Another of our Listen for Love: A podcast series for Advent episodes - four conversations with United Methodist missionaries for Advent 2019. Shared in partnership with Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church's Give Love campaign.
As you prepare for Christmas, what are you listening for?
The Rev. Israel Painit learned from his family what it means to listen to God, and he is still listening. After serving for years as a pastor and even District Superintendent, Painit heard God calling him to a new way of doing ministry. Today he is serving in Laos, sharing the love of Jesus in a place where there are very few Christians.
- Learn more about Global Ministries and the Give Love campaign.
- Support Israel, learn more about his work and help him give joy to the people of Laos.
- Are you feeling called to ministry? Our Board of Higher Education and Ministry can help help you explore your call
Popular on UMC.org
- Listen to all of the Listen for Love: A podcast series for Advent episodes, presented in partnership with Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church's Give Love campaign.
- Learn more about the Christmas Institute in the Philippines.
- Israel talks about the 2018 story of United Methodist missionaries detained and released in the Philippines.
- More GYSIS conversations with missionaries:
- UMC Missionaries Share Their Lives with Thomas Kemper
- Faith, Love and Marriage with missionaries from the Democratic Republic of Congo who serve in Côte d'Ivoire
- Watch African American Woman’s Incredible Life as a Methodist Missionary, an inspiring story from our history.
- Watch Thomas Coke: A Father of Methodism, a video about an early Methodist with a passion for missions./li>
- Are you wondering, How many missionaries are there? Ask the UMC!
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This episode posted on December 6, 2019.
Joe Iovino, host: Welcome to Get Your Spirit in Shape, United Methodist Communications and UMC.org’s podcast to help us keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I’m Joe Iovino.
Today we continue our special series of conversations for Advent where we’re listening for love, joy, hope and peace as we get ready for Christmas. Get Your Spirit in Shape has partnered with Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church for some special conversations with some of our United Methodist missionaries.
Today we’re talking with the Rev. Israel Painit, a pastor from the Philippines serving the people of Laos. Pastor Israel learned from a very early age what it means to listen to God. And after years of serving in pastoral ministry, he heard God calling him again – to help build The United Methodist Church in a place where there are very few Christians.
Joe: Reverend Israel, welcome to Get Your Spirit in Shape.
Israel: Thank you. Thank you for this opportunity to talk to you and for clarifying some information in my story. It’s an honor to be part of this conversation.
Joe: Wonderful. We’re talking across a 12-hour time difference today. It’s 8 p.m. approximately in Laos where as you serve as a missionary. I’m calling you from Nashville, Tennessee where it’s approximately 8 a.m. As we get started, can you tell me about your ministry in Laos today?
Israel: I came here just eleven months ago last November 2018 without knowledge about Laos, but when I stepped on this land of Laos it’s very exciting. People are so lovely. We are enjoying our ministry here. I am directing the Laos mission initiative with a fantastic team. We have 7 missionaries. Four are regular and three are GMFs or Global Mission Fellows. Under the Four Areas of Focus, as much as possible, we have to spread that to a lot of programs and goals to having good direction in Laos, in Southeast Asia. Do you want the specifics?
Joe: Tell me about the things that you do for the poor in your neighborhood, or the ways in which you’re reaching out to the community.
Israel: We have our school. We call this school Sunbeam Language and Vocational Center. Our ministry here is to teach English. We have 3 programs under English instruction.
We have after school. We have extension classes to the communities, of course to teach English because the mandate now the government is to study English in schools and institutions. The third one is what we call in-school. So we are also inviting people to come to our center and study English. That’s one thing I am directing that school now. That’s under the leadership of one of the missionaries here.
Second, with some leaders, local and missionaries, to visit around the province. Laos is composed of 18 provinces. And we have presence for 8 provinces for now. We are doing visits. We are meeting people, and we have also ministries for women. We have ministries for children, etc. etc. For now I am responsible for visiting around.
Joe: You’re building community, getting to know the people, getting to know their needs, those kinds of things. That’s seems like an important thing to do as you move into a new place.
Israel: It’s very important because although this a very small place, like they only have 7 million people. But I need to be there because that is our call here – that missionaries should be there in spite of the risk here. We are not recognized. So, in spite of those risks, I am…this is the kind of life that I am used to in the southern part of The Philippines, when I ministered with the lumads. So I am used to traveling around.
Joe: You came to mission work later on. Right? You served in pastoral ministry in The Philippines for some time, even becoming a district superintendent and then you felt the call to being a missionary. Can you talk about your ministry in the Philippines and then how you felt called to become a missionary?
