NorthPark hosts missionaries fleeing Philippines lockdown

By Martha Simmons
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist

For more than nine years, David and Cindy Crim have served in the Philippines, where David is senior pastor of the International Baptist Church of Manila and coordinates the missions strategy of the Hawaii-based Two-Thirds World Network. Through the years, IBC Manila became a multi-ethnic, multinational church with a network of mission churches across the city and the nation.

Then the novel coronavirus hit, turning the Crims’ world upside down and landing them in an efficiency apartment on the campus of NorthPark Baptist Church, Trussville.

“Manila, Philippines, began locking down in early March, including hospitals,” Crim said. “I was scheduled to begin radiation therapy for prostate cancer and discovered it would be some time until anything other than emergencies or COVID-19 would be treated. So we began looking for opportunities in the [U.S.] for the treatment. We were already familiar with a urological clinic in Birmingham. Upon contacting them, they agreed to accept me as a patient. We then began looking for a place to stay in Birmingham and found a list of missionary housing through the WMU website. The good folks at NorthPark were gracious to offer their missionary apartment, which is just perfect for the two of us.

“This is a huge blessing from God,” he said. “We are very appreciative of NorthPark’s hospitality and generosity. We can’t wait to worship with them.”

Stephen Hall, NorthPark’s executive pastor, said the church created the one-bedroom efficiency apartment on its property a little more than a year ago to host traveling missionaries. A missionary family now serving in Italy stayed there last summer. When Hall received Crim’s email, his “yes” was immediate.

“We received an email from David, right when things worldwide were about to be locked down due to the pandemic,” Hall said.

“They had to leave Manila quickly and arrived here on a Friday night about 9 or 10 p.m. They got out of Manila right at the last minute.”

Cindy Crim said the situation in the Philippines was headed rapidly toward lockdown.

“We were already quarantined by government orders,” she said. “A lot of panic buying had started, there was news the airport was closing and grocery supplies were already scarce. I woke up early on the morning of March 18, feeling a real impression from God that we needed to check on the availability of David’s radiation treatment.”

‘Fear and panic’

“By late morning, we heard from the doctor saying all treatments except emergencies and COVID-19 were suspended. Later that day, we received news the airport would remain open for a few more days. So we had a very short time — less than 48 hours — to make preparations to leave. We left early morning, March 20.”

David said the atmosphere in Manila was filled with “fear and panic,” with markets running out of staples. It’s only gotten worse, he said.

“Since leaving, our church leaders have informed us the lockdown there has been very strict. Only one person in the family can leave the house, and that person must have an approved pass from the local government just to buy groceries or medicines. … This has intensified the frustration and uncertainty among the people. Many people are losing jobs. … It is a very bad situation.”

‘Stir a hunger’

The Crims had hoped to make their stay in the missionary apartment brief, but delays in beginning David’s radiation treatments and the time needed for recuperation and a brief visit with family could stretch their time here to four to six months.

They’ll be welcomed into the NorthPark family in the interim, Hall said.

“Due to shelter-in-place restrictions, we haven’t gotten to spend a lot of time with them,” Hall said. “We look forward to introducing our church to them.”

The Crims see God at work in a myriad of ways throughout the pandemic.

“Using online tools, such as Zoom, I am still able to disciple young women,” Cindy said. “They have been faithful to individual, one-on-one meetings, as well as small group Bible studies. Actually, more women are involved than before the pandemic.

“We see God using this pandemic to stir a hunger in their hearts for Him and His word.”

David added, “We see God at work in our leaders and church planters in the Philippines, who have stepped up their leadership and care for the church families.

“We have also seen an increase in participation in worship. Our online worship viewership is about four times that of our weekly attendance before the lockdown,” David said. “There seems to be a growing softness of heart and at least an increased interest in spiritual matters.”