Do Primitive Baptists Believe in Helping Others?
Primitive Baptists have a very high regard for Bible truth. Jesus said: Thy word is truth. (Joh 17:17) Paul said: preach the word. (2Ti 4:2) Jesus said: The truth will make you free. (Joh 8:32) Paul said that the church of the living God is the pillar and ground of truth. (1Ti 3:15) Truth really matters.
Yet most of today’s Christians have no idea what truth is, and seem to care less about it. Today’s false idea is that truth separates, while love unites. The modern trend is to say that it really does not matter what we all believe; we just need to all love each other. Most seem to be okay with sacrificing truth for the sake of love.
So Primitive Baptists oftentimes are critical of those who diminish the importance of truth. We sometimes seem to hold ‘truth’ above anything and everything. It is as if our quest is to find truth, to explain truth, and perhaps even to worship the very idea of truth. We sometimes seem to hold the idea of truth in higher regard, than the God of truth. Is it possible to worship the truth of God, even above the God of truth? Can the quest to know the word of God hinder our knowing the God of the word? There surely must be a balance that lies somewhere between truth and love.
Jesus surely taught that we should love each other and prove that love by helping each other. Jesus said: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. (Mat 25:35-36)
I doubt that you could find a Primitive Baptist anywhere who would argue with Jesus about the truth in these words. I dare say that no Primitive Baptist anywhere would declare that it is not right to help others. Yet observation tells me that the same Primitive Baptist who holds such a high view of doctrinal truth may hold the Jesus-taught truth of helping others with little regard. Do Primitive Baptists believe in helping others? Or do we prefer to mock the church that holds little truth, but greatly focuses on helping others? Surely there must be a straight and narrow way that incorporates and combines both the truth and the love that the Bible teaches.
To know the words of Christ, without the ways of Christ and the walk of Christ, is nothing more than egotistical intellectualism. The point of Christianity is not ‘to stand tall in our own understanding’. To love God with the head (comprehension), but not with the heart (passion) and the hands (action), is not Christianity.
To have the ways of Christ, without the words of Christ and walk of Christ, is nothing more than vulnerable emotionalism. The point of Christianity is not ‘to stand for nothing and to fall for anything’. To love God with the heart (feeling), but not with the head (thinking) and the hands (doing), is not Christianity.
To have the walk of Christ, without the words and the ways of Christ, is nothing more than hypocritical Pharisee-ism. The point of Christianity is not ‘to stand by the rules in order to be admired by those standing by’. To love God with the hands (motions), but not with the head (notions) and the heart (emotions), is not Christianity.
Real Christianity is to know the words of Christ, to have the ways of Christ, and to follow the walk of Christ. Real Christianity is to love God with the head, with the heart, and with the hands.
So as we come back to our question, I do not know how serious all Primitive Baptists are about helping others, but I know of some who are. Let me share with you my story of a particular Primitive Baptist preacher named Travis Housley. I was just a young man when Travis came into my life as my pastor at the Dawson Springs Primitive Baptist Church. Over the years, I came to realize that he had a deep understanding of the principles of the scriptures, even such as to surpass most preachers anywhere. (A well-respected minister once said to me that Travis Housley was ‘the best kept secret that the Primitive Baptists have’.) God blessed me to sit under this man’s preaching, his teachings, and his influence for several years. Not only did I hear this man’s direct teaching of the written word, but I also saw his indirect teaching of how to walk with God in this world. He taught me God’s principles of doctrine, and he taught me God’s principles of living. It was by his guidance that I learned not only the words of Christ, and what they mean, but I also learned the ways of Christ, and what they mean. It was under his teaching that I experienced the call to preach the gospel, and it was through his influence, that God prepared even me to preach. I thank my God for such a servant of God, who has lived his life following his God-influenced heart, and accomplishing God-honoring things.
I begin my story in the Philippines in 1998. Travis Housley was the one with the zeal for evangelism, not me. He had had a burning in his bones for many years. The deception of Satan, and the discouragements of men, had caused him to miss what might have been an open door to China twenty plus years earlier. So when Travis heard of efforts to take the gospel of grace to the Philippines, he began to ask questions, find out details, and make plans.
