“A long time coming.” That is how I would frame my initial thoughts as I look back on my trip to the Philippines last month. For nearly the last decade, I’ve known Antonio Ner, a dear brother in Christ who serves as a missionary in the Philippines. For that same length of time, he has encouraged me to visit him and his ministry, expressing this desire numerous times. Yet, it was not until this summer I finally resolved to go. I’m grateful I did. Along with eight other people from my church, we traveled to the Philippines to spend a week observing Antonio’s ministry, witnessing the work he does, and coming alongside and serving with him and his wife as we were able. As I continue to reflect on my trip, there are many things I could share but I would like to share 5 reasons I’m grateful I went to the Philippines.
I’m grateful because this trip brought to mind the power of God and partnership in the gospel.
Living in the midwest section of the United States, the Philippines is literally half a world away. It takes more than a day to travel from where I live to arrive in the Philippines. Then, imagine once you have finally arrived, the next week has been planned out to serve and observe. When you consider the trip we went on in these terms, it does not sound like something that would ever pop up on a vacation brochure. That is because if you are looking for comfort, this is not the place to find it. However, if you are looking to grow in your faith and be more conformed to Jesus Christ, this is one of the opportunities that will draw you. But you will not have this goal in mind unless the power of God is in your life. That happens through a relationship with Jesus Christ and being conformed into His image. At the same time, the power of God is so mighty, as it was on this trip, because it was complemented with partnering in the gospel. When I read Philippians 1:3-5, which says, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel”, I think of Antonio Ner and the ministry leaders he has with him. I am truly grateful to have met them all.
I’m grateful because I went with a great team from our church.
As I am thankful for my new Filipino friends in the faith, I praise God for the team that the Lord sent from our church. This trip was my fourth international short-term ministry trip (the previous three being to Haiti from 2012-2014), and I am always amazed at the team God puts together. With each group, I’ve noticed we have been a people made up of different economic backgrounds and different personalities. That’s because what unites us is not our backgrounds or our personalities; what unites us is the gospel. I’m grateful for the different personalities and characters that went on this trip, which includes John and Jo Glover, Rob and Joanna Yeend, Cristian and Braden Monroe, Bill Skinner, and Brandon Sutton. I am especially grateful for the two teenagers who went, Cristian and Braden, as the trip served as an intense discipleship opportunity with their youth pastor.
I’m grateful because I was encouraged and challenged by Antonio’s ministry.
As a youth pastor, too, I was encouraged and challenged by Antonio’s ministry. One of the consistent themes of Antonio’s ministry is how he equips the youth and sends them out to serve in ministry. During our Saturday morning time in the villages, we were witnesses to the youth who lead in these ministries. As we helped serve these impoverished villages food, we heard these young people sharing truths from Scripture to these kids in their respective villages. What a blessing to see the upcoming generation invested in the gospel!
I’m grateful because I was touched and convicted by the heart of the Ner family.
I could go on and on how Antonio’s ministry has encouraged and challenged me, but what really has left an imprint on me is the heart behind the ministry of the whole Ner family. To know this entire family is a blessing. His wife, Liza, has a true servant’s heart and is such a sweet woman to befriend. Where most believers would run from a troubling situation with the excuse they are involved in ministry, Antonio and Liza run to the troubling issue, because they realize that it is the ministry. From the street ministry to using any and every opportunity to share the gospel, they are representatives of being sold out for the cause of Christ. My prayer coming back is I might use the conviction I feel to grow in my heart for the lost and share my faith with the opportunities I get.
I’m grateful because Jesus is Lord over all the earth, from America to the Philippines.
The reason I share my faith in the first place, truthfully, is because I serve a God who has saved a people from every tribe, tongue, and nation (see Revelation 5:9-10, 7:9-10). He is not sovereign over merely part of the world but over all the earth. His Lordship extends from one side of the world to the other. In our conversation, Antonio’s daughter, Princess, put it well when she said, “It amazes me how we all were born and raised on both ends of the world but we all have one heart to serve God and his people.” I am amazed as well. I am in awe in the grace of God in saving me and I am grateful to God for having me go on this trip! Friendships have been formed and family members in the faith have been met. I only hope that my next trip to the Philippines won’t be a long time coming but a time coming soon!