Two Decades in the Philippines

Posted on April 12, 2013


By David Ettinger

At just about 6-foot-tall, First Orlando member Ella Crockett has definitely stuck out during her 20-year missionary stint in the Philippines. “The people are generally short over there, and they weren’t used to seeing a woman my height,” she said. “I would have people coming up behind me trying to measure me with their hands.”

Caption: Ella and Malou, whom Ella helped lead to the Lord.

And that’s about the only thing even remotely resembling a complaint you will ever hear from Ella regarding this Southeastern Asian nation located east of Vietnam between the Philippine and South China Seas.

Born and raised in Virginia, Ella accepted Christ between her sophomore and junior years in high school. Several years later, she began her long association with Campus Crusade for Christ that took her to their international headquarters, then in California. “I was a secretary for almost two years,” she recalled. “Then, in 1977, a need arose for someone to work in their Philippines headquarters for six months.”

Ella took the position never realizing the dramatic effect it would have on her. “It changed my life completely,” she said. “The office, outside of Manila, was the headquarters for all of [Crusade’s outreach to] Asia. I did administrative work in the office and evangelical work at a college, the University of Baguio. During those six months, my vision for evangelism expanded rapidly.”

And she knew that six months in the Philippines would never satisfy her. Fortunately, she was not the only one who realized this. “After five months, the director [of the Philippines headquarters] said, ‘I know you only have one month left here, but we want you to stay.’ ”

Caption: Ella is flanked by some of the first women she discipled.

It was all the invitation Ella needed. “By that time I had met some of the girls on campus and had a little core group I shared my faith with,” she said. “Seeing them grow in the Lord was amazing. For me, the Philippines was an exciting place to be. The challenges were there. The Philippines is 97 percent Catholic; they believe a religion instead of a relationship. But on the [60,000-student] campus, they were very open to the Gospel.”

So, following that initial six-month stint, Ella returned to the States to raise support. (Crusade volunteers are not salaried.) That done, Ella returned to the Philippines for what she believed would be a three-year tour of duty. “I knew there was nothing else I wanted to do,” she said. “God had given me such a desire for the Philippines. When He calls you, He calls you to stay. I would never have thought that call would have lasted for 20 years. I can’t tell you how exciting it was seeing lives changed and ministries opened up.”

During her two decades, Ella remained in Baguio, where she focused her entire ministry. “As I got older, being on campus changed for me,” she said. “I felt like I needed to start reaching out to some of the locals who graduated and were in the job market. They needed Christ, also.”

As it turned out, American technology giant Texas Instruments built a nearby plant that employed about 2,200 Filipinos. “One day, I went to the manager, who was a Christian, and asked him if I could do some surveys among the women to see if anyone would be interested in attending a Bible study or finding out how they could know Jesus Christ,” she said. “He said, ‘sure.’ ”

That was in 1983 and Ella had drastically extended her evangelical ministry from the university to the workplace. “I started visiting the plant and met with the women when they had a coffee break,” Ella said. “I would ask them, ‘Who do you think Jesus Christ is?’ They would say, ‘I don’t know.’ I would ask them, ‘Would you like to know?’ They just about always said yes.”

Through those initial forays into Texas Instruments, Ella was seeing women giving their lives to the Lord. She would then form core groups of believing Filipino women to whom she could not only minister, but also train to evangelize other Filipino women. “I remember one woman by the name of Malou,” Ella recalled. “She was very shy, very reserved and quiet. She had prayed with me to receive Christ and then got into one of my small discipleship classes. I began to see her bloom. She became more cheerful, would start meeting and greeting people very sociably, and, more than anything, began to do what I did, discipling her co-workers.”

For Ella, it was an amazing display of God’s saving power. “I taught Malou, then she would teach six other women, and those women would teach six others,” she said. “It was a snowball effect and just kept getting bigger. Many women at the plant were getting saved. That was so exciting. Malou and her husband are still at it today.”

Needing to raise support, Ella would have to return to the U.S. every few years. Those times were difficult. “I was always ready to go back to the Philippines because I missed it so much,” she said. “The Filipinos are such warm people who would give you the shirts of their backs if they could. They are so grateful for people who come to their country; their attitude is, ‘What can we do to help you?’ ”

As much as she missed the people, Ella also missed her work. “It was very hard being away from my personal ministry,” she said. “You want to be there helping them grow, learn and develop in the Lord.”

Caption: The city of Baguio.

In every sense, the Philippines was home for Ella. But by 1997, with her mother’s health waning, among other personal reasons, she knew it was time to return to the States. “I had made disciples and knew I had done my job,” she said. “Though it was extremely tough to leave, it was time to come back and spend time with my mom. It was one of the best things I did because, eventually, I lost both her and my brother.”

She takes solace in the fact that her time in the Philippines was fruitful. “If I had to estimate, I’d say I had the privilege of leading about 110 women to the Lord,” she said. “But there was that snowball effect I mentioned earlier. Many of those women went on to lead others to the Lord.”

Ella continues to work for Campus Crusade, which is now headquartered in Orlando. Her ministry as a conference organizer takes her overseas about six times a year. And though she loves what she does now, Ella will never forget her 20 years in the Philippines. “It was a spiritual journey of seeing God’s faithfulness in developing me into the woman He wanted me to be. In was an incredible experience I would not take out of my life for anything.”

Posted in: World Missions