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Steven Ray Bragg
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This is the last chapter of my book GET UP! GOD IS NOT FINISHED WITH YOU! To be released January 2015, Lord willing.
I pray you enjoy this chapter and you will read my book. Blessings!
My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT)
I find it remarkable that our Lord has gathered those like me to accomplish the work of planting new churches in the Philippines. Most of our pastors have either fallen because of sin or been rejected, marginalized or deemed not worthy for ministry. We are indeed a band of weak people dedicated to serving our Lord. We serve only by grace. We are certainly the most unlikely.
Jesus gathered many of the same to accomplish His work of establishing the church. He chose uneducated fishermen, a thieving tax collector and the greatest of sinners. In the Old Testament, God choose men like Gideon: a farmer with no confidence; a young shepherd who later committed adultery and murder; Samson a womanizer; Moses a reluctant savior; Jacob a deceiver and manipulator and so on. Yet they were called “men of whom the world was not worthy.” (Hebrews 11:38)
Pastor Norberto Magdayao Ruela (JayR)
JayR came to Tabernacle of Praise in 2007. He came from a broken family life and was discouraged. He was a competition disco dancer. Pastor Alagos began praying for him and took JayR into his home and ministered to him. Soon JayR began helping in the church. He was unmarried. He is a talented young man in music and art. Pastor Alagos discipled JayR. In 2010, under the leadership of Pastor Alagos, JayR became the pastor of our third new church: Hill of Zion.
When I arrived in late 2011 I could tell JayR was sincere, dedicated and capable. But I was also reading sadness in his heart. I probed to find the sadness, but to no avail.
Later JayR announced that his girlfriend was pregnant. It was a big mistake and he was caught. Pastor Alagos and I had to remove him from Hill of Zion. Hill of Zion loved him dearly and wanted him to continue. We told JayR he needed to show faithfulness in continuing to attend Tabernacle of Praise and worship. JayR did just that. He was faithful. God was not finished with him. They got married and now have two beautiful young children. We observed his broken heart and faithfulness. “The sacrifice You desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” (Psalms 51:17)
We gradually began using JayR in small ministries. I’m happy to say Pastor JayR is now our National Youth Group leader, RRCP’s administrative pastor, Tabernacle of Praise worship leader, and much to Hill of Zion’s happiness, their pastor. JayR is a happy family man, husband and proud father! God is using his faithfulness, dedication, many talents and his family to His glory. We are blessed by Pastor JayR and he is essential in this ministry. Amen!
Pastor Stephen and Sarah Mahusay
Sarah is Pastor Alagos's niece. Many years ago she tried to commit suicide several times. She had no hope. Pastor Alagos and Edna took her in. Like with JayR, they loved her and ministered to her. Eventually, she entered into Bible college where she meet the “big man” of her dreams, Stephen Mahusay, as she testifies. Sarah and Stephen Mahusay were married and graduated from Bible college. They began working with a denomination that did not see their talent. In fact, they told Pastor Stephen he was too illiterate to be used by them. The denomination canceled his license to exhort. For three years, they helped Sarah’s father with his church, but could do nothing more than work in the background because of the declaration of the denomination.
Three years ago we decided to plant a church on the island of Palawan. Pastor Stephen and Sarah live there and were to be the key to opening the new church. They are humble and talented in worship and preaching. They are loved by all who meet them.
Three years later that first church pastored by Stephen and Sarah has become nine churches throughout the island of Palawan. They are on fire for our Lord and He has empowered them mightily. Amen!
Pastor Pordencio Alagos and Pastor Oab
Pastor Pordencio is Pastor Alagos's brother and Sarah’s father. He was also deemed illiterate and was marginalized by his denomination. Pastor Stephen, Sarah and Pordencio are far from illiterate. It was just the denomination’s way of marginalizing them and setting them aside. As a result their licenses were in a non-renewal status. Pordencio has a heart for the lost in the remote areas. He repeatedly asked to go to these areas and was denied. The denomination wanted to build churches in the cities. Pastor Alejo Alagos and Sarah told him about RRCP. We were a perfect fit.
