Like many people groups who carry the moniker "gypsies," the Badjao are not always well-accepted by the land dwellers they encounter in the places they settle and are often known to keep to themselves. Though I remember seeing a picture in elementary school about the people who built their homes on stilts, I never imagined I would have a connection with them. All that changed, when my brother-in-law and fellow missionary, Ramon, stumbled across a community of Badjao "by chance," and ventured to get to know them. To his surprise, he found that there was a small and healthy church in in the midst of the Badjao community in Bohol, and he was fortunate to meet the members and to begin to form a friendship with the Badjao church's leader - Pastor Johnny.
Ramon found that Pastor Johnny wasn't just a church leader amongst the Badjao, but a leader throughout the whole community. Pastor Johnny is humble, hard working, kind and caring. He leads not only with his words, - he leads with his life! We have been blessed to know this precious man for many years. You may have heard the question, "who heals the healers?" Pastor Johnny is in that number! Once, Luz and I became very upset a few years back when a major outreach seemed to be unraveling, Pastor Johnny and his wife pastored us with a kindness and encouragement we've never experienced before. Their taking time for us in the midst of a significant mishap gave us perspective, enabled us to regroup and to carry on the mission successfully.
He also has a great sense of humor. A year ago, we sponsored a special event 3K family run in Tagbilaran, the hub city of Bohol. Because we said it was a special event, Pastor Johnny and the Badjao came dressed in more formal church wear. Being Badjao, they all ran anyway and beat many competitors! I don't remember seeing any of them sweating. Pastor Johnny got the biggest kick when he noticed that a young Badjao mom, in a long dress and flip-flops outran me - carrying her baby! He teased me about that the whole trip!
Pastor Johnny continues to serve the Badjao with his wife and family and a host of up and coming leaders. He has one of the most effective discipleship ministries I have seen for new Badjao Christians. When someone first comes to faith and asks, "How do I follow Jesus?" Pastor Johnny enrolls them in his school on the spot with two words, "Follow me!" From that moment on, the new Christian will literally follow Pastor Johnny around, observing him in every kind of situation from business dealings, to family dynamics, to dealing with other Christians outside of the Badjao community who are slow runners, slow swimmers and can't navigate by the stars in the open sea, yet think they can "help."
I love Pastor Johnny. Please pray for this special Brother, his family and the work that they do in an environment that is hard, tough and challenging on even the easiest day. They remain people of the sea - always the sea - but people who are transforming a community all around Southeast Asia with the love of Jesus! I'll be sharing more about Pastor Johnny in the coming times.
Luz, Sam and Pastor Johnny