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Led by The Spirit: The Early Years in the Philippines

Benito C. Acena, like several of the others, attended Glad Tidings Bible Institute after coming to Christ and was ordained in California in 1934. He pastored for a while in the United States, apparently running from the call of God to return to his native land. Surviving a car accident in which the car burst into flames, he honored God’s call and came home. Apparently finding his family unreceptive to the Good News, he went to Illocos Norte in northwestern Luzon where he found fruitful ministry marked by the moving of the Holy Spirit.

Rosendo Alcantara, a native of the province of La Union on the northwestern side of Luzon, set off to seek fame and fortune in the United States at the age of twenty. A near-fatal car accident led him to consider what really mattered in life, and he turned his heart to Jesus Christ. After Bible school, he traveled for a time among Filipino churches in California and Hawaii, but finally felt the tug of the Spirit to go home. After sharing Christ with his parents, he went to Ilocos Norte and participated in the work of God there.8

Rudy Esperanza was perhaps the only one of the pioneers who did not come directly from a Catholic background, having turned to Methodism while a teenager. Going to the United States in 1928, he was there when the stock market crashed in October 1929, and when it did, so did his dreams. He began to

drift, but the Holy Spirit did not let him go long. Responding to an invitation to attend a full gospel service, he was born again.9 He settled in Seattle, Washington, and pioneered a church among Filipinos while studying at Northwest Bible College (now Northwest University) of the Assemblies of God. Here, his leadership gifts were evident as he became leader of a missionary prayer band for the islands of the sea which gave him reason to contact some of the other pioneers who reported that they were working independently of each other. It may have been here that his burden to see the workers unite under the banner of the Assemblies of God began. Esperanza began moving in this direction by working with Esteban C. Lagmay to organize the Filipinos in California. Esperanza then returned to the Philippines, arriving in Manila on May 9, 1939, and went home to Pozzorubio, Pangasinan, which is about 160 kilometers north of Manila. There, he pioneered a church and began to lay the groundwork for the formation of the Assemblies of God in the Philippines in which he was destined to play a leading role.10

Esteban C. Lagmay, the last of the pioneers to be considered here, played a unique role in the formation of the Assemblies of God in the Philippines. He married an American woman and traveled throughout the United States and the Philippines as a missionary-evangelist. He and Esperanza agreed that Esperanza would return to the Philippines to organize the work there, and Lagmay would continue evangelistic ministry in the States to promote the work of God in the Philippines. He would raise both prayer and financial support, to encourage believing Filipinos to return home and to encourage the Missions Department to send missionaries.11 Both Lagmay and Esperanza would prove faithful to their promises.

In appealing to the Missions Department, Lagmay played a crucial role in securing the appointment of missionaries to the Philippines. With help from a friend, Lagmay was able to meet with the Executive Presbytery in Springfield, the headquarters of the Assemblies of God U.S.A. There, with tears coursing down his face, he pleaded the case for sending missionaries to the Philippines.12 One of the strongest points of his case was that a missionary was needed to meet a legal need. Since the Philippines was a colony of the United States and therefore was under U.S. law, the Filipinos wanted to register with the government as a religious organization but were not able to do so because the law required that the organization be headed by an American. Without this recognition, they could not solemnize marriages and some of them were put in jail.13 Thus, a United States missionary was needed.

After prayer, Noel Perkin, the foreign missions secretary, suggested that Leland and Helen Johnson might be sent. The Johnsons, who had been serving in China, were home in Oakland, California, at the time. Lagmay and Esperanza visited them to make their case. The Sino-Japanese conflict then raging in China may have prevented the Johnsons’ returning there anyway. Consequently, they felt God’s call to change direction and meet this need.

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Category: Church History, Fall 2019

About the Author: Dave Johnson, M.Div., D.Miss. (Asia Graduate School of Theology, Philippines), is an Assemblies of God missionary to the Philippines. Dave and his wife Debbie have been involved in evangelism, church planting, and Bible school and mission leadership. Dave is the Managing Editor of Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies, the director of APTS Press in Baguio City, Philippines and coordinator for the Asian Pentecostal Theological Seminary's Master of Theology Program. Facebook Twitter

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