Some people thought it strange that I boarded a freighter in New Orleans in 1949 as a 21-year-old single woman bound for the Philippines. God told me to go, and I went.
The Philippines had been devastated by WWII, and the people there were desperate for Jesus. My journey was more than a rough voyage aboard an ocean-going cargo ship. It involved the mentorship of a lady preacher, the sacrifice of a family and the willingness of a young girl to simply obey the Lord.
I was born in 1928 in rural Louisiana. I didn’t experience church because the few local congregations in our small town only warranted an itinerant minister at Christmas and Easter.
Janie Henderson changed all that when I was 11 and heard her preach the gospel. In similar fashion to the ways Aimee Semple McPherson commissioned church planters and missionaries in the 1920s and 1930s, Janie brought the fire of the Holy Spirit, miracles of healing, and glorious salvations to our family and our neighbors. For the next 10 years, Janie mentored me to become a young woman of God and prophetically counseled me to attend Bible college for one year, where I discovered God’s call for my life.
During a family camp in Lake Charles, La., I met a wonderful musician named Jack Richey, a veteran missionary with United Gospel Tabernacles. When I was asked to sing for one of the services, he accompanied me.
Our courtship began to blossom. Then Jack was called on to scout the potential mission field in the Philippines. Americans didn’t really know much about the Filipino people, but Jack was willing to go and help identify the need. In time, Jack and I decided to marry, and I made preparations to join him in Manila.
On board the freighter, I was accompanied by two other female companions who had their own business to attend to once we arrived in the Philippines. For a grueling 35 days, we endured less than ideal accommodations as the only passengers among the crew.
When we docked on July 17, 1949, Jack was waiting for me, and my heart was lifted. We were married four days later in Manila and moved to Romblon province, which became our base of ministry. Young Christians would come from Romblon and Mindoro provinces to stay with us while they studied the Word of God. Until the training they received in our home, many of these leaders had never even been in a Sunday school class.
By 1975, we had worked ourselves out of a job by transitioning all Foursquare churches in the Philippines to self-governance. In total, Jack and I ministered in the Philippines for 27 years.
We also welcomed neighbor children into our home, where they liked to use a coconut husk under one foot to “skate” across the gleaming teak floors. It was great fun for them, and they always stayed around when I shared stories of God’s love using colorful flannel boards and figures that captivated their attention.
Some of the local kids liked to play pranks on me by knocking on our front door and then running to hide. I told Jack about their little game, and he decided to catch them in the act. A boy named Filipe knocked and tried to run, only to find Jack holding his hand. Although everyone had a good laugh over the game and the way the children had been caught, the greater result of that encounter came many years later.
Felipe Ferrez (Filipe) grew up to serve Jesus and attend the Foursquare Bible college in Manila. He graduated in 1966, and later led his father and other family members to Christ. He became the national leader of Foursquare Philippines and served as the pastor of the Capital City Foursquare Church with his wife, Mimi, for many years.
After 10 years with United Gospel Tabernacles, it became clear that the work should merge with Foursquare in 1959 for the long-term health of the ministry. When we became Foursquare, we brought more than 30 congregations into the movement. By 1975, we had worked ourselves out of a job by transitioning all Foursquare churches in the Philippines to self-governance. In total, Jack and I ministered in the Philippines for 27 years.
In 1999, the Philippine church celebrated a 50-year reunion in Manila with the theme, “The Birth of a Nation.” Though Jack was not well enough to make the trip, our son, Lewie, and his wife, Linda, were our representatives. We are humbled that our Lord called and gave us a part in the Holy Spirit-blessing that powered the new birth in the Philippines so many years ago.
After Jack’s death in 2001, I returned to the Philippines for a reunion. During lunch, Felipe reminisced about the day Jack caught him knocking and running. He said there were several boys involved, including one who had become the governor of a nearby island. We praised the Lord for the lifelong friendship we shared as a result of a childhood prank.
In 2011, I joined a team sent out by The Church on the Way (Van Nuys Foursquare Church) in Van Nuys, Calif., to the island of Tablas, which was the center of our early work. My joy was great as the early believers we had brought to Jesus presented their children and grandchildren to me, many of whom still serve the Lord today as pastors and leaders.
This article was written with Rod Light.