Evangel Family Church Cebu celebrated its 25th anniversary with the theme: “25 Years Of God’s Faithfulness”. A church that was consigned to be closed down after a few years of existence is now a vibrant community of believers impacting lives in Cebu City and throughout the Central and Eastern Visayas Region.
The Call – Hard times, Faithful God
“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations” Deuteronomy 7:9
It all started with a vision. A vision by Rev Dr Robert Lim to plant churches in the Philippines to touch lives and point them to the most faithful one, our Lord Jesus Christ. In 1993, a young missionary couple, Revs Chuck and Jocelyn Chua, answered the call to lead EFC Cebu after four hard years of pioneering work by Revs Andrew and Rowena Kwong, followed by a year of interim service by two young lady missionaries. Since its inception, countless challenges of some sort confronted the ministry that at times shook the foundation of the church to its very core. Praise be to God that the leaders stood still! From the house church with a few attendees has emerged today a dynamic disciple-making and missions-minded church, deeply rooted in the scripture and reaching a needy community along with 157 outreaches across the Central and Eastern Visayas. Truly, God is faithful forevermore.
As EFC Cebu marked its 25th anniversary, we looked back on the people who shaped the church to where it is today. Rightly so, it was fitting and proper to honor Rev Drs Robert and Marion Lim on such an occasion. Activities included a serenade by the community choir with a Chinese song entitled “Path of Grace” and a song presentation from the Bautista Clan. Known to many in EFC Cebu, the Bautista clan is a clear testament of God’s faithfulness. The godly heritage that cascades down to the younger generations traces its root to the family patriarch, the late Bro Auguro Bautista Sr, an early pioneer and faithful member of the church. Glory be to God.
The celebration last June 9, 2013 was a day worth celebrating with the presence of God’s faithful servants, Rev Drs Robert and Marion Lim. Truth of the matter is, we dearly consider ourselves part of their spiritual heritage. Little Chelsea Bautista presented a beautiful bouquet to Pastor Marion, and ElRoy Chua honored them with a hand-painted portrait done by Bro Antonio Vegas, an artist from our community who was powerfully converted to Christ.
Rev Marion Lim shared on The Foundation of Integrity. She stressed on the pressing issues of honesty and justice or impartiality to be embraced by Christians. She also underscored some practical teachings like integrity in paying our tithes, first fruits, pledges, paying off our debts and integrity in dealing with people. Truly, the people felt so blessed and motivated to walk humbly with Jesus and experience His faithfulness. Indeed, it was a timely message for the occasion. God is strategically re-positioning us for His divine manifestation as Evangel Family Church Cebu launched into a new era.
Though it was good to see the hall being jam-packed with people, let alone the door gifts, the celebration was ultimately not about numbers. The 25th church anniversary celebration was a celebration of God’s great faithfulness.
Following the joyous Sunday morning celebration, the church leaders organized a special dinner at the Ching Palace Restaurant to continue its celebration of God’s faithfulness by honoring yet again Drs Robert and Marion Lim. The event was also graced by the presence of JECPP’s Section Leaders of Central and Eastern Visayas. The picture of all the different generations of leaders of EFC Cebu was quite a sight.
Grace Bongabong and Sheryl Gabule emceed the entire evening with Govardhan Requierme as the worship leader. Sumptuous dinner was served with gladness by the restaurant personnel to the joy of all. It was indeed a very delightful dinner as the ‘sweet’ fellowship around the table was evident in the faces of the Evangelites.
Pastors Robert and Marion Lim were overwhelmed at the creative expression of the leaders’ gratefulness to both of them. ‘The Heritage’ was a 16-min video shown to remember how their lives were instrumental in planting the Cebu work in the 1980’s, salvaged it in the 1990’s and helped it grow through the years. Their exemplary lives and works for almost half a century have been bearing fruit like a heritage tree and are inspirational in the formation of the Robert and Marion Lim PEACE Foundation. The said foundation is EFC Cebu’s answer to the five global giants in our community. Thus, the leadership deemed it appropriate to honor them for the godly heritage we truly are proud of.
Elroy Chua chose a very meaningful song entitled, ‘Pastors We Love You’ that was rendered by Christine Mae Diaz. As all the leaders sang in unison the chorus with the last phrase, ‘my child well done’, it made Pastors Robert and Marion Lim closed their eyes in thankfulness and worship to the Lord for such an honor He allowed them to receive. Pas Chuck Chua, Pas Jay Bautista and Grace Bongabong’s family paid them tributes and testified how the Lord used the couple’s lives to help them grow in their Christian walk.
