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22 December 2023

Christmas in the Philippines


This article first appeared on Eternity. It has been reproduced with permission. 

Howard and Michelle (Chi) Newby, with their kids Katelyn, Joshua and Caleb, serve with CMS in the Philippines, working with the local indigenous church there. Chi is involved in youth ministry and several Bible studies with women. Howard is continuing his lifelong journey of language and culture acquisition, as together they seek to support local churches, equip and encourage believers. 

Christmas is a bit unusual for us compared to others in full-time ministry. The closer it gets to Christmas the quieter it becomes. Our kids ministries draw to a close early in December because once the school holidays start, many of the village kids are sent off to relatives for the break. It also means Katelyn and Joshua arrive home from boarding school, something we obviously treasure.  

Gift-giving event 

We serve on the Island of Palawan, where Chi was born. A group of Chi’s high school friends who are now senior police, doctors and government officials, decided they wanted to support our ministry by doing a Christmas gift-giving in the village. Other people became quite enthusiastic about it as well and before we knew it, we ended up with an entire police branch attending. This also meant it was now an official police community event and policy dictated that security was required. So we had a new experience of a literal truckload of police with assault rifles, body armour and in camouflage, patrolling the front and rear of our house. Howard had a great time chatting with them. 

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The kids had a blast – gifts, clothes, books, playing games, singing, dancing, and complimentary haircuts. Even their mothers received food supplies and boxes of vitamins. It turned out to be a great community event at our place, fantastic for relationship building and a delight to see so many smiles. 

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Mourning for Chi’s first cousin.

Funerals 

While everyone in the village will put on their best smile this Christmas, many will have a sadness in their hearts as there have been many who have died this year, many too young and very recently. So there has been an unusual number of funerals lately. This means we stop everything and visit the families during the evenings before the funeral and also attend the funeral. The bodies are embalmed and kept in the home for up to two weeks, giving time for family to arrive and for grieving – and Filipinos do grieve well. It is a community event and there is gambling each evening as a way to raise money for the funeral costs. 

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The children in the above picture attend our kids’ ministry. They lost their brother just a few weeks ago and are now pictured here at the cemetery saying their final goodbye to their father (another relative of Chi). Grieving is open, raw, and very public. Normally at this point, there would be wailing, last words shouted to the deceased and tears flowing, but it seems that by now they just had no more emotion to give. It was heartbreaking. They are honoured to share their pictures here. 

Although it has been a sad time, we are thankful for the opportunities to meet with villagers in the evenings before the funerals when they are gathered. We have been able to talk through questions about life and death, sin, a loving God who willingly gave his Son Jesus, and the resurrection. These talks seemed to have opened a lot of doors for when we begin evangelism this coming February. 

For us personally, attending the funerals of so many who didn’t know Jesus has been very sad and draining and has certainly reinforced in us, the desperate plight of people who don’t know Jesus.  

Work continues 

On top of all our regular work, Chi has almost finished her revised translation of The Big Picture Story Bible. We plan to give these to a number of Sunday schools early in the new year and we know they will be a great benefit. I am working away at Bible stories. We will use these from February onwards as we directly target all the grown-ups in the village. The preparation involves using all we have learnt about the worldview and where Filipino culture has points of both similarity and contrast with the Bible. We will then share God’s word to speak into those points. It’s been very interesting how a lot of these points we identified during our training with CMS at St Andrew’s Hall in 2016, turned out to be spot on. Animism – which includes retribution, blessing and curse, and appeasement. Karma. Christology – often an under-realised view or for some people, a false view of Jesus. The list goes on.  

So this Christmas, we remember the time God physically stepped into human history to save the world. With this time of hope and good tidings we look forward with optimism to the new year to finally begin sharing this message of hope with the adults in the village and pray that a great many will come to know the Saviour. 

For more stories like this, check out our series, ‘Let every heart prepare him room: proclaiming the gospel at Christmas’. You can read another Christmas article, written by Christopher and Julie Dean, here.