Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Greetings from Mindoro!

I'm sending out a separate update this time asking for your help praying for
our well drilling project. I also wanted to update you on the church
planting side of the work, though, thus two e-mails this time.

Five church members and I spent the first half of this week in the village
of Pusog. You may remember that Pusog is the new village that we have been
working to plant a church in. Our missionary in Pusog is Ida. She is one
of our most active members despite the fact that her husband is in prison
and she is left alone to raise their 6 children. She volunteered to go to
Pusog as a missionary, and moved there about two weeks ago. We agreed as a
church to spend the first half of this week in Pusog to build a house for
Ida, and minister however else we could.

Monday morning, the people of Pusog met us on our way in with a dangerously
advanced tuberculosis patient. They asked me if I would take them in the
truck to the health center in the nearest Filipino village of Ligaya. I
sent my bag on with the rest of my people, forgetting that everything I had
was in the bag, cell phone, books, cash. When we got to Ligaya, they said
that no one was in at the center and to take the patient to the nearest town
of Sablayan. I took them on into Sablayan, and we spent about 3 hours
fighting through layer after layer of bureaucracy only to be told to come
back tomorrow. The people asked me to stop by and pick up some supplies for
them on the way back, so we ended up getting home after dark. It was quite
a day, and I was pretty hungry by the time it was over, but they were sure
happy and grateful for my help. (I'm sorry, I don't know how the patient is
at the moment. I assume that her relatives went back to the health center
the next day to pick up her medicines, but I was unable to determine for
sure before we left).

The rest of the week I pulled teeth and treated patients while the rest
built Ida's house. We had to be very careful what we said. Several
powerful leaders in the village are very opposed to us, and especially to
our converting their people. Yesterday morning one walked right into our
house, sat down, and started interrogating us as to what we were really
doing there. Speaking of a delicate matter that directly and quickly is
very counter cultural, and indicates quite a bit of agitation on his part.

Ida is originally from Pusog. She has land and relatives there, and she has
been using that as her cover. She wants to re-clear her land, and make sure
it doesn't get taken by others. She also wants to live closer to her
relatives. Both of these statements are completely true. It is also true,
though, that no one else would have been let into the village for any other

Working here is rather like working in a closed country, like one of the
project in the magazine that uses generic pictures and pseudonyms to project
the missionary's identity. We have to always have some other legitimate
reason for being in a village, other than evangelism. Our evangelism has to
be done in secret with people who show receptivity and friendliness. When
we first started working in Pusog, we would pass the village and stay with
our contact in his mountain farm, far above the village. Those who were
interested would come and visit us and ask us questions. I feel like I'm
always walking a thin moral line. I never lie (I never say anything
untrue), but we have to be very careful of how much we do say. We also have
to be careful that the cover is legitimate, that our public reason for being
in a village is true.

The good news is that two families and two young men already want to become
Seventh-day Adventists. They have stopped working on the Sabbath, and Ida
hopes to start holding simple, quiet worship services in her house this

One of the interests is a pastor from another denomination. He asked right
away to start working with our Personal Ministries team to reach the
highlanders. He plans to join the next expedition to the interior starting
November 30.

Sandy and his wife Ilene are also doing well in the village of Layaban. I
think that I have already mentioned that his daughter's illness, which was
his cover for getting into Layaban, has improved dramatically. After more
than a year of lying in bed, refusing to talk or eat, she is now up and
about. She accompanies her parents everywhere they go, and is physically
strong again.

Sandy and his wife's strength is making friends, and slowly pulling them in.
They are definitely soil preparation people. They have difficulty actively
teaching people the Bible, and asking for decisions. But they are great for
beginning the work in a place like Layaban where almost everyone is dead-set
against Christianity in any form. They have befriended the village captain,
and several other important people, and feel confident of not getting kicked
out any time soon. They are living in a house that is about 5 feet wide by
6 feet long, with a dirt porch added on. They hope to build their own house
soon, and start holding church in it.

Please keep these two villages, and their missionaries, in your prayers.
Human and spiritual opposition is strong. Slow but steady progress is being
made, though.

I am very tired. By God's great mercy my health has held. Though I have
had a cold for nearly a month now, yet I have only been bed-ridden once this
year. However, you may have noticed that my writing lately, both here and
in the magazine, has been choppy, irregular, and not very creative. I
apologize. I try to balance life as best I know how, but sometimes I have
to let something slip. I apologize that sometimes it has been my writing
that has slipped. I will continue to push forward as best I know how, and
as God leads. Thank you so, so much for your support in this work! May God
richly bless you!
Greetings from Mindoro!

