About one million believers representing the major streams of Christianity in the Philippines are expected to gather in Manila in August to celebrate the centennial of Protestant missionaries arriving in the country.

Bishop Efraim Tendero, general secretary of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches , says the first Protestant service took place August 14, 1898, the day after Filipino and American troops seized control of Manila from Spanish forces. Even though the service was led by American ymca laity for U.S. soldiers, a centennial coordinating committee considers it "the first open gospel proclamation in the country."

Many historians believe that when the Americans came in 1898 in the wake of the Spanish-American War, they stole the freedom already won by Filipino revolutionaries after 350 years of Spanish rule. The United States annexed the Philippines instead of allowing independence, as happened in Cuba the same year. Filipinos finally gained independence in 1946.

Evangelical leaders, however, assert that God's greater purpose for the Philippines transcended America's imperialistic design: Americans brought Bible-based Christianity; allowed religious freedom, which paved the way for vigorous evangelization and indigenous church planting; and taught English, which today is a major reason Filipinos are considered ideal ambassadors for Christ.

After centuries of Spanish rule, the country remains two-thirds Catholic. But today, there are 32,000 Protestant and evangelical churches, compared to only 10,500 in 1980, according to World Evangelical Fellowship international director Jun Vencer, a Filipino. Although evangelicals account for only 7 percent of the population, the annual growth rate is 7 percent, and higher among Pentecostals, Vencer says.

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