Globetrotting – An ABCNJ Ministry reaches the Philippines

Globetrotting – An ABCNJ Ministry reaches the Philippines

Denise Gratzel (second from the left), ABCNJ's Disaster Relief Coordinator, was part of a team representing ABCNJ in the Philippines this week. The group travelled in order to take part in a ministry round-table which shared wisdom between several ABCUSA regions and ministry organizations, and the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches. ABCNJ was a significant partner in the event.
Denise, in particular, travelled across

Why I am an American Baptist


A Testimony From a Son of Missions, in Celebration of Baptist Heritage Sunday - May 17, 2015

The first question asked of anyone in the Philippines when they are introduced for the first time to others is invariably, “Where are you from? Who is your mother, your father? Whose grandson are you?”

I am a 4th generation Filipino Baptist, a product of American Baptist missions. Christianity had already been on Philippine soil for almost 400 years before the first missionary from the American Baptist missionary arrived. Christianity and its Roman Catholic expression were brought to the Philippines by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century primarily as an instrument of imperial colonial policy. The three generations before me in my family were brought to the Baptist faith by the lives and witness of missionaries of the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society.

The very day after Pearl Harbor was attacked, the Japanese Imperial Army invaded the Philippines. They knew that the Philippines was the only Christian nation in Asia. They knew that one of its greatest strengths was its faith. Imperial oppressors share familiar ways. One of the things they all do to a people they intend to dominate and oppress is to first destroy their stories, eradicate their poetry and literature, erase their memory of who they are. And so one of the first things the Japanese Imperial Army did was they went house to house in towns and villages and confiscated every copy of the Bible that they could find. They then took these Bibles to the town plaza and burned them. But the nights that followed – dark as they were – were illuminated by the deep faith of the great women in my family. My grandmother and grandaunts would gather the children at night (my father and siblings and cousins) and recite to them scripture passages they had memorized. They required the children to memorize them as well in the belief that they were to never see nor read a copy of the Bible ever again. They thought that with the Bible burnings and the destruction of the war, a great famine of God’s word was to cover the land, and so they made sure the children’s spiritual storehouses were well-stocked! Whenever I remember them, they remind me of Ruth and Hannah who never lost their trust in God even in the midst of great tribulation.

When I remember them I am reminded of the power of story-telling in the sustenance of our spirituality, and how important it is for the vitality of our faith for today that it is nourished by the memory of our roots. This is especially crucial in our time, for we live in a materialistic and utilitarian culture that for the most part eschews stories.

My grandfather on my mother’s side was orphaned at a young age. He was mentored by American Baptist missionaries who established early on a vocational school for orphan boys. He later on became one of the first graduates of the seminary that grew out of that vocational school that ABC missionaries established in the Philippines. After he graduated he went back to the foothills of his birth and there founded a church. He had a fierce faith, like Gideon. When the Japanese Imperial Army overran that part of the country, 11 ABC missionaries fled towards the hills where my grandfather was pastoring. He helped them find a hiding place. They found a location at the bottom of a deep ravine surrounded by lush forests. They called the place Hopevale. There they built a chapel made of stones and adorned it with a make-shift wooden cross. They called it “The Cathedral in the Glen.” A replica of that cathedral can be found today at the American Baptist Assembly grounds in Green Lake, WI. He and his family and his congregation provided the missionaries companionship, protection, food, and fellowship for almost two years until the Japanese Imperial Army found them. The Japanese Imperial Army was on retreat at that time. They had orders to take no American prisoners. The order was issued to execute the missionaries.

The plaque listing the names of the martyred ABC missionaries, located at the Centennial Memorial on the campus of CPU.

One of the 11 was Dr. James Covell. He was an ABC missionary educator to Japan during the war years but later on was moved to the Philippines with his wife and family when he became a danger to himself and our Baptist partners in Japan in the way he openly and fiercely opposed the militarization of Japan. He and his wife spoke fluent Japanese. In beautiful Japanese, he begged the platoon commander to spare the group, indicating that they were missionaries and were not part of the war. He was almost successful in persuading the platoon commander but his orders from higher command were inflexible. When it became absolutely clear that death was to come, Dr. Covell asked for a time to pray. They were given all the time they needed and after almost an hour they came back to the soldiers hand in hand singing a hymn and then Dr. Covell said on behalf of the group, “We are ready.” Then they were led, two by two, to different spots around the top of the ravine and they were executed. To this day, it is this memory of sacrificial service that inspires many pastors of the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches to serve with passion even in the midst of daunting challenges and abject poverty!

