MANILA, Philippines (Mennonite Mission Network) — The thief entered the Faith Academy construction site for scrap metal. Instead, he found faith.
Ricky Silvario* lives in a squatter’s village near the academy, a school in Manila primarily for the children of mission workers. For Silvario, and for others seeking to feed their families, the current project to build a school auditorium was an attractive place to steal from, especially after a twisted, unlocked gate offered easy access to the construction workers’ barracks.
In late October, Rufo Cabungcal, the construction project chaplain known as “Chaplain Pong,” found Silvario on site, scavenging roofing materials and scrap iron to sell on the streets. In broad daylight, Cabungcal confronted him.
Silvario would not relent, leaving with the stolen goods after Cabungcal refused to resort to violence following a vehement conversation.
Cabungcal reported his experience to Tad Wulliman, project manager for construction and a Mennonite Mission Network associate, and Clarence Torkelson, an electrician serving through Wycliffe Associates.
Torkelson’s response: We need to give this man a job.
With support from his supervisors, Cabungcal went in search of Silvario. When he found the man, he offered him a job as an electrician.
Silvario accepted the job. As Cabungcal helped him fill out the official application, Silvario also accepted Christ.
Wulliman said Silvario’s conversion, while dramatic, is not necessarily unusual. It is a symptom of how the academy’s ongoing construction work has been organized.
“For years, we have always given the workers the opportunity to be exposed to the salvation message and the cooperation and attitudes have always been excellent,” Wulliman said.
That message – unusual in an overwhelmingly nominal Catholic culture – is evident on the job site, according to the company bosses Wulliman works with.
“The workers have a better attitude, work harder, are more pleasant, more cooperative, happier, more content,” Wulliman said. “For many of these men, the exposure of the pure gospel of salvation at Faith Academy is the only time in their lives that they would have ever heard of such a life-changing message.”
Wulliman hired Cabungcal to serve as chaplain in early 2006; he initially also worked as a project carpenter, but soon was ministering full-time. Cabungcal and his wife, Janet, live in a small shanty among the barracks with the construction workers, hosting morning Bible studies, worship services, free meals every other Saturday, entertainment and what he calls basketball evangelism – a way to connect with workers on the court.
In an interview with Sandy Musgrave, serving at Faith Academy with New Tribes Mission, Cabungcal said he sometimes sits with workers on his roof after their shifts. He often answers questions about the Bible, which many of the workers, despite their Catholic backgrounds, have rarely opened.
“We talk from 9 o’clock in the evening until 3 o’clock sometimes. They are sharing their problems, sharing their experiences,” Cabungcal said.
Wulliman said much of the construction projects will allow the academy to connect to middle- and upper-class members of the community. Cabungcal’s presence, and the work itself, allows a connection to the working class that has formed a faith community.
Of the nearly 70 workers in the barracks, about 20 have professed belief in Christ, Cabungcal said, including Silvario, who now works under the only other professed Christian electrician on the crew. Wulliman said Silvario’s family is now coming to weekend worship services and Silvario continues to explore his newfound faith in God among a growing community of peers and mentors who are developing relationships with each other as well as with God.
Tad and Barbara Wulliman are Mission Network associates in the Philippines working with Mennonite Mission Network and Wycliffe Bible Translators.
*Ricky Silvario is a pseudonym.