In the fall of 1964 Pastor Forrest and Mary Johnson came to the Philippines to visit ABWE missionaries and graciously included us in their itinerary. We had them flown into our village and they stayed overnight with us in our bamboo and thatch cottage.
At the beginning of our second term new Baptist believers began to meet for services in a small chapel using the Scriptures we had translated. Their lay pastor, a young man named Siblian, was our translation assistant who had come to faith at the translation desk.
The next morning Siblian came to me and said, “We should have a special service and ask Pastor Johnson to speak. You can interpret for him.” Pastor Forrest agreed to this and in a short time the believers gathered to hear him.
The thatched chapel was miniscule in size, about ten feet wide and twelve feet long. The floor was dirt and the seats were rough-hewn planks set on posts. Among the thirty people inside there was a strong sense of togetherness. They were all desperately poor and for the most part poorly dressed but to Betty and me their expectant faces displayed a nobility that was far beyond anything that affluence or prestige could offer.
Pastor Forrest’s message was relevant and powerful. When he finished some of the listeners were in tears. Siblian stood up and spoke in Manobo to the congregation. Forrest and Mary did not understand anything of what he said and we chose not to enlighten them.
I remember that he said, “At this time we are going to receive a love offering for our dear brother, Pastor Johnson and his wife.” Someone produced a straw hat and it was quickly passed up and down the crowded benches. In a moment or two Siblian left the chapel taking the offering and soon returned with it in a well-worn envelope. He asked Forrest and me to come and stand at the front. Siblian handed me the envelope and asked me to present it to Forrest.
“Pastor Johnson,” I said, “this is a love offering for you and Mary from these dear friends and fellow believers.”
For a moment Forrest stood there in shock and his face turned pale. “I cannot accept this, Dick,” he whispered. “Not from these poor folk.” “You have to accept it, Forrest,” I said. “They are saying thank you for the gospel. You and the saints at Tab made it possible for us to come. These folk will probably never have more than a tiny share of this world’s goods but they are now enriched with a wealth and a dignity that is beyond our wildest dreams.
Forrest turned to Siblian, took his hand and struggled to keep his composure as he offered his thanks. An hour or so later he and Mary left on a JAARS plane to resume their visit to other mission stations. Betty and I were in the process of packing up to leave for our second furlough in the United States.
A few weeks later we were in Seattle. During our stay there Pastor and Mary invited us and our family to their home for dinner. Several of the deacons of the church were there also. After the meal Forrest came to me with the envelope which still contained the bills of Philippine currency. He handed it to me and asked, “Dick, how much is this in American money?” I opened the envelope and counted the offering. “This amounts to Three dollars and sixty-eight cents,” I responded. “I am buying this,” he said, and he opened his wallet and gave me the exact amount. “You may use this in any way you like for the Lord’s work.” I handed him back the money. “This is for Camp Gilead,” I said. “God called me to be a missionary at a Bible camp. Perhaps He will use this in some way to call other young believers to take the Good News to a people who are still waiting.”
Forrest kept that envelope as a sacred memorial of the power of the gospel. A number of years later Betty and I saw it again. Forrest had “gone home.” We were visiting Mary and she brought it out to show it to us again.
Thinking back we realize that most of the people who were in that little chapel on that day are now with the Lord. Of all who were there it is likely that only Betty and I remain here. I am sure that some day He, who multiplied five loaves and two fishes, will tell us what He has done at Camp Gilead with those few Philippine pesos in that well-worn envelope.
Dick and Betty Elkins