It's been a while since I've been home to write to you. The news here is
that the well is dead. Of all the problems that I have faced here since
starting to work for the Tawbuid, next to convincing my people to evangelize
their fellow Tawbuid, the next most impossible problem I've faced is water.
Since I arrived here I have been struggling to procure a source of reliable,
clean water. It started with PVC hose and a decrepit water system built by
the Catholic church years ago. The case was hopeless, and so I tried to
capture a spring and install a new system. The owner of the spring and the
village captain would not permit the project.

Next I tried hiring a well driller. The driller only got 20 feet, hit our
quartz and marble rocks and gave up (and cheated my out of several thousand
pesos) Next I tried digging a well. After several attempts, and one near
fatality, I stopped the digging. Next I tried pounding a well (a common
technique here). It was a kind of desperate last attempt, doomed before it

Then last year, glory of glories, a well drill capable of drilling through
hard rocks was donated. We hired a local operator to guide us through our
first well and teach us, and then got started. We drilled for over a month.
During that month we ran into more problems than I knew could be invented by
any intelligent mind. Finally we hit water. The operator installed the
casing and pump, and we started using the well. To spare you a lot of
technical well drilling details, the system broke in less than a week.

This happened just as I was getting ready to attend Part 2 Training last
March, and then return to the States for furlough. When I got back, one of
my first projects was to fix the well. We found that the operator that we
had hired had installed a number of components wrongly (or at least not the
way we do wells in the States). We pulled his equipment out, and started
opening the borehole again.
Again we ran into more problems that I thought possible for a human to
experience. Again, we drilled for a month. When we were within one day of
finishing the project, the end of our bit broke off inside the casing in
such a way that we cannot possibly use the hole or casing anymore.

I talked to my supervisor and asked his advice. He asked me to try one more
time. He also asked me to enlist your help. I admit that I am no expert
well driller. But even when we did have an expert here, it was painfully
clear that the devil did NOT want this project to succeed. In fact, he has
made every attempt to get clean reliable water a miserable failure. I can't
fathom why this is such a big deal to him. It clearly is, though, so we
must not back down or give in.

Next week (the last week of November) we plan to begin drilling again. We
will start a brand new borehole. In the last couple of weeks of down time I
have procured some equipment that hopefully will help prevent much of the
trouble that we previously had. But I know that without God's protection
the devil can still find a way to stop this project from succeeding. I
don't know if we can afford, in either time or money, to do this again.

I want to ask for your help. Please, will you pray that this next attempt
at drilling a well will succeed, according to God's will. Please pray for
Satan to be bound, and for nothing to interfere. Please pray for our
safety, and for the equipment to not break. And most of all, please pray
for God to be glorified in this work.

Thank you!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Greetings from Mindoro!

Thank you so much for your prayers during the meetings that we held in
Layaban! I apologize for not writing sooner.

The village of Layaban was very nervous about our meetings, but they did not
outright forbid us from teaching. The first night, many people came, but
there was a lot of skepticism. As you may have already read about in the
Adventist Frontiers, the wife of the leader of the local Satanist cult sat
in the back and laughed about the Bible being God's word. The lady sitting
next to her, who had had contact with Adventists as a girl, told her, "Don't
you fear God? I heard about that book when I was a girl. It is indeed
God's word and you had best not be mocking God."

Within an hour of the end of the meeting, the lady was vomiting up blood,
and many people in the village recognized this as a sign to her that God is
real and the Bible is His word.

The people were especially interested in hearing about the origins of evil,
and final events. I presented the Great Controversy from Pre-Creation to
the New Earth, and showed portions of the Jesus film on my ipad each
evening. Almost every night I received lots of good questions, and light
bulbs turning on for some people.

Toward the end, an old shaman came by in the early morning. He spent most
of the morning talking about life in general, and then about noon he shifted
to asking me about spiritual issues. Especially important to him was the
origin of the spirits, the resurrection, and hell. Since I had spent
significant amounts of time learning about the system of spirits that he
knew as a shaman, I was able to explain the whole system to him in his terms
but from the perspective of the Great Controversy. I showed him how Satan
was actually behind the spirits, and his angels were impersonating different
kinds of spirits and dead people, and giving the shaman a little bit of
power, but really the power was only bait. When he took the bait, Satan
took control of him and he became a slave to Satan.

I couldn't say that a light bulb turned on in his head. No, it was a lot
more like fireworks. He was fascinated, blown away. He said that for the
first time in his life he understood who the spirits were, and what was
really going on behind the curtain of the spirit world. He carefully
repeated back to me all that he learned to make sure that he got it right,
and especially how a person could be saved from the power of the spirits and
from being burned up in hell. I softly asked him if he believed in Jesus,
and he replied that he did, but he wasn't sure yet if he was ready to change
allegiance. He wanted to go home and think this all out. I hope and pray
that God will continue to draw him to Himself!

