In Commemoration of BSOP’s 40th Anniversary
by Elder Henry Co See Cho (Translated by Prof. Jean Uayan)
It was a new event in the history of the Philippine Chinese churches when BSOP was established. Looking back, it is clear that God has accomplished many of His plans through this seminary. Over its forty-five year history, wave after wave of graduates have left her portals to enter into different ministries. Spread out over different locations, they are now busy nurturing souls as if they were tender olive shoots. They labor in hope of seeing the trees bear abundant fruit, fulfilling what Paul in II Timothy 2:2 admonished: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”
A. Led by the Spirit
In 1951, Chinese churches began to hold joint summer conferences; in 1954, the first Pastors’ Retreat was held. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, many young people expressed willingness to serve God full time. Church leaders began to feel the need to establish an institution of training, especially as these dedicated youth increased and the churches began to grow. It was difficult to invite foreign ministers who could adapt well to local conditions.
Then came July 1956. Burdened by the Holy Spirit, Rev. Raymond Frame of the Overseas Missionary Fellowship, initiated the Monday Night Prayer Meetings in his house. Along with brothers Siao Chan Tiong, Tan Chee Lin, myself and others, we prayed and sought the Lord’s will. Later on Rev. Silas Wong, who also was burdened for seminary education, David Dychingco, Peter Chiu, Homer Chua, and Jacob Laoengkue were invited to join the group. On December 7, 1956, we decided to set up a seminary and continued to pray for this undertaking every Monday evening. For more than 20 years, despite wind, storm and floods, this prayer movement went on, until the day it was merged with the Monday prayer meetings of Metro Manila Chinese churches.
B. Ardent in Prayer
As Elder Tan Chee Lin, one of our founders, wrote in the 10th Anniversary Commemorative Issue: “I believe that since its inception one thing very precious was the emphasis put on prayer. The Bible Institute of the Philippines (BIOP) was established in July 1957. Before this time several brothers in Christ had been praying over this matter with much burden. By September 1956, about ten believers started to meet regularly on Monday nights; the prayer meeting was held at the Nagtahan Street residence of Rev. Raymond Frame. They prayed solely for the establishment of a Chinese seminary according to God’s will and under His leading. That kind of one-hearted prayer was an event never to be forgotten by the participants. When BIOP was finally established, we firmly believed that it was accomplished only through prayer. Ever since its inception, this Monday Night Prayer Meeting has continued, with faculty and board members attending. For ten years, rain or shine, many big and small things were brought before the Lord during these meetings. We dared not act without first praying sufficiently. Countless problems were solved after diligent prayer. Sometimes special prayer sessions were arranged just to pray over urgent needs. For example, the construction committee used to meet at the upper floor of Grace Trading on Friday nights, not to mention the ongoing prayer groups of faculty and students. This was the fountainhead of blessing for BIOP, the fountainhead of strength. I am convinced, after reading the testimonies of the students and alumni of BSOP, that there is one thing in common: whether in life, or in ministry, prayer is emphasized and well exercised, and its result is not in small measures.”1
From this very factual narration, it is clear that right from the start, whether faced with big or small obstacles, as in lack of finance and faculty, everybody learned the invaluable lesson: whatever is brought before God in prayer, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, everything can be resolved. This lesson of trusting through prayer has been the common experience of the president, the faculty, the board members, the students and friends of BIOP.
C. Birth of the Seminary
After months of ardent prayer, despite our meager resources but under the Spirit’s leading, the nine founders determined to announce the establishment of BIOP to the churches on March 24, 1957, with classes starting by June, 1957.
Any attempt to accomplish spiritual tasks should first undergo a period of careful planning. Of the nine founders, Rev. Silas Wong, Rev. Raymond Frame, Mr. David Dychingco, Elder Homer Chua and Elder Siao Chan Tiong have rested their labor in the Lord; two are now residing in the States – Elder Peter Chiu and Elder Tan Chee Lin; only Elder Jacob Laoengkue and myself are active board members. What we have done was merely to receive the mandate of God, to act out of concern and burden; otherwise, we had nothing. Just as a Western missionary once publicly criticized: “Among the seven (first term Board of Trustees), two are pastors, five are businessmen. Among these five, only one is wealthy, but not comparable to other rich church members. When it comes to experience, these two pastors do not meet the qualification… .” But this group of men did receive the mandate of God, and the burden developed in their hearts, and they trusted and obeyed…in the end this became the moving force behind the work. Obeying the Spirit’s leading became the best strategy for us. HE was the One who began this work; HE would be One to finish it, because HE is “the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12: 2)
When the seminary was established that night, a feast of thanksgiving was held at the United Nations Restaurant. Rev. Silas Wong, in the Tenth Anniversary Commemorative Issue, also recalls: “Ten years ago when the seminary was first set up, I used Ezekiel 47:1-12 as my theme. This [passage] also expresses my hope for the seminary. Water coming out from under the threshold of the temple, rising higher and higher, refreshing the land and causing fruit trees to grow, turning salt water into fresh water, thriving with many kinds of fish. In a similar way, the seminary has been productive over the past ten years. Our student population is small, after ten years, only around thirty have gone out into the field of ministry. But looking at their lives, their hearts, their faith, their will to suffer, I can’t help but praise God. I always say: ‘lesser yet more precious…’ We must not protrude upward, less the birds come to make their nests, but we should instead reach downward, take root, let our life grow, that we might later bear fruit. I aspire even more that our students would ‘come to life and stand up on their feet…becoming a vast army.’”2 (Ezekiel 37:10) This verse literally refers to the last days when the Israelites would rise up and testify for the Lord. But we can borrow its meaning and hope that the Spirit of God would accomplish great things through the seminary.