Thought Travis was the driving force, I still sensed that the Lord was sending the two of us out together on the spiritual trip of a lifetime. This time God had opened a door for Travis, that no man would shut, and I was blessed to slip through that open door on a God-led journey. Travis would be the one that was more like Paul. Yet I was to be his ‘Silas’.
God blessed us abundantly on that first trip to the Philippines, but my greatest blessing was the privilege of spending two weeks under the continual influence of Travis Housley, who was very much under the influence of the Holy Ghost. I could give many evidences of the Spirit’s presence on Travis, and through him, on both of us. Yet for the moment, I want to tell the story that has to do with the question of whether Primitive Baptists believe in helping others.
Travis and I were in the little town of Nabunturan on the island of Mindanao. We were standing in front of the home of a Filipino preacher named Levi Sabuala. Another Filipino preacher, Ricardo Tabanyag, Jr. (Junio), approached Travis with not these exact words, but words very close to these, “I hear you are an electrical engineer. Is that true?” Travis responded that in addition to being a preacher of the gospel, he was also an electrical engineer, and that he worked in the office of an electric utility company back in Kentucky.
To these words Junio said something like, “I am a preacher, but also a civil engineer. I have a dream. The place where I pastor is a poor village named Matanao. The people have very little. The men know no trades to make money. The tribes in the mountains raid our village at night. The situation is bad. Yet, there is a river that comes out of the mountains. If we had electricity, we could see to defend ourselves at night. If we had electricity, I could teach the men to weld, so they could support their families. Surely, with what you know as an electrical engineer, and with what I know as a civil engineer, we could build a power plant on the river. The lives of my people could very much be improved.”
At this point, Travis was fighting back tears. He normally hides his deep feelings, but for some reason, he had obviously become emotionally overwhelmed with Junio’s request. I did not realize it at the time, but Travis would later share with me that for an extended time, he had been specifically praying concerning the Jesus-spoken words:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. (Mat 25:35-36)
Travis’ prayers had been for God to show him how these words of Jesus should be personally applied to his own life. Upon hearing Junio’s dream, Travis had the answer to his prayers. By the grace of God, and with the help of God, Travis would get electricity to an impoverished remote village in the Philippines, called Matanao.
Upon regaining his composure, Travis responded to Junio’s request with words similar to these, “Let me see the river. You have to take me to the river, so that I can see if we can do it.” The wheels were turning in the engineer’s mind. The heart was stirring in the servant’s chest. The prayers were being answered. This praying preacher would soon be blessed with his opportunity to serve his Jesus by serving others. There would soon be a light in Matanao.
Arrangements were made, and a day or two later, we stood by the river that runs beside that far-away village. The “river” did not look so good to me. We had creeks back home that would outdo that little ‘riverlet’. I felt like the Bible character, Naaman, when he said: Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage. (2Ki 5:12)
My thoughts were not thoughts of rage, like Naaman. My thoughts were more of disappointment. I was thinking about our rivers in Kentucky, where we made electricity. They were so, so very, much bigger than this little stream. I felt sorrow for Travis, and for Junio. They had both been so excited at the thought of a hydroelectric dam. Yet, I said nothing. I just watched and waited.
At first, Travis stood silent. Maybe he was trying to figure how to break the bad news to Junio. Travis finally looked toward Junio, and asked, “Does the river flow all the time?” Junio assured him that there was a continuous supply of water from the mountains high above.
The rest of us could not see the action under the surface, but the engineer’s mind was computing. Travis looked toward the mountains silhouetted against the Filipino sky. He turned and gazed back toward the tropical valley that lay well below us. Finally, he turned again to Junio, and proclaimed, “We can do it! The lack of volume can easily be overcome by the fast flow, due to the steepness of the terrain.” The Lord had provided a sufficient source of energy. The potential power in the stream could be converted to plenty of electrical power to light up the little village of Matanao.
For the remainder of our two weeks in the Philippines we preached, we prayed and we planned for the future. Roads were terrible. Places were far distant. Time was short. Yet the need was great, and the opportunities were real. It was oftentimes after midnight when we would finally get to bed, and depending on the next day’s agenda, sometimes Junio would be knocking on our door at two in the morning. We pushed ourselves day and night to the physical limit, and by the end of our trip, I was exhausted. We finally boarded the plane for the long flight home. I slept most of the way.
