Call Unto Me And I Will Answer You: 23 Years of Ministry in La Union
by Rem De Leon, the eldest son of Lany and Yollie De Leon
The ground itself was still shaking in 1990 when Renato “Lany” de Leon and his wife Yollie led their first Timpuyog Bible studies at the torn-up campus of the Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University College of Education and Sciences (DMMMSU-CES) in Agoo, La Union.
It was a time of upheaval. A few months earlier, Lany had just made an excruciating decision to resign from his post as a Captain at the Philippine Military Academy after ten years of service. With three elementary-age kids, they decided to move to Agoo, Yollie’s hometown, at the beginning of the school year. They weren’t even sure what they were going to do for a living in Agoo as they built a house out of sawali (woven bamboo mats) and the frame of an abandoned poultry shack which relatives allowed them to use.
And then the great quake of July 16, 1990, devastated the town. It downright flattened most of the major buildings, including the municipal hall and the old church tower. It left all the others, including the hospital and the DMMMSU high school, structurally unusable and in danger of collapse.
The quake left the town’s residents, comprised mostly of hardy, thrifty, very religious Ilocanos deeply scared. “Where do you put your trust when you can’t even trust the ground under your feet?” was a common question at the time.
Throughout this time, the de Leons held on to God’s promise in Jeremiah 33:3: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”
God chose this specific time to demonstrate how faithful He is to His promises, as these upheavals paved the way for the beginning of Navigator ministries in La Union.
Mung Bean Soup and Correction Fluid
With Agoo’s residents and DMMMSU’s students hit hard by the earthquake and asking many questions about faith, as a result, one of Lany’s churchmates encouraged him to lead a small bible study group in DMMMSU.
“That started a long series of Bible study meetings in campus,” he describes what would become the formal start of a campus ministry in Agoo. “Unprepared, we found ourselves looking for our old copies of Bible study booklets, photocopied each page to paint over the answers with [correction fluid] and thus we produced our own copies of xeroxed Navigators bible study booklets Beginning With Christ, Studies in Christian Living, and Lessons on Assurance. We eventually acquired a few brand new SCL booklets, which came much later. Additional small groups were formed that were meeting in the campus for Bible studies, group quiet time, and fellowships. Members of the original group began handling younger students.”
In the campus, they registered the group name as Timpuyog, an Ilocano term for unity, a strategy that made it easier to reach out to students whether they were denominationally Catholic or Protestant.
In the meantime, Lany and Yollie, who are associate Navigators staff rather than full-time workers with support, made a living by starting with small businesses, which God eventually prospered.
It was difficult at first though. To help save on costs, Lany often typed out copies of the questions in Bible study booklets to make it more economical to photocopy them. And mongo (mung bean soup) soon became the household staple because Bible studies would sometimes be held in the sawali house, and mongo was the only meal that could be prepared cheaply and still be able to put a little food in everybody’s stomach.
Her Bible Study Contacts are Now Her Co-Teachers
Over time, the discipling effort in the campus bore fruit, not only in terms of numbers, but in terms of raising committed workers for the Gospel.
Because the DMMMSU campus in Agoo specialized in education, most of the contacts eventually pursued careers in teaching—even those in the science fields such as psychology. Many of the local alumni found work in various elementary and high schools in Region 1.
So when a ministry alumnus from DMMMSU graduates and finds work, there are often many opportunities to advance the gospel of Christ among the young people who become their students.
Former Navigator National Trainiee Jigger Paragas, for example, is reaching out to a group of high school students he organized in Bacnotan National High School (in Northern La Union), leading them in various sports and arts competitions, including a Rondalla Group and an Archery Team.
Over the years, it has proven most effective for disciplers to focus on small groups of students. Teacher Felicidad Gonzalgo, for example, makes it a point to spend time meeting three of her high school students for Bible studies. They grew up quickly. The three are all now her coteachers and are thus themselves in the business of influencing young lives.
The four provinces of Region 1 are hours of difficult driving apart from each other, but the alumni found themselves spread out among the three southernmost provinces—Ilocos Sur, La Union, and Pangasinan, respectively.
Other teachers have gone far beyond the region in the practice of their careers and are able to minister to students abroad.
One such group of alumni is working together as school teachers in Surabaya, Indonesia. Teacher Angie Manaoat-Lanon, a BS Psychology graduate of DMMMSU, became the first Filipino teacher at Intan Permata Hati [IPH], an international Christian private school in Surabaya. Her demonstration of expertise there helped spark a demand for Filipino teachers, many of whom would be DMMMSU alumni.
Now a curriculum developer in another school, Mawar Sharon International School, Angie continues to provide leadership role among Filipino teachers in some schools in Surabaya, Indonesia.