Pastor Pordencio contacted his old friend Pastor Oab of Palawan’s Agutaynen Tribe. The original Filipinos still live in tribal areas much like the American Indian. They want to keep their traditional cultures. They are also similar in that they are very much in need due to a lack of education, industry and so on.
Pastor Oab has been in the ministry more than twenty five years. During this time, many churches had come to him and made promises of helping the tribes in order to find a way into the tribes. But the same old story always came about. The churches took many pictures in order to acquire donations from other churches and foundations. Ultimately no help ever came to the tribal people. They received only exploitation. The lessons of exploitation came in cruel packages.
As a result, Pastor Oab had isolated himself and was very discouraged and depressed. For the last eight years he only held a small Bible study for a local tribe.
Pastor Oab’s fire was rekindled. Pordencio and Oab now have a new church building in barangay Buenavista almost completed: RRCP tribal church. After Super Typhoon Yolanda, RRCP was the first and only church that helped them. They received clothes, household goods and lots of food. Most of all, they received hope. The expression of Jesus's love was being realized.
Together they have started four more tribal house churches. Pastor Alagos and I had the pleasure of visiting them recently.
The group picture on the back of this book is the first tribal congregation. The church is being constructed in the background. Pastor Oab and his wife are on the far right of the picture. They are next to Pastor Alagos in the blue shirt. We pray to build many more Christian churches for the tribes of Palawan, Lord willing!
Pastor Larry and Judy Laureano
Pastor Larry was the senior pastor of one of the largest and most successful churches in our area. Judy is an inspiring worship leader and gifted children’s teacher. Because she has no children, she sees all children as her own and eagerly shares our Lord’s love with them. They are devoted servants. Many of the church people are professionals; doctors, engineers, teachers on so on. As a result, Pastor Larry and Judy were well compensated and admired. A large church like this is unusual for our area. The pastoring of this church is coveted by many pastors.
Several years ago, Larry was diagnosed with diabetes. He was sick for almost a year while doctors tried to get his medication regulated. Pastors from the denomination swooped in. They turned the leadership against Larry and Judy. Unkind and untrue accusations were leveled against them while Larry battle for his health. The power struggle for the coveted pastorate was successful. The church they nurtured and grew turned on them and their lives were broken. Now even Judy became ill with depression. They were removed and cast out, their good name and reputation insulted.
Eventually, they began visiting Pastor Alagos at his bakery. They were physically sick and disheartened. Pastor Larry tried to commit suicide twice. Judy feared for his life. But still they were faithful and started another Bible study that began to grow. Pastor Alagos continued to minister and encourage them. He invited them to attend our monthly pastor’s meetings. They saw the love and respect we had for each other. They understood our single mindedness for the lost; those most in need of salvation and loving care. They grew excited about our ministry. We grew to love them.
One of the churches we started in Palawan was at barangay Tagumpay. Tagumpay is a depressed area by every measurement. It floods there almost every year from typhoons. Crops are destroyed and it is hard to raise pigs, chickens and the like in any quantity as a result. The homes are built on stilts eight to ten feet off the ground. Pastor Stephen and Sarah helped launch that church. We thought we had a pastor for it, but he did not work out. Stephen and Sarah, along with the elders and leaders from their home church, RRCP Santa Lourdes, were traveling each week to keep the church at Tagumpay going. It's two hours travel each way by motorcycle. They did this for almost a year. We needed a pastor for Tagumpay.
Pastor Larry and Judy once pastored a church in Palawan near Tagumpay. Palawan represented a happy time in their life and ministry. For several years they had prayed that our Lord would provide a way back to Palawan. Our two prayers were answered. Pastor Larry and Judy took the church at Tagumpay. God is good! We move in the providence of Almighty God! Thank you Lord.