D. The Pathway of Faith
It was in 1952, after the Nationwide Youth Summer Conference had ended, that we (including David Dychingco, Peter Chiu, Homer Chua and myself) were invited one evening to a special meeting. The meeting was called by Rev. Joseph Esther upon the request of the Union Theological Seminary of New York. This seminary was planning to invite all the Chinese churches to work together and establish a Chinese seminary. At that time this notion meant nothing to me, and I had neither burden nor knowledge whatsoever regarding theological education. But what I heard that night really was bewildering. The speaker said, “The Union Theological Seminary (UTS) desires to set up a Chinese seminary in Manila. Money is no problem. Before there were seminaries in Nanking, Peking in Mainland China, but now the door for theological education has closed down. All the funds used to finance the setting up of seminaries in China can now be transferred to the Philippines. As to faculty, library and other facilities, everything can be handled by UTS. We need neither manpower nor money. You who are invited tonight can become the board members of this seminary.”
Unfortunately, we were like blocks of wood that night, unmoved by the Spirit and unwilling to do anything except to say a polite “Thank you.” It was because we didn’t receive any prompting or guidance from the Lord. Yet five years later, we were the ones who initiated the move to set up a seminary. This time it was due to the mandate and moving of our Lord. It was a mandate we could not refuse, even though we felt inadequate.
During the stage of preparation, we really had nothing. The most serious need was to find a place for the seminary. Soon after, Don Chiong Pai Hun was willing to let us use his house on Espana St., Quezon City, without any conditions attached. What God prepared for us was way beyond what we dared to hope for.
Regarding the faculty and president, our difficulty was not any lighter. Through the help of Rev. Raymond Frame, who transmitted our needs to the Overseas Missionary Fellowship in Singapore, we were finally given assistance. Aside from the Frames, OMF sent Rev. & Mrs. Ian Anderson and Ms. Minnie Kent as teachers. They were veteran missionaries from China and Taiwan and had rich experience in theological education. However, it was OMF policy not to have their missionaries assume any administrative responsibility. Despite this limitation, when we encountered periods of dire need, Rev. Frame was allowed to act as president for a while.
We also received help from the Chian Wan Chinese Seminary of Shanghai, China. First there was Ms. Mary Wu, followed by Ms. Ruth Miller Brittain, and Mr. & Mrs. Hsueh Yu Kwong. Ms. Brittain acted as president for a term, then later, Mr. Hsueh became the first president. Ms. Wu served as the Dean of Academic Affairs. All of them served faithfully for many years.
Because the work was began by God, through our prayers all the difficulties we encountered were fully met by Him. We started small, but with the presence of God, we were “more than conquerors in all these things.” (Romans 8: 37)
E. Four Periods of Expansion
“Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.” (Psalm 127:1)
Praise God for raising men and women in the church who were on fire to start something new for Him. And yet during times of urgent needs and as the work progressed, God also raised up people who were willing to support His work. As BIOP entered its fourth year, under the leadership of Mr. Hsueh, there was a felt need for expanding its campus. Although we didn’t need to pay rent for the campus then, yet for the seminary to grow in terms of studies, students and faculty, it was necessary to build a bigger facility. We prayed that God would grant us a suitable lot where we could start building.
In 1960 we purchased a piece of land measuring 9,400 square meters, and in 1962 a building was constructed wherein were located the administration offices, library, classrooms, chapel and dormitories. Another four-unit apartment building for faculty was also built. Because the budget was quite large, we only made these building out of wood, hoping that they would last for 20 or 30 years.
In 1966 a smaller building for men’s dormitory and faculty housing was built. As trees and flowers were planted and a large lawn garden appeared, the “blessed home” of BIOP began to take shape.
In 1971 a building for three piano rooms and a cottage for faculty use were added. The latter was recently remodeled into the Activity Center. Further constructions included a garage, a concrete driveway encircling the campus, and a basketball court.
