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THE ENEMY IS ROARING AND THE LORD IS BLESSING Chapter 1
Steven Ray Bragg
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Pastor JoJo ~ Esparar
And The Miracle At Calapadan
“So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7).
Before we arrived in the Philippines, we had already planted three churches through the efforts of Pastor Alagos, his team, Grace Chapel Partners and by the grace of our Lord. Our first church, Grace Chapel, planted in 2006, was the result of a $100 challenge from Pastor Kelly D. Backstrom of River Rock Church in Camas, WA and my prayer.
About a year before, Kelly preached a message on the Parable of the Talents where the master had given talents or bags of silver to three of his servants and asked them to invest. Upon his return he discovered two servants did well, earning profits. The master rewarded both. The third servant had a serious attitude problem and no return on investment. He was punished. After the message Kelly asked for ten volunteers and I was one. He gave each of us $100 and asked us to invest it in the Kingdom and report back.
I was nervous about the assignment, knowing the story of the talents. What made me even more anxious was that I had fallen as a pastor and was in the beginning stages of my recovery and restoration back into ministry. At this time, I was not sure the Lord would use me even in this simple ministry of $100. Yet, in faith I prayed, “Lord, this is your $100. Please show me what to do with it.” I continued, “Lord, if I could be a part of whatever blessing this becomes, I would be happy.”
At the same time my wife’s sister, Helen, was praying for a chapel for her small community in the Philippines. The community had no place to gather and worship. Well, I became excited about helping them and others liked the idea and contributed as well. That $100 became what was to be our first church. One year later in August 2006 we went to the Grace Chapel dedication. What a wonderful blessing.
It was at the dedication that I met my future partner Pastor Alagos, who had called the Grace Chapel congregation together for the new church building. Helping in the calling of the congregation was Brother Gaudencio Valdez Jr., also known as Brother JoJo, from the El Shaddai . He too was to become my partner in this ministry.
It was at this time that I received my call to “come teach the Bible and help us.” I did not realized this was God’s call to me when they asked. I was still sure God could not use a broken man like me. However, as time passed the Lord through His abundant grace raised me into His service to go to the Philippines. The mission teach and help became teach and plant churches. God is good!
Planting the Esparar Church
Soon after we arrived, Pastor Alagos suggested we plant a church in barangay Esparar. The planting of this church defined our ministry. It confirmed for me that planting new churches was the main purpose of our ministry. It was also the beginning of my walk with God through the adversities and victories of church planting with our Lord. The adversities I call the roaring enemy and the victories are the blessings through our Mighty God.
It is my belief that because we plant these churches in His name not ours, these are His churches not ours: we proclaim only His precious Gospel of salvation and not church, religious or denominational creed; only He receives the credit, praise, honor and glory; that the roaring enemy has not harmed us or thwarted us. Indeed, the persecutions are real and felt, but His churches are planted, people come to salvation, communities are blessed and always our Lord is glorified.
In October 2011, we gathered members from our three churches: Grace Chapel, Tabernacle of Praise and Hill of Zion. We loaded everyone in two large Jeepneys and we were off to Esparar, Barbaza, Antique. We went early and spent the afternoon inviting the community to a live Christian concert. It was a two night concert with a Gospel message and a call to repentance at the end of each night. Close to fifty people came forward during the two nights. We followed up the next days and started several Bible studies.
The Enemy Is Roaring
A pastor had been recommended from the area. He seemed well suited. We had several meetings with him. I liked him.
In the beginning, all seemed satisfactory. But as time passed we received conflicting reports. Our visits there were clouded in mystery. After many months, it became increasing clear that the man we had set as the RRCP pastor for Esparar was not an honest man. He was receiving an allowance from us and only showing up sporadically. He was not growing the congregation. He had deceived us. He was also scamming the people out of money. He was stealing from the poor in Jesus' name and RRCP. The new church’s first impression of RRCP and the Lord’s church was discouraging at best.
The Lord Is Blessing
However, the work of the Holy Spirit on the hearts of the people was indelible. After we let the fraudulent man go, Pastor Alagos and I began to visit monthly. The people were forgiving and patient. Always the question was when we will build the church building for worship. We were meeting in small houses.
This was our first experience with what was to become a ministry of house churches as outreach. Some of these house churches became large enough to build a church building and others were in small communities where worshiping in someone’s home made more sense. Esparar was to be a house church for about a year. We could not invest to construct a building until they had a pastor.
