Before the Beginning

By Jean Uayan, Ph.D.

This year marks the golden anniversary (1957-2007) of the Biblical Seminary of the Philippines (BSOP), formerly known as the Bible Institute of the Philippines (BIOP). As we celebrate the great faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Head and Foundation of BSOP, we will focus on the theme “Fifty Years of Expanding God’s Horizon.” The theme is based on Isaiah 26:12, 15 and 54:2,3. It was not by our own efforts that we have witnessed the expansion of God’s handiwork in BIOP/BSOP throughout these five decades. Verse 12 of Isaiah 26 reads, “Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us,” while the verse 15 declares, “You have enlarged the nation, O Lord, you have enlarged the nation. You have gained glory for yourself; you have extended all the borders of the land.” Truly, when BIOP began, there were only four students enrolled, using the rooms in a residential house at #400 España Street in Quezon City for classrooms and dormitory facilities. Today, there are 50-60 students per course, with classes being held in the four-story Academic and Administration building. This is just one of the buildings inside the Seminary’s sprawling compound located in Valenzuela City. No one could have accomplished this except our Almighty God!

The other passage (Isaiah 54: 2, 3) speaks of the gracious way that God dealt with the nation of Israel, symbolized by the figure of a barren woman. To the barren woman the Lord promised: “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.” In 1957 BIOP was indeed like a barren woman, with the original four students reduced to one after the first semester was over. The future hang in the balance and the board members deliberated between closing the Seminary and continuing to hold classes. Was it really a workable endeavor? It proved to be, by the grace and power of God. In fact, during the sixties and seventies, not only did BIOP continue to exist, it was at the forefront of training Chinese Christian workers coming from all over Asia.

To mark the Golden Anniversary, special articles like this one will be featured as we reminisce the past and embrace the future. Every time a new year arrives, people are exhorted to “forget the past” and “look toward the future,” especially if the past was full of adverse experiences and personal loss. In contrast to this advise to forget the past, the Bible teaches that God constantly exhorted the Israelites to look back and reminisce the past, whether to examine right or wrong behaviors or to learn from mistakes as well as successes. More importantly, however, the purpose was to acknowledge and recognize the role that God played in all of man’s undertakings. By reminiscing the past with a correct attitude, one can embrace the future. This is exactly what the whole family of BSOP aims to do as we celebrate this landmark occasion.

In thinking about the beginning of BIOP, we need to go even much further back in time, to the time when it was not yet existing – hence the title of this article. To do this we need to know the pre-history of BIOP, the reason for establishing what remains to be the only Chinese seminary in the Philippines.

The founders of the Seminary – Rev. Raymond William Frame 費述凱牧師 (November 26, 1908 – March 4, 1987), Rev. Silas Wong 黃源素牧師, Peter Chiu周伯達, Homer E. Chua 蔡維潔, Henry Co See Cho 許書楚, David Dychingco李道榮, Jacob Laoenkue 劉榮桂, Siao Chan Tiong蕭贊忠, Tan Chee Lin 陳志仁, and Se Liam Teh 戴世廉 were busy serving the Lord in their respective churches during the early 1950s. Rev. Silas Wong was the pastor of the United Evangelical Church of the Philippines (UECP), then known as the Chinese United Evangelical Church (CUEC). Rev. Raymond Frame and his wife Helen had come from China in 1951, after the Communist regime had expelled all foreign missionaries. They first served as teachers at the newly opened Grace Christian High School, and taught there for six years. Rev. Frame simultaneously served as pastor of the Grace Gospel Church for six years. He was also the one who initiated the Monday evening prayer meetings that supplicated for the pastoral and theological training of Protestant Chinese believers in the Philippines in 1956. In July of 1957 he became one of the founders and teachers of BSOP.