The fourth stage of construction was done in 1976. It was a sturdy concrete building housing a bigger library, with ladies dormitory, president’s apartment and an audio-visual room on the second floor. Students now had their individual carrels, and the atmosphere for learning was greatly improved.
Up to this stage of development, the Seminary had spent millions of pesos which the Lord Himself provided. Our policy regarding financial affairs was never to solicit funding. The path of faith really has to be taken one step at a time, following closely after our Lord’s own footsteps.
F. Glad-hearted Giving
Without denominational backing or united support from all the Chinese churches, these building campaigns were constantly given support by concerned believers and churches. I will mention just a few memorable incidents of glad-hearted giving.
The family of the late Don Chiong Pai Hun gladly donated their house and lot that served as the first seminary location. Later the property was sold and the money used for construction purposes.
Some young people jointly donated P300.00, one of the first donations we received. It was like a cloud, the size of a fist; this was portentous of a great downpour.
An elderly pastor gave up part of his life-savings of P5,000.00. (This was his second act of selfless giving; the first donation was given to FEBIAS Bible College). This elderly pastor was our founder Rev. Silas Wong.
An elderly woman gave up a few hundred pesos that her children had given her during her old age.
A sister donated her dowry of gold and silver jewelries, wrapped up in a handkerchief, and gifts that her husband had given her on her birthdays.
Another sister saved some of her household expense budget, invested the money, and gave the principal together with the whole year’s interest to the seminary.
A lady gave the dividend earned by her father’s company.
A student testified that she donated her savings of P70.00 plus P40.00 that someone had given her for monthly meal allowance.3
There is no way to write all the testimonies of love and concern shown by God’s people.
G. God’s Timely Provision
In purchasing the property we signed a contract to remit the whole payment in two installments. Here we again experienced God’s timely provision.
One of these installments was due on a Tuesday. During the regular Monday evening prayer, everyone gave whatever he/she could, but the whole amount was P1,000.00 short. So we knelt down again to pray. Afterward, God moved a believer who was repairing our refrigerator to give the exact amount. (His repair fee that night was only P10.00.) This timely provision proved one thing: God is our eternal, living God. He hears all our prayers. As I record this incident I cannot help but be moved to tears because of God’s grace.4
When the second installment was due, again on a Tuesday, we still needed P2,500.00. The treasurer was hoping that some board members who would attend the Monday Night Prayer Meeting could cover this amount. But alas, they were absent that night. What could he do? The next day, as he was about to take lunch, he received a call from a sister in Christ who said another sister had donated P3,000.00—just the amount needed and more!5
When the groundbreaking ceremony for this new property was held on July 15, 1962, it had rained non-stop the previous two weeks. As the ceremony was about to start, we saw ominous black clouds above us. We prayed and praised God; Rev. Silas Wong gave the message. Again he said that we had a small, humble beginning, but like a seed that falls to the ground and dies, later a hundred-fold of harvest is gained. Man’s work is like a small mustard seed that grows into a big tree, so big that birds could make nests in it. Today we see many liberal seminaries, abundant in all material goods and property, but in reality a nest of Satan. Each work must be tested whether it is from God or not. In the end, Rev. Wong admonished the audience to offer toward the seminary’s ministry. This does not mean “expense,” rather, it means “investment.” He said that because of the $260.00 given by an American missionary, he himself was able to finish seminary training and had been serving for 40 years. He humbly said that he had not accomplished much, but God was still using him. When the audience heard these words, they were deeply moved.6
Our Lord is indeed faithful and trustworthy. During our most desperate times, He opened the windows of heaven and poured down His timely provisions. He has never been and will never be fallible.
H. BSOP and the Church
BSOP’s ministry not only affects her students, but also impacts those who come into contact with her. Such an impact provides a deeper experience of faith, of dedication, of scriptural understanding, and of doctrinal belief. Indirectly this impact is also felt by the churches.
During the yearly Convocations, we listen to testimonies given by new students. During Commencement Exercises we hear graduates make their speeches of dedication. If we compare these two groups of students, one can see very clearly that three years of training does make a big difference. It is as if they were like Moses when they entered BSOP, stuttering and insecure. But upon leaving the Seminary, they became like Paul, eloquent and more confident. From their spiritual growth, ministry experience, and life formation, it is evident that they had received a balanced training in their spiritual, intellectual and daily life. Many alumni have gone on to take higher degrees—Master of Theology, Doctor of Philosophy, etc. Some have returned to teach in BSOP. Many are pastors in mega-size churches. They have all been led by Christ to take up different ministry roles, applying what they learned in training. All this confirms that it was timely and necessary to establish BSOP.
Not only have the young and not-so-young been trained, church leaders and members have also received beneficial training through the Basic Bible Course and the Theological Education by Extension (TEE) ministry.
