In the simple bamboo and wood church, the ten or so women sat upon woven plastic mats on the wooden floorboards, leaning over their Bibles, deep in conversation. Their ages ranged from late teens to grandmothers, but all of them chose to awaken early and walk—some of them up to three kilometres (1.8 miles)—to gather together for a time of fellowship. “We meet every Saturday at 07:00 because that's the best time for them,” Levy, an OM worker, explains. “They still work later—maybe in the fields or selling fruits or vegetables. Now since coronavirus, they sell flowers too. They try to find any source of income.”
While the coronavirus pandemic has certainly impacted many in the Philippines, including this group of women, Levy has also seen God’s direction and blessing unfold as well. “Before coronavirus [my husband and I] were travelling almost every week for our regular ministry, connecting with tribal partners,” Levy says. “Now, because we were not allowed to travel, we decided to connect with people in our rural area and help them instead.” Through this new opportunity, around 15 women gather each week in the early morning hours—with a hunger to learn and grow in their relationship with Jesus.
Levy and her husband, Philip, lead a training centre in Palawan, Philippines, to train local leaders in their faith—so they are equipped to share God’s love with others in their remote communities.
When Levy first decided to follow Christ at the age of 10, she was so grateful for what He had done for her that she remembers praying: “Lord, I want to be a missionary someday. I want to serve You for the rest of my life.” God would direct her to serve Him in a variety of roles—always using her passions and giftings.
Originally from the large city of Cebu on another island, the couple met at Bible school while doing outreaches together and both shared a passion for ministry with young people. “We worked well together, and we still do,” Levy says with a quick laugh.
After graduating, Levy served as a case worker with a partner of Compassion Philippines and later became director of another sponsorship program. The couple also helped in planting a church in the city that attracted those who would not consider coming to church. Eight years later, they moved to a family-owned plot of land. As they interacted with people there, a new house church formed. “It all started with family worship that the youth in the neighbourhood attended,” she says. “And then we started to teach and disciple them.”
When Philip and Levy took several young people on a short-term exposure programme to Palawan, the spiritual and physical needs they saw struck them. After seeking direction from God, they handed over the leadership of the church to Philip’s associate and moved their family to a rural village in Palawan, where they built up a training centre for indigenous tribal people.
With strict coronavirus travel restrictions implemented in 2020, Levy and Philip looked for new opportunities to serve God where they were. Through Levy’s younger brother, who is a pastor on the islands as well, the couple saw a chance to disciple and train. Her brother’s church was struggling, and he didn’t quite know how shepherd the community. Through coaching, Levy and Philip have been able to support this church in various ways. Levy and the pastor’s wife began a women’s fellowship time, and funds were raised to distribute Bibles last August to the women. For many, it was the first Bible they ever owned.
“Not all of them can really read, but for those who can, we take turns,” Levy shares. “I also taught them the ‘Swedish method’—which uses three symbols to make it easier to study God’s Word together.” Using a light bulb, a question mark and an arrow, Levy facilitates a time where the group shares any ‘aha’ moments or takeaways, any questions they may have about the text and any action or application steps they want to apply in the coming week. The simple process ensures that even those who can’t read as well, are able to easily remember the three steps—and are even able to facilitate others learning it too.
“We repeat this to them often: The reason why we are teaching you, is so that you can also teach others,” Levy explains. Some in the group have really grown in their faith over the past several months, Levy said, and have taken the initiative to visit those who miss a fellowship time or church that week. They check on the women and encourage them as a few fear being called on to read in front of others or have low self-confidence, which can prevent them from regularly attending or participating in the fellowship time.
“The work is very challenging actually,” Levy admits and describes a time when the flooded river prevented her from attending the fellowship group that week. Thankfully, the pastor’s wife has grown in her confidence to lead over the past few months and is stepping up to disciple others. “But one thing is for sure, our labour in the Lord is not in vain and so we just keep on going—and the church is growing. We are just so grateful to be used by God.”