A few men have the true burning in their bones, while others just go along for the ride. Some men have spirits that might be willing, but flesh that prefers to snooze. Those, like me, say their prayers, and say, “Good-night, Lord.” A few, like Travis, say, “Here I am, Lord, send me.” When I would awaken from my exhaustion, Travis would be toiling with long mathematical equations involved in turning flowing water into electricity. He was a man obsessed. After our return to America, my zeal diminished, but that was not the case for Travis. He had a burning in his bones about the Philippines, which surpassed mine by leaps and bounds. Many men resist the moving of the Holy Spirit, while a few say, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”
To make a long story shorter, it turned out that the mathematics involved in the generation of power from that mountain stream were not necessary. Through the blessings of God, and endless hours of legwork on Travis’ part, connections were made between the power company in western Kentucky, where Travis was a vice president, and the power companies in the Philippines. Agreements were reached, whereby used materials could be sent from America, and power lines would be extended in the Philippines. The first of these extensions was to a little poverty-stricken village, called Matanao.
Since that time over sixty Filipino villages have received electrical power, and through these cooperative efforts thousands of people’s lives have been improved. The Lord opened door after door, and blessed His servant to serve in phenomenal ways. There were many hurdles. Yet, Travis kept praying, kept knocking, kept seeking, kept asking, kept going, kept working, and kept on keeping on. Travis became a keynote speaker at national meetings of American electrical power companies. He shared his story of how the Lord had answered his prayers. He told of the opportunities to help the impoverished people of the Philippines. Electric companies from all over America came on board. CEO’s, officers, presidents and vice presidents of power companies were writing personal checks, as well as pledging company support to the efforts. At one point during these events, I asked Travis what the people at our church could do to help him financially. His answer was that he had a rather unusual problem, in that he had more money than he knew how to spend. Praise God who opens the doors of opportunity, and the windows of heaven!!
Through countless hours of immeasurable zeal, Travis continued to stay on track for years. The Lord continued to bless, and the mission continued to be accomplished. Huge shipments of materials were being sent. Villages all over the island were being lit up. Yet, in addition to electrical power, Travis desired to help the poor people find means to support their families. Along these lines, a factory was opened in the Philippines for the purpose of rewinding used electric transformers sent from America. A sewing factory was started in another village. (I was naked, and ye clothed me.) A furniture factory was established. The bunk beds at a Primitive Baptist orphanage, called Beauty for Ashes, were made at this factory. (I was a stranger, and ye took me in.) An ice plant was built in a remote fishing village. The men could catch plenty of fish, but the fish would spoil before getting to the market. Now cold fresh fish can be sold. (I was hungry, and ye gave me meat.) In another village, loans were made for fishing boat motors. The fishermen can now go out to deep waters, where the ‘big ones’ are. (I was hungry, and ye gave me meat.) In other villages, goat and rabbit raising operations were established. (I was hungry, and ye gave me meat.) These operations, not only provide food and employment, but there are also agreements that a portion of the offspring animals will be given to others, so that new operations may be started. In all, fifty such ‘Livelihood Projects’ have been established.
During one of Travis’ many trips, a woman approached him with a difficult question: “Are you willing to get electricity to a village that is predominantly Muslim?” The Muslim situation on the island was, and is, volatile. The United States State Department routinely advises Americans not to go to this island. Christians are sometimes lined up and killed, execution style. Perhaps this woman was testing Travis, to see just how far his Christianity would go. Perhaps God was testing Travis, to see just how far his Christianity would go. It was probably much to the woman’s surprise (and most likely to the surprise of many who read this), that Travis told her that he would go.
