HENRY PALMEJAR SILBOR (1938-2010) was known as “a man of God worth emulating” pastor by his contemporaries and students. Silbor’s prominence was captivating throughout the archipelago of the Philippines: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Silbor’s life is an exemplary depiction of a Filipino Southern Baptist pastor, hence a good source of what it was, or how it was, to be a Filipino SB minister. Silbor, a native of Visayas (central part of the Philippines), was a minister from Mindanao (southern part of the country) but spent more than half of his life serving in various cities of Metro Manila, and in the highlands of northern Luzon.
Henry was born on May 16, 1938, in La Paz, Iloilo. His parents were Juan Silbor and Julieta Palmejar. Fast forward, it was in a youth camp in Mindanao where he met his future spouse, Sonia. Sonia Fernandez was then serving secretarial work for different Southern Baptist American missionaries in Mindanao. Silbor and Sonia attended the same church in Davao, Immanuel Baptist Church, where they also got married in 1964. They have two children; their eldest was Harry, and their youngest, was Sherry. In 1966, Silbor, with his family, moved to Luzon.
Silbor finished his Elementary education in their local town, and his high school studies in Jaro, Iloilo. He moved to Mindanao and completed his Bachelor of Commercial Science at the University of Mindanao in 1964. After serving various ministries at Immanuel Baptist Church, he decided to study at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary, Baguio City. Silbor reflected, “I needed to prepare for that ministerial calling. Slowly and deliberately God made it clear that I should go to Baguio to get solid theological training.” In 1966, Silbor graduated with his Master of Divinity.
Both Silbor’s Master of Theology, in 1975, and Doctor of Sacred Theology, in 1982, later converted to Doctor of Theology, were from Asia Baptist Graduate Theological Seminary. ABGTS is a consortium of several Baptist seminaries in Asia, established in 1960.
A Convention Leader
One of the major hats Silbor wore during his lifetime, was the presidency of the convention of Southern Baptist churches in Luzon. The organization was initiated by both missionaries and Filipino pastors in 1959; there were thirteen initial SB church members. It was in 1963 when they reorganized and has become what is now the Luzon Convention of Southern Baptist Churches (LCSBC); there were more than thirty churches back then. Silbor became the president of the LCSBC from 1975 to 1979, then again from 1994 to 1996.
In 1976, Silbor urged the convention to embrace the theme of that year’s annual assembly, ‘Missions and Church Growth.’ He said, “Let us spread abroad. This means we should be looking at the world outside us. Narrow nationalism and self-centeredness are condemned in the Bible,” the Great Commission is also “a marching order given to the Filipinos.” Indeed, this was true of Silbor’s ministry. Most of his churches, where he pastored, were all active in sending and supporting missionaries to several countries in Southeast Asia, notably South Korea.
On the other hand, when things were going to a radical position, Silbor was gifted in moderating conflicts or theological confusion. Silbor argued, in his essay and reports, that church development is an essential part of pastoral and missionary work. In his report as the convention VP in 1993, he noted that church development and sending missionaries are inseparable and must be balanced. Silbor said, “A missionary or a pastor who shuns church development as non-missionary work forgets that he and his colleagues would not be able to be missionaries if their churches had not developed a strong base economically, morally, and theologically.”
After a year, during his second term as the convention president, Silbor noted that complacency and indifference are enemies of the churches. He noted in his message, as the president of the convention, that LCSBC churches should not be irresponsible in the essence of being one and together as a convention of churches. He said, “Building a Convention of Southern Baptist Churches is not easy. The harder work begins when the Convention is faced with people who have become indifferent. They feel they do not have anything at stake. They could not care less…[and] these churches should be shaken out of their complacency.”
Furthermore, there was a heated controversy on a discipleship system in the mid-1990s. Silbor acted as a mediator. He noted that the success of missions and evangelism, church growth and ministry, and pastoral work is not grounded on new techniques and methods. “Let us not be quick in accepting new theologies just because they seem new and attractive,” he noted. Churches do not need to try new things for the “sake of having new and different.” It does not mean that it works in the other places and conventions then churches ought to follow. Silbor argued that it is essential to ground in the Bible and “guided [by] our past. . . and not just ‘gaya-gayas’” for the sake of numerical growth. There was a firm conviction of Silbor when he said, “If [God] was able to add thousands daily to the early church, he can still do the same as we trust and obey him.”
