Well-traveled local man heads out again – on mission to Philippines

Sean C. Morgan

Gary Myers has a yen for travel – and ministry.

This week the former Sweet Home man is headed for the Philippines for yet another stint, working with church planters there – something he has done around the world in nearly two dozen countries.

Myers still has strong local ties. His parents and a sister live in Sweet Home, and River of Life Fellowship is a partner in his mission to the Philippines. He attended Sweet Home schools.

“I’ve always been a guy who enjoys a lot of movement, travel, new places, new experiences,” said Myers, 49. “I did my first church or missions-related trip in 1989 to Mexico. That really planted a cross-cultural seed in me.”

Fast forward to 2001, when he was off to Africa on a One Mission Society International mission in Johannesburg, South Africa for the Christian Workers Conference, a general Bible conference for international church workers and church planters.

On that trip, he visited Mozambique, Rwanda and Kenya.

In 2004, he assisted Dave Graffenburger on an overseas OMS church planting mission to Asia, including Myanmar, India, Bangladesh, South Korea, China, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia.

And he also made return trips to Africa, including Angola and the other African countries he had visited previously. Through about 2009, he returned annually to the African Great Lakes Region, including Rwanda and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo to work with rural church planting.

“All of this would be in context of church planting and leadership development,” Myers said. His personal conviction and the goal of his organization is the centrality of church planting.

“The church has the ability to influence, to impact a community, which can definitely impact a culture,” Myers said. Strong, spiritually healthy national workers are critical, so OMS invests heavily in them.

Myers’ commitment now is a long term in the Philippines – five years, he said. All of his previous experiences were short-term.

Now, he will be part of the leadership to help him better understand the culture and be part of that church’s planning team.

In 2010, he lived the entire year in the Philippines at the suggestion of OMS, Myers said. English is taught in the schools there, although Tagalog is the local language.

It was a good fit, he said.

“The main work is to arrive and get back into the work of church planting,” Myers said. He will work with Marcos Ocampo, who oversees church planting on the island of Luzon.

Myers’ job is to be a mentor and a coach in the ministry context, while Ocampo is the leader.

“My work is to come alongside them, having been in different elements of church leadership for probably the last 20 years,” Myers said. “I’d like to use my life experience for their good and God’s glory.”

His base of operations will be a training center, built using funds from the River of Life Fellowship, in the Tarlac Province, about four hours northwest of Manila. He will teach courses in the Bible and life and ministry, targeting college-aged adults and proclaiming the Gospel to them.

Myers, an Albany resident, is assisted by the Valley Life Church in Lebanon, he said. The church is responsible for investing in him and his ability to go on the mission.

His father was a pastor in Grants Pass in the early 1970s before moving to Sweet Home. Myers moved to Sweet Home in the mid 1970s with his parents, Ralph and Clarene Myers. They live in Sweet Home today. His sister, Renita Sanchez, also lives in Sweet Home.

Myers, who is single and has no children, attended the Sweet Home Junior High in Sweet Home and then went to the Western Mennonite School in Salem. He graduated from Western Mennonite in 1981.

He returned to Sweet Home in 1981 to work at Clear Lumber, where he worked during the summer while in high school.

He credits Jim Stock and the others there for helping him develop his work ethic, he said. Clear Lumber was part of his formative years.

He worked there for about a year before entering a discipleship training program in the Mennonite Church. From there, he assisted his brother-in-law Joe Sanchez at a church in Tonopah, Nev., a town that then numbered about 6,000 in population. He also worked as a trash collector in the mornings and as a teller at the Bank of America in the afternoons.

Tonopah is down to about 1,500 today after elements of military test sites were closed and contract work moved, Myers said. That was the area where the stealth bomber and fighter were tested. He remained there from 1985 to 1995.

He returned to Oregon in 1995 and was on staff at a local church for about five years when he transitioned to more global missions.

His calling was “a combination of a few things. I grew up in a pastor’s home. My mom and dad were very given to the church.”

Like his father, he enjoys investing in people and their potential for leadership, Myers said, and he grew up in a strong church environment.

At the same time, boundaries and borders frustrate him, he said, and a job had to be more significant than the money. He became increasingly interested in cross-cultural, overseas and church-related work.

As he entered his 40s, “it was on a flight from Rwanda to Johannesburg,” he said. “At that moment, I felt like God was calling me to give my life to serve the church in specific church leadership, to Gospel proclamation and building spiritually strong church leaders. That gripped my heart.”

Experience and details since then have confirmed his conviction, he said.

The challenge going into other cultures is not to impose the western church on the people, he said. The missions leaders have plans, but they have to work with the local culture.

“I want to be careful not to superimpose what I think is best over the top of the Filipinos,” Myers said. He must be careful not to push Ocampo aside.

Ocampo is an experienced church planter in the Philippines, Myers said, and he’s also planted a church in Israel. He said he sees his role as similar to that of the Timothy, Silas or Barnabas, who assisted the Apostle Paul in the Bible.

“I am absolutely totally excited,” Myers said. “I feel like I’m leaving home to go home.”

He attributes that to God, he said. “If we submit, I think we find our greatest joy in that.”

He loves the Philippines, he said. “The people are very warm-hearted. I find them to be especially hospitable, and for the most part a very polite culture.”

Filipinos tend to be very family-oriented, he said, and that has substantially impacted how he sees his own family. He returned from his last trip with a new appreciation for his own family.

The landscape is banana trees, bamboo and acacia trees where he is headed, and up in the mountains, it’s jungle, Myers said. He finds the rice paddies as beautiful as rye grass fields here at home.

“The flowers are unique and beautiful,” he said. “It’s a tropical setting, so there’s tremendous beauty in all of that.”

The sun is up at 6 and down at 6 all year long, he said, while the temperature is about 85 degrees with humidity in 90s.

For more information about Myers and his work, visit his blog at philippinesnw242.com or email him at [email protected]. His church may be located on the web at valleylife.org.