The arrangements were made for Travis to be at a certain place at an appointed time. He was picked up by men in a large vehicle, and told to get into the back seat. The driver made many loops and circles. Travis assumed that this was to insure that no one was following them. Eventually, they arrived at a secluded building. One of the men went in. After a time, the man returned, and told Travis he could go in now. At that point, Travis was escorted to a room where a man was seated; a man that Travis would later learn was the second most powerful Muslim on this island of political and religious unrest. When Travis entered the room, the man went into an extended rant of how the Muslim people had been mistreated and persecuted. Travis said the long moments were tense. I am sure he felt fearful, as he stood before this very powerful and very angry man. (Or at least I am sure that I would have felt fear.) Travis said the man finally ended his tirade, and with a voice that seemed to be full of hatred, the man spoke the words: “Now what can I do for you?”
To this question, Travis immediately responded with the God-given words: “Sir, with all due respect, that is the question I have traveled 9000 miles to ask you. What can I do for you?” When Travis answered the furious man with these words, the whole atmosphere changed. The man calmed down, and plans were laid out to get electricity to the town. In January 2010, the ‘Livelihood Phase’ of this project was completed. Electric pumps are now being used to draw good water from deep wells. In addition, a new water distribution system extends this fresh water supply to other villages in the surrounding area. (I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink.)
Before I leave this story of electrifying the Muslim town, let me share with you one more event. When the power would be officially turned on for the first time in a village, it was customary to have big celebrations. As might be expected according to human nature, it was not surprising that there were lots of politicians taking credit, lots of back slapping accolades, and lots of speeches at these big ceremonies. At some point during these festivities, Travis was always called on to speak. So the first few times that he was asked to speak, he shared with the people of the villages the words that had inspired him from the 25th chapter of Matthew. He told them how the Lord had answered his prayers concerning these words, and had given him the opportunities to get electricity to the people of the Philippines. He would conclude his message with the thought that it was ‘by the help of Jesus Christ, and in the name of Jesus Christ, and to the praise of Jesus Christ’ that he did these things.
Well, a Filipino electrical engineer, named Gil, who had become Travis’ right-hand man in the whole project, would always be the one who introduced Travis as the featured speaker. So after a while, Gil began to undercut Travis, in that he would use Travis’ Matthew 25 story of serving Jesus by serving others, as his way to introduce Travis. Thus, Travis had to come up with something else for his message.
Now when it came time to turn the lights on in the Muslim village, the celebrations were the same as always. The dignitaries were all on hand. Those in charge delivered their speeches. The important people took their turns. The time finally came for Gil to introduce Travis. So Gil took the platform, and began to tell the crowd about Travis. He explained the teachings found in the 25th chapter of Matthew. He concluded with the proclamation that these lights had come ‘by the help of Jesus Christ, and in the name of Jesus Christ, and to the praise of Jesus Christ’. Travis confessed that the longer Gil talked about Jesus to these Muslims, the more he feared what might come from the words. Yet when the speech concluded, there was applause instead of executions. Thank God. And thank God for a man like Travis Housley, who in the name of Jesus Christ gets electricity and clean water to thirsty and impoverished people. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” —Jesus.
A while back, I made a return trip to the Philippines, without Travis. As I encountered people in that far-away land, I would introduce myself by saying that I was Jeff Winfrey, and that I was the pastor of the Primitive Baptist Church in Dawson Springs, Kentucky. At that point, the broken English response would go like this, “Ahh, I know Kentucky. That is where Travis Housley is from.” Most hear the word, Kentucky, and think of racehorses, or bluegrass, or maybe ‘hillbillies’. Filipinos hear the word, Kentucky, and think of Travis Housley. Indeed, this man from the Commonwealth of Kentucky is well known, and well respected, in the hearts of the Common People of the Philippines. Is it his preaching of the truth that set him apart? It might be, in that he has a real grasp on truth, and can preach it well. Yet, I did not get the sense that it was the truth that he had preached to the Filipino people that they remembered. I think that it was more the love that he had shown for the Filipino people that set him apart.
Which group does Christianity right? Is it Primitive Baptist, who almost worship truth, and think too little about helping others? Or is it our friends in other churches, who help right and left, but have no idea what is in the Bible? I am afraid that neither of us does it exactly right. The truth about real Christianity is that it goes beyond words of truth, to ways of truth, and finally walking truth.
May no one ever have reason to question whether Primitive Baptists believe in helping others. Let our actions be the proof that we believe in serving Jesus by serving others.