At the same time, Brother JoJo was considering leaving the El Shaddai. The El Shaddai is a ministry branch of the Catholic church in Asia, especially the Philippines. They are mostly Catholic young people that feel a call to serve the Lord. The ministry was fashioned after the story of the 70 that Jesus sent out. “Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come” (Luke 10:1). And then also "Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. "Carry no money belt, no bag, no shoes; and greet no one on the way” (Luke 10:3-4). They are to carry nothing with them. They are to live and serve by faith only. They depend on the hospitality and graciousness of the people they visit. The only thing they are allowed to take with them is a Bible.
They are little trained by the Catholic church. Most of their training is by discipling one another. I must admit, they are most talented in preaching, prayer and worship. Their preaching and youth groups are dynamic. Because they are sanctioned by the Catholic church they are well received and the communities are very cooperative. The Philippines statically is 70% Catholic.
The Power of the Word of God – The Bible
“For you have been born again, not by a seed that perishes but by one that cannot perish—by the living and everlasting word of God” (1 Peter 1:23 ISV)
The El Shaddai preachers travel week after week, month after month, year after year, with only the Bible to prepare their messages and teachings. As they read the living words of God, the Holy Spirit speaks truth to their hearts. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul and spirit, joints and marrow, as it judges the thoughts and purposes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 ISV). Indeed the Bible was written by the Holy Spirit. “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 120-21).
For many of the El Shaddai preachers, there comes a time when they realize they can no longer teach Catholic doctrine. In reading their Bible, they learn the truth and need to decide what to do with it. Brother JoJo was such a man. He is a close friend of Pastor Alagos and they have many discussions. Pastor Alagos came to a similar decision about his previous denomination and decided to join and lead our efforts to work for God alone. He was no longer hindered by his denominational creeds and politics. He was freed to teach and lead as the Holy Spirit and the Word of God led him.
I am in no way putting down denominations. We all call ourselves something. To name oneself is by definition to denominate oneself. But not all denominations are on target. Just like not all church movements, of which RRCP is a part, are on target. Sometimes we need to correct our path or leave it to walk a better one. For Pastor Alagos it was course correction. For brother JoJo was a salvation decision. He was being “born again…. by the living and everlasting word of God” He knew he was called to lead in God’s Church and now he found it. It was decision time. Pastor Alagos and I purposed not to offer a call for him to join us. If JoJo was to join us, we wanted that decision to be between him and the Lord.
Brother JoJo also came several times to hear me teach. At the time, I was preaching a series on Christian foundations called the essentials of our faith. Soon after JoJo decided to leave the El Shaddai, stepping out in faith. After he resigned, JoJo came to us and asked if we had room for him. We asked him to come to our monthly pastor meetings. JoJo was well known by our pastors. He was warmly received. Soon after he joined us.
JoJo is a talent man of God. He was the leader of the El Shaddai for our province for eight years. His understanding of the Bible is exceptional. Brother JoJo became Pastor JoJo. In our pastors' meeting we learned that his and his wife JiJi’s family are from Esparar and the surrounding area.
The enemy roared through a dishonest pastor and a time of waiting. Esparar wondered if a church would ever be realized. I sometimes wondered myself. We had no pastor in sight. The enemy roaring in JoJo’s life was his fear that all the people he knew, all those who followed him and trusted him would now be disappointed in his decision to leave the Catholic Church and his respected ministry and leadership to join a Christian church.
The blessing was God preparing Esparar, RRCP and Brother JoJo for a match arranged in heaven. The preparation and timing were providential. The Esparar church now had a pastor they knew and respected. They knew his family and they knew him from the El Shaddai. Pastor JoJo and JiJi’s dream was to settle and pastor a church in their home town. Good is good!
Pastor JoJo’s Heart
Pastor JoJo’s heart has always been for the remote and isolated communities of the Philippines. That was his ministry with the El Shaddai. After eight years of traveling the remote communities of our island, Panay, he came to know these communities well. The remote areas are the poorest of the poor. Poverty, little or no education, superstition, witchcraft, no health care and no medicines are the life of the people. For many in these communities, foraging and small gardens provides their daily food. They need the hope and blessings of God .
So many times, tears come to my eyes when I see their suffering. All of our pastors are dedicated to these. Jesus calls them “the least of these.”
"Then these righteous ones will reply, 'Lord, when did we ever see You hungry and feed You? Or thirsty and give You something to drink? Or a stranger and show You hospitality? Or naked and give You clothing? When did we ever see You sick or in prison and visit You?' "And the King will say, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these My brothers and sisters, you were doing it to Me'” (Matthew 25:37-40 NLT)!