Because of the hostility of the village, I could not ask for open decisions
for Christ. Anyone who would have been courageous enough to stand up would
have immediately been kicked out of the village. I was able to ask for
private commitments, however, and 13 people asked to continue studying.

We took those 13 commitments and requests to continue studying to the
village and asked for permission to move a family into the village to study
with our interests. We were met with a firm, "NO!" We would not be allowed
to move into the village. They tried to stop us from even coming back and
teaching, which shows that we made enough of an impact for them to feel
threatened. One old man, though, stood up in the council where they were
discussing what to do with us. In a move that is incredibly bold for a
Tawbuid, he told the entire hostile council that he was one of the people
who asked for continued studies, and that they must not forbid us from at
least visiting. Praise God for small victories!

One of our church members by the name of Sandy has a daughter who has been
suffering with a long-standing chronic illness, and after the village elders
told us their decision he took me aside and said, "I have an idea, I might
just be able to get into the village. Would it be ok to try something

"Sure!" I said. "Be creative!"

A week later he came up onto my porch with a huge grin on his face. "We're
in!" he cried. "You see my wife has relatives in Layaban, and so we went
and asked permission to move our daughter there to give her a change of
scenery and allow my wife's step-mother to try some herbal remedies. They
gave us permission!"

Sandy's family has to be careful. They are not allowed to openly evangelize
or share their faith in the village. But simply by living a Christian life
in the open, ministering to people where they can, having daily devotions,
and worshiping in their house every Sabbath, they can begin to break down
the walls of hostility and demonstrate Christian living.
Others in Balangabong intend to formally continue studying with the
interests, as well, on a weekly basis. They will have to walk the hour
there and back in the evening, but several people committed to making this

And that brings me to now. The day after Sandy obtained permission to move
to Layaban I left the village to travel to Thailand for continued training
and strategizing with AFM. We are just finishing up, and at the end of next
week I will be traveling back to the Philippines. I will be there for one
month, at which point I will have to return to the States for furlough.

I have questioned God as to why He would take me away just as so much is
happening, but He responded as He usually does. He wants to give the people
opportunity to take on this work themselves, and not become dependent on me.
This is the goal that God has put in my heart for the Tawbuid as well, not
that I would reach them, but that God would use me to facilitate their
reaching their own people. This means that at times I must step back and
let them practice on their own just like Jesus did when He sent out his
disciples 2 by 2.

Please join me in praying that God will guide and inspire them to
faithfulness and mission while I am required to be away. In all things may
God be glorified and souls saved!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Greetings from Mindoro!

I just want to let ya'll know that we are starting evangelistic meetings in
Layaban tonight. We very much need your prayers during the two weeks that
we will be meeting in Layaban. After a month of doing Bible studies in the
village, as expected a number of people are excited and a number are
actively opposing us. God has answered your prayers, though, and the doors
have not shut. We are continuing to push forward.

Thank you so much for your prayers and support!

John Holbrook

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Greetings from Mindoro!

Praise God, the well is finished! After working on it for over a year, and
drilling for over a month, we finally are finished. The pump is installed
and we are getting consistent water. Thank you for your support of this
project! Praise God for His answer to many, many prayers!

I have good news on the church planting front too, we've been doing Bible
studies in the neighboring village of Layaban for almost a month now. Even
after the initial excitement wore off, a small group of church members have
been faithful in going twice a week and doing the studies.

We start a series of evangelistic meetings there on Sunday. The meetings
will go for two weeks. Please pray for the meetings, as I know you will.
This is a Satanist village. They are willing to listen to us as they insist
that their "religion" is only a club. They are even told by their leaders
to try to join other churches if they can, but retain their membership in
the club. So the people are glad to listen, but reticent to change. Their
leader is currently in jail for drug abuse, murder, etc. That, hopefully,
will be a door opener for some people if used discretely. Thank you for
your prayers!

Eddie has declared publically that he is through with us, and is planning to
join this same Satanist group that predominates in Layaban. I'm glad he
finally came out and was honest about not intending to join us. Since my
last update reporting his positive turn, I have had multiple people come to
me and tell me that they have witnessed him and his wife are practicing
witchcraft and working subversively against us. Normally I would have gone
and talked to Eddie, but I decided to take a more Tawbuid approach this
time. I decided to just drag my feet, and lay low, and see what would
happen. Sure enough, when Abel (the missionary who lived with him for
nearly 5 months) went to visit Eddie this week, Eddie told him outright that
he was through with us and was going over to the Satanists. May what he
finds there drive him to God finally.