Why was there a felt need for training Chinese pastors in the Philippines? One of the reasons was the political upheaval in China that led to the Communist take-over in 1949. Before this event transpired, the Protestant Chinese churches in the Philippines looked toward the mainland to supply pastors, otherwise sending promising young men to study in seminaries in Fujian, Guangxi (Wuchow Alliance Bible Seminary 梧洲宣道神學院) or Shanghai (Bethel Seminary). Some of those who answered the call to become pastors in the Philippines included Rev. Silas Wong (CUEC, serving from ), Rev. Leung Sai Ko and Rev. Liang ShenWei (father and son team who both served at Cebu Gospel Church, serving from ). Among those who underwent training in seminaries in China were Rev. George Sin Chiong Chua 蔡信彰牧師 (at Wuchow), Pastor Kepler Ting 丁景波傳道and Sio Chong Keng 蕭宗卿 (at Bethel), all of whom returned to serve at CUEC. When the doors of China closed and missionaries as well as Christians had to flee to neighboring countries, the problem of pastoral training and sourcing became acute.

Rev. Raymond Frame attested to this dire need with these words:

After five years in the Philippines [1956] we saw the dearth of trained leadership to care for the Chinese churches which had boomed in this country during World War II. To get good preachers and pastors from abroad was not easy. Sending dedicated Chinese young people to English speaking schools such as FEBIAS [Far Eastern Bible Institute and Seminary, established 1948; now FEBIAS College of Bible] was not the answer. Their theological education had to be in Chinese, or trained young people would not be able to communicate to their own church members after graduation.

In 1951 the Filipino-Chinese Christian Foundation 全菲華裔基督徒事工促進會started the nationwide summer conference ministry. Individual churches likewise held summer camps for young people of different ages. Annually, hundreds of young men and women attended these conferences, and a large percentage dedicated for full time ministry. But where could they seek training? In Manila, aside from FEBIAS, the other renowned seminary at the time was Union Theological Seminary (established in 1907 by the Presbyterians); in Baguio, it was the Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary and Bible School美南浸信會聖經學校 (now Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary), established by Southern Baptist missionaries in 1952. These missionaries had also been relocated from China to the Philippines in 1949. On May 29, 1950, they established the Baguio Chinese Baptist Church. With clear foresight and daring spirits, in 1951, these missionaries planned to set up a training school for Chinese pastors, which became a reality in 1952. Eight Chinese students were enrolled, six of them graduating to become pastors in different Baptist Chinese churches. However, at the end of 1952, the plan had shifted to allow Filipinos to be trained at PBTS.

Meanwhile, in Manila, the same vision was spreading as well. In an early photo printed in the fortieth anniversary publication of CUEC, the Summer Youth Camp of 1952 was held at the Union Theological Seminary (UTS). It was during this year that the administrators of UTS requested Rev. Joseph Esther, who was a Hokkien-speaking American missionary of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) helping CUEC’s Evangelistic Band and Hope Christian High School, to arrange a meeting with key leaders of the Chinese churches. UTS was planning to invite all the Chinese churches to work together to establish a Chinese seminary, and all the funds that the Presbyterians used to finance seminaries in China were ready for transfer to the Philippines. UTS would finance such needs as faculty, library and other facilities. Those who attended the meeting would be invited to serve as board members. According to Henry Co, who was present during the meeting with other Chinese leaders, they were all like “blocks of wood” that night, unmoved by the Holy Spirit and unwilling to do anything except to say a polite “Thank you” to the offer.

Needless to say, this lack of response was counter-moved by an increasing desire of the Chinese church leaders to establish their own seminary. As Rev. Frame wrote, “Someone had to open a Bible training school here so that young Chinese Christians with the call of God upon them could gain a thorough knowledge of the Scripture in Chinese and learn how to express Christian truth worthily in their own tongue.” In 1954, Homer Chua approached Rev. Frame, requesting him to write to the OMF head office in Singapore regarding their assistance with this need. The OMF office replied that in principle, they would favorably assist any endeavor initiated by the Chinese church leaders, on the condition that their missionaries would not take on any administrative responsibilities. At that time, Homer Chua felt that there were not enough people who could be committed to undertake the task, hence, no action was taken.

Rev. Frame recorded that “in December 1956, Mrs. Frame and I invited these men [seven or eight younger Chinese businessmen and one older Chinese pastor who shared their vision] to our home for our first united prayer and consultation meeting. Out of this Monday night prayer meeting – which continues until this day [time of writing unknown] – the Bible Institute of the Philippines was born.”