We start churches that preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and teach them to love God and to love each other.
“One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking Him this question: 'Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?' Jesus replied, 'What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?' The man answered, 'You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.' And, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 'Right!' Jesus told him. 'Do this and you will live!'" (Luke 10:25-28) The law and all that we are and that we do are summed up here.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ, Operation Kindness and Operation Philippines are saving and changing many lives, not only for eternity, but in the hope for today. In many of these remote communities, when we first go in, the look of despair on their faces and in their eyes is prominent. It is heartbreaking that I’ve learned to spot malnourishment in the eyes of children.
As the church materializes and we begin our Operation Kindness programs of feeding children, medical aid when we can, clothing, and scholarships for children so they can continue in school, the community transforms. Someone, in the name of our Lord, cares for them. Hope stirs in their hearts. We preach the Gospel pure and simple. Many are saved, and many consider. Lives are improved, and our Lord is faithful and hears their prayers. As they learn to depend on our faithful Lord Jesus, their lives improve. In time, smiles come to their faces and hope in their eyes. Thank you LORD!
Pastor’s JoJo’s heart matches our heart in this purpose and ministry. We are dedicated to sharing our Lord with them, helping as our Lord provides and watching our Lord and God transform lives and community.
The Miracle at Calapadan
Pastor’s JoJo’s late and highly respected father and many of his relatives are NPA. The New People’s Army . It is a military rebel force. From time to time they are very active in revolution. They live in the safety of the mountainous areas of our island. Esparar and the nearby Calapadan are two of these. However, because of this, criminals flee there for safety as well. As pastor JoJo puts it, even the sales people don’t enter these areas.
Pastor JoJo and RRCP have been given permission and protection into this area of Esparar and the surround communities. Calapadan is in the heart of the NPA territory. They have discovered that we really care for them. The leaders of the NPA say we have the same goals of helping the people. Our feeding and clothing programs, along with sincere love form Pastor JoJo and wife JiJi, have opened the door for the Gospel. We now have a house church in Calapadan.
The Enemy Roaring
This is one of the cases where our Lord was before us preparing our way. He has been decades in preparing for His church in Calapadan, and we pray, the other communities of this area.
One enemy has been revolution itself. Battles between the Philippine army and the NPA have taken place in these valleys, making them extremely unsafe. Another enemy is the criminal element. It is still an ever present danger. Kidnapping and robbery are the way of the criminals.
As a result, the strongholds of the enemy are suspicion and fear of outsiders. When they see a white man like me, some may think CIA or ransom. It may even be the same for Pastor JoJo because of his association with an American church.
The Lord Is Blessing
The battles between armed forces are over now. At least for the time being, there is no need. Time and politics are clearing the way for ambassadors of our Lord to enter. In fact, some of NPA leaders have retired. Some are now in the local politics. Time and peace are bringing the stronghold down.
Pastor JoJo’s father was well respected for his legendary bravery. His uncle was a hand to hand combat instructor and commander for the NPA. Therefore, JoJo and family are held in high regard. Also held in high regard is the life of Pastor JoJo. The NPA leaders and community leaders know his life. They knew him as a godless teen smoking marijuana, gambling and in trouble. When Pastor JoJo joined the El Shaddai, another reputation emerged. Over time, it became clear he truly believed in the God he proclaimed. He has never left the rural people he loves. His reputation as a man of God is unstained. It is a true representation of his faith in the God he proclaims.
When pastor JoJo decided to go to Calapadan to open a church, he had to wait for several weeks. His uncle, one of the nearby barangay captains, had to prepare for JoJo’s safety. I have been there twice now, along with my wife. Even Pastor Kelly from the USA has visited Calapadan. Out of all of our house churches, these people show the most appreciation for us being there. Their love and respect for us is genuine. Our Lord is moving in the hearts of the people. They are receiving us warmly.
On our last trip to Calapadan, we stopped at the barangay captain’s home, eight kilometers from a paved road. It can only traveled by foot or motorcycle. After a long narrow path, there are seventy-two cement steps up to the first level. Then with a little walk, the view of the breathtaking and easily protected valley opens up. The valley is green rice land. The surrounding mountains are full of banana and coconut trees and various kinds of root crops. Chickens and pigs are often raised by families.
It is at this first level where I met the captain of Calapadan and his family. The live in a modest bamboo home. Each barangay, or rural community, is governed by a captain and council members. The captain’s home is here. He has seven children: typical for a Filipino family. We were immediately greeted by the captain’s daughter, Bebe. She is a beautiful, smiling, and articulate young lady. She spoke English well. As we talked it became obvious she was educated. She had just finished college in Manila and received a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology. I was so happy that she would likely get a well-paying job and help her family. This is the custom. Families sacrifice greatly to get the children an education. If the children do well, then most likely they will help their family.