My great grandfather on my father’s side was a carpenter. His name was Alejo Familiaran. He was an accomplished furniture maker. After he came into the Baptist faith he was commissioned to build the first Baptist church in his town. He was stricken with Glaucoma and became blind during the construction of the bamboo church but - with help of his apprentices - he finished the structure with the feel of his hands. And so whenever I hear the word, “church builder”, I think of my great grandfather Alejo. He “felt” the church, not as brick and mortar – or in his case, bamboo, timber, and coconut leaves – but a fellowship of Jesus people propelled by a fiery mission.

Baptists in general around the world share some fundamental convictions. Perhaps one of the most defining of these – and formative to its very identity - is Religious Freedom or, as it is sometimes known, Soul Liberty. Throughout history, the foundational belief that God has given every person the dignity and the gift of freedom has permitted Baptists of every persuasion to respond freely to the world around them, and appropriate their faith in light of their own understanding of Scriptures. It is this bedrock ‘Baptistic’ belief that has given rise to the variety of Baptist traditions today. The Baptist family has many “offspring” and, therefore, many expressions. And so the question, ‘Why am I an American Baptist?’ is best answered with the prior understanding that ‘Baptist’ and ‘American Baptist’ identities are not necessarily one and the same. It has been said that American Baptists have never been one thing, but many - and therein lies much of our distinctiveness. At the heart of the American Baptist self-consciousness are its powerful history, its passion for social justice and missions. Who American Baptists are today is, therefore, only the contemporary expression of a long history of particular persons who have responded to Christ’s call to missions in the world in peculiar ways.

And so my identity as an American Baptist is not rooted only in organizational structure, or confessional and propositional statements. Rather, beyond all of that, my identity as an American Baptist is grounded in the lives and ministry of particular people who have responded to God’s call in a particular way. It begins with my own family history, with three generations of Filipino Baptists before me who were brought to the Baptist faith by American Baptist missionaries. This faith produced in my family church builders and pioneers who formed my own Baptist faith. And then farther out into the vast panorama of that Baptist history I see Obadiah Holmes, Roger Williams, Benjamin Randall, Mary Webb, John Mason Peck, Lott Cary, Luther Rice, Charles Journeycake, Joanna Moore, Dong Gong, Adoniram & Ann Judson – to name a few pioneers who represent my wider American Baptist ancestry. In more modern memory more saints crystallize this identity for me - Walter Rauschenbusch, James and Charma Covell, Helen Barrett Montgomery, Martin Luther King, Jr., Orlando Costas, Jitsuo Morikawa, Delfin Dianala, Howard Thurman, Margaret Prine, George Peck, Moley Familiaran, Prathia Wynn – to name a few, but saints and all! Why am I an American Baptist? The answer lies in the mighty stories of faith embodied in these people. For me, their lives and ministries have carried forth the American Baptist ‘DNA’ through the generations, and it is their ‘genes’ that continue to stir in my soul.

To celebrate Baptist Heritage Sunday, may we seek to understand deeper who we are as American Baptists and "re-member" - reconnect, reintegrate, reclaim - into our journey the peculiar and powerful story of our Baptist heritage so that we may live with utmost clarity about the role we play in bringing to bear God's kingdom of love here on earth.

Tell your story!

Solidarity in the Storm


ABCNJ & Partners come to the aid of the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches

The Philippines is hit by an average of 21 typhoons each year. But when Typhoon Haiyan hit the central Philippines on November 8, 2013 with the strongest destructive cyclonic force ever recorded to hit land, even such a typhoon-jaded country like the Philippines was felled to its knees, and visited upon by a tempest beyond its imagination. By now most of us have seen a photograph or two of the horrific destruction that Typhoon Haiyan has left in its wake, which only belies the massive number of lives lost and upturned, and countless structures demolished in this populous but largely rural and agrarian country.

Philippines Map of Regions and ProvincesOf note for us here in ABCNJ and ABCUSA is that the megatyphoon entered from the east and plowed through the central part of the Philippines on its way out to the west. Lying on its direct path as it moved westward were the northern provinces of the three major islands of western Visayas, where the historical location of American Baptist missionary work in the Philippines is centered. The vast majority of the churches and institutions of our partner convention there, the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches, are located in the same region.

The day after the typhoon hit, ABCNJ's Council authorized Dr. Lee B. Spitzer, senior regional pastor and executive minister, to mount a regional appeal for CPBC. Many of our ABCNJ churches and individuals have generously responded to the appeal so far. American Baptists, through its One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS) disaster relief, immediately released an initial amount of funds to assist our partner convention in the emergency phase to purchase essential times like food, fresh water, medicine and temporary shelter materials. This rapid response enabled CPBC to visit stricken areas and deliver assistance almost immediately where safe passage was possible.

