All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth . – Colossians 1: 6 (NIV)

What happens when a vacation collides with a pandemic? In March, Erly and Lina Lee anticipated family reunions and their son’s wedding when they flew to their native Philippines; instead, COVID-19 brought a quarantine and a lockdown. But the Lees set their sights on a heavenly goal. The lockdown opened up opportunities to share the gospel and launch a house church in their hometown.

The Lees left the Philippines in 2016 and moved to Broward County, Florida, to provide childcare help for their grandchild. They left behind their positions as denominational church leaders in the Province of Masbate. The Lees devoted themselves to growing this small congregation. Eventually the group grew to approximately 70 congregants; the Lees oversaw a church planting and offered their personal property to use for a new church building. Despite pouring themselves into these efforts to grow their ministry, the Lees sensed that they were not biblically equipped and spiritually prepared to lead others.

After settling in Florida, their son Loren, a campus minister in the Manilla Church of Christ, encouraged his parents to visit the Broward Church. Although they visited with the intention just to observe the church, it wasn’t long before they agreed to study the Bible. “I realized that I had very little knowledge about the Word of God and needed deeper understanding,” said Lina. “I compared what I knew before to what I learned at the Broward Church from our Community Group leaders Devon and Betty Sparks, other disciples and the elders. Before, I didn’t really understand God’s way to baptism and true conversion to become a disciple of Jesus. I found that there is no ‘shortcut’ to Christianity.” About two months later, in May 2019, Erly and Lina were baptized into Christ!

Less than a year later, the Lees returned to the Philippines, prayerfully purposed to impact their family and former church members during their short visit. Erly and Lina describe their mindset: “We decided that we would not hide our conversion, and we told the whole church about the big difference in our lives, what we saw and experienced in being a true Christian – a disciple of Jesus.” The Lees contacted Albay Church minister Ramir Bodigon, who assisted in the Bible studies through Zoom calls. During the next few months, 10 of their former church members responded to the gospel and made Jesus Lord in baptism. One person was restored and several others are continuing to study the Bible. “God is just so amazing since we have been praying for Masbate, being the only province in Bicol Region without a disciple before. Now there are 10 disciples there and five more persons are currently studying the Bible virtually,” said Ramir this summer. Read more about churches in the Philippines here.

Not only did the Lees speak to the whole church, but they took the good news house to house – virtually! They observed social distancing practices by opening their home to gatherings of no more than 10 people. Erly and Lina are known in the Broward Church for their humility and their tenacity – they don’t hold onto accomplishments or titles, but cling to the gospel with a childlike faith. So, they saw their “pandemic” visit to the Philippines not as a ruined vacation, but as a God-given opportunity to impact both friends and family. Married for almost 44 years, the Lees raised nine children, three of whom are adopted. During the quarantine lockdown, they studied the Bible with their son Cary and his wife Michelle, along with their adopted daughter Gloria. They were baptized in June and are part of this new house church in Masbate. To date, the Lees have nine family members who are disciples of Jesus!

Knowing that the “gospel is bearing fruit and growing,” the Lees understood the importance of continued Bible teaching and ongoing relationships for these new disciples. Before they returned to Florida, Lina reached out to Ariel Lastrado, a lead evangelist in the Philippines, who is continuing to make sure the young house church in Masbate is encouraged and connected to sister congregations. Just like the Colossian church, Erly and Lina are seeing the gospel bear fruit all over the world, “since the day (they) heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.”