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Multi-ethnic church gathers 500 backpacks for the Philippines

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SAN DIEGO (BP) – Last year Old Town Community Church sent 72 backpacks stuffed with school supplies to the Philippines. This year, they’re sending 500.

“The backpacks are an instrument for us to show we are able to love them and reach out to them, and an opportunity for us to share with them the love of God,” Irene Achacoso told Baptist Press. She is the wife of Alex Achacoso, pastor at Old Town since he started the church as a Filipino congregation in 1993.

In the years since, the neighborhood and congregation of about 80 attending Sunday morning worship have become home to people from several lands: Africa, Brazil, Central America, Europe, the Middle East, and “even Texas,” executive pastor Don Biadog told Baptist Press.

Old Town Community’s multi-ethnic expansion could be because of the church’s active mission programs. Its food pantry operates three times a week, and gives out about a half-million pounds of food a year, Biadog said. There’s a continual emphasis on reaching children with the gospel. And earlier this year the church for two weeks housed 82 refugees from Ukraine.

“Looking at the success of the backpacks last year – several of the children were saved – we decided to do it again this year,” Achacoso said.

The initial goal this year was 327 backpacks but with the response as word spread throughout the community, the goal grew to 500 “or more,” the pastor’s wife leading the collection drive said.

“What inspired us, we saw how people had responded when we needed help for the Ukrainians,” she continued. “We have reached out to a lot of people here. This is our way: to reach out to the people, let them know we love them and want them to know God loves them.”

Life can be hard on the Philippine archipelago, a chain of more than 7,100 islands. The backpacks last year went to the islands of Leyte and Samar, which haven’t yet recovered from the category 5 Typhoon Yolanda in November 2013.

“In the Philippines, there is a lot of percentage of children in the little small towns where there is a lot of poverty,” Achacoso said. “It’s hard to pay for rent, food, slippers, to buy a basketball. I just feel there is a need now, at this very moment, for the backpacks and school supplies. Here we are focusing on educational ministry, and I think a lot of people want to support that.”

The backpacks last year went to Pastor Silas Felongco of Tanauan Community Church in Leyte, near the center of the archipelago. This is the church where SBC Disaster Relief volunteers stayed for more than a month after the typhoon, doing rescue and recovery. Felongco this year will lead in a multi-church distribution of the backpacks.

“We are so thankful for these backpacks and school supplies,” Felongco told Baptist Press. “I am happy to share with you that several of the children receiving them put their faith in Jesus as a result, and they are now learning to walk with Jesus every day.

“Pastors on other islands have been asking me how they could get backpacks this year, so it’s a blessing to hear so many are coming,” the pastor continued. “We pray for God to use them to bring the children joy and draw them close to Him and His ways.”

Donations of money, school supplies, Bibles, hygiene items, and more have come in for this year’s backpack project at Old Town Community Church. A lot has come in from the local community, plus from five Southern California churches and one in Rhode Island. The other churches are all connections Biadog made during 30 years as a Navy chaplain.

It was Biadog who learned at the SBC’s 2021 annual meeting about Send Relief's Backpack Day and saw the backpacks he was given as another mission opportunity. Biadog came up with the goal of 327 backpacks after reading Proverbs 3:27, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is within your power to act.”

Backpack Day is a Send Relief program that saw 913 churches register to participate this year, Josh Benton, Send Relief Vice President, told Baptist Press.

“We provided a total of 61,056 backpacks to help churches with their backpack projects,” Benton said. “Many are providing backpacks and school supplies to children whose families cannot afford to do that on their own. However, others will use the backpacks to help kids going into foster care, or to provide food to those who need it, or help people in women and family shelters.”

A downloadable backpack ministry guide has ideas and offers direction on all those options and more. A promo kit helps churches encourage participation.

But by the time Biadog asked this year, no more Send Relief backpacks were left of the 60,000 Send Relief had ordered. He turned to dollardays.com, an online resource with wholesale prices, where he found 19-inch backpacks for $5.84 each, in a case of 24.

“We’re not a very big church, but in spite of being a very small church, we’re very involved,” the pastor’s wife said. “We have outreaches, support children, we do food pantries three days every week for over the past 10 years.

“We love to do ministry,” Achacoso said. “The passion is there. There’s a need for the community. It’s a way of telling the people we are here for them, that God is here for them.

“It’s about sharing the gospel with them,” the pastor’s wife continued. “I think we’re pretty much blessed to have all these people who are wanting to reach out and to share.”

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