Teaching a biblical perspective on suffering in the Philippines

Langham scholar Rico Villanueva, an author, teacher and pastor.

“It’s okay to not be okay in the presence of God.”

That truth transformed Rico Villanueva’s relationship with God. It’s an especially powerful and relevant message in the Philippines, a nation with a history of colonization, natural disasters and extreme poverty. But it’s not something many people are hearing from the church. 

Rico, who received his PhD in theology with support from Langham Partnership, is a pastor, seminary professor and author in Manila. He remembers visiting a church just after some devastating floods. No one mentioned the disaster during the service. The worship songs focused only on happiness and celebration.

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Pushing back against the prosperity gospel

A worship service at a church led by a pastor Rico Villanueva trained.

Rico felt a deep disconnect between the preaching and what people were experiencing. “I was asking, ‘Why are we like this? What is lacking here?’” In the Philippines, as in many other nations, preachers often teach the empty promises of the prosperity gospel. People don’t know they can cry out to God in the midst of suffering and aren’t equipped to walk faithfully through the hard things that come.

Part of the challenge is the need for more theological training and biblical resources that speak directly to Filipino culture. Most of the resources available come from the West. “We can feel it, even the materials that we work with,” said Annelle Gumuihid-Sabanal, another seminary professor in the Philippines. “There [are] not that many scholarly materials that are actually written by actual scholars here.”

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Books that bring the Bible to life

But that’s beginning to change. With Langham’s help, Rico has responded to this need by publishing commentaries on the Psalms and Lamentations, as well a book called It’s OK to Be Not OK. It looks at the psalms of lament, how God meets His people wherever they are and how that’s uniquely relevant to the Filipino people.

“Psalm 13 would say, ‘How long, oh Lord? How long, oh Lord?’” Rico says. “That speaks very powerfully to our own hundreds of years of colonial experience. That way, the Bible becomes very much alive.”

These resources and Rico’s leadership are already helping pastors whose congregations are lured by teachings like the prosperity gospel. Esy Fidel studied under Rico and uses his commentaries to help his congregation understand the Psalms and preach the word faithfully. 

“There are many false teachers in our country. … We have to have people like Dr. Rico so we can teach the people correctly.”

About Langham Scholars

Langham funds the PhD studies of future theological leaders who go on to shape their nations for Christ. More than 300, like Rico, are now serving the church in 90+ countries around the world. Last year, they taught 109,695 students.