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SE Asia #5 - Shalom from Manila - Ben Volman
January 18, 2018

By Ben Volman, Toronto Ministry Leader and Messianic Rabbi of Kehillat Eytz Chaim / Tree of Life Congregation.

(Ben was kindly invited to travel to Thailand and speak to a group of local pastors and evangelists about a Messianic perspective of the Gospel.  And, since he will be "in the area," he'll also travel to the Philippines to visit some pastors there.)

The sounds of the city from the 38th floor above Manila are absurdly loud, full of honking cars, revving motorcycles and light rail trains.  Yes, even at this hour a distant backyard rooster is determined to be heard above it all.  The city is a tapestry of street-lights and magically lit skyscrapers. Bong has explained to me that the different clusters of skyscrapers—one about three miles away, another several miles in the distance—are different cities that comprise the Greater Metropolitan Manila Area—just like North York and the City of Toronto were once separate cities forming Metro Toronto; eventually they were amalgamated into one.  Here, Manila is much more intensely urban and its garbage is picked over by the lowest of the poor—many of them in the Tondo, the area in which Pastor Joe has planted his ministry.

When we drove through the Tondo, we passed the garbage depots by the harbour where garbage trucks unload city waste and crowds of people gather to sift through it.  We drove out the wide avenue by the bay and entered narrow streets thick with grime, patchwork houses of old tarpaper and sheet-metal. We saw lots of young kids in bare-armed undershirts playing or strolling in the street by tiny stalls with wire grates or little pushcarts where sharp-eyed locals are buying cigarettes and sweets while others sit glumly smoking and talking in the middle of the day.  A few threadbare items hanging outside a window could have been laundry—or for sale.  In the constant humidity, people seem tired as they drift across the streets despite the traffic full of jitneys crammed with passengers.  In post-cards I remember seeing as a kid, the Filipino jitneys with their colourful decorations and chrome seemed exotic and lively. But up close, when the fumes pour out the exhaust and you see people literally sticking together, they seem like the worst possible transit option.

The pastor’s congregation meets in the glassed in front area of a very large, clean looking office complex on a major road wider than most of Toronto’s streets (more like Spadina south of College) or the Avenues of New York, and just as thoroughly crowded with cars and motorbikes, but no sidewalks.  People, bikes and cars are occasionally jostling for space; it seems terribly unsafe in the darkness after 6 pm.

Many of my first audience are surprisingly young.  At a later prayer meeting, they shared with me their ages (19-23) and their current situations (school, retail work, looking for work). The young men are thin and unpretentious. They are shy in front of a stranger so I walked around smiling and introducing myself.  When I started my presentation and I talked about the challenge of seeking out “the real Jesus”—the young men sitting near me nod in agreement because they are trying to tell their peers—“Jesus is for real.”

Pastor Joe encourages me to talk about Messianic congregational life and vision, but most of my talks in Thailand have been about Messianic Biblical perspectives.  I’ve cobbled together a PowerPoint presentation but, when I share my personal testimony, the people stop sitting with folded arms and they look at me with curiosity and then openness as I talk about changing from the inside-out through the grace of Messiah.

There are older people around and some of them are relatives of Bong’s brother,  Jonson, the teacher. When Pastor Joe’s daughter (she’s married to the current congregational pastor, Pastor Zaldy, a young man of 33) asks what can people here can do to connect with Israel, I mention web-sites and Messianic resources that suddenly seem very distant.  But I encourage them to go to Israel—no matter what else they experience, I know that will have a lasting impression. Jonson’s step-mother, a lovely woman with a silk scarf and gold glasses, tells me that she’s been to Israel and encourages others to go.  She’s very pleased to hear me spread the word.

When I arrived yesterday, the airline had lost my luggage (along with the luggage of others, including a tall Australian from Adelaide.)  After repeated phone calls, the airline promises to bring the luggage to the church office. (I have their address, because Freddie had attached a photo of the delivery label from one our clothing packages to one of his emails.) 