More good news, though, is that we've received two more invitations to come
and teach, one of them from a highland village! My problem now is that the
church doesn't have enough people to go around. A group was supposed to go
have a quick visit with them this week before the meetings start, but the
trip fell through due to preparations for the evangelistic meetings.
Hopefully we'll be able to get up to them before the lead gets cold. Please
pray to the Lord of the harvest, with me, for Him to send laborers into His

Thank you so much for your prayers and support. The Tawbuid and I
desperately need your prayers, especially, right now. Thank you for
faithfully remembering us and interceding for us. May God richly bless you!

John Holbrook

Thursday, February 12, 2015

"Lord, give us souls!"

It's not like I hadn't prayed that prayer nearly every day for the last ten
years. There was a new note of desperation in my voice that morning,
though. I thought of all of you back home, supporting the work among the
Tawbuid through prayer, finances, and encouragement. It seemed like I had
so little to show you for all that you have faithfully and lovingly

"Lord, I know that my work here has not been a waste. Many lives have been
saved, people who would have died before they got to medical care. I've
relieved the suffering of multitudes more. The rubber tree livelihood
project that I helped to start has taken off, and hundreds of Tawbuid will
soon have a reliable income source. More importantly, the home church here
in Balangabong is much healthier than when I arrived. We even have a small
core group of believers who are on fire for You, and earnestly desire to
reach their people. But Lord, no matter what we do, we can't find souls
willing to listen and be saved! As one of my teachers used to say, it seems
like I'm just making healthy sinners."

I think the Lord answered that prayer with a, "Yes." I think so because the
next day the problems started. My health, which had been fairly good for a
change, suddenly broke again. Eddie, the shaman whom I have been treating,
and who was getting better, suddenly got worse again. I heard news that he
was trying to have an affair, and had relapsed into his old ways. We warned
him that his actions were the reason for his relapse, yet he started to
gossip about how we were powerless to heal his sickness.

Now my Dad taught me a lot of valuable lessons growing up. One that stuck
particularly deep, though, was that whenever we run into lots of problems we
should perk up and press forward. If Satan is fighting hard it means that
something good is about to happen and He is trying to stop it.

With that in mind, I went back to my knees and began praying even more.
"Lord, help us! Everything seems to be falling apart! Every time we get a
foot in the door somewhere Satan slams it shut in our faces. Lord, bind
Satan's power!"

The Lord answered that prayer too. Sure enough, we started getting pounded
with more problems. My health grew steadily worse. I couldn't sleep at
night anymore. My highland patient, Benson, started acting strange. He was
my pride and joy, a man whom I had worked and prayed since I first arrived
here. He was the first highlander to profess faith. One day, though, when
I mentioned that we were starting a baptismal class for those interested in
joining the church, he froze. No, he did more than freeze. He got
positively angry! He and I and one of our church elders sat up till nearly
midnight talking. It turns out that Eddie had been making secret visits to
Benson, planting seeds of resentment, and trying to get Benson to come back
to him. One of the children in the house overheard the conversation.

"How are you doing?" Eddie asked.

"I'm doing much better, though my back still hurts a bit," Benson replied.

"Oh, after all this time, your back still hurts?" Eddie said. "Yeah,
Brother John can't heal me either. Well, is he giving you everything that
you ask for?"

"Oh," Benson said. "He's bought me clothes, and a watch so that I would
know what time to take my medicines."

"That's all," Eddie replied. "He isn't buying you fish to eat and a cell
phone to play with and a radio to keep you entertained? If only you were
living with me again, I would take care of you."

We tried to help Benson see what Eddie was doing to him. We explained that
he would certainly die if he quit his medicines now and went to live with
Eddie. We reminded him that Eddie hadn't been able to heal him, or even
feed him for that matter. That was why he came to live with us. And he had
made a dramatic recovery in the five months that he had been under my

But Benson's mind was made up, he wouldn't reconsider. The only option that
we had left was to go talk to Eddie. The next day we met with Eddie and
Benson together. Eddie claimed that we were to blame for all of their
problems. He insisted that Benson come live with him to act as his servant
until Benson died. Benson sat loyally next to Eddie and agreed to
everything he said. I couldn't wrap my mind around what kind of power Eddie
had over a person that he would willingly go to his death just to fetch
water and cook for the man. I also couldn't fathom the selfishness of a man
who would command another man to lay down his life for such a simple reason.
I decided that there had to be other powers at work here.

