Monday, November 4, 2013

Reflections on New Directions

Reflections on New Directions By Dr. Dave Johnson November 5, 2013 Two events happened last week that leave me wondering if, at long last, some demonic strongholds over the Philippines are being broken. For the last twenty or twenty five years or so, evangelicals in the Philippines have been giving increased attention to ministry to Muslims. However, I believe that history may someday record that recent developments may have opened the floodgates to a renewed and focused emphasis on these unreached peoples. Last week, Dr. Melba Maggay and her team at the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture (ISACC) in Manila convened a conference on contextualization (making the gospel understandable within various cultures) in Asia and focused on ministry to Muslims. Some time ago, Dr. Maggay opined in an email that God has been leading her ministry more in the direction of Muslims. Since Dr. Maggay is one of the most well known and respected evangelical leaders in the Philippines, this move toward Muslims is significant. I personally believe that she will undoubtedly lead others on the same journey. Conference speakers included Dr. Andrew Walls, who spoke by videotape as health issues prevented him from attending and Dr. Miriam Adeney, an internationally known writer and Christian anthropologist, as well as others. Dr. Walls gave us an overview of the history, development and expansion of Islam since its founding in 622 AD. While limited by time restraints, his review was impressive in scope and calls for much reflection on how “Christians” have treated and mostly ignored Muslims throughout the centuries. Dr. Adeney spoke to a number of issues, including some touching stories of some of the eight million Filipinos working abroad whom God is using in some very difficult places. Prof. Amina Rasul-Bernardo and Attorney Johaira Wahab, both Muslim women from the Magindinao tribe in Mindanao (Southern Philippines) who are involved in the efforts to resolve the “Christian”-Muslim conflict that has raged there for a number of decades, updated us on their perspective on the ongoing efforts to bring peace to the troubled parts of the region. Both women were candid that Muslims as well as “Christians” have contributed to the problem. Rev. Dann Pantoja, a Filipino evangelical who is the founder and director of Peacebuilders, a Mennonite consulting team dedicated to the peace process (see, shared his story about engaging in this work and gave a Christian perspective on the peace process dialogue, particularly noting the unresolved tensions that remain. Other speakers gave lectures on contextualization that were not necessarily focused on Muslims and gave us broader exposure to these issues. Another significant development of the conference was the launch of a new book, edited by Dr. Maggay and co-sponsored by ISACC, OMF Lit, the largest Christian publisher in the Philippines and the Nagel Institute entitled The Gospel in Culture: Contextualization Issues through Asian Eyes. For nineteen years I have scoured the bookstores, buying anything I can find on contextual theology in Asia. This is by far the most significant, in-depth work produced by evangelicals that I have ever seen. It should be in bookstores throughout the country soon. I assume that those outside the Philippines will be able to buy it online, but I do not know this for certain. The second event occurred on the day after the ISACC conference when 20 of the 40+ AG USA missionaries assigned to the Philippines gathered to strategize about reaching the Unreached People Groups (UPGs) in the Philippines which, according to the Joshua Project website, are overwhelming Muslim. The call for concentration on UPGs was issued during the Asia Pacific missionary retreat in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in July of this year. For the first time in the history of our field, to the best of my research and knowledge, we were united on making Muslims a priority for prayer and strategic engagement. In the past, Muslims were considered important, but so were other ministries. Without diminishing the importance of our other work, we will be giving focused future attention to Muslims. What shape and scope this will take remains to be determined by the task force that is being formed to give leadership to this new focus. Nevertheless, I am optimistic that a new day is dawning. Your prayers for all concerned are deeply appreciated. For the fractured family of Abraham, Dave PLEASE NOTE: Permission is hereby given to forward, print, and post this as long as it is done as a complete blog, and its authorship is acknowledged. Thank you for your cooperation. For automatic notification of future blogs please visit and click on “join this site.” Copyright 2013 Dr. Dave Johnson

Friday, October 18, 2013

The History of Assemblies of God World Missions in the Asia Pacific Region

(Sometime ago I was invited to write this short history for a project being done by our World Missions Asia Pacific leadership and I thought you might be interested in reading it. Beginning next week, I will post a couple of blogs explaining the role of the Asia Pacific Seminary [APTS], where Debbie and I serve, in the Asia Pacific region. I hope you enjoy this. Please let me know what you think.)