After the presentation, I go to dinner with Pastor Joe at a nearby McDonald’s (very clean and a menu that looks like no Mickey D’s you’ve ever seen, including spaghetti and rice—I get the familiar chicken sandwich special, including those shoelace fries and a coke.) When we pick our way back to the meeting place, I see my luggage has arrived. Thank you for your prayers.

Getting into the Philippines was surprisingly easy.  They don’t demand to know my exact address (which had led to a stern warning in Thailand from a uniformed official who had demanded to know a phone number where I could be reached.) But when I finally emerged—without luggage—looking for Bong or Pastor Joe, the relatively empty airport area (apart from a few professional sign wavers) was without anyone to receive me. I wait, finally, going to an information booth.

Is anyone allowed in here if they’re not getting on or off a flight?  The man asks if I’m looking for family or friends, and points across the road. The meeting place is down over there.  I follow other passengers and crew to long down-ramp and there are the waiting crowds, and the shouted greeting from Pastor Joe and the tall figure of Bong and his brother—even if I’m an hour later than the plane’s arrival time.

Now I’m on the 38th floor in Manila and with the crack of dawn I can hear church bells above the city din.  Today, I’ll present some two hours south of here.  I’ll get some sleep first. Thank you again for your prayers and heart-felt emails encouraging me across the vast distances that an electronic signal turns to elusive nanoseconds. Somehow, despite the lingering smog which will emerge with daylight, Abraham’s footprints are visible here.