Pastors Robert and Marion were completely unaware that the dinner was specially planned in their honor. But they stood up with such thankfulness and humility at the wonderful works God had done these past 25 years to the church through their lives. Pastors Chuck and Jocelyn Chua taught the church to always remember where we come from and to give honor where honor is due. However, to their utter surprise, Pas Ammabelle Bautista, the one who spearheaded the entire event, also presented to both Pas Chuck and Jocelyn Chua a beautiful family portrait and a bouquet. Gratefulness begets gratefulness indeed!
Pas Robert Lim gave a short message encouraging the church to continue to nurture leaders for the next generation. He ended his message with a very striking phrase that ‘in every seed is a forest’. It was amazing how his message was in line with the theme of the video presented for them on the ‘Heritage Tree’, depicting their lives as a seed that grows to be a huge tree that is bearing so much fruit up to this time.
With such an inspirational night, it was indeed a job well done by the Board of Trustees of the Robert and Marion Lim PEACE Foundation, who cooperated and contributed to its victory in teaching ‘thankfulness’ to the younger generation by honoring Pastors Robert and Marion Lim as well as our Senior Pastor and his wife, Pastors Chuck and Jocelyn Chua. To God be the glory for giving us a momentous 25th anniversary. Amen!
Imagine a visual and hearing impaired child. Do you envision remarkable and unique abilities? Or you only see specific needs and limitations? For most people, the special child compared to the typical kid, is obviously the inferior one.
Now imagine again. This time, dream of better things. Can you see lively colors dancing away in the shadows in his eyes? Can you hear laughter and music streaming in to the silent void of his mind? Can you see and hear the call for a brand new world? Jesus said, “I am making all things new”.
The challenge for fresh imaginations in the Philippine cities and villages marks JECPP’s National Church Planters Convention this June 2013. Conference speakers Rev Dale Lim, senior pastor of Evangel Family Church – Singapore and Rev Dave Gibbons, founding pastor of New Song Church in Los Angeles, courageously echoed the call of Jesus to renew His church.
This year is JECPP’s 20th in the Philippines. Many years ago, JECPP imagined to plant 100 churches before the year 2000. In December 1999, the vision was fully realized. Looking back and now realizing the fruits of its labor, this ministry has built more than 700 churches all over the nation and deployed 18 batches of bible school graduates to the field. The small team of Singaporean missionaries from Singapore has now multiplied to more than 600 JECPP pastors and volunteer church planters laboring in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
Pastor Dale especially took note of all the minister’s grown children, representing the past years their parents have dedicated to the ministry. “I look at our missionaries’ beautiful sons and daughters, and I wonder what God has in store for them. Humans long for a better world. What do you imagine God can do for your children and your community?” Pastor Dale threw the question to the more than 200 JECPP ministers from Luzon, Central and Eastern Visayas, Western Visayas, and Northern and Southern Mindanao regions during the three-day convention held at Cebu Parklane International Hotel, Cebu City.
For the church to “re-imagine” means it must constantly find its relevance to the society instead of clinging to sluggish practices inside church buildings, he said. Pastor Dale pointed out that we are called to participate in God’s imagination of a new heaven and a new earth in Revelations 21:1-5. Since Genesis, we are part of God’s story in creating a new world. Just like Adam, we are also tasked to till the ground to make it fruitful. It’s not a perfect world yet, he said.
For JECPP to be able to discern the needs of the cities and small communities, Pastor Gibbons, on the other hand, emphasized the prayer of Apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:16 where he asked for strength to the “inner man”. The church can become a new man of understanding and power and love to be able to experience God’s immeasurable ability to transform societies, he said.
JECPP plays a special part of God’s geographic revolution. JECPP’s churches are mainly concentrated on rural and tribal communities which are very precious to God. Jesus was a carpenter from an insignificant village. “That’s why he loves the villages”, he said.
To emphasize that “big things” can happen in small communities, Pastor Gibbons shared about a community in California called Sta. Ana. Recently, a young man with his group went out to the streets to share Jesus. He chanced upon an elderly woman who was being revived by the paramedics due to heart attack. He accompanied her in the ambulance. On the way to the hospital, however, her heart stopped. After the woman was declared dead, the young man asked the medical team if he could pray for her. Five minutes after the prayer, the dead woman sneezed and woke up. The paramedics were shocked. “Do you believe in God,” the young man asked one of them. “How could I not?” came the reply.
After the message of Pastor Gibbons, Rev. Andrew Kwong led the closing prayer. “We have to reimagine our ministries,” he continued to stress. “Our church attendance and prayer meetings are not picking up. We can’t rely on what we know and want. We’ve got to ask what the Holy Spirit wants.”
