Travel visas arrived just in time. Heavy rain stopped just in time. A helicopter incident was averted just in time.
If a theme were to be chosen for General Conference president Ted N.C. Wilson’s recent trip to the Philippines, a likely candidate would be “just in time.” Every challenge — from travel documents to weather and transportation — seemed to get resolved just in time.
The November 2-21 trip, which was crowned with the baptism of about 40,000 people, serves as a reminder that God’s timing is always perfect, Wilson said.
“You just need to follow the Lord’s leading, and He provides everything that we need just in time,” he said.
But uncertainty lingered until the last minute about whether Wilson’s first international trip in the COVID era would even get off the ground.
Months earlier, the Adventist Church’s Southern Asia-Pacific Division, whose territory includes the Philippines, invited Wilson to make the trip of 8,500 miles (14,000 kilometers) from the world church’s headquarters in the U.S. state of Maryland to the Philippines. Division leaders were seeking to renew the evangelistic vigor of church members.
“Some might ask, ‘Why do this faraway trip during COVID?’” said Kevin Costello, associate executive secretary of the Southern Asia-Pacific Division, who was involved in preparations for the trip. “But the fact is that his coming to the Philippines began galvanizing people six months ago.”
In anticipation of a visit by the General Conference president, church members organized small care groups from the northern tip of the Philippines to the far south, Costello said. Small care groups aim to build relationships with community members and to minister to them physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
The small care groups were to pave the way for nationwide evangelistic meetings. The division asked Wilson to speak at evangelistic meetings near the Philippine capital, Manila, and on Mindoro Island, the central Cebu Island, and Mindanao Island in the south.
Excitement grew in the weeks leading up to Wilson’s arrival, but a major roadblock threatened the trip. The Philippines had not reopened its borders to foreigners. A senior Philippine diplomat, Bienvenido Tejano, who is an Adventist pastor, appealed to the Philippine Foreign Ministry to grant special visas to Wilson and 42 others who planned to participate in evangelistic meetings. Wilson’s visa arrived on the same day that he flew out of the United States.
“After planning months upon months, not knowing if anything was going to materialize, and thinking, ‘Surely, COVID is going to be over by then,’ the visa arrived at the last minute,” Wilson said.
It arrived just in time.
Upon arriving at the Manila airport, Wilson and his wife, Nancy, found themselves ensnared in COVID-related bureaucracy. They had the necessary visas. They had the required vaccination cards. They had special COVID entry forms. But they lacked documentation confirming their Manila hotel reservation. All new arrivals are required to quarantine in hotels.
“We got to the airport, were met by protocol personnel, and were taken through all the hoops until we finally get to the point that they needed a simple thing — the confirmation of our hotel,” Wilson said. “But we didn’t have that.”
After an extended wait, the Wilsons suddenly were cleared to enter the country.
“That was just a miracle,” Wilson said. “Everything last minute. A miracle.”
Just in time.
The First Baptisms
During 10 days in quarantine, Wilson worked via Zoom, attending the division’s year-end meetings and speaking at the close of evangelistic meetings at the Adventist University of the Philippines, located 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Manila. As Wilson watched via Zoom, 147 people were baptized in the university’s swimming pool. In all, about 6,000 others were baptized at 110 sites across the Northern Philippine Union Conference.
After being released from quarantine, Wilson and the 42 other visitors traveled to Mindoro Island, where hundreds of former rebels had laid down their weapons after listening to Adventist World Radio (AWR). On the first night of evangelistic meetings in Roxas, Wilson preached to an empty field in heavy rain. The audience of 1,000 people, which included 500 former rebels, listened out of sight in makeshift shelters beside the field. Heavy rain returned two days later, on Sabbath, November 13, threatening to disrupt a scheduled mass baptism. People prayed, and the rain stopped.
“Within about 20 minutes, the Lord just parted the clouds, pushed them away, and the sun came out,” Wilson said. “It was fantastic for the church service, preaching about the second coming of Christ, and then the baptism.”