Being involved in the daily operations of the seminary, both faculty and staff and the board members have also been edified. One board member put it this way: “BSOP’s ministry has made me see God’s mighty handiwork and made me understand the way of faith.” Another said, “BSOP is not only training students, but the board members as well, teaching us how to be good stewards of God.” Many faculty members, like Rev. Stephen Chan, Rev. Stephen Chiu, join in one voice saying: “BSOP has the world’s best board members.” Actually it is due more to the fact that BSOP has produced board members who really feel the burden and are willing to sacrifice themselves to the ministry. The examples of the faithfulness of Elder Jacob Laoengkue, Ms. Yu Bon Pek and Mrs. Eng Du Gan Chiong, are forever etched in my mind.
For brothers and sister of the Chinese churches, being involved with BSOP’s ministry has afforded them opportunities of “spiritual investments.” It testifies that those who look up to the Lord never suffer shame and the road of faith is indeed a blessed road to travel.
With regard to churches, the principle of faith pledges and stepping out in faith that is exercised by Grace Gospel Church is a mirror of BSOP’s long-held principle. The recent cooperation between BSOP and the United Evangelical Church of the Philippines in setting up the Christian Ministry Training Center also echoes BSOP’s dedication to uplift God’s word and pursue biblical truths.
I. Strengthening the Harbor of Faith
The first half of the 20th century saw the Christian churches being flooded by the tidal wave of Liberalism. Many mainline seminaries and churches lost their faith within the swirling current. The second half of the century saw the upsurge of the Charismatic Movement, causing the churches to move toward extremism and sometimes, even heretical directions. The former lost faith through rationalism, the latter lost the way through emotionalism.
For the past 40 years, BSOP has quietly worked in unity with the churches and pastors to build a strong harbor to keep the faith pure. Today, many seminaries and churches have fallen into the quagmire of heresy and liberalism, in the process losing their pure faith. But the Chinese churches of the Philippines have been able to hold on to the truth. One factor is that the pastors and leaders of these churches have faithfully upheld this truth; another factor is that BSOP has consistently striven to correctly handle the word of truth.
The speaker for our 40th Anniversary Thanksgiving Service was Rev. Dean de Castro (aka Ciriaco de Castro), an alumnus of BSOP. During our 20th anniversary, he wrote an article stating: “Praise God because He brought me into the most ideal seminary. This seminary puts emphasis on training the spiritual, the intellectual and the practical life. I was given a firm foundation in my spiritual life. After I left and started ministering, I often felt weary and depressed spiritually. But I was always reminded by those four years of spiritual molding to draw near to our Lord. God also edified my life while in seminary, enabling me to discipline myself in whatever I had to undertake, to show that I was indeed God’s servant (II Corinthians 6:4-10). By upgrading the academic level of the seminary, BSOP also taught me how to understand more deeply the truths of God. Because BSOP is the only Chinese seminary in the Philippines, I have been trained to read the Chinese Bible and to preach in the Chinese vernacular.”7
The testimony given by Rev. Ciriaco de Castro represents the general voices of other BSOP graduates. It is a great consolation to the president, faculty and staff who labor in BSOP, affirming that their labor in the Lord has not been in vain. (cf. I Corinthians 15:58)
J. New Hopes, New Plans
The recent 25-year history of BSOP will soon follow this writing. I have been like a gray-haired writer recalling God’s great love, faithfulness and trustworthiness, and I boast of His mighty Name with tears running down my face.
The “brick-upon-brick” construction of BSOP has been accomplished because of His people’s glad-hearted offerings. Every piece of building material testifies to the wonderful grace of our Lord. Every time I think of the past presidents and acting presidents—Ms. Ruth Brittain, Rev. Hsueh Yu Kwong, Rev. Franklin Lee, Rev. Raymond Frame, Dr. Denny Ma, Dr. Paul Lee Tan, Dr. Peter Au, Rev. Wesley Shao, and the president today, Dr. Joseph Shao; every time I think of the countless faculty members of the past and in the present, I take the opportunity to express my sincere gratitude, in behalf of the seminary, for their contributions and loyalty. May the Lord Himself repay them in full.
It is my deepest yearning that BSOP’s future will far surpass its past and present. May she fulfill the Great Commission of training God’s workers for this age as well as for generations to come.
1 Tan Chu Lin, “Prayer Before Anything Else” (Chinese), in BIOP Tenth Anniversary Issue.
2 Silas Wong, “Tenth Anniversary Thanksgiving Remarks” (Chinese), in BIOP Tenth Anniversary Issue.
3 Homer Chua, “Short History of BIOP” (Chinese), in BIOP Tenth Anniversary Issue.
4 The one who gave P1,000 later became one of our board members, Mr. Wang Giok Khu.
5 Homer Chua, Ibid.
7 Ciriaco de Catro, “Answering a Young Man’s Interpretation” (Chinese), in BIOP Tenth Anniversary Issue.