25th anniversary Philippine International Christian Fellowship: ‘Beacon of hope and light for community’

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Pictured above: At the 25th anniversary of Philippine International Christian Fellowship in Lakeland, the congregation “burns the note,” signifying that the financial loan for the recently acquired and renovated church facility is paid in full. As smoke from the burning note wafts into the sanctuary, Pastor Lito Lucas prays, “We pray the aroma of the smoke will go to Your altar of praise as we express thankfulness to You.”

LAKELAND–In May 1998 Lito and Lilybeth Lucas moved to Lakeland with the firm belief that they were following God’s direction to plant a church in Central Florida.

Lucas had recently completed his studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, and as he and his wife prayed and laid hands on a map, they felt drawn to Lakeland. There, they knew no one and were, in a sense, “lone rangers,” Lucas recalls. Yet, they focused on the calling from God and persevered. Soon the couple, both Filipino, started a six-person Bible study in their apartment.

The couple’s lone ranger status didn’t last long as they chose to partner with South Florida Baptist Association and the Florida Baptist Convention, even as their fledgling Bible study took shape and began to grow in numbers.

Today that Bible study has become Philippine International Christian Fellowship, a thriving congregation that celebrated its 25th anniversary Sunday, March 3.

The past 25 years–along with the building where the congregation now worships–are “a testimony of God’s faithfulness and grace. I could not imagine the bountiful blessing God bestowed on this church,” Lucas said during the church’s anniversary celebration, adding that God used each person in attendance to help sustain and grow the congregation.

“When you look back at how God provided … I could not express words of gratitude to God,” said Lucas, who had no guarantee of a salary when he first planted the congregation.

Members of Philippine International Christian Fellowship in Lakeland gather March 3 to celebrate the congregation’s 25th anniversary. Here, members are standing in the church’s recently acquired, renovated and debt-free church facility.

“I believe when God calls you to do a ministry, just be faithful; He will provide resources,” Lucas said.

‘Part of a family’

The pastor expressed gratefulness to his local association and the state convention for their partnership in coming alongside the church plant through the years.

Florida Baptists, he said, are “a family. I enjoy being part of a family who loves the Lord, loves the gospel, and loves the people of Florida.

“It’s a blessing to be part of Florida Baptists.”

For Lucas, the partnership goes both ways. He has served in numerous volunteer roles with the association, from moderator to prayer coordinator to committee chairman. Also, he serves as second vice president for the Florida Baptist Pastors’ Conference and is the Asian-American multicultural consultant for the Florida Baptist Convention.

‘Aroma of smoke goes to … altar of praise’

One noteworthy aspect of the anniversary celebration was the “burning of the note,” signifying that the financial loan for their recently acquired and renovated church facility had been paid in full.

Through the years, after the small group moved from Lucas’s apartment, it had a couple of temporary homes–first, the associational office and next, nearby Lakes Church (then known as First Baptist Church at the Mall). Grateful for these temporary homes, the church still longed for a place to call its own.

“It (the church facility) was a dream before it became a reality,” said Lucas during the church’s anniversary celebration.

As he prepared to burn the note, Lucas read an excerpt from a letter written by Richard Williamson, associational missions strategist for South Florida Baptist Association: “I’m thankful for what God is doing in the life of your church family. It is my prayer that this building will be home to your church family for many years to come. May God do great and mighty things in your midst as you faithfully follow Him.”

As smoke from the burning note wafted into the sanctuary, Lucas prayed, “We pray the aroma of the smoke will go to Your altar of praise as we express thankfulness to You.”

Having a church facility opens up numerous opportunities for the congregation to plan and conduct outreach events focused on the community, such as hosting holiday events for families and providing food to local residents displaced by a recent hurricane, Lucas believes.

“We give God all the glory for providing us a place to worship so that we can be a beacon of light and hope not only to the Filipino community but to the rest of the community. Our prayer is to be more diverse—a more multicultural, multigenerational church,” Lucas said.

To that end, Lucas said that his congregation wants to open the doors of its facility to other churches, particularly those focused on reaching specific ethnic groups.

“Our church is open to sponsor them, and we have a space for them. We will encourage them to grow,” he said.

As Philippine International Fellowship Church celebrates its quarter century, Lucas knows that the Lord has a future for the congregation as it continues to be faithful in obedience to Him.

“Pray for us that we will be continually focused on the Lord, share the gospel, love the community and make a difference not only to each other but to everyone,” he said.

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