Estancia Evangelical Church

In late December of 2013, Dr. Lee B. Spitzer, Rev. Dr. Ben Chan, International Ministries area director for East Asia, India, Hong Kong and China, and Ms. Lisa Rothenberger, ABC World Relief Officer, began discussion on how we can effectively partner together in the now crucial recovery and reconstruction phase. By the turn of the year in January 2014,  ABCNJ, IM and WRO joined together to commission me to travel to the Philippines on a brief mission trip. This allowed us to conduct direct onsite assessments with our partners in stricken areas in order to provide vital information needed to enable IM, ABCNJ and WRO to faithfully discharge American Baptist disaster relief funds received thus far. After a flurry of negotiations with CPBC to coordinate my schedule, I was able to finally leave for the Philippines on January 26, 2014, affording almost 7 days of intensive onsite visits to affected areas, engaging in dialogue and prayer with pastors, church members and leaders of institutions, and daily debriefings with CPBC staff. I returned to the US on February 5, 2014

Community Baptist Church, Bingawan, Iloilo ProvinceDue to the limitation of time, I was not able to visit all the provinces where CPBC churches and institutions were affected (and some locations are yet inaccessible even to CPBC staff almost three months after the typhoon), but CPBC staff took me to enough locations that provided a visual overview of the damage in other provinces. The damage to property, loss of life and livelihood that I saw were heartbreaking. But what encouraged me daily was the knowledge that wherever I went, I brought a personal presence to the love and care of American Baptists from across the ocean. Dr. Spitzer and I went to the national office in Valley Forge after I returned, to report my findings and handover data I collected to International Ministries and the World Relief Office. Initial damage findings of CPBC indicate more than 149 churches and 53 parsonages destroyed, and hundreds upon hundreds of member homes damaged and livelihoods disrupted or lost.  Filamer Christian University, a major university established by American Baptists which now has more than 4,300 students, sustained 42 million pesos worth of damage.

Together with IM and WRO, ABCNJ is now finalizing a strategy to allocate funds for the recovery and rebuilding phase along the priority categories of rebuilding churches and parsonages, schools and institutions, member homes, and restoration of livelihood.

In the midst of the loss, grief and destruction, I never heard a single word of bitterness uttered from anyone - even from those who have lost everything. Instead, I was blessed to see dignity in the suffering of the innocent; I was blessed to see the fruit of the Holy Spirit at work as a vibrant community spirit is ignited spontaneously everywhere - people helping people, reaching out to total strangers with the meager resources they have, opening their homes and churches to refugees, consoling each other in the deep fellowship of their faith. While their walls, roofs, chancels, pulpits and pews may have been lost or damaged in the storm, the real church is alive and well! The journey ahead will take a few years, but the partnership between American Baptists and the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches runs silent, runs deep and is secure in the hands of Christ.Together we will face the promise of God's renewed future with faith and action.


Dr. Familiaran Represents ABC on Philippine Typhoon Relief Mission

By Benjamin SL Chan, International Ministries
Rev. Dr. Elmo Familiaran, Associate Regional Pastor/Area Minister of the American Baptist Churches in New Jersey (ABCNJ,) is running a series of meetings on typhoon relief in the Philippines beginning January 28, 2014.  American Baptist International Ministries (IM), the World Relief Office and ABCNJ are working together to plan the second phase of typhoon relief in the Philippines.  Rev. Familiaran, Associate Regional Pastor/Area Minister of ABNCJ, has graciously agreed to visit the affected areas and represent the three organizations to meet with leaders of the Convention of Philippines Baptist Churches. He is helping us gain better understanding of the current relief work, and what is needed to restore the operation of the Baptist institutions and normal life of the citizens. The information gathered will be used to shape the focus of the coming relief work. We will share the plan with American Baptist family.
Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines on November 8, 2013 and devastated the country. Click to read related posting:

ABCNJ Disaster Response: Philippines Typhoon

A devastating typhoon has hit the Philippines, and early reports indicate widespread destruction and the loss of over one thousand lives.  ABCNJ has enjoyed a very positive relationship with the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches.  In the last 2 years, we have led two mission initiatives in this country.  The storm passed directly over the part of the country where most of the Philippine Baptist churches serve.  I know that you and your ABC church will want to respond to this crisis, and this letter is intended to provide you with guidance on how to do so most effectively. The American Baptist Churches of New Jersey is especially suited to work with you in this crisis, since we have among us many Filipinos, including one of our Associate Regional Pastors (Rev. Dr. Elmo Familiaran) and one of our Council Vice-Presidents (Rev. Felix Tingson).