Israel: I started in the pastoral ministry was 16 years old.
Israel: I served in this church. I served as pastor when I was 16 years old, and without stop, 19 years in the pastoral ministry, including the studies in the seminary etc. and district superintendent for 6 years. So a total of 25 years.
You know, my ministry in The Philippines is so meaningful and very life-affirming. I can say that because despite of the meager support, my passion and commitment to the church and to the community are really priceless. I can say that, especially that I live in a place in southern part of The Philippines where we have a lot of indigenous peoples around.
Under my district we have 8 to 13 tribes of indigenous peoples. So I serve in those communities and I always learn of them. I am nurtured with that kind of ministry there.
Because I am a scholar of global ministries, GBGM invited me to be part of some events in America, like earthkeepers training in the 2016 I was part of that. And in 2017 the was the start of ….
That’s one of my gifts – to be a facilitator. So I am part of the roundtable facilitators training in…for 2 times.
So I started talking to people about missions. I have been ministry in the Philippines, I have this very unique and I love that. But because of the recent incident that took place in Mindanao involving our three global missionaries, I told myself and talked to some leaders, these people are willing to sacrifice, willing to give themselves for the people and for the less fortunate here. I asked the Lord, “Lord, Why not reveal to me your ways on how I could be with this kind of people and to emulate the sacrifices of this missionaries ones… They are my good friends.”
So with that question and reflection, God used the Global Ministries to be the gate for this opportunity to be a missionary. It was a start.
Joe: I can only imagine. A lot of us have those people in our lives that show us through the things that they’re doing what we might be able to do. And it sounds like they were mentors to you a little bit. Maybe not in the back and forth leadership kind of way, but just a model of some things that you could do.
Israel: Yes, yes, yes. You’re right. And especially before I came to The Philippines and witnessed that, because I visited them in their prison cell.
Before that I came fresh from Liberia to conduct a roundtable there. And I also saw the people which, I can say, is 15 years behind The Philippines. In The Philippines is a third world country I don’t know how I can describe Liberia.
Those things, compounded really and gave be some very challenging moments. And when I came back to The Philippines that’s the time of, “Oh Lord, I have to nail it. Call me in as many ways. Yeah, I’m willing.” And something like that. So…
Joe: So not all the listeners might be familiar with the things that happened in The Philippines with the missionaries becoming arrested. Can you share that story?
Israel: Yeah. This president of ours now President Rodrigo Duterte, he declared Mindanao as under martial law. The Philippines is divided into 3 major islands—Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. And I’m from Mindanao, the southern part of The Philippines. The president, because of the insurgency, alleged insurgency. That insurgency is not really the issue there because this is in the guise of the (I can call it) economic or development aggression. That’s in the name of the insurgency.
So to make the story short, the president declared martial law in Mindanao. So a lot of trumped up charges were happening there because of this declaration. And now these 3 missionaries, before the arrest of these 3 missionaries, Patricia Fox was an American missionary, she became a very sensationalized because of his participation to the rallies, and to the poor. This was happening just before martial law in The Philippines.
So we can understand that because this is our prophetic call as a missionary, to speak…on behalf of the church to speak against the social evils.
So, there was a massacre there by a family of Lumads. We call it Lumad, or indigenous people family in the southern part of The Philippines. So the national people called this fact-finding mission. And our missionaries were part of that. Two missionaries to be exact – Tawanda [Chandiwana] and Adam Shaw.
So they were part of the nationally coordinated fact-finding mission to ascertain the veracity of the allegations that the state forces are… were the responsible actors in that massacre.
So they were investigated and they were all detained. There were these trumped up charges that they were all part of the left group, we call it communist (?) here in The Philippines. They were accused of conniving with this people. So, to make this story short, they are victims of this martial law. So they were deported.
Joe: How is life as a missionary different from life as a pastor or a district superintendent?
Israel: My experience as a district superintendent is one of the considerations why they accepted me as a missionary and country director eventually in Laos. Because of the kind of work as a district superintendent.
To compare my work, I can say that my work in Laos is still very relaxed for me, because in The Philippines, I can barely go to the house because I am a mobile person. I have to travel most of the time 4 or 5 hours just to get to my other church. I have 35 churches. I am visiting persons that are not only in the church. I am also active in the community. This is very important for me. This is what I like about being a Methodist, the scriptural holiness – works of piety and works of mercy. I have to balance those things. I love doing that. So this my engagement there.
