Hilltop Church of Christ, Bayandong, Bacacay, Albay

THE BEGINNING OF THE MISSION. The work of the Lord in Bayandong, in the town of Bacacay, province of Albay, began when ministry groups “Body and Soul” led by brother Salvador Cariaga and “March for Christ” led by brother Luis Cusi came with aids from US brethren. These two ministry groups, both founded by members of the churches of Christ, supplement each other and complement the work of the church in extending assistance to the victims of calamities.

What they saw was a great devastation that had been created by, first, the typhoon “Reming,” then, by the great rush of the waters from the top of Mount Mayon, which pushed the stones, sand and lava that had been spewed by the volcano a month before that. The storm with its forceful winds fell the trees and the coconuts, if not rendered them leafless and fruitless for many months, and its rains flooded the ricelands. Vegetation destroyed meant hunger to these people whose lives depended on what the land produces. But the great rush of the stones and the sand and the lava meant more. It had destroyed some bridges and parts of the highway. It had buried villages, and homes and people. It meant death.

I had gone to the place Monday last week, December 3, and that was more than a year after the great devastation. I saw signs of life rising and rebuilding from the ashes of death that had gone before it.

SMELL OF PUTREFYING FLESH. I was told that six months after that great devastation, the villages Mayon had destroyed still smelled of putrefying flesh, some dead bodies unrecovered and allowed to remain buried, a testament to nature’s great anger. In the village of Padang, I stood on the roof of a two storey-structure all covered with sand and ash and stones. Underneath it, I was told, lies a family of four. They never came out.

Sal first came here with the preachers and some students from Sunrise Christian College. They came to help the people rebuild their lives. Foodstuff for the hungry stomachs. GI sheets and canvas as roofs for their homes. And the Bible for the soul. They talked to the people, aided them, comforted them, and taught them.

I too had talked to the people of the place when I came last Monday. Their eyes and voices spoke of great hardship of trying to make do with what “Reming” and Mount Mayon had left in their wake. I saw pessimism and anger at nature and God. But I also saw faith in the God who sent these calamities, and great hope for the future. And thankfulness. Calamities had touched their lives, and, I would add, it prepared their hearts and minds for the gospel

SISTER DELIA LONGA. Sister Delia Longa, one of the first converts to the cause of Jesus in Bayandong, is one who was thankful for the coming of typhoon “Reming.” When asked why, she said: Because the Christians came, and with it came the gospel. Sister Delia’s three children, all girls, helped Sal in the distribution of goods to those who had been victims. This introduced them to the Christians. Sister Delia said she and her family never received any aid from the Christians because they were not victims; her house stood firm and strong in the midst of the typhoons. Because they were on top of a hill, the raging waters accompanied by lava and stones and sand never reached them. God, she said, had protected her and her family. But she received much more: a visit from the preachers who taught her and her kids the gospel. It moved her and her two kids, and they were baptized.

BROTHER HONESTO LONGA. Brother Honesto Longa, sister Delia’s husband, works with the National Bureau of Investigation. An educated man, he had studied under Catholic priests, in high school at the Divine Word Academy, and in college at Aquinas University. He never heard the Bible taught while he sat at the feet of these priests. But he has an open mind; and he is a searcher. After his wife became a Christian, he too became curious. He too became a Christian.

The Hilltop church in Bayandong now worships in the house of the Longas. There were baptisms before I came and more baptisms after I left.

WHY I CAME. I came because of the request of the preachers in the Bicol region who asked that I help in the teaching. My plane tickets and other allowances for the trip were paid for by brother Chito Cusi. Maimai Lagria actually first broached to me the idea of a seminar; and I was more than willing to assist.

Hence for two days (Monday and Tuesday) I conducted here a seminar on church growth and christian living. The meeting place was full of those who attended, old people and young, members and non-members. I spoke in Tagalog, and I spoke from my heart to reach out to theirs. We all understood calamities, the hardship, difficulties, loneliness and pain that these bring. But I spoke of the love of this great God who came to touch their hearts in the way that they alone could be touched–through calamities. It shook them and made them listen.

After the lectures, and over bread and coffee we would still remain and had some brainstorming and forums. We had Maimai Lagria, Kevin Usarraga, Jerome Pascua, Terence Corpus and another young preacher attending. Both Terence and his companion are working in the town of Guinobatan, Albay. Questions about issues and problems in the church, about some Bible passages and their meanings, about personal evangelism approach, etc. had been asked. Lectures would last from eight to ten in the evening, but our brainstorming, which would begin after that, would last until three in the morning. We have a new crop of preachers who love God and love to serve Him, and I was very impressed.

MAIMAI LAGRIA. Maimai Lagria, from Lila, Bohol, and a graduate of our British Bible school, used to serve both the congregations of Bayandong and Gindi, but when Kevin Usarraga arrived, he concentrated on the work in Bayandong. Teaching is made at every opportunity, and anyone who submits to the Lord’s will is assisted in his entry into the kingdom of Jesus.

Maimai and Kevin help each other, but they also help other workers, such as Jerome Pascua, who works in Daraga, Albay. During the two days that I was there, Maimai, Kevin and I visited brother Adi and his family, who with another Christian, compose another church in the town of Pilar, province of Sorsogon. We also visited brother Pilo, and exhorted him to continue in the kingdom. Pilo was taught and baptized by brother Jun Arcilla of Mandaue church.

The people here are receptive to the Word. The way to keep up with the momentum of interest is to keep on teaching. God will surely bless the work as long as it is anchored on Him and on the Savior who had died on the cross. Brother Honesto invited his neighbors to listen to our preachers. He and his family have shown by their lives the teachings of God that they have imbibed, never returning evil for evil, praying for and doing good to those who hate them. That is the true spirit of Christianity.

Hilltop church in Bayandong is surely meant to stay, for as long as the love of God and the love of His work remain in the hearts of those who serve him here.

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