The Wind of the Holy Spirit
JR Marasigan and his mother ran a business in their home. His father would tell them, “Let’s have a Bible study with anybody who knows the Lord.” Busy with their business, JR and his mom refused. Then, when JR was 13 years old, his father died. “When he died, I sat under a tree, and I thought of all he was asking us to do when he was alive. And that was the moment when I ran to the nearest church,” JR recalls. He asked the pastor of this evangelical church to lead him and his mother in a Bible study. After three months, they asked to be baptized, and JR became active in his church. When he was 16, his pastor asked him to preach on a Sunday. After days of fasting and praying, JR received affirmation from the Lord that he was to preach, and he also sensed that God was calling him into full-time ministry.
Yet JR was tempted by economic concerns. The eldest of his siblings, he wanted to support his family, who was now without a father. Pastors in the Philippines do not have good social or economic status, according to JR. So he enrolled in an accountant program at a nearby university.
But God steered JR back to his true calling. “I had a lot of sleepless nights there,” JR says of his time at the university. He decided to visit a friend at a Bible School. He arrived at the school and stood in front of the gate. Then an extraordinary wind welcomed him and made him feel that he belonged to the place. “It was a wind that was unusual, that struck my skin as if it went inside to my bones,” he says.
Faithful in the Small Things
JR graduated from the Bible school in five years. Yet no doors opened for him to become a pastor. He volunteered at his church for three months until, in 2004, they made him the youth pastor. JR was passionate about reaching the youth, and through the years he was faithful to his church and to preaching God’s word. In 2017, the senior pastor approached JR to make him the pulpit minister, at the same time encouraging him to go to Asbury Seminary for a Doctor of Ministry in Preaching.
JR prayed about his pastor’s requests, and the Lord made him ready to receive them. JR received his D.Min. from Asbury Seminary in 2022, and his church, Zamboanga City Alliance Evangelical Church, now has almost 2,500 people in attendance each Sunday. JR preaches his sermon four times each Sunday over four services to accommodate all the people.
Yet JR’s ministry extends even further than the bounds of his church, for which he credits Asbury Seminary’s D.Min. program. “My, I tell you, Asbury’s training really helped me a lot to become more holistic, not only in the content of my preaching but [also in] how to create a community that would really influence the world,” he says.
In fact, in the midst of unexpected circumstances, creating a community that would influence the world is exactly what JR did.
A Pastor Mental Health Crisis
It began with the pandemic, a time when almost all of the churches in the Philippines were not allowed to gather. Yet JR’s church, the biggest in his denomination, resolved to continue Sunday worship services. This caused JR to become tired, burdened and drained. “I just kept on giving and giving without receiving much in terms of spiritual feeding,” he says. While he managed to create his sermons week after week through proper exegesis, he felt that it was important for him to listen to the preaching of the Word from other pastors as well. Before the pandemic, JR would listen to recordings aside from his personal study of the Word. But during the pandemic, with the majority of churches not meeting, he had nothing to listen to.
To help him gain perspective during this time, JR began meeting with his accountability partner, Dr. Richard Rojas, weekly to discuss his upcoming sermons. After meeting for six months, JR and Richard imagined that other pastors in the area would benefit from the same support. “During the pandemic, even pastors were feeling depressed,” says JR.
They contacted 10 pastors in cities throughout the Philippines, who all agreed to meet together weekly online to support each other and discuss a passage for their upcoming sermons. “It all started there – the ministry of influencing other pastors,” JR says. “The only agreement that we had was we will preach from the same passage. These pastors found it so beneficial; they were so empowered.”
Post-Pandemic Church Growth
After a year of meeting weekly, the pastors reported that the people in their church were more receptive to their sermons and were inviting others to church. When the pandemic was almost over and churches started opening, people flocked to these churches, and giving increased. “So there was, like, a mini-revival in these churches that joined our group,” JR says. Members would send online recordings of sermons to unbelieving friends or to friends whose churches were not meeting. His own church grew by a few hundred and also has virtual members from all over the world, and another pastor from the group reported that his church grew from 75 to more than 300 people.
The pastors noticed that the Filipino people, who are 70% Roman Catholic and about 25% Muslim, are longing for the Word of God. According to JR, the two things that are touching the lives of so many Filipinos are biblically grounded preaching and a very relevant sermon.
An Easy Model for Exegesis
The group began receiving invitations to help other pastors in the same way. So they devised a simple approach to exegesis and conducted training workshops for pastors who wanted to join a mentoring group. JR began training facilitators. There are now more than 200 pastors and 16 facilitators divided into groups of various sizes, meeting weekly. Each Tuesday morning, JR and Richard meet with the facilitators to discuss a passage of scripture, then the facilitators lead their own groups throughout the week.
These groups discuss not only biblical but also cultural exegesis, sharing illustrations and ideas for contextualization. According to JR, it is important “to bring the truth of the gospel from the text to the culture that they are in. We don’t aim for uniformity of our preaching, but we aim at least to have a precise exegesis and make sure that how they are packing their sermons would be relevant to their own people.”
JR’s ministry continues to grow, with invitations from pastors now even coming from other countries. Both JR and Richard travel and teach their exegesis methodology. However, exegesis is not the only goal for the groups. “It’s no longer just a mentoring group but it’s like a small group for pastors where we all feel safe. The groups that we created became an avenue for pastors to open up,” says JR
While at Asbury Seminary. JR found community within his small group of seven men from various countries. “Instead of facing all the challenges of ministry by yourself, you can actually create a prophetic community that exponentially makes an impact to the community that God has placed you in,” he says. JR also feels indebted to the “A+ faculty,” the library that he considers “a goldmine,” and the “strong exegesis that was presented to us by Dr. Joseph Dongell.” According to JR, his training in exegesis while at Asbury Seminary helped him learn to simplify exegesis in a way that is understandable for pastors who are unable to further their education.
Ministry in the Marketplace
On top of preaching to 2,500 people each Sunday and leading a growing ministry to pastors, JR also has a marketplace ministry. “If you don’t see me behind the pulpit, you’ll see me in coffee shops and companies,” he says. Companies of all kinds in Zamboanga are where JR has the opportunity to encounter individuals from different religious groups, people he would not find in evangelical churches. After befriending the owners, he offers to meet with their employees to facilitate a “moral recovery program” that promotes cohesiveness, honesty and openness among the employees. When the workplace culture improves, JR then obtains permission to teach them the word of God. JR, who describes himself as passionate about the Great Commission, recently baptized 30 individuals from these companies, three of which even acknowledge him as their chaplain.
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