I think compared that to the work of Laos, I am just reviewing when I work of a district superintendent because I am also training pastors, leading the training of pastors…
But the thing is here, It’s like I’m a bishop here. Not exactly, but difference of the job description. So I like managerial, planning, etc. So this is the type of my work here in Laos.
Joe: Is the church in Laos different than it was in The Philippines? Do you notice differences? Do you notice similarities?
Israel: There is such a big difference when we compare the church of Laos to the church in The Philippines. I can understand because this is a mission field. This is a mission area. The work in Laos started in 2005, if I’m not mistaken. 2005. Yes. It’s like 14 years from there. So we need to have more trainings. We need to have more buildings, something like that, organizing, evangelization. But here’s the difference. In The Philippines it’s okay to evangelize publicly. But here you can’t do it.
Joe: Is it illegal?
Israel: Yes, because it is under… Laos is still under the communist government. So, the only recognized Christianity here is Lao Evangelical Church. It’s a typical evangelical church. They’re one of the big 3 Christian churches here in Laos. So, they have one thousand churches. The Roman Catholic Church and the Seventh Day Adventists are the only 3 churches or denominations that can be considered Christian.
Now, we are not recognized. We are only 2% in Laos. So 67% are Buddhists, and more than 30% are animists. So recognized Christians are only 2% here in Laos. So if you are caught evangelizing publicly you are arrested. Yeah, this is a persecution. It is really some kind of persecution, like you can be arrested. Why are you doing that? Something like that.
So you have engage your ministry here by clans or by groups, especially that most of our members are coming from already Christian churches because they stopped going there, having fellowship with them, and join the United Methodist Church. So that was the start.
So, they’re very much afraid of the government, so when I do I have to tone it down because I have my neighbors here. They really are great.
This reality is not similar to some villages. There are also friendly villages I can attest to that. So they’re good. But my only hope is that because the people here in Laos are so lovely. I can say that when you do some community development works you can penetrate communities. So we need to strategize
Joe: So it’s a different way of doing evangelism than you had been used to. Is a lot of it in reaching out and meeting needs? Or is there another way that you’re sharing the gospel with the people.
Israel: Both. I can describe meeting the needs as silent evangelization.
Israel: Sometimes there are people who will ask me, “What is your religion?” or something like that. That’s why we have this school, because this is our legal face here. All our efforts, like our community development works, are under some religious… We have to introduce our school as a responsible establishment for this mission.
They are happy when they receive this kind of support from us. I can describe they presence of Methodists here as – they know us, but we’re not really recognized because we are having this community development works. So like a water project. We have this other projects, etc. So both, it is acts of piety and acts of mercy at the same time.
Joe: Wonderful. I’ve always like talking about talking about those things as well. Let’s stick with your ministry now. What’s the most exciting thing that’s happening in your ministry and what are some of the challenges and needs that you have?
Israel: The most exciting maybe exciting part, so far, for my 11 months here, I love the seriousness and commitment of our pastors. We have 65 local pastors now. And we have more than 60 or so congregations. The congregations here are categorized into three: local congregations, home church and cell group. So we consider that as church because it is a congregation.
And I love the sincerity. For 2 times we conducted course of study. This course of study is similar to the curriculum being used by Garrett Evangelical Seminary and Global GBM, the General Board of Higher Education & Ministry. So I love the commitment of the church to global work. And they are so excited to have a very strong United Methodist Church in Laos. So that’s one thing that makes me very excited about the work here because they are so teachable. I can go with them. I can journey with them because of that passion to spread the gospel. So that’s one thing.
A second thing, I have a lot of partners. So I am inspired as a leader to have these partners, you know, because we can reach out to more communities because of this. So, because we have partners we have churches. We now in the 8 provinces more than 4 thousand members of The United Methodist Church here. Yes. Despite the risk. Despite of the risk.
Joe: Is that the greatest challenge? Is the risk the biggest challenge?
Israel: The biggest challenge is to engage more without restriction. Because for now we are under surveillance, but we have to be careful because of the status. That’s the biggest challenge for us. We can do more without this. For me that’s a challenge that we need to address.
With Asian people they are so supportive of me when I said we need to be engaging in seeking permission from the government. Because I think we just need to present our case. That’s the biggest challenge for us here.
Second is the support. This is about sustainability… this is like gasoline for me to the vehicle. Our pastors here are really in need of assistance because we are young as a congregation. So, we’re trying our best to train these congregations to become responsible. We have this program now, the model church, just developed, gives examples of how to become a real United Methodist congregation here in Laos. So they can emulate that model.