A Short History of the AGWM* in the Asia Pacific Region
By Dave Johnson

            At one of the earliest meetings of the Assemblies of God USA (AG) in November, 1914, the representatives of the General Council committed themselves to the “Greatest evangelism the world has ever seen.” What is now known as the Asia Pacific Region felt the impact of that decision from the beginning. In at least China and Japan missionaries there who predated the founding of the AG in America affiliated their work with the AG after it was formed. By the mid-1920s more missionaries opened up other fields throughout the region and all were organized into districts under the AGWM. These districts later became the foundation for indigenous general councils.
World War II (1939-1945), with the Japanese actually invading China in 1937, significantly impeded missionary efforts in the Asia Pacific and Pacific Islands. At least twenty-nine AG missionaries were interned by the Japanese, although some were released and allowed to return to the States. Others remained in the hands of the Japanese throughout the war and suffered great hardship, some to the point that they could not continue as missionaries after the war.
Missionaries returned to their fields of service and new missionaries joined them after the war. But as the communists gradually took over China in the late 40s and early 50s, the missionaries were forced to leave—some of them making harrowing escapes. They were offered the choice of being reassigned elsewhere in the region or coming home. Research was not immediately available on how many remained in missions, however, the Philippines benefited significantly and presumably other fields did as well.  After the Bamboo Curtain reopened in the 70s and 80s, AGWM again began sending personnel into China. In 2000, the AGWM leadership removed China from the Asia Pacific Region and made it a separate region.

Prior to World War II, the missionaries were generally unsupervised and free to pursue their calling in an unhindered manner—a philosophy that produced decidedly mixed results. The impact of the war, as well as other factors, caused the AGWM leadership to rethink their efforts and strategies. One of the results was the creation of the field secretary’s (now regional director’s) office to provide overall supervision. Asia Pacific leaders have included: Howard and Edith Osgood (1945-1955), veteran missionaries to China, Maynard and Gladys Ketcham (1955-1970), who had served for many years in India, Wes and June Hurst (1970-1987), former missionaries to Africa and then head of the promotions department in the home office, Robert and Carolyn Houlihan (1987-1998), long term missionaries in Japan and J. Russell and Patsy Turney, veteran missionaries to the Philippines, who have served from 1998 to the present.
This closer supervision also enabled the development of a more cohesive strategy. In 1960, AGWM launched a worldwide program known as Global Conquest, which called for planting churches and constructing church buildings in strategic urban areas where they could have a great impact on the surrounding communities. The program also called for a greater focus on literature production and training more workers for the harvest. The first city to be targeted was Seoul, Korea. The selected pastor was a young Buddhist convert named Yonggi Cho. The church, which he actually started in a tattered tent before the launch of Global Conquest, has become the largest local church of any kind in the world. Its impact has been felt well beyond Korea.

Area Directors and Other Leadership Roles
In 1990, AGWM Executive Director Loren Triplett made significant changes to the leadership structure. In the 1970s, the position of Area Representative had been created as a liaison between the regional directors and the various fields. Because Triplett wanted the field directors to spend more time in the States, he changed the Representatives’ position to that of Area Director. The number of those serving in this capacity in the Asia Pacific region was enlarged from one to four. The Area Directors were given a considerable amount of executive authority regarding missionary placement and field strategy. The advantage of this new situation was that the missionaries had a united voice to the AGWM leadership. It also brought the AGWM leadership into much closer contact with the national church bodies. In addition, it allowed the area director In countries that had field committees, country moderators (previously known as field chairmen) continued under the leadership of the Area Directors. Their exact job descriptions varied from field to field.

Missiological Distinctives.
From the beginning AG missionaries were committed to Pentecostal distinctives. They prayed for miracles and received them. They also believed in the indigenous church principles as elucidated by Roland Allen in his book, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours, and later, Melvin Hodges’ work, The Indigenous Church, as well as in others. Admittedly hey did not follow these principles perfectly and some missionaries were more committed to them than others. However, the AGWM leadership remained committed to the ideal of the indigenous church and slowly but surely moved toward that goal. When World War II ended the rise of nationalism that coincided with the breakup of the Asian colonial empires reinforced the need for indigenous leadership. As the various General Councils came into being, the role of the AGWM gradually changed from superintendence to partnership within a more fraternal relationship.
The commitment to these indigenous principles spawned the pioneering of numerous three-year Bible institutes to train workers. By the 1960s, there were at least sixteen schools in the region. In response a the growing demand for higher education, the Far East Advanced School of Theology (FEAST), now known as the Asia Pacific Theological Seminary, was born in Manila, Philippines in 1964 and later moved to Baguio City. In the beginning FEAST offered only a bachelors degree. Today, the Bible institutes have grown to offer under-graduate degrees and the Seminary offers only masters and doctoral programs.