Pastor Dale also continued to challenge the pastors to imagine new places. By the prompting of the Holy Spirit, the burden for Philippines a decade ago has now expanded to new ministries in Japan, China and South Africa. He also cited examples of how church growth in EFC-Singapore is manifested on helpless communities of children. In Cape Town, South Africa, EFC-Singapore has opened a ministry for children afflicted with HIV. In Singapore, the church supports a non-government organization, called “the Lighthouse” that cares for and educates visual and hearing impaired children. Because the Lighthouse population is relatively small, it has not met the government’s
criteria for funding.
But seeing the need, EFC-Singapore donated computers and other technological facilities that would give way to the Braille Refresher, a breakthrough of the traditional Braille system. Through this technology, these special children’s learning and recreation are now enhanced.
God must have done lots of imagining when he built the heavens and the earth, but human kind is the ultimate point of God’s imagination because we are His highest creation, Pastor Dale said. He encouraged the JECPP pastors to keep on despite failures and disappointments. He said God continues our stories even though there are dead ends in our lives. “With Jesus, we can imagine again,” he added.
“We came to Lighthouse without any religious agenda. Jesus did not tell us to go there and let them say the ‘sinner’s prayer’. We went there to help. We dare to re-imagine ourselves.”
Why did God confuse the ancient builders so they could not congregate in a tower that reaches the sky?
Big is good, but it is not the definitive calling for the church, said conference speaker Rev. Dave Gibbons in JECPP’s National Church Planting Convention this June 2013 at Cebu City. Pastor Dave has just confirmed JECPP’s God-given direction of birthing “rabbit churches”. Compared to a mega elephant church, a rabbit is a fairly small but lithe and fertile creature that produces many young. These little agile ones can swiftly roam the land and reach nook and cranny of the harvest fields.
Pastor Dave cautioned the church to remember the Tower of Babel where God’s people thought they could dominate the earth through a massive structure. God’s calling, he said, is not for the church to go up and reach the sky. “We are called to spread and fill the whole earth. We are called to be free.”
The stark imposing tower represents man’s prideful idea of what a great and successful ministry is. One problem of this belief is when it reduces the minister’s focus to activities inside the church building, putting too much emphasis on control, structure and numbers.
“Man’s direction is to be famous. We thought the bigger the buildings, the more people attending the services, the better. We thought that if we have to reach the city, the church has to be in a prime location. But what would the church look like if it’s not placed on a piece of land?” said Pastor Dave, referring to the misplaced importance on established order instead of people.
Another Tower of Babel mentality, according to Pastor Dave, is when the minister has become oblivious to unique God-given dreams to individuals in the church. “We believe that people in our church are there to carry out our vision? Where is that in the Bible?”
When the church does not welcome individuality and differences, people are placed in a box. “When we are kept in a box, we start to act weird. We look and sound the same,” he remarked. “We think we are so cool, yet we are just one box.”
He challenged pastors to release people and affirm the destinies and dreams God has placed in their hearts in their own communities. “Our job is to empower people to follow their own calling so they can have an impact right where they are. Why are we taking much of their time coming to a building?”
Pastor Dave said that the church must recognize every member as an ambassador, and believe that God gives each believer wisdom to reach his or her world. He cited a “borderless” church called “The Legends” made up of more than a hundred fashion icons, business executives and artists who meet every Thursday night in their own offices to pray for New York City. “They are not meeting in a church building, but they are a congregation too,” he explained. Two years ago, three individuals from the top fashion industry decided to meet weekly to pray for the city. This calling is now catching fire.
Aside from the calling of the church to free people, another key point shared by Pastor Dave is for the church to bless the whole earth. “When you face your congregation, do you see a crowd or you see faces? Blessing is seeing them and knowing their stories.”
When God disrupted men’s massive masterpiece, there was disorder and misunderstanding. Eventually, however, the people were forced to scatter on the face of the earth as how God intended them to be. “Chaos, criticism and confusion are context for creativity,” was Pastor Dave’s encouragement to the JECPP spiritual leaders and pastors. Recently emerging from last year’s turbulent organization crisis, JECPP is now at the crucial juncture of healing and restoration.
“If you’re not being criticized, then something must be wrong with you,” was Pastor Dave’s straightforward cheer to the more than 200 JECPP workers who responded with laughter. “It’s normal for warriors to feel hurt,” he said.
Again, God’s boundless re-imagination for JECPP continues this year and for years to come ‘til His return.
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c/o First Touch Ministry
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Brgy San Roque
Cebu City 6000 Philippines