Ti Balay ti Maestro
In the mid-2000s, formal ministry to DMMMSU students stopped for a few years, as both the de Leons and the DMMMSU alumni were going through transitions.
During this time, the ministry focus was mostly on the community of alumni who were either working in the region or those with whom it was possible to stay in touch. This was also a time for when it was possible to explore how to minister to a community not tied to a particular campus, as a small church in a nearby town asked Lany to help lead a congregational Bible study every week.
Recent Nav Youth Development Facilitator Alvin Ibuyat in front of Balay ti Maestro.
At about this time, God made it possible for the de Leons to acquire a bit of land near McArthur Highway in Agoo. This included an old three-bedroom house. The location was ideal for ministry use, so when it was repaired, it became known as Ti Balay ti Maestro (the teacher’s house in Ilocano), serving as a venue for meeting students and alumni.
The arrival of Navigator Youth Development Facilitator Alvin Ibuyat made it possible to connect with young students again in ways that hadn’t been feasible for a while. And soon a ministry among DMMMSU students became possible again.
Once again, God proved true to his promise of “great and unsearchable things.” When the ministry kicked off with 2012’s “freshman treat” activity, they were only expecting a handful of students. But the few students they had asked to invite their friends turned out to be very good at doing so. Balay ti Maestro was filled beyond its capacity, and 31 freshmen prayed to receive Christ as their savior on that day alone.
The Other Ilocos Provinces
More recently, the Agoo ministry has been assigned the task of covering the rest of the Ilocos provinces.
On one hand, this will require a balancing act because it’s important not to neglect the fruitful campus based ministry in DMMMSU. At the same time though, God has been putting things in place for this expansion for quite a few years, with alumni in a unique position to start small campus groups in the three southernmost Ilocoandia provinces.
Because of the long travel, these alumni have found it most effective to organize their fellowships around two groups: the Northern Ilocandia group covering Ilocos Sur and the north part of La Union and the Agoo group covering the southern part of La Union and Pangasinan.
Each of these alumni need prayer support at this time especially, as they reach out to the young people in their respective campuses.
“Mula Kay Ate”
In Agoo this semester, many of the first ministry contacts from the restarting of the campus ministry are now beginning their teacher’s internships, and the focus has been to build up their strong foundation with God because they will soon embark on journeying through realities of early professional life.
40 Bibles given to us for students were instead given to Home for Girls, a DSWD facility, during the 2011 STP outreach project held in Agoo. This “Mula Kay Ate’ project of our overseas alumni is an attempt to fill the need of students for bibles
One important project is to coordinate week-end coaching sessions between these students and local school teachers who are Nav alumni—allowing them to gain insights they wouldn’t normally have access to in terms of both the professional and spiritual realities of their field.
“Local school teachers are busy,” Lany explains. “They do work not only in their campuses, but in other roles as conceived by local politicians—hence their increasing difficulty in directly meeting with our student contacts in the campus.”
There is even an effort to help teachers in faraway locations connect with the students. A program labeled “Mula Kay Ate” was started so that alumni would be able get in touch with students and attempt to build up relationship with them as their “ate.” (Things being the way they are in the provinces, most of the contacts are girls.) Some alumni sent money for Bibles, game equipment, and letters encouraging them to persevere in their education. For those students now going through their internship, overseas alumni are sending teaching aids that they can use.
It’s also a chance to widen the students’ perspectives linking them to teachers who were once struggling students like them but are now reaping honors, fruitfully pursuing their teaching careers and making an impact on young lives as Christian educators.
“Mula Kay Ate” is also a chance to minister to the alumni, allowing them to participate in the ministry even from afar.
De Leon family picture circa 2006 or 2007
“Great and Unsearchable Things You Do Not Know”
Another exciting additional focus is to look toward local high schools. In Agoo, at least five entirely new high schools have been put up since the ministry first began 23 years ago. And many of the alumni are working in high schools around the region, so many of the ministry opportunities are there, and God seems to be leading the ministry in that direction.
The challenge, once again, is that this is a new ministry direction, and in many ways, workers aren’t sure exactly how to go about it.
But once again, there’s that promise God made via Jeremiah 33:3.
“The re-focus… excites us, not because we have a good, foolproof plan and assured results [but] rather [because] we do not really know how to begin. We are excited to see what God will do given the possibilities of working on several high school campuses in Agoo and different regions.”
They weren’t sure how to start a ministry in an earthquake-devastated town 23 years ago, and yet “we saw a struggling campus ministry in Agoo sending professional overseas, and [we are thus] participants in impacting young lives and through [the] friendships, [they form with] their peers.”
“Call to me,” God had promised, “and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”