A Church like No Other
It looked like an old-fashioned Bakelite radio as it sat on a table in the middle of the church. Sitting around the table in a circle of chairs were a range of people from the local community. We were in Manila, home to twelve million people. While the room we were sitting in was a church called “Our Beloved Christ Christian Church,” the church and the local community it served was like no church or community I had seen before.
It was in Matandang Balara, Quezon City—one of the many cities that together make up greater Manila. To get there, we stopped our 15-seater van by the side of a busy road around dusk. We walked single file down a maze of narrow paths and steps lined by dwellings, shops, and restaurants. It reminded me of York (in England), with its narrow lanes and the eaves of the buildings almost touching across the path. In some parts it was like Jerusalem, with its smells and aromas. We crossed an ornate stone arched bridge; however, the water underneath was dirty and full of rubbish.
We passed a woman cooking kebabs on a small brazier, the glow of the coals reflected off the walls and her face as she leaned over the grill.
People passed us going the other way. It was a Sunday night and we could see families sitting together inside their houses, eating dinner and watching television.
The church met in a building at the intersection of three lanes. A barred shop with a large Acadia tree trunk growing through the roof stood on one side of the church. The room in which the church met looked like many we had seen—there was a concrete floor, painted brick walls with posters, and the church sign above the door. In the corner sat a drum kit, guitars, and a public address system that seemed way too large for the room.
The pastor met us and invited us to sit with the other members of the Faith Comes by Hearing listening group that started to gather. We were to meet some unusual members of his congregation.
Faith Comes by Hearing
Faith Comes by Hearing (FCBH) was developed by Hosanna Ministries headquartered in the USA. FCBH records the New Testament in a local language and then distributes audio players to listening groups. In oral cultures, such as those in remote villages, the Faith Comes by Hearing colporteur has played a major role in enabling people to hear God speak in their heart language. At first, you wouldn’t think this method of communicating God’s Word would be relevant in a country like the Philippines; however, pastors testify that the dramatized recording of the New Testament enables people to listen and to hear God speak directly to them.
The Our Beloved Christ Christian Church has a special ministry to a group of young teenage boys who dress and present themselves as girls. This is a far more common activity in south-east Asian countries than Australia; indeed, it is difficult to know how to categorise these young men who want to be seen as girls. Some of them joined us for the listening group, and although their hair and makeup made them obviously different from the others at the meeting, they listened as the first two chapters of the Gospel of Mark were played.
What looked like an old-fashioned radio was in fact a very durable solid-state audio player called “The Proclaimer” that used a ROM (read only memory) chip which had been programmed with the audio files for the whole New Testament. The audio is accessible by book, chapter and verse, just like a printed Bible; plus, the inbuilt speaker can fill a small room without additional amplification.
The FCBH program encourages churches to set up listening groups who commit to meeting together for at least thirty minutes a week to listen to the Bible. The listening is followed by a question-and-answer session. This model has proven to be most effective with over 3,500 listening groups now running in the Philippines alone.
We left the group as they continued to discuss the passage they had just listened to. It was an unusual meeting, but one that sought to reach out to the local community, which is literally on the doorstep of the churches. Earlier that weekend we had listened as Filipino pastors had shared how the FCBH program was working in their church. I was convinced as I left of the truth of the words of Romans 10:17, that faith really does “comes from hearing” the Word of God.