The Asia Pacific Today
            From 1914 to the present, the work of the AGWM and the national churches they planted has mushroomed from a handful to a multitude. Hundreds of people have served as missionaries over the years, many giving more than 20 years of service. In the Asia Pacific Region today, 292 missionaries and 71 missionary associates labor in 33 countries and territories, serving 28,347 churches and outstations with a total worshiping population of nearly 5.5 million people. And the best is yet to come!

*Throughout its history the world missions arm of the Assemblies of God USA has been called by three different terms. For the sake of clarity, only the current term acronym, AGWM, is used.

Sources Consulted.
AGWM Archives Springfield, Missouri
JAG History Editorial Committee, The. Standing on the Word, Led by the Spirit: The First 50 Years of the Japan Assemblies of God. English Edition. Tokyo: Bethel Photo
Printing Company, 2007.
Johnson, David M. Led by the Spirit: the History of the American Assemblies of God
 Missionaries in the Philippines. Manila: ICI Ministries, 2009.
McGee, Gary B. This Gospel Shall Be Preached. 2 Vols. Springfield: Gospel Publishing
House, 1986, 1989.
The Asia Pacific website page at, accessed 30 October 2012

Monday, April 15, 2013

A New Vision in a New Location

Dave and Debbie Johnson
AGWM Missionaries to the Philippines

Spring-Summer 2013 Newsletter

Saying Goodbye to Bicol and Hello to APTS

After 13 wonderful years in Bicol region of southern Luzon, the main island, God has clearly spoken to us to move to Baguio City, in the mountains of northern Luzon about 5-6 hours drive north of Manila, and serve at the Asia Pacific Theological Seminary (APTS). This school is the Assemblies of God theological institution for all the nations of the Pacific Rim, including China, and the Pacific Oceana regions of the world. At any given time we have students from about 15-20 nations, including one or two from the U.S.A.! ! The administration and faculty are also international. The president, for example, is Malaysian, the academic dean is from New Zealand, the assistant dean of students is Korean, the business administrator is an American, and so on. For more on the school, please visit

Here’s Dave’s side of the story of the process we’ve gone through.

The decision to make this move was neither quick nor pain-free as we love the Bicolanos dearly and they seem to feel the same about us. Over the last nine months, however, God has made his will clear, specific and undeniable. Not only will we be moving, but the Lord has led me to lay aside the mantle of the evangelist after 28 years and pick up the mantle of a writer, publisher and, to a lesser extent, teacher. Actually, I have been writing for some time, but the publishing aspect was somewhat of a pleasant surprise.

The APTS leadership has actually been talking to our area director, Bill Snider, about us for about two years now, requesting our services. Soon after we arrived back from our sabbatical/itineration in late September, 2011, Bill told us about APTS' request that we come onboard at least part-time, if not fulltime. We demurred making an immediate decision because we had been gone for over two years. We had committed to returning to Bicol before leaving and didn't even have a place to live upon our return! Then, in February, 2012, he talked to us again and we soon agreed to teach one trimester a year and I agreed to become the editor of the Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies, the school’s academic Journal, with Debbie serving on the editing team.  I then asked if the APTS Press, the school’s publishing arm, could publish my doctoral dissertation. The dean immediately agreed without letting on that the Press had no current director. When we visited the campus in June, 2012, to get oriented to our new part-time responsibilities, I was invited to direct the Press as well. About a month later, after much prayer and discussion, recognizing my deepening burden for publishing and writing, I accepted the position. By sheer default, my own dissertation, under the title of Theology in Context, A Case Study in the Philippines became the first book I published as director of the Press. It came out in January. At the moment, it is only on sale in the Philippines, but I hope to have an international marketing plan in place in the next few months and will keep you posted.