I personally met Rev. and Mrs. Frame when they were still in BSOP in 1975, the year that I entered the Seminary for three years of training. I recall the couple as gentle in spirit, soft-spoken in words, and dedicated to the Lord and to their ministry at BSOP. I was amazed that they could speak Mandarin so well! Unfortunately for me, they retired on June 21, 1977, and I only took one subject under Rev. Frame, hence I did not get to know them very well. I searched the publications of BSOP but found little background materials on the Frames. Thanks to Robert Shuster, archivist of the Billy Graham Center Archives (BGCA), and Rose Carleton of the OMF International-Canada (OMFI-C), BSOP has received priceless documents and tapes of Helen Frame’s interviews. It is therefore appropriate that as we celebrate the Golden Anniversary, we take time to know the Frames through these written and oral records. The life-stories of other founders will be featured in succeeding publications of BSOP in Focus.

Raymond William Frame was born in a log cabin in Barnum, Minnesota. His grandparents were immigrants from south Sweden, his father was a Scotsman and his mother, a first generation American. When 15 months old, his family emigrated to Saskatchewan, Canada to a farmland offered by the government for homesteaders. He was saved at an early at a Presbyterian church, and he planned to become an engineer and farmer. Due to the depression, he was not able to finish high school, but he went to study at the Moose Jaw Bible Institute, later called the Miller Memorial Bible Institute. He applied to and was accepted by the China Inland Mission (CIM) on August 17, 1931. On October 1, 1931, he sailed from Vancouver for China. Of this period of his life, Rev. Frame said: “As a poor, unknown farm boy, I very well met God’s requirement of foolishness, weakness, baseness, and despicableness . . . that leaves me nothing to glory in except His tender fatherliness and grace. The Battle is His, not mine; He only seeks some ‘weak thing’ to go out there for Him, that He may in such a one reveal His power to save, that He may be exalted . . .”

Rev. Frame was part of the Forward Movement of the CIM wherein 200 new recruits were called to “arms” in 1930 to 1931. The goal was to penetrate the whole of China to spread the Gospel. From 1931-32 he studied language at the Anking Training Home for men. He found the task of mastering spoken and written Chinese so daunting that he sometimes thought of resigning from CIM and returning to Canada. But fasting and prayer made him see that when one has been conscripted by God, any thought of quitting is mutiny. Reportedly, he reached the point where he took and placed his textbook under his foot and claimed Joshua 1:3, praying: “Lord, you promised Abraham that you would give him all the land on which his feet stood. Please do the same for me.” God honored Rev. Frame’s prayer and loyalty to Him. In due time he learned the language so well that he became head of the language school in Shanghai (in 1946-51). From 1932-40 he did rural work in Henan and became known as the “professor of colloquialism 土話博士.” It was during this time that he met and courted Helen Grace Nowack 費述恩, born on February 25, 1908 in Henan 河南. Her father, William Henry Nowack, and mother, Katherine Plantz Nowack, were independent missionaries to China. Helen studied at Moody Bible Institute and reached China as a CIM missionary the same year as Rev. Frame. They were married on August 18, 1936. From 1940-45, the Frames took their furlough in the United States and Canada, where their children Katherine and Raymond, Jr. were born. In 1946, they went back to China and Rev. Frame was assigned to head the language school outside Shanghai. By 1948 the staff and students of this school were transferred to Shanghai, and by May 1949, the city was taken over by the Communist army.

Rev. Frame and Steve Knights came to the Philippines from Hong Kong on April 29, 1951 to make a survey for CIM. The Mission then assigned the Frames to work among the overseas Chinese in this country, where their service from 1958-77 prove to be the crowning years of their missionary career. Rev. Frame taught courses on Bible books, and his favorite was the Book of Romans. He served as Principal for three years from 1971-74. He also spoke at conferences in Okinawa, Hong Kong, and in different cities in the Philippines. Helen taught some subjects and helped edit Chinese tapes for the Far East Broadcasting Company, a radio station broadcasting the gospel to Chinese worldwide. In 1977, after 46 years of serving the Lord, the Frames retired to the Chicago area. Rev. Frame wanted to work on a commentary on the Book of Romans, but suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and was unable to do much preaching or writing. In 1983, they moved into the Lammermuir Retirement Center in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where Rev. Frame passed away on March 4, 1987. Helen stayed at Lammermuir until she died on November 29, 1999.

BSOP@50 Before the Beginning