Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte stood reverently as Seventh-day Adventist Church leader Ted N.C. Wilson prayed during a meeting at the president’s residence in Manila that had been expected to be brief but lasted 36 minutes as Duterte spoke about his faith and Wilson gave an informal Bible study on servant leadership.
Wilson, who led an Adventist delegation to Malacañan Palace, also expressed appreciation to Duterte for supporting religious liberty, promoting healthy lifestyle choices, and demonstrating the reconciliating ministry of Jesus in granting an amnesty to former rebels who have laid down their arms after hearing the gospel through Adventist World Radio.
Wilson and his wife, Nancy, are traveling for three weeks in the Philippines as part of their first international trip since COVID-19 struck in March 2020. A highlight of the trip was to be the baptism of 500 former rebels and their leader on Mindoro island on Sabbath, November 13. The former rebels decided to give their hearts to Jesus after listening to Adventist World Radio, and the government has taken the remarkable step of offering an amnesty to end a conflict that has lasted a half century and claimed 40,000 lives.
“I want to thank you for providing amnesty to the former rebels, who now have had their hearts changed by the powerful broadcasts of Adventist World Radio,” Wilson said at the meeting on the evening of November 10. The radio broadcasts “are touching their hearts and helping them to truly become productive citizens of the great country of the Philippines.”
With Duterte’s consent, Wilson opened a small black Bible and gave a Bible study on Micah 6:8, which says, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (NKJV).
“This is the formula, your excellency, for those who want to help people, to lead,” he said.
President Grows Reflective
Duterte, who initially spoke about his desire to defend children and the impoverished, appeared to grow reflective about spiritual matters after the Bible study, and he described his faith and prayer life.
“I am not into religious rituals … I do not believe in them,” he said. “But I have a deep abiding faith.”
At Wilson’s suggestion, Duterte readily stood for a prayer that closed the meeting. The Philippine health minister and a government senator, who also were in attendance, stood as well. Afterward, Wilson presented Duterte with a Bible, Ellen White’s books The Great Controversy and Steps to Christ, and a pen engraved with the Adventist Church logo, which he told the president could be used to underline verses in the Bible.
This was not the first time that Wilson has shared a Bible passage and prayed with a world leader. He has made it a practice to engage spiritually with world leaders since becoming president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in 2010, and the leaders with whom he has met include the presidents of Ghana, Malawi, and Angola, in early 2020; Paraguay’s vice president and Peru’s parliamentary speaker, in 2019, and Uganda’s president and Egypt’s prime minister, in 2018. Wilson also presents leaders with Bibles and books by Ellen White, who cofounded the Adventist Church.
Duterte’s reaction to the meeting surprised both members of the Adventist delegation and the presidential administration.
Bienvenido Tijano, an Adventist pastor who is well-acquainted with Duterte as Philippine’s ambassador to Papua New Guinea, expressed astonishment that the meeting had lasted longer than the five to 10 minutes scheduled for the courtesy call and that Wilson had been able to share such a spiritual message.
“I have never seen this kind of visit in which the president allows someone to have so much time and the opportunity to share such a message,” Tijano said.
He added that the meeting had made a positive impact on members of the presidential administration and that they had been impressed that Duterte was so attentive to Wilson’s words.
“The Holy Spirit was really there, working,” he said.
Duane McKey, president of Adventist World Radio, also marveled at Duterte’s response.
“The event was incredible, especially after I understood from President Duterte’s assistants that he usually allows people to talk for only five or 10 minutes or less,” he said. “It was very spiritual, and he responded very well. … We were blessed and proud to be Seventh-day Adventists.”
Christians Are Like Poinsettias
Kathy Proffitt, a former U.S. ambassador to Malta who has participated in many meetings with world leaders, said the spiritual nature of this particular meeting made it unlike any that she has attended previously.
“Often these meetings are very superficial, very formal, and people say the things they are expected to say,” said Proffitt, a board member with Adventist World Radio. “But this was more of a real connection. … President Duterte was sharing his personal religious beliefs. I’ve never seen that happen before — ever.”
Samuel Saw, president of the Adventist Church’s Southern Asia-Pacific Division, whose territory includes the Philippines, emphasized that the visit with Duterte was not a “usual courtesy call.”
“It was a visit with a purpose, a visit with a mission,” he said.
During the meeting, Wilson told Duterte that his desire, and the desire of every Christian, is simply to share Jesus’ love. He likened Christians to the festive red poinsettia flowers that he noticed Duterte has placed around the presidential palace for the Christmas season.
“I must say, I appreciate the beautiful poinsettias in the palace,” Wilson said. “They are really a beautiful touch that help brighten things. And really, that’s what Seventh-day Adventists and other Christians are all about: brightening the lives of people.”