500 Former Rebels Baptized in the Philippines

General Conference

500 Former Rebels Baptized in the Philippines

Adventist World Radio transforms lives on a conflict-torn island.

Philippines | Andrew McChesney

Philippine authorities sought for years to strike a peace deal with rebels to end a half-century conflict that has killed thousands of people on Mindoro Island.

The rebels were offered land. The rebels were offered money. Nothing seemed to work.

Then the rebels, holed up in the lush green mountains of Mindoro, began listening to Adventist World Radio.

A bloodstained chapter of Philippine history drew to a close on Sabbath, November 13, when about 500 former rebels, including their leader, laid down their weapons and gave their hearts to Jesus in baptism. In all, more than 2,000 people were baptized at the conclusion of island-wide evangelistic meetings.

“This is the amazing work of the Holy Spirit through Adventist World Radio,” said Seventh-day Adventist Church president, Ted N.C. Wilson, who baptized the former rebel leader and others at a mass baptism. 

“We give God all the glory for turning the hearts of the former rebels to Him,” he said in an interview.

Preaching to an outdoor crowd of 2,500 people before the mass baptism, Wilson emphasized that everyone has been a rebel at some point in their lives. 

“All of us were rebels at one time, not embracing God as closely as we should,” he said. 

Wilson then directly addressed hundreds of former rebels and their families listening attentively in special areas marked with signs reading “FRs,” for former rebels.

“Today, by God’s grace, you are no longer former rebels,” he said. “You are now new creatures in Jesus Christ. You are part of God’s great family that is looking forward to Jesus’ soon coming!”

Loud “amens” echoed across the vast muddy field that had been transformed into a meeting site. Heavy rain drenched the field shortly before Wilson stood to preach on a large stage flanked by two giant screens.

A Warm Welcome

Adventist World Radio president, Duane McKey, described the day as historic and he warmly welcomed the former rebels into the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

“With that welcome comes a responsibility to fulfill the Gospel Commission in which Jesus said, “Go, preach, and baptize in all the world,” he said, standing near Wilson on the stage.

He called attention to the blue shirts that the former rebels and other baptismal candidates were wearing. The shirts read, “I will go!”

“Your shirts say, ‘I will go!’” McKey said. “So that is the commission you are accepting from Jesus. ‘I will go!’ … Today, leaving the past behind, we accept that commission, that charge, of Jesus to go to your friends and neighbors and tell them about Jesus, that He is coming soon.”

At McKey’s lead, the crowd roared after him, “I will go! I will go!”

A senior Philippine military leader expressed his gratitude to the Adventist Church for the role that it played in bringing the rebels to peace. The Philippines has granted amnesty to the former rebels.

“Thank you to the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” General Jose Augusto Villareal, Commander of the 203rd Infantry Brigade, which has operational jurisdiction over Mindoro Island, said from the stage in the muddy field.

Speaking on behalf of the military, the police, and others, he also thanked Adventist World Radio and Bienvenido Tijano, an Adventist pastor and Philippine’s ambassador to Papua New Guinea, who also participated in the process.

Tijano said he was thrilled to witness the decisions by the former rebels to live for Jesus.

“I congratulate you all on your decision to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior,” he said from the stage.

A Radio Miracle

The Philippines has been mired in conflict with rebels in Mindoro since 1969. A seemingly endless cycle of ambushes and counterattacks has killed 40,000 people even as the government unsuccessfully offered numerous incentives. The rebel leader, who goes by the alias Ka Martin for safety reasons, has killed dozens of people, including 21 soldiers whom he ambushed while they were sleeping in the mountains and shot them dead with one of their own machine guns. 

A number of rebels began to listen to Adventist World Radio in 2019 and, as COVID-19 swept the world in 2020, they decided to surrender to Jesus, McKey said. Martin, a short, handsome man of about 40, could not understand what was happening to his fellow rebels and started to listen to Adventist World Radio.

“He was hiding in the jungle, watching and trying to figure out why his fighters were leaving him,” McKey said in an interview. “So he started listening to the radio.”

Adventist World Radio began broadcasting over local radio airwaves in Mindoro in 2017 as part of an Adventist world church initiative known as TMI evangelism. TMI stands for Total Member Involvement, a program that encourages every church member to bring someone to Jesus. Despite facing skepticism in some quarters about the ability of radio to reach hearts in the 21st century, Adventist World Radio leased time on local radio stations for sermons and Bible studies ahead of evangelistic meetings that year. The broadcasts were a smashing success, with each daily program offering a question of the day to which listeners could call in answers and receive prizes such as religious literature. About 1,400 people were baptized after the June 2017 meetings, and the broadcasts have continued until today.

“We won’t stop the broadcasts,” said McKey, who also serves as Assistant to the General Conference President in charge of Total Member Involvement. “The local churches are now running the broadcasts, and we provide the sermons. The laypeople make this happen. This is a perfect example of Total Member Involvement.”

Samuel Saw, president of the Southern Asia-Pacific Division, said God is not only working through Total Member Involvement but also “Total Mindoro Involvement.”

“We praise God for Total Mindoro Involvement,” he told a group of church leaders assessing the impact of Mindoro outreach on Sunday, November 14th.

Adventist World Radio is working with the Philippines government and a nongovernmental organization, ASI-member Farm Stew, to help the former rebels earn a livelihood through farming. The government has given plots of farmland to the former rebels, and Farm Stew will help teach them how to cultivate it and live healthily.

Former Rebels Say Thanks

The former rebels organized a special program of appreciation for the Seventh-day Adventist Church on the evening of November 14. As part of the program, former rebels sang, prayed, and stood up one by one to share personal testimonies about how they fell in love with Jesus.

“It was really an incredible experience,” said Kathy Proffitt, Former U.S. ambassador to Malta and a board member of Adventist World Radio. “They were incredibly sincere. The things that they said were from the heart. If anyone ever doubted that the conversions were real, they only had to hear these testimonies.”

Early Sabbath afternoon, dozens of Adventist pastors entered a large swimming pool in the muddy field to baptize 500 former rebels, including Martin and his wife, and about 200 other people. 

That evening, the former rebels gathered around the pool for a worship service at which members of the Adventist World Radio team encouraged them to be faithful. Robert Stotz, Chief Videographer for Adventist World Radio, picked up a small rock and threw it into the pool. The former rebels watched as the rock hit the water and ripples spread across the pool.

“This rock is what happened here in Mindoro,” he said. “This is a small place, but the ripples of what happened here is going to impact the whole world.”

The former rebels cheered enthusiastically.