Ride a jeepney two hours into the beautiful green-clad mountains outside Butuan City, and you'll reach a covered basketball court that serves as the community center for a small village. A group of medical missionaries were holding a clinic in the middle of the concrete pavilion one morning in late June. They had been welcomed that morning by the village captain and his assistant, who said, “I have lived here all my life, and this is the first time a medical clinic has come to our village.” Jordan and Sam, two college students, took temperatures and blood pressure, then gave everyone a number and sent them to some benches to wait until they were called.
Pastor Antonio leaned on a table near the benches. He was a brown-skinned Filipino with a thick and powerful build, and deep grooves that time had etched into his face. He had once been in the rebel army, but now his hardened face had a sublime tranquility in it as he taught the people sitting on the benches about the Gospel. Behind Antonio was a large banner with pictures illustrating Bible stories that outlined the Gospel, the Gospel that changed his life and took him from military to ministry. He pointed to the box that depicted a cross on a hill, and addressed the small crowd in deep-voiced Cebuano. I knew what he was saying.
A few minutes later, Pastor Antonio called me over. “I want you to share your testimony,” he said. There was a new group of patients waiting at the benches. I agreed, excited at the opportunity and a little nervous. I told my story, about how I had been raised in the church, how I had wrestled with my father's atheism, how I had fallen into secret sins that taught me God's patient love, how I had resolved to hold no part of my life back from my King, how Christ was my only good. Pastor Antonio translated after every few sentences, so I had plenty of pauses to think about what to say. The mothers and children looked at my intently as I urged them to seek God and find Him good, as I had. I prayed, and it was over. We passed out some tracts, smiling at the families.
I repeated my testimony to two or three other groups of patients. At three o'clock, the medical mission wrapped up, and we took the bone-rattling jeepney ride back down the mountain road. “Lord,” I prayed, “I've been faithful to tell who you are to me. I've done all I can, but no one responded openly. Please bring fruit out of it in your own time.”
Pastor Antonio had a daughter who had just given birth and was in the hospital with complications. She was taking heavy antibiotics to fight infection. About a week after the medical clinic, I went to the hospital in Butuan City to visit Antonio and his daughter, marveling at dank corridors that would have appalled most medical professionals back home. As I sat beside his daughter's hospital bed and talked with him and our friend Rudy, Antonio pointed a finger at me and said something in Cebuano. I didn't quite catch it, but Rudy translated.
“He says God used your testimony to bring people to salvation. Three people from the medical clinic last week came to Pastor Antonio here in the hospital and asked how to join our church.”
“Wait, they came here?” I asked. The trip to Butuan City was not something casually done for most rural residents.
“Yes, they sought him out in the hospital. There were two women and a man,” said Rudy.
“Praise God!” I said, unable to keep back a smile. Are you serious God? Thank you so much!
Antonio had referred the three villagers to Pastor Allen, a pastor in a neighboring area who came to the village to do social work. He was the closest permanent minister to them, so we put the task of follow-up with these people in his hands – and in God's.
I walked away from the hospital reeling in delight. God had surely used what I had said, together with what Pastor Antonio had spoken, to stir the hearts of those people. I was sure their faith was genuine. They had gone to such great lengths to find Antonio, a symbol of their search for the Truth.
God had used me, the media guy who took pictures, to be part of communicating the life-changing message of the gospel to these people. God had altered eternal souls, and he had done it through me. Even days after I had left the field, seeds sprouted. Praise be to God, who stirs hearts beyond our sight or knowledge.