Filed under: Ministry News


On Sunday, March 4, 2018, Oscar Rodriguez Mapue said
Comparing Filipino cultural practices with the Jewish culture. by OSCAR MAPUE·SUNDAY, MARCH 4, 2003 Most Filipino males are circumcised (done either at birth or before reaching puberty age) 2. Method of preparing livestock (viz., chicken, goat, turkey, pig, etc) For cooking is done by slitting the jugular vein located at the throat and draining off the blood. This is similar to the Jewish Kosher way of preparing livestock for meal. One could say that Muslim’s ‘Halal’ is done the same way. They slit the throat and drain off the blood and then offer the animal in prayer to their god – Allah (thus, the word Halal). You need to consider though that there are about 83 % Catholics and only 5% Muslims in the Philippines. The Muslims are confined to the southernmost part of the country (3rd of 3 major islands) while Catholics are all over the whole archipelago. 3. It is a cultural belief that if the eldest child in the family is a male (and the first child to come out of the mothers’ womb), this child is gifted with some healing power through his saliva. He is locally called “Dr. Laway (Dr. Saliva)”. In the Gospel of Matthew, we see a similar scenario where Jesus healed a blind person by wetting the mud with His saliva and then placed the mud on the person’s eyes. Jesus was the eldest among the children of Mary and Joseph and the first child that came out of Mary’s womb. 4. During the month of May, Filipino Catholics celebrate a feast to honor Blessed Virgin Mary (this was originally for Queen Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, the great). This is called ‘Flores de Mayo’ (Flowers of May). There is a gala procession consisting of several escorts and maid-of-honor to the ‘Reyna Elena’ (Queen Helena). The children among the crowds are then ushered to a makeshift booth with lots of goodies (candies, toys, fruits, etc) hanging from its improvised roof of intertwined sticks of bamboo. This roof is then lowered for a short time so kids could pluck off whatever goodies they can lay hands on, and then pulled back to its original place. This practice is quite similar to the Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacle). where makeshift booths have roofs made of intertwined wood sticks where the sky can be seen through. Goodies (like fruits, etc) are hanged for people to pick. 5. Jewish songs and music were commonly sung during the early fifties until the late sixties (speaking from my experience, since I was born in the 50's). Example of this is Hava Nagilah, which was popularized by Carmen Soriano, well renowed Filipina Meztiza singer. Meztiza is the colloquial term for a person with mixed Spanish and native blood. 6. We wash our hands before any meal, just like the Jews. Although, I would concede that this is not unique to the Jews. 7. We wash our hands or face after having been to a funeral wake. A friend from the Visayas islands (Emma Lagunday) mentioned that they do wash their hands as they exit the house, where a funeral for a friend is being held, with water (containing concoction of Guava leaves) from a basin. Similarly, in the Northern Ilocos provinces (according to Minda, my dear wife), people wash their faces (in-lieu of hands) as they exit the house. Jews do this as well, for purification purposes. 8. Acacia trees are abundantly available throughout the archipelago and used as building materials for houses. We all know that Acacia wood was the prescribed wood for the building of the altar in the Mishkan (tabernacle in the wilderness, during the 40 years of wandering in the desert). The prescription came from G-d and handed or dictated to Moises (Moshe). 9. In celebrating the New Year (secular, Gregorian calendar), Filipinos would welcome it by blowing the home-made trumpets (torotot) and lighting firecrackers. Rosh Hashanah (Feast of the Trumpets) is the Jewish New Year which usually falls in September and the shofar (ram’s horn) is blown to welcome the new year. 10. Most of our Spanish names are Sephardic names. See and visit For example, Andrade, Rodriguez, Carrillo, Santos, Gonzalo, Gonzales, Montejo, Mercado, Ramirez, Sanchez, Monteiro, Suarez, Ocampo, Mapu, etc (my real name happens to be Carillo and my dad’s mom’s surname was Ocampo, while my mom is Rodriguez) 11. Our Elders (parents, uncles and aunties) would always give their blessings each time we greet them (and ‘kiss’ their hands by letting the knuckles of their hands touch our foreheads; called ‘magmano po’). Jewish elders or parents always bless their children. Additional interesting facts: a) It used to be that we stop and pray at sunset (which we called ‘orazion’; this could have meant to welcome the new day (Jewish new day starts at sunset and ends at sunset of the following day. For example, Saturday would start at sundown Friday and goes until sunset of Saturday and so forth). This practice of praying at sunset (specifically at 6:00 p.m.) is never mentioned in the Catholic Catechism. It is purely a Filipino practice done through so many centuries (but now gone). Do you recall the radio program hosted by Johnny De Leon? He does ‘orazion’ at 6:00 p.m. The taped prayer that he played were verses in the Torah (first 5 books of the Bible written by Moises…namely, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) specifically, Exodus 20:8-11 (about Sabbath Day, 4th Commandment). I grew up with this radio program and the last time I heard it was when I left the Philippines in 1983. It is interesting to note that G-d commanded the people of Israel to recite the Shema (Deut 6:4) at the start of the day and at sundown. b) We love to see the morning sunrise; as a matter of fact, our national anthem’s English translation starts with the verse “Land of the morning..” In so doing, we do face the East in the morning and looking up to the ‘heavens’. Jews faces the East when praying. Jerusalem is towards the east. c) Most of us turned to Idol worship (praying before carved Images of religious figures) unknowingly. We cannot avoid it Because that was how we were brought up and taught by our religious leaders and by our family. This practice had been done By so many people, not only Filipinos, in the past (we could date