We had originally thought that most of these responsibilities could be done from Bicol, thanks to the Internet, with an occasional trip to Baguio at least once a year. However, throughout 2012, we watched our ministry opportunities in Bicol slowly dry up! It wasn't quite as sudden and dramatic as the parting of the Red Sea, but it ultimately became just as clear and we began to actively discuss and pray about what God was saying to us. On January 30 of this year, we came to Baguio for Debbie to teach a block course in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages—a discipline in which she has a master’s degree and for me to give focused attention to his publishing responsibilities.  About a week after we arrived, God clearly lifted my burden for Bicol and pointed us to APTS.

Actually, Debbie had sensed this new direction about 5-6 months earlier than I did, but that's her story to tell. Once the decision was made, I felt divinely compelled to act quickly. Within 48 hours we had Bill's approval (he and his wife, Kim, had been expecting this for months). We then met with the APTS leadership to make sure they still wanted us fulltime and to line out our basic job descriptions. The following week I made a special trip back home to meet with some of our closest friends and co-workers in the Bicol region to give them advance notice before we made the decision public. That was a hard trip and I cried buckets of tears when telling my assistant, Alan, who has worked with me for nearly 17 years! APTS has asked me to dedicate 75% of my time to publishing, including my own writing. I will also coordinate one academic program and do some teaching. Debbie will head up the English department. 

At the moment, packed boxes are beginning to accumulate in preparation for our move on April 30th. Since the house into which we are moving in much smaller, we are downsizing and giving away some of our household goods—reminding us to hold worldly goods lightly so we won’t miss them when they are gone. Sixteen moves in nearly 16 years of marriage reminds us that we are pilgrims and vagrants on this earth anyway (Hebrews 11:13). Thank God, our future home is out-of-this-world!

And now for Debbie’s point of view.

When I think of our lives as Christians and as missionaries, I have often thought of the cloud of the Lord that stayed with the children of Israel while they were on the way to the Promised Land.  When it stayed, they stayed.  But on the day it started moving, they packed up their bags and headed in the direction the Lord was going.  There is no more exciting life on earth than to live under the cloud of the Lord’s presence and to go with Him wherever He wants to go.

But, of course, it isn’t always easy.  As Dave has said, we have dear friends here and our ministry was headed in a wonderful direction, until the Lord slowed us down and began whispering to our hearts that He had something new for us to do.

My thoughts today are about what we are leaving behind because you, our family in Christ, our friends, our prayer and financial supporters, will most certainly share in the joy of our inheritance here and the reward that God will give to all of us.

Dave and Alan have been visiting various ministers’ meetings in Bicol where we have ministered over the years to say goodbye.  We have received many heartfelt “thank yous.” Since you have ministered at our side through you prayers and financial support and share in the fruit of these labors, we would like to share an amalgamation of the pastors’ comments with you:

  • “Many churches have been planted because of your support of our evangelistic team throughout these years.  We thank you from all of our hearts because of this.  We could have never seen this fruit alone.”
  • “Many churches have also been planted through the house church planting training that you enabled us to do here with our many friends in this region.  Again, we thank you for your prayers.”
  • A number of former students have approached us with words of thanks and examples of how they are using the training we gave them to mentor and train workers and to strengthen the discipleship program of their churches.  Through the Bible school and the Church Planting Program, it is possible that as many as 400 workers have been trained. Thank you so much for your prayers.  Without your prayers and financial support we would never have the wisdom, strength or financial resources to mentor these future leaders.

Dave and I both had the same life verse before we were married:  “Ask of me and I will give you the nations as your inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth as your possession” (Psalm 2:8).  I believe this is one of the reasons God is now moving us on to ministry to international leaders who are in training at APTS.  Please remember us in prayer and giving in this transition, that we will grasp the fullness of God’s vision for us in our new place in His harvest field.

Moving Forward in God’s Plan,

Dave and Debbie

PS A Quick Note. Our support has dropped off again over the last few months. If you have pledged to support us, we thank you for your efforts to give consistently every month. Also, this move was not anticipated, with the projected expenses amounting to about $2,000.00. If you don’t support us and could at least send an offering this month, we would be most grateful. In twenty-five to thirty years of ministry, God has always met our needs. Praise his holy name!