It was this way with my Filipino wife, Juliana. She is one of seven siblings. Their mother and father mortgaged land, worked hard and tightened their belts to send all the children through school. Juliana was educated as a teacher. Soon after graduation, she went to work in Hong Kong. There she spent eight years paying off the family debt. She built a nice brick home for her mom and dad who lived in a bamboo home before that. She also put three nieces through college.
When I learned Bebe had graduated, I had hope for the family. However, as the story unfolded, it was also another typical situation for most Filipino families. Bebe is sick and there is no money for medicine. She has rheumatic heart disease (RHD). This requires expensive medication to be taken monthly. The price of the medication for just one month is more expensive than the family would make in three months. Without the medication, she will can die or linger and certainly be too weak to work. Their hopes and dreams are crumbling. The family sacrificed greatly for Bebe’s education. Bebe worked hard to graduate and help herself and her family.
For most Filipinos there is no health care or medicine. Often times they can be diagnosed by a clinic, but have no money for the healing medication. Even simple colds can turn into pneumonia without medication and be fatal.
Fortunately, Juliana is aware of a free treatment that maybe available. We prayed for healing and our Lord to make a way. It will take time to write this book: I will update you later.
However, never underestimate the power of prayer. Later that afternoon, we attended the worship service in Esparar. I was introduced to a lady I did not recognize. Just two years earlier she had rashes all over her body. She had them for years. They were painful and itched terribly. Pastor Alagos and I prayed for her on three different occasions. Each time we returned to Esparar, I looked for the lady to see if she was healed. Each time we prayed for healing, I would open my eyes, hoping to see a miracle. And then, just after praying for healing for the Calapadan girl Bebe, this lady from Esparar stood before me healed completely! Without the rashes, I did not recognize her. There she stood with a beautiful complexion. Our God is good, powerful and full of loving kindness! Thank you Lord.
Four Months Later
Rainy season set in. Calapadan is almost impossible to reach much of the time during rainy season. We heard reports of Bebe’s walking to a nearby town. RHD would prevented her from waking any distances. We heard rumors only. We guessed that maybe she had found a way to get the medications needed. Maybe she got the medication through the clinic Juliana recommended. Often, I would ask Pastor JoJo if he was able to visit Calapadan or had heard more about Bebe.
Today we visited one of our churches at Anini-y. I was asked to pray for another youth with the same condition as Bebe. As we were on our way home Juliana and I were discussing Bebe who is just a few years older than the we teen we prayed for today.
It was then we received a call from Pastor JoJo. He had been to Calapadan. Our Lord healed Bebe. She had an immediate healing. None of us knew. She suspected her healing and reapplied for the job in Manila. The same clinic that examined her before now said there was no sign that she had ever been sick. Not a trace! She was cleared to work and she is now working in Manila in the IT department of Petron Corporation!
We pray Bebe’s dreams will be fulfilled. We pray her family will receive blessings. Already the surrounding communities have seen the awesome power of our Lord. We pray many will receive eternal life as they too call upon the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
All praise and honor go to our wonderful God and Savior. My prayer for Bebe was “please heal her Lord and bring glory and honor to Your name in Calapadan. Lord do something wonderful, magnificent, and miraculous that will bring glory to Your name, so the people will know You are God!”
I’m in awe that our Lord would hear my prayer. I’m in awe that our Lord would allow me to be a part of something so glorious.
Thank You LORD!
The Providential Working God
I would like to accentuate the providence of God for Esparar, Calapadan, Pastor JoJo and RRCP. It is clear to me that God has prepared our way for at least two decades that I can identify. I can only see a small portion of the picture. But this is what I recognize.
God made a way for His church to enter the Esparar and Calapadan communities. The first church, in Esparar was founded in late 2011. Calapadan was established in early 2015. Pastor JoJo is opening two more communities now.
Revolution had hindered the church from coming. There is now peace in the mountains and valleys. The NPA now protects our pastors from rouge elements. Only one of their own, Pastor JoJo, could earn their trust. Our Lord prepared the life of Pastor JoJo and JiJi to be the ambassadors of God that the communities would accept.
“Remember the things I have done in the past. For I alone am God! I am God, and there is none like me. Only I can tell you the future before it even happens. Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish”
(Isaiah 46:9-10 NLT).
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