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Led by The Spirit: The Early Years in the Philippines


The Pre-War Years

The Johnsons and their two children, Constance and Sammy, sailed to the Philippines, arriving in Manila on Christmas Eve, 1939. A third child, Margaret Joy, was born while they were there. By the time they were ready to leave for the Philippines, war clouds over the Pacific were already beginning to gather. Although they apparently did not expect the Japanese to ever attack the Philippines, the reality of danger in traveling to Asia was not lost on Johnson as he attempted to book passage for his family. He wrote:

In the month of February, 1939, we made an attempt to secure passage on a ship that was operated by the Swedish Navigation Company. When the time of our departure was nearly at hand, the company notified us that they were not taking any passengers. No explanation was offered, but we later received reports that ammunition and other military supplies had replaced the passenger cargo.

Our subsequent attempts to secure passage were equally unsuccessful, and it was not until December 2, 1939, that we could get our passports correctly made out and obtain resulting permission from the U.S.

Government. It was a glad day, indeed, when we were notified that we would finally be able to sail. Saying goodbye to a group of students from the Southern California Bible College [now Vanguard University] who had come down to the pier to sing us on our way, we sailed from San Pedro at noon, December 2, 1939, aboard the President Pierce.

Shortly after we left Honolulu enroute to China [a stop over point on the way to the Philippines], we received notice that our ship would be re-routed [to Japan]. Great was our disappointment, because we were not very anxious to touch the shores of Japan.14

It wasn’t long before they found a house to rent in Manila and got settled. Pioneering a church was their first effort of ministry, which they began in their own home. Not long afterwards, seventeen new converts had gathered and were anxious to receive the Holy Spirit baptism.15

Glenn and Pauline Dunn also came to the Philippines, arriving in March 1940, not long after the Johnsons arrived. They were on their way home from China with the intent that they would serve in the islands after their upcoming furlough. The Dunns made an extensive tour of Mindanao to research the possibility of missionary work there. At that time, most of Mindanao was undeveloped and was only beginning to receive the attention of the government. Dunn reported that he had been told that Mindanao was an island full of untapped opportunity, which he believed was true since much of it was unoccupied by either Catholics or Protestants.16 Because the country had only been opened to Protestants for forty-three years at that time, it was not surprising that Protestants had not yet multiplied there. The claim that Catholics were scarce was somewhat dubious, however. In spite of the strong Muslim presence in Mindanao, Catholicism saturated much of the nation during the more than three hundred years it had been in the Philippines. Whatever the truth may have been, Mindanao had been opened up for settlement, and people were pouring in from other parts of the country. Dunn described the island as vast in resources with fertile areas that were ripe for resettlement. Where others might have seen challenges because of the hardship living there would require, he saw vast opportunities for evangelism and church planting.17 Perhaps part of his favorable attitude came from a wonderful outpouring of the Spirit that they experienced in conducting meetings with Pedro Collado.18

No matter what the opportunities may have been, many years would pass before a missionary could be sent. Fortunately for the Dunns, they sailed home for furlough before the war began and were spared the horrors of the Japanese occupation. After the war they would eventually return for a long and prosperous ministry, spending a number of years in Mindanao.

Now that an American had arrived to head up the organization, the Filipinos moved quickly to make this a reality. From March 21–27, 1940, an organizational meeting of the Assemblies of God was held in San Nicolas, Villasis, Pangasinan, several hours drive north of Manila, near where Esperanza was pioneering his church. Leland Johnson, being appointed by the Department of Foreign Missions (DFM) as the district superintendent, chaired the meeting and the Philippines District of the Assemblies of God (PDC) was formed under the auspices of the Department of Foreign Missions of the Assemblies of God U.S.A, thus separating it from the South China District to which it had been previously assigned. With the exception of Chris Garsulao who had passed away, and Lagmay, who had remained in America, all of the Filipino pioneers were present. Rudy Esperanza was elected as the secretary. Pedro Castro was elected treasurer, with Hermongenes C. Hebrenca, Jose Maypa, and Rosendo Alcantara elected presbyters. An ordination service was also conducted for six new ministers. Those who had been ordained in the United States did not need to be reordained nor have their credentials transferred as the new organization was being constituted as part of the Assemblies of God U.S.A.

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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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