Joe: And we will include on our webpage the episode page linked to your Advance number. So people want to support the ministries that are happening, they’ll have an easy opportunity to be able to do that.
I wanted to ask you also…. You talked about, in the bio that I read about you, you talked about how you got your name, Israel. Can you tell me a little bit about that story?
Israel: Simply, to put this in a very summarized story. When I was 11 month old, the mode of transportation for our harvest is…. I know you are familiar with a bamboo raft, right? So I was the youngest and our raft hit a very big rock in the middle of the river and it turned upside down.
Joe: Oh, wow.
Israel: They were not very intentional in looking for me because I am the youngest. I am the small baby at that time and they need to prioritize my grandmother, my eldest brother and others in that incident. And it was really very fortunate maybe that my mother kicked me underneath…. Got me there from under the water and when she saw me after 30 minutes I have no signs of life at that time.
So they just, took me over to the people around in that river. These people are helping me to revive my life for 20-25 minutes, something like that. After those moments of reviving me I vomited a lot of water and I have that life. So they consider me a miracle baby.
After that incident they baptized me. Our church before is United Church of Christ in The Philippines. It’s also a Protestant church there. I am supposed to be named after the name Jonathan – to be baptized that name Jonathan. But because the name of the son of the pastor is Jonathan. So the pastor is asking my relatives, “Okay, Do you have other names besides Jonathan?” And my aunt answered, “Oh, I think it’s very meaningful to name him Israel,” because in her simple understanding, Israel someday will lead the people of God. There was a prophetic…. [laughter]
So when I started high school, I lived with my aunt because I was a working student, so she kept on telling me, “You’re a miracle baby. You need to serve the church.” Or something like that. I said to myself, it’s not fair. I will want to enjoy the world, something like that. [laughter]
That’s the kind of motivation that I am a miracle baby and I am really saved by God with a purpose. When I was 14 years old I transferred to The United Methodist Church because of the invitation to join the Young People’s group, organization. We call it in The Philippines UMYF. Then I am active for 2 years in that. And when a pastor challenged me in what we call the Christmas Institute in The Philippines, “Those of you who are ready to enter the ministry, you can come forward.” So I really cried that time, I think that is my calling. Okay, I think this is God’s will to name him after the name Israel. So someday he can lead the people and this is it.
Joe: What do you do today? How do you…. I imagine with all the stresses and being away from what has been your home for so many years, how do you keep your spirit in shape?
Israel: Before I accepted this call to become a missionary, I think this is timely for me Lord to accept this calling. So I prepared to become a missionary. So for one month of processing, I asked my family if you can stop your work. My wife before had work, so I challenged her to stop her work so she can go with me. So, for 5 months she was with me and in last May of this year, I got our kids from The Philippines and start here. In other words, we are intact.
Laos is in Asia. So the culture is not really that different, not really that unique. We have similarities here. So I have a home in this place because of the context, because of the culture, because of the promising…the lovely people here and the promise…the potential of our mission to expand. So I at home home and I am ready, because of those experience in The Philippines.
Joe: Do you have a favorite practice that you use for your spiritual life.
Israel: I used to have an expression in care groups. So we have those in our family. In particular, I teach my children to have devotion every night. So they are so grateful because compared to our life in The Philippines. So this is like paradise for us. So I can say we are also developing as an example in my family to be able to practice more about … to develop more my devotion in the church and my faith in God. So, I keep on doing that. And of course, in our relationship with our neighbors I love doing it.
Joe: I can imagine. Well, I really appreciate your time today. It’s been wonderful to have this conversation with you.
Israel: I hope I did justice to your sacrifices now. [laughter]
Thank you for having me as part of this conversation. I really appreciate that. And I hope my story can inspire people there and everywhere. Thank you, Joe, for this.
Joe: That was the Rev. Israel Painit, missionary to Laos. To learn more about his ministry of giving joy to the people of Laos, go to umc.org/podcasts and look for this episode of Get Your Spirit in Shape. We’ve put links on the page where you can support Rev. Painit’s ministry and learn more about Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church and their Give Love campaign.
There are also links to other episodes of Get Your Spirit in Shape and opportunities to subscribe so you can receive all of these wonderful conversations we share throughout the year.
Next week, we’re going to meet David Makobo, a missionary who is teaching farmers in Senegal how to more efficiently work their land.
I’ll see you next week. I’m Joe Iovino. Peace.