Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches
Cory Varela, along with her husband, Danny, is a missionary staff member of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches. Both are volunteer workers in Central EFC in Cebu, Philippines.
What do you do when the church to which you commit yourself begins to die?
When we joined Central Evangelical Free Church in Cebu, Philippines, in 1997, the Sunday worship service was attended by at least 120 people. Within a year or two, however, a majority of nonmembers had left, and we were down to about 40. Even the pastoral team left, one after the other, except for the person who is now our outreach pastor.
Deeply rooted spiritual problems caused constant frustration. The church’s physical condition was just as pitiful: an unkempt building with major problems but no available funds for repair.
Our home church looked like a house that was burning down, and as firefighters, we didn’t know which part to save first.
Like the others, we could have opted to transfer to a more promising local congregation. So why did we stay? Only because we longed to witness how God could revive a dying church, and because we believed it could happen. After all, that was our mission when we moved to Cebu: to help strengthen local churches. We knew that if God were to revive CEFC, its center-city location would mean that all of Cebu would feel its impact. So we stayed, for 13 years now.
Our spiritual and material poverty left us no option but to cry out to God, so I concentrated on mobilizing prayer. We restored the mid-week prayer meeting and used it to disciple people—to revive their spiritual passion and relationship with God. Eventually, we added a monthly intercessory meeting to pray against the works of Satan within the church and in our surrounding community.
The first major intervention God made was in 2003—a partnership with Compassion Philippines that allowed our church to engage in a holistic ministry to the families of more than 150 sponsored children (which has now increased to 349). With limited human and material resources, this pushed us to greater commitment, sacrifice and diligence.
Still, spiritual battles continued to rage, making our progress painfully slow. At first, new converts were dropping out as fast as they came. With every hard blow, however, the church grew more prayerful. Fasting was added. Eventually, a different small group was praying and fasting at noon in the church every day.
It was only after 10 years of persistent and believing prayer (three years with fasting), that God finally unleashed His power. It was as if He took our prayer list and checked it off one by one with His answers, beginning May 2009.
First, God granted us rest from opposition. Second, He provided for the much-needed repairs and renovation to our building through an anonymous donor. Third, we started more than 20 outreach Bible studies in a one-kilometer area around the church. There are now 120-150 nonchurched people attending, some of whom have started worshiping with us on Sunday.
Even though we minister among the poor, and the regular income of the church is hardly enough to pay monthly expenses, God has entrusted to us millions of pesos every year through the Compassion Sponsorship program, which makes possible the holistic ministry to our community.
What have I learned? I’ve learned that dependence on God as expressed in persistent, prevailing prayer produces joyful and sacrificial disciples and opens the way for God to display His power.