Philippines (MNN) — When the Church grows rapidly in one area, there tends to be a unique set of challenges. In the Philippines, the challenge over the last 30-or-so years has been logistical. But a partnership between an established church body in the United States and FARMS International is making a difference.
Pastor Arellano of Jesus Is Lord Fellowship Church of New Jersey knew that church planting and discipleship in the Philippines, his homeland, needed a more holistic approach. That’s because the biggest challenge facing pastors in rural areas was the lack of resources. He knew of many pastors who had tried and failed to keep church plants going because they simply did not have the time to minister and make sure their own families had enough to eat.
“After a while, people are living in poverty and they just could not keep up with the economic downturn. And, it has created a lot of casualties among pastors, as well as their congregations,” Arellano explains.
The rapid growth, he explains, was caused by a revival and openness to the Gospel in the 80s and 90s. Many of the youth grew up to try and be full-time ministers. However, because things happened so quickly, there was no support system for ministry, especially in areas where money was already tight.
A history of trial
The Philippines has a recent past chock-full of natural disasters, most notably Typhoon Haiyan of 2013. When crises like these strike, it can be devastating — especially for farmers. Often times, crops are destroyed. That means investments will see no return.
Additionally, Arellano says, “The number one problem in remote places and villages and barrios in the Philippines still is poverty and the lack of job opportunity in rural areas.”
On a foundation like this, ministry is very difficult to establish.
“We were just looking at how to break that cycle of poverty and to be able to give opportunity for them to alleviate their economic lives so they can be a great testimony to the community that the God we worship is the God of provision.”
About 14 years ago, Arellano was given an informational VHS on FARMS International. He was inspired by their micro-loan program and believed it could help his own people back in the Philippines.
“I saw ministry of the FARMS alleviating the poverty and connecting with Christians from remote places and building up their lives through their financial [program], as well as their discipleship program,” Arellano says.
FARMS micro-loan projects are run through local churches. Eligible congregants are given a small loan to begin or improve an income-generating project. When they are able, they pay back the interest-free loan and begin to tithe to their church from future income. Not only does this improve the life of individual families, but it empowers the local church to grow through outreach and ministry.
Arellano saw it as a practical and holistic approach to the growth of the Church in the Philippines. Together, FARMS and Jesus Is Lord Fellowship decided to start a pilot program in the Philippines in the Pangasinan region on the island of Luzon. FARMS asked the church to match the funds they contributed to the project. Jesus Is Lord Fellowship, only about ten-years-old at the time, agreed.
After several years and some bumps in the road, this project is making a huge difference. Jesus Is Lord is working alongside FARMS in three neighborhoods.
The microloans have gone to a variety of projects. Some are agricultural — raising farm animals or farming crops that have better returns. Others have invested in a business or service. A transportation tricycle can become a viable source of income in the towns. Others have opened what are called sari-sari stores — basically convenience stores with everyday goods.
Arellano says they see the program growing, and hope to offer more job training opportunities as well.
This partnership is a great reminder of how the Church and ministries of the Church can work together to make a great impact for the Lord. Arellano says it reminds him of the story of Ruth. Ruth had an obedient heart, but she had no resources to offer. Then, God brought her and Boaz together.
He says that Jesus Is Lord Fellowship Church is like Ruth, and that, “When you have that heart to really be used for the Kingdom of God, the Lord will send a Boaz ministry to pretty much partner with you.”
Through this partnership, the church is able to do what their main goal has been all along — promote the growth of the global Church.
“The very core of everything we do is discipling people — leading them into Christ-likeness.”
He says we must never get caught up in only meeting social needs but to remember, “Jesus is the center of it all.”
Finally, Pastor Arellano asks you to pray for the Body of Christ, wherever they are, to feel the presence and power of the Lord. Pray that they would lean into His strength as they continue to share the Good News.
To learn more about FARMS International and to partner with them, click here.