About 700 former rebels and their families were baptized, ending a painful chapter in a 52-year civil war that has killed 40,000 people.
“We had just a marvelous day,” Wilson said. “Everything came at just the right moment. I mean this was just a series of miracles all the way through.”
Just in time.
After the baptisms, Wilson was scheduled to fly by helicopter to two other evangelistic sites together with his wife, Nancy, and three others: AWR president Duane McKey; his wife, Kathy; and Tejano, the Philippine diplomat. As the helicopter pilot was preparing to take off, he abruptly realized that something was wrong. In inspecting the aircraft, he found that an essential bolt was missing from the tail rotor, and he canceled the flight.
“The Lord knew that we shouldn’t use that helicopter,” Wilson said. “But He had another helicopter in store for us, and we were able to use it to get around.”
The replacement helicopter flew Wilson to the towns of San Jose and Sablayan on the other side of the island. About 500 people were baptized there that day.
“So, everything just fell into place as it always seems to do,” Wilson said.
Just in time.
The next challenge came when Wilson and a small delegation sailed to the province of Batangas, where they planned to take a small plane to evangelistic meetings on Cebu Island, on November 15. The Batangas governor had learned about Wilson’s plan to transit through the province and invited him to a meeting. But when Wilson and his group arrived in the Batangas harbor, no place could be found for their water taxi to dock. The wharfs handled large cargo ships, and the water taxi was too small.
“Our little boat wandered around the harbor and, meanwhile, the governor of the province was waiting,” Wilson said. “But what could we do?”
After some time, the Coast Guard invited the water taxi to dock beside one of its small ships. Wilson and his group carefully crossed two Coast Guard ships and clamored up a tall metal ladder to reach the wharf. Twenty minutes later, they were seated in vans, traveling to the governor’s headquarters. After dining and praying with the governor, Wilson encouraged a hall of provincial officials and regional church workers to stay faithful to Jesus. His group caught their flight to Cebu on time.
“The Lord had everything programmed just in time,” Wilson said. “Everything happened just in time.”
After preaching on Cebu Island in the Central Philippine Union Conference, Wilson wrapped up the three-week trip with a series of sermons on Mindanao in the South Philippine Union Conference. In addition to preaching, Wilson also stopped by schools, hospitals, and other church facilities to speak, pray, and otherwise encourage church members.
Again, everything seemed to happen just in time, and thousands of people gave their hearts to Jesus in baptism. In the South Philippine Union Conference alone, 28,784 people were baptized in October and November, boosting the union’s membership past the 700,000-mark to 707,465. Union president Roger Caderma noted that Mindanao has a population of 26 million, meaning there is now one Adventist for every 37 people in the region.
The many baptisms testify of God’s grace and the galvanizing power of a visit by a General Conference president, said Costello, the division’s associate executive secretary who accompanied Wilson on his itinerary.
“Upwards of 20,000 people were baptized in the last couple weeks alone as a result of this one trip,” he said on November 19. “So, it is really wonderful to see how the Lord has worked through this to bring everybody together.”
Division president Samuel Saw thanked Wilson for supporting evangelism by traveling to the Philippines amid unusual times.
“Thank you for the vision that you have,” he told Wilson at a gathering of church leaders on November 14.
He said the acronym TMI — Total Member Involvement, a world church initiative that encourages every church member to bring someone to Jesus — has taken on a new meaning in the Philippines this year.
“Now we also have Total Mindoro Involvement, Total Manila Involvement, and Total Mindanao Involvement,” Saw said.
Toward the end of the trip, Wilson said in an interview that he was greatly encouraged to see God at work in the Philippines.
“The trip just continues to unfold in a marvelous way: wonderful people, wonderful food, a wonderful mission focus, and a real desire to see Jesus come,” he said on November 19. “Everyone seems to be working together according to the Lord’s plan of ‘just in time.’”