back to the 3rd century after Jesus’s death…while Jesus had gone away; resurrected into Heaven to prepare a place for us all before coming back, the 2nd and final one ). While we are waiting for His return, we were given false religious doctrines and practices. This is similar to the time when B’nei (as a young nation) Israel was waiting for Moshe to come down from Mt Sinai (while talking to G-d) and grew restless and impatient. They then made for themselves the carved image of the golden calf and worshipped it. d) when you were sick, did you remember what comfort food or soup your mom or grandma gave you? Most probably, she would have given you chicken noodle soup. Did you know that this favorite ‘medicinal’ soup that can make you feel better was originated by the Jews? e) When a family member dies, we continue to mourn for this family member for up to 12 months and then close it with some family celebration. This practice is similar to that of the Jews. f) Back home, especially in the provinces (or even in the city), where Backyard land space is available for planting trees, do you remember that your father would naturally be planting all sorts of different fruit trees, such that when summer comes, that backyard turns into your favorite orchard; where you can harvest different fruits that are sweet and delicious. These fruits are so uniquely different from the rest of the tropical countries (even in South America) in such a way that they are bigger in size, sweeter in flavor and can only be found (endemic) in the Philippines. Well, our fathers are following a command from G-d (in Leviticus 19:23 “When you enter the land and plant various kinds of fruit trees…) and are observing a Jewish practice called ‘Tu B’Shebat, unknowingly(?) ‘Tu B’Shevat’ is observed in February and marks the beginning of a “New Year of Trees”. Jews mark this day by eating fruit, particularly from the “Seven Kinds” that are singled out by the Torah in its praise of the bounty of the Holy Land: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. Although, our fathers did not follow the exact command in that verse in Leviticus (where you are not suppose to eat the fruit of those trees in the first 4 years of its produce), they did follow, in some way the Jewish’ Tu B’Shevat, and ate what were available locally. I could remember that in our own backyard in Novaliches, Caloocan City, my father planted 10 varieties of fruit trees(namely: Santol, Caimito, Avocado, Tzesa, Guayabano, Mango, Palm (Buko) trees, different banana species (3 varieties), Atis). How about your dad, or grandpa or great grandpa? If you lived in the city, and have relatives in the provinces, didn’t you always looked forward to those summer days when you can have time to go home for fiestas and have a taste of those provincial fruit produce? g) another interesting similarity exists in how America was blessed by G-d to help the Jews…and the Filipinos. Set aside for now how America plundered the Philippines’ natural resources for its own selfish interest, but focus on how our people were liberated from the Japanese imperial rule. Remember Gen Douglas MacArthur? Count our blessings with what America did for us, even though, you might say, it has worsened our situation. I will not go into the political realm. With that freedom came our freedom to worship the only G-d of Israel and not get into Shintoism or Buddhism. We enjoyed the freedom and the rule of a fellow Filipino government (trained by Americans). We are the only Asian country that had preserved our roots. Forget about the corruption and graft. The bottom line is…we were preserved by G-d from what could have been an annihilation of our cultural heritage (this is my opinion on what Japan would have done to the Philippines). The similarity is the heavy dependence of Israel and the Philippines in America. Another similarity is the fact that America, has now become the economic base of Jews and Filipinos, who have been blessed by G-d and been given the capability to help out financially, relatives in Israel, Philippines. h) Did you also noticed that in Toronto, there is a heavy concentration of Filipinos living in Bathurst Street (the Jewish area). I am referring to the new Filipino immigrants, especially those among us who were not as fortunate to have university degrees. These are the blue-collar Filipinos, who, in most cases have served Jewish business owners. Did you ever asked any of them about how they have been treated? How they felt about having worked for a Jew? Interestingly, it is mutually positive. How could this be? There exists this deep seated ‘love’ for each other…is it because of our root (an educated guess)? These Filipinos were liked by their employer Jews and similarly, the employees respected the bosses. How come these white Jews were not at all antagonistic nor racist with the colored Asian Filipinos? i) Although the Arabs introduced eggplants to Spain, it was the Jews of Spain that became exceptionally fond of it and later brought this vegetable to South America after the expulsion (around 1650.) Spanish Jews were so fond of eggplants that they made all kinds of dishes from it, and in particular fried eggplant…hmm…don’t Filipinos do the same with eggplants? My relatives from San Isidro, Nueva Ecija have huge land area for growing eggplants (Carillo’s Tumana). The list could go on….Is this just a mere coincidence? I don’t think so. What about you, as a Filipino? If you think that all those Filipino practices mentioned above is incorrect, please do send me a reply note to refute. I had lived through and had experienced all of it, first hand. My historical basis? Remember the Spanish Inquisition (mid 1400 to mid 1500). The Philippines was colonized by Spain in 1521. The Sephardic Jews who were converted by force to Catholicism escaped persecution (despite of the fact that they were then Catholic converts, were still treated as second class people) by going with the Galleon Trade ship bound for the Philippines and South America. See the attached article on Spanish Inquisition. I think that most of us, Filipinos, need to do some introspection. Shalom Aleikhem! (Peace be with us all) Regards, Oscar Mapue (Carillo)


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