There are two ways you and your church can provide offerings for disaster relief and recovery which benefits the people of the Philippines.

ABCUSA One Great Hour of Sharing Offering

This option is good for a general response to the crisis.  You can use the ABC missions form to record and designate your gift. Use line “OGH” for this.

Through ABCNJ’s Philippines Ministries Response Fund

This option is best for responding to the many specific aid requests our region and churches will be receiving over the coming months.  This fund, administered by ABCNJ, will have 3 priorities:

  • Emergency aid to ABCNJ related families affected by the storm in the Philippines.
  • Emergency aid to Philippine Baptist churches that need to rebuild or make repairs, in cooperation with the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches, our partner in ministry.
  • Financial support for efforts of Philippine Baptist Churches to help their members and community recover from the storm.

Church donations to the ABCNJ Philippines Ministries Response Fund can be made using the ABC missions form – or just send your donation to the region office and we will do the paperwork for you.  Make checks out to: ABCNJ.  Use the line SPECIFICS (SPC) and in the details box write  “ABCNJ Philippines Ministries Response Fund.”  For individuals, checks should be made out to ABCNJ and write “ABCNJ Philippines Ministries Response Fund” in the memo line.  Both church and individual gifts may be sent to the region office.

We are asking every ABCNJ church to take a special offering for this purpose before the end of the year.  Please do not re-designate offerings for ongoing mission gifts (such as United Mission or Region Offering) for this purpose.  Your people will be generous if they are presented the opportunity to give!


Update from Rev. Dr. Elmo Familiaran, ABCNJ Associate Regional Pastor

Here is the latest word I received this morning from Henna Baclagon, community development and disaster relief officer of CPBC.  “Iloilo Province is badly hit and so is Capiz and Aklan and not so much in Iloilo City. Me and Feraz had just arrived from our monitoring but most of the roads are not passable yet especially water from the Jalaur river is rising. Even government aid cannot get through via land transport. Capiz is still now out of contact and we are finding ways how to. Tomorrow, we will try to reach those who are still isolated.. Thank you so much for the support again.”

Journeying By Faith into the New Year

Note: This letter was mailed to all churches and pastors on Thursday, January 9, 2013.

A Regional Update Letter from the ABCNJ Ministry Team for Pastors and Church Leaders

Dear ABCNJ Pastors and Church Leaders:

As we journey by faith into the new year, I believe that God is going to bless our regional fellowship and mission in many ways.   ABCNJ is an amazing assemblage of gifted pastors and committed churches, and your regional ministry team is dedicated to supporting and encouraging you as you share the light and love of Jesus with your neighbors, communities and beyond.

The ABCNJ Ministry Team Expands!

In 2012, we added several part-time specialist positions to our team.  Rev. Marella Holmes was called to serve as Associate Regional Pastor for Youth Ministries.  Rev. Fred Daugherty and Rev. William Coleman were called to serve as Associate Regional Pastored for Retired Clergy.  ABCNJ has initiated this outreach in partnership with MMBB.   Though not a new position, Dr. Karen Jackson-Weaver joined the team as the Director of New Church Development.

As we begin 2013, we are very pleased to announce the call of Rev. Erin Phillips as half-time Associate Regional Pastor.  She will focus on ministering to churches in the Capital and North Shore Associations.  Please read and share her call announcement.

Erin has joined the team just when we needed her the most!  That’s because, as many of you already know, Rev. Vern Mattson broke his leg just before Christmas and is out on an extended medical leave.  He will return to active service when his physician clears him to drive.  Dr. Elmo Familiaran, Erin and I will cover his responsibilities while he is on leave.  We have also decided to postpone COAL, one of Vern’s major project responsibilities (usually scheduled for 2 Saturdays in March) and incorporate it in to the 2013 Annual Session.   As you lift Vern up in prayer, please also pray for Dr. Frank Reeder, ABCNJ’s Associate Regional Pastor for Pastor to Pastor Ministry, who has recently suffered significant health issues that required a hospital stay after Christmas.

In 2013, we will also welcome Rev. Tamara Davis as a specialist in “Safe Churches” – our new initiative to help ABCNJ churches minister to children and adults who have suffered abuse.  This is a key issue that many churches avoid, and we want to break the silence in a positive and constructive way.  I also want to congratulate Rev. Gina Jacobs-Strain, ABCNJ Associate Regional Pastor for Women in Ministry, on her ordination which took place on January 6, 2013.  It was a great service of celebration! 

