A Gathering of Prayers

Virginia Hughes transports us to another era in this morning's musing.

Under the acacia tree, the twelve students assembled at the Bible College for morning chapel. They were starving in paradise. Supplies were so low there was nothing to gather but themselves. 

The one thing left to eat, a cabbage, sat alone in the empty kitchen. Nearby, an empty bag once full of rice, lay flat as an airless balloon. The very last grain of rice had been shaken out days before. 

Shelves were empty. Nary a can of bargain Spam. No salted fish. No baskets of guavas, papayas or mangoes.

My parents were young missionaries in the 1940s, living in the Philippine Islands, shortly after the end of the war. Having recently arrived by prop plane, they were as green as the coconut palms waving a warm welcome in the tropical breeze.

They had come to the fledgling Bible College with a vision that the graduates would be trained, and then settle throughout the islands planting churches and spreading the gospel of Christ. 

Nothing had prepared them for the scarcity of food and bounty of strife at the school. They felt depleted at the onset of adapting to the white hot heat of the islands.

Some of the students had descended into bickering and disobeying rules. Most had fallen behind in their tuition payments. The supply checks from the mission agency were not in the mail at the local post office. They may have been lost or stolen, but either way, the absence of funds only added to the tension.

The two young missionaries joined the nervous group of students. First, it was announced there would be no classes that day. Only worship and prayer on the menu. So they knelt and prayed under the acacia tree. They sang hymns and occasionally someone would read a verse of Scripture. 

The hours passed. A student left and returned with a water bucket from the spring by the river. They were all so thirsty from the heat. 

When darkness fell, they moved inside the dining hall and lit a kerosene lamp. Having fervently prayed, they sat waiting amidst the buzzing of mosquitos, and the chirping of a gecko lizard on the window ledge.

A voice began to weep, and then wail. It was their lead Bible teacher. He was confessing and begging God to forgive him. He lowered himself prostrate onto the floor. " I am a sinful man!" he declared. "I have done wrong. How I have sinned against God."  

A student called out that he too had sinned and begged to be forgiven. One after the other, the group confessed and asked forgiveness, realizing they were all sinners, fallen short of the glory of God. They continued praying until very late.

Wearily, they retired to their dorm rooms, arising the next morning to meet and pray. They continued fasting and praying for two days.

But on the third day, my father announced that the school would need to close until further notice. "We can't feed you. We have no funds to buy supplies. While we wait on the Lord, we recommend you return home and we will send word."

Together they partook a parting meal of shredded cabbage and wild greens fried in a dash of sizzling fish oil. They shed tears as they said their goodbyes. Three students, who had no home to return to, would remain with the missionaries and continue the prayer vigil.

Almost out of nowhere, a neighboring farmer appeared on the dirt road leading up to the school. His carabao pulled a cart loaded with bushels of rice, baskets of fish, egg laying hens, buckets of sweet potatoes, coconuts, bananas, freshly baked batches of Puto, (rice cake) and Pandesal (bread of salt,) the local daily bread. 

He pointed to the load in the cart and asked if they would be so kind as to accept these humble gifts. The group surrounded the farmer exclaiming how wonderful it was that he had arrived. He was an answer to their prayers. 

"Wait, wait, I am here to tell you something," interrupted the farmer. "You are an answer to our prayers. For years we have prayed that God would send workers to help us. Even during the war we prayed, and here you are. We have longed for a church.

"Will you help, with the Holy Spirit, help us be a church?"  The students, my parents and the farmer rejoiced and sang the Doxology together.

They started a church, and the members of the church continued to support the missionaries with helpful knowledge, supplies, and prayer. The Bible college reached its goal to be self-sustaining. 

Future graduates would indeed evangelize the islands and other parts of the world. Today, both the church and the college thrive in Kabakan, in North Cotabato, on the island of Mindanao, in the Philippines.

Let us come boldly to the very throne of God and stay there to receive his mercy
and to find grace to help us in our times of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

Make upright frames of acacia wood for the tabernacle. (Exodus 26:15)