In the past year they have overseen the completion of the construction of the church building, and grown the congregation. They named the church Christ’s Transformation Center; rightly so. In the meanwhile, they opened a house church in Candelaria. There were 65 severely malnourished children there. Not anymore! We began our weekly feeding program. Judy excelled as she began teaching children speech, hygiene to children and parents and brought them the hope of the gospel. The barangay officials have seen results and they are helping. Pastor Larry and Judy have been officially recognized for their charitable care of the Filipino people. They are currently in the process of opening two house churches. Thank you Lord that you do not abandon us. Thank you Lord that even the outcast can be used for your glory. Thank you Lord for our happiness restored, to be used and honored by you as useful vessels. Amen!
Pastor Alejandro D. Dongon
Pastor Alex is a retired chemical engineer. He was frustrated with life and was drinking. One day he heard Pastor Alagos on the radio. He was so intrigued by the message he became a regular listener. Soon, Pastor Alagos held a live broadcast at Alex’s barangay. Thereafter, Alex attended the Bible studies. He began to read his Bible, becoming a student of the Word. Alex had a Catholic background and had never heard or read the Word of God before. Now it was becoming alive. “For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1:23) Alex was indeed born again.
Two years ago he became RRCP’s first elder. Last year he was ordained a pastor. He pastors our Mount Horeb River Rock Church Philippines. This church is high up on the mountain and can only be accessed by walking during much of the rainy season. This year Pastor Alex will graduate from Bible college. We rely on his wisdom. He is our stable rock at River Rock Church Philippines!
Pastor Gaudencio Valdez Jr. (JoJo) and wife Conception (JiJi)
Before he became a part of RRCP, he was known as brother JoJo with the El Shaddai. Brother JoJo was one of the people that helped call the congregation of Grace Chapel in its beginning. I meet him at the dedication.
The El Shaddai are a branch of the Catholic Church here in the Philippines. They are assigned to the remote areas to exhort and pastor. They are little trained, but effective in prayer, Bible studies and shepherding. Most of their training is through discipleship to one another. This is one of the few ways a young Catholic boy who feels a calling can respond. The basis for the El Shaddai is they are called like Jesus called the 70. They are assigned a place each week and sent. They are to take nothing with them, no food or money. They can only take a Bible.
That is the key. They can only take a Bible. Bibles are scarce so they are shared. As they travel week after week and month after month and year after year they are reading their Bible for lessons to teach wherever they go. For many their dilemma becomes that God’s Word has converted them and they are born again. Pastor JoJo is such a man. He and JiJi are born again. A stronger and more powerful preacher you will never hear. I would rather hear a message from someone like Pastor JoJo who has walked through many trails town after town, year after year with only a Bible in his hand than the most educated academic the world can offer. Now JoJo and JiJi had to decide what to do. They no longer agreed with Catholic doctrine and they were obligated to teach Catholicism.
Brother JoJo and Pastor Alagos are friends. I was fortunate to become his friend as well. Pastor Alagos knew of JoJo’s dilemma, but was wise enough not to call him to RRCP. Both he and I wanted that decision to come from him and God. If JoJo was going to leave the El Shaddai, we prayed our Lord would call him.
Several times JoJo and JiJi came to Grace Chapel and heard me teach. At that time I was in a series on the Christian foundations. I was teaching about God’s love and salvation through Jesus Christ and His resulting church. I know I did not change JoJo's thinking, but I’m sure I was preaching to the choir. We agreed on salvation, the church and the mission. We knew JoJo was close to leaving the El Shaddai. We were excited to see JoJo and JiJi struggle with their commitment with our Lord.
At the same time we were looking for a pastor for our Esparar church. One day JoJo came and announced he would be leaving El Shaddai. He had been with them eight years. He was their provincial leader and leaving would be difficult. JiJi was a talented worship leader and member of the El Shaddai Gospel Choir, Patnongon Chapter.
After he left the El Shaddai, we asked if he would like to attend our pastor meetings. Both he and JiJi did. JoJo told us he was from Esparar. His family is there. Both he and JiJi were praying to settle in Esparar and build a church there.