Silbor was truly grateful for the American missionaries. He noted in the 50th Celebration of SBC work in the Philippines that LCSBC had to recognize the American missionaries and several Filipino workers who pioneered the SBC ministry. These people are part of the “‘heroes of faith’ who gave their lives in service to God in response to God’s calling.” Silbor said, “We are grateful for their pioneering spirit and sturdy faith as we remember them during this time of celebration.”
Meanwhile, adding to these messages, during his second term in 1994, Silbor pushed for the Filipinization of the Southern Baptist in the Philippines. It was understandable that during the pioneering years that SBC pastors needed training and theological guidance. “But, enough time had passed and much training had already been done to bring us to full maturity,” Silbor insisted. “I tried my best to talk with some missionaries about my convictions. I wrote position papers on the matter and submitted [it] to the PBM,” Silbor explained. Silbor initiated discussions but nothing much happened—all talks but no actions. “Even after I finished my term as Convention president, I pursued my campaign for Filipinization.” Sadly, “In most cases, I was perceived as the villain. I had ‘rocked the boat’ so to speak.” Silbor knew that it was the right path to take, not for himself, “but for the good of the convention and its future leaders.” After several years, the PBM started turning over institutions, facilities, and authority to local control.
Silbor noted, “Filipinization slowly took place among other SB institutions.” Lamentably, this transition was not the kind of Filipinization he envisioned. “when these institutions were turned over to the [local] convention, the missionaries also began to leave the country,” Silbor lamented. He desired the missionaries worked together with the Filipino leaders, instead of Filipinos working under American leadership. Nevertheless, Filipinization had happened.
What did Silbor mean then about Filipinization? He called for Filipino leadership in the convention and seminary while working side-by-side with the American missionaries. This ideal Filipinization did not become a reality—not even during Silbor’s presidency. Instead, after a couple of years in his presidency, IMB (SBC missions arm) turned over the properties, finances, and leadership in general to Filipino leaders. Providentially, Dr. Joyce Abugan noted that this transition was also influenced due to the major changes to the missionary work of the IMB in the late 1990s. In the early 2000s, PBTS courses taught by American professors were gradually passed to Filipino professors until 2006.
Throughout his lifetime, Silbor was able to witness many associations, churches, individuals, and conventions thrive for the glory of God. However, others struggled, “but this is expected of any ministry in early stages,” he said. Silbor pastored—some as interim—to almost ten Baptist churches in the Philippines. He served as the president of a theological institution, Southern Baptist School of Theology (Makati City), and a convention of SBC churches. He also taught in seminaries (e.g. PBTS) and several Bible schools. Lastly, he served as an adviser to different Baptist associations like South Metro Manila Baptist Churches Association.
Silbor died on April 13, 2010, and was buried at Davao Memorial Park. There was a flood of comments on social media on Silbor’s death. One of his students Joe Bildan said, Silbor was “a man worth emulating, a man of inspiration.” Former LCSBC Executive Director Enrique Ortega commented, “He left an indelible imprint on the countless man of God in our denomination. A man of God himself, Sir Henry.”
Former Academic Dean of PBTS Anthony Dela Fuente posted, “Here’s to Dr. Henry Silbor—for a fight well fought, for a race finished well, for tenaciously holding on in faith—for being an offering poured out in extravagance, we thank you. Rest in the arms of the Master.” Former President of LCSBC Dante M. Velasco,
Pastor Henry is now with God. He must have peered into the Book of Life, and he must be happy to see many of his friends in that Book, still alive and well on planet Earth. We all hope we are in that Book. We wept when we heard the passing of Pastor Henry. And yet joy comes in, reassuring us of reunions. Pastor Henry, in the tradition of Paul, no longer ‘looks through a glass darkly.’ The sweetest, joyous, rich, and glorious truth and experience are now his to embrace and savor. His other satisfaction: everything he preached and taught is all true! We thank God for his faithfulness to the very end of this earthly sojourn. He just began life everlasting!
Here’s a sample of his sermon, “Beyond Death”, preached on October 30, 2005.
Reference: This post is originally from my published article on Tala Kasaysayan, “A Southern Baptist Story in the Philippines: The Life and Ministry of Henry P. Silbor, 1938-2010.” To read the entire work click here. Download the entire journal article here (pdf file).