After several hours of reasoning with Eddie and Benson, we concluded that it
was hopeless. As we made our final remarks, however, and prepared to leave,
a sudden change came over the whole group. Eddie suddenly sat up and said,
"Well wait a minute, if you will let Benson come and visit me every once in
a while, I don't mind if he stays in Balangabong and continues his

We were all shocked. One of my elders was more on the ball than I. He
realized that God had broken Satan's hold on Eddie and cleared his mind.
Jumping at the opportunity he asked permission to come hold church services
on Sabbath and build a church building. Eddie gladly agreed, only asking
that we wait a couple of months to build a church as he was about to move.

God had begun to break Satan's reign. We praised Him all the way home, and
asked that He would not let Satan take the ground back. We begged that He
would advance His kingdom even further, that He would give us more souls.

God answered our prayer. Within a couple of days we were inundated with
more problems. Our baptismal studies were going well. Besides hordes of
kids, we had two adults who were committed and faithful. One of them was
the young man you read about last month. They soaked up the teaching and
were nearly ready for baptism.

Then, Satan struck back. The sun was just setting on Sabbath afternoon when
Maribel, the other baptismal candidate, came asking for help. She was nine
months pregnant and feeling terrible. I found that her blood pressure was
through the roof. That began a two week marathon of emergency patients in
the middle of the night. Before it was through I had taken Maribel to the
ER twice, Benson once, Eddie once, and several other patients besides.
Almost every time the emergency happened in the middle of the night.

With all the lack of sleep my health got steadily worse. It got to where I
couldn't fall asleep at night because I couldn't stop coughing. Myriads of
other small problems piled up, too numerous and trivial to mention, but
contributing to my exhaustion nonetheless. My two baptismal candidates
pulled through the persecution, however, and I didn't lose a single patient.
God kept waking me up every morning, and He kept working through me.

It was right as the baptismal studies finished that the well drill arrived.
I have told many of you in person, or through writing, about how bad the
water situation is here. Last summer, the Carolina Conference Camp Meeting
raised sufficient funds for us to purchase a locally made well drill.
Praise God! In one day the machine drilled deeper than three months of
digging and pounding had reached last year. We hit an abundant supply of
water at one hundred twenty feet. And that's when we heard about Layaban.

Layaban is the next village over from ours. It is populated entirely by
members of a local variety of the church of Satan. We have been tried
repeatedly to enter the village, and even put it in our five year plan to
start church planting there this past January. We had not been able to make
any inroads, though. Then, just as we struck water, one of our members came
back from a visit to Layaban and reported excitedly that the local leader of
their cult had been thrown in jail, and the whole village was in turmoil.
Now was our chance.

Though I had been trying, unsuccessfully, for months to recruit people to
conduct Bible studies in Layaban, in just days three people committed. I
had also been trying since the end of 2014 to train people to conduct what
are called Discover Bible Studies, which are simple inductive and
chronological Bible studies. No one had been interested before, but now the
church was asking me how to do Bible studies. Within a week my three
teachers had turned into eight, and the people in Layaban were soaking it
up. We praised God and pushed forward, begging that He would keep Satan
from again closing the doors.

He answered our prayers. We were again deluged with problems. The well
drilling came to a standstill. First the hole collapsed. Then we found
that we needed another part that had to be ordered from Manila. Three days
later it arrived but the electricity was off in town so we couldn't weld the
part so that we could use it. Then the tire on the truck blew out. I hurt
my back so badly that I couldn't sit down, and had to spend most of the day
on my bed. Then my visa ran out and I had to pull an all-nighter to get it
renewed and pick up some more parts that we couldn't get on the island.
Then the engine wouldn't start. Then the water pump plugged up. All
through this time the people in the village have been sabotaging the water
hose we're using to lubricate the drill and wash out the cuttings.

And that brings us to today. No, nothing new and dramatic has happened.
Not yet at least. It has taken me six hours to write this because I keep
having to stop and fix the hose where yet another person has cut it open.
The well drill has only been able to run for about three hours as a result.
One of my patients had a nervous breakdown about nine o'clock, and her
mother came to me crying and asking for my help. My own chest hurts so bad
that I have to walk very, very slowly when I climb the hill to fix the hose.
I can't get away to rest, not yet. I have to push through this until God
rebukes Satan and gives us a reprieve.

But I'm happy! Oh, am I ever happy! I'm ecstatic because Jesus is giving
us souls! That's all I really want. And I'm reveling in the problems that
God is allowing to buffer us and polish us. They are signs that good things
are happing and Satan isn't happy. O Lord, let the problems role on, and
give us more souls!