Well, you guessed it. Our Lord is great! They pastor our RRCP Esparar. They named it Jabez House of Prayer after their son Jabez. Their son was named after Jabez and his famous prayer mentioned in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10. Now they also pastor Grace Chapel. They are currently planting another church in barangay Padang, Lord willing. JoJo has never lost his passion for reaching into the remote Philippines with the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is on a mission for our Lord and we are with him.
Pastor Antonio Lachica Jr. and wife Teodora
My dearest friend is Pastor Lachica. He is 63: near my age. He has been in the ministry 33 years. We meet three years ago through my son’s school. His granddaughters and my son attended together. I can remember he was always asking me very direct questions. He was always polite and respectful and filled with many questions about me and RRCP.
I could tell he wanted to know if we were serious about reaching the lost in remote places. He was keen to know our doctrine. He began coming to our pastor's meetings. He was enthusiastic about what we were doing. Again, like others, he appreciated how we loved and respected each other. He was happy to see we were of one mind to be Christ’s church to those most in need. Our common ministry knit us together. He told us his denomination was more about title and position than evangelism. Politics and not salvation became the pastoral passtime. He was in a hurry to seek and save the lost and cared not about church politics. Pastor Lachica is on a mission. He was looking for like-minded pastors to partner with.
We are at a crossroads with Pastor Lachica. At age 60 he asked God to keep him alive long enough to plant five more churches. By our Lord’s grace, has planted four of the five already. He is my dear friend and ally in our Lord and ministry. I’m praying our Lord will allot him ten churches… or more, please Lord!!!
Last year we made him our second elder and ordained pastor. His practical wisdom and enthusiasm are unmatched. He is resourceful and waits for no one. Teodora is a mature and a gentle women in our Lord. She is a shining example to all the ladies of RRCP. She and Pastor Lachica are inseparable; they are truly one in marriage and commitment to serving our Lord. Amen!
These are the RRCP pastors. Time will not allow me to tell you about our leaders. They have similar stories. They have struggled through powerful forces that have tried to take them out. But our Lord is faithful with each of us. He has not lost one. All of our churches have unique stories of dark forces that have kept the church out and the victories establishing the first church in the remote areas. Each church has unworthy pastors and church leaders that overcome these dark forces in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. These broken pastors don’t come in their own strength and power but in our Lord’s name and His power. They are worthless by the world's standards. Indeed they are unworthy to serve our Lord if it were not for His forgiveness and mercy. We have been humbled by sin, rejection and persecution. But we are empowered and conquer because of our Lord’s grace in our lives. We proclaim the Lord’s Gospel and the gates of hell do not overpower His Church or His people.
I’m not boasting about myself or the pastors and leaders of River Rock Church. I’m boasting in our Lord. He is awesome. He overcomes the dark and evil forces. By His great love He has saved us, called us, restored us and empowers us. This is not for our glory or an opportunity to acclaim ourselves or put others down. It is for His glory that he saves us; His glory that redeems us. It is for His glory that we are kept safe from disease, the jungle, crocodiles, dangerous roads and deadly hostile forces. For His Glory He keeps us safe from the forces that would destroy us. It is His Gospel that calls His church out in the remote places of the Philippines. He calls them out from poverty, ignorance, superstition, witchcraft, false religions and evil control to His salvation; He establishes His church.
It is our excitement and pleasure of life that He would use such undeserving people like us. He matures in our hearts His awesome love. We experience firsthand the unfathomable depth, width, length and height of His grace and mercy. We cannot but shout wherever we go of the magnificence of our Creator and Savior’s love.
We are His people. He is our God. He is our redeemer. He is our refuge. He is our message. We are His Church. By grace we are His worthwhile servants. Thank you Lord Jesus!
It is in our brokenness that our Lord does His greatest work in us. It is when we have no light of our own that the Light of Jesus shines most brightly. He is the Light of salvation, redemption, and the awesomeness of this life and eternal life. Amen!
“And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2Corinthians 12:9-10)
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