An article on the front page of a Manila newspaper caught my eye one day when I was at the Iloilo City airport. The story was about a university that was started over 100 years ago. This institution is located on an island not too far from us. Through the years I have met several of their graduates.
It was started by a group of Bible-believing Presbyterian missionaries soon after Spain was defeated by the USA at Manila Bay. These Presbyterian missionaries had a strategy to evangelize that region of the country. Their plan was to start a school and try to win the students to Christ. The missionaries looked for a suitable place to begin. The paper article said: “Apparently awed by the beauty of the place and the friendliness (of the local people), the missionaries decided it was the best place to start spreading their evangelistic zeal through Christian education.”
The university succeeded in being recognized around the Philippines for its academic excellence. Numerous graduates have been successful in their fields. Sadly however, the missionaries failed in their original purpose.
One of the graduates of this school went on to become the president of the Philippines. There is no evidence that this president ever got saved. To the contrary, he was a Roman Catholic, and, by many accounts, was corrupt.
As mentioned, I have met a number of their graduates, but I have never met any who are what we would classify as soulwinners. To be sure, the school in the early years did do some good in having people come to know Christ as Saviour; however, if the missionaries who had started the school were alive today, I doubt they would be pleased to see the results of their sacrifice.
In our city there is a university that was started about the same time by a group of American Baptist missionaries. These missionaries had a similar plan in mind—to evangelize this region through education. In reading the accounts of the early missionaries who started this school, it is my opinion that they had the best intentions in doing this. They saw how Roman Catholicism had held onto the people for centuries, and they were burdened to get the Gospel to them. Some churches were started by the missionaries, but they believed the key to evangelizing this region would be to provide an education for young people and influence them for Christ at school.
Today this university is also well-known. If you were to visit the campus, you certainly would not come away thinking that the school’s major goal was the propagation of the Gospel. The school has many of the same worldly activities that secular universities have. For years a number of its graduates have been at the forefront in promoting the New Peoples Army (communist rebels) and the communist political party, the National Democratic Front. The school is located near our church, and each year many of the students are led to Christ by the members of Iloilo Baptist Church.
Many missionaries go to foreign fields with the best of intentions. This is especially true with missionaries who are being sent out by independent Baptist churches. Most independent Baptist missionaries do not go out and start with the same strategy that these missionaries did over 100 years ago. However, these two universities illustrate that well meaning, sacrificial missionaries can make critical mistakes in the plans they make for reaching their area for Christ.
One of the strengths of independent Baptist churches is their emphasis on sending out missionaries who will start churches. Independent Bible colleges also do well in teaching missionary principles. My prayer is that we will continue to follow God’s plan to evangelize by starting churches.