Ministry to ABCNJ Pastors in 2013

You can count on ABCNJ to serve the region’s pastors and clergy in several ways throughout 2013.   Our Bridge Pastor ministry, coordinated by Rev. Leslie Martin, is especially designed to express caring and support.  Bridge Pastors are assigned by association.   When your Bridge Pastor calls you on the phone or invites you to a small group breakfast or lunch, take advantage of this opportunity to share what is going on in your life and ministry.  If there is anything they feel should be passed on to the regional team for follow-up, they will ask your permission to do so.  Their goal is to care for and support you.  You are not alone in ministry; you have a family that loves you and wants you to succeed!

Here is the list of Bridge Pastors for 2013:

  • Capital Association: Rev. Dr. William Webb
  • Essex Association: Rev. Dr. Leora Liggins
  • Greater Delaware Valley Association: Rev. Dr. Michael Feicht, Rev. Jay Thatcher and Rev. Bob Santilli
  • North New Jersey Association: Revs. Dorcas Diaz-Shaner, Donald Shaner and Richard Sharber
  • North Shore Association: Rev. Jim King
  • Raritan Association: Rev. Edwin Aymat
  • Watchung Association: Rev. Dr. John Hayward
  • West New Jersey Association: Rev. Dr. Frank Reeder
  • Haitian Pastors: Rev. Dr. Lemaire Alerte

Continuing education for clergy is vital to pastoral health and faithfulness.   The ABCNJ Academy will offer several courses in 2013.  Rev. Wes Allen, ABCNJ Associate Regional Pastor for Technology in Ministry,  will be teaching an “Idea Painting” course beginning in February.  ABCNJ and the American Baptist Churches of Pennsylvania and Delaware are co-hosting the Fanning the Flame 2013 conference on April 15-17 at FBC Bethlehem.   Our presenter will be Dr. George Bullard, who will share his newest research on “Soaring Churches.”   Apply for a continuing education scholarship from ABHMS and the event will be free!  A full announcement of the conference will go out shortly.

Pray for ABCNJ’s Ministry to Philippine Pastors

You have heard the story of ABCNJ’s July 2012 evangelistic mission on the campus of Central Philippine University, in which 1,376 students accepted Christ for the first time.  In follow-up, the Philippine Convention Baptist Ministers Association has invited Elmo and I to return and serve as keynote speakers for their Annual Meeting.  We will speak to some 800 pastors from all over that country.  International Ministries has generously provided a travel grant to cover our expenses.   Our trip is a brief one – from January 13-20, but we hope it will produce much spiritual fruit.  Please pray for us!

Technology, Reflection, and Encouragement


This past Sunday I allowed Central Baptist Palmyra to preview one of the videos which will be shown at Annual Session [1]. The video is a heart-felt, deep, and shows how ABCNJ is involved in the mission of the Gospel. The congregation thought the video was wonderful, especially the part about a giant fish [2], and I used the moment to highlight our relationship as a church within ABCNJ.

Following the video, I told the story of Elmo's sabbatical invitation to bring a team for "Christ Emphasis Week" in the Philippines – the end of which bore a question, "So, who do you think paid for that trip where so many people committed their lives to Jesus Christ?" The congregation looked around for a moment until someone hazarded the response, "I guess we do."

This response occasioned both an affirmation and a second question, "Right! And who do you think encouraged the regional staff to take such a bold step in response to Elmo's invitation?" This time the congregation had guessed what the correct answer was, they responded, "We do!"

Elated, I called back, "That's right! The regional team sees what churches, like ours, are doing in response to the Gospel – and they know if they're going to be able to help lead us in ministry then they need to be in ministry as well. The regional team saw our faith, and it strengthened their faith. The wonder of it is this, having seeing what our regional team is up to for the Gospel, aren't we encouraged? [3] Don't we want to echo the example they are showing us? What a wonderful cycle of ministry we get to be as part of ABCNJ!"

Now, I could have simply read off a bulletin insert or a form letter – but it wouldn't have been as effective. By showing a video, we got to see the team which went out in Jesus' name and with the regional's credentials, and catch a glimpse of the world-changing work we are part of. The video is, in fact, a powerful testimony to what a strong relationship between our churches can accomplish.

I encourage our churches, when you see a video or an article on our web-site, share it with people. Post the links to our youtube posts on FaceBook, your church sites, or use the in worship where you seem fit. If you would like a downloadable version of any video, please email me and I'll be happy to get you a link to one. Let's make use of the technology at our disposal so we may be reminded of what Christ is doing in our midst – and let our stories encourage us to even greater heights.


[1] It's well worth seeing on the 28th, if you miss it you'll have to wait until we put it on the web!

[2] You will never guess who played that role!

[3] The correct answer is, "Yes." Just in case you were wondering.