Our goal? To lead as many as possible to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, so that one day, not only will they be rescued from the clutches of Hell, but that also our God will welcome us home with his, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of the Lord."
Last edited August 29, 2005