“Let us dare not forget that we are the heirs of past revolutions.”
(President John F. Kennedy, 1963)
At the turn of the century, after the United States defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War, the Philippines became a US. Territory.
American missionaries promptly introduced Protestant Christianity to the people. The first Disciples of Christ missionaries arrived in 1902. To hasten the evangelization of the islands, the different mission boards agreed to divide the effort by denominations. The Disciples of Christ were assigned the Ilocos provinces. Churches, Christian schools, and pastors’ institute were established.
Meanwhile, many young men from the poor rural areas of the Ilocos region began to migrate to Hawaii to work on sugar cane and pineapple plantations, seeking a brighter economic future. Later, many went to the farm-belts of California to work as seasonal laborers, domestic helpers, and restaurant or hotel menial jobs such as dishwashers and bellboys.
In 1928, the World Sunday School Convention was held in Los Angeles. Reverend Silvestre Morales and Felix Pascua represented the Disciples of Christ in the Philippines. What they discovered in America troubled them. The young Filipino men who had come to the Land of Opportunity were seen as nothing more than a good source of cheap labor.
Filipinos were discriminated against – the only institutions that accepted them were the gambling lairs and the dance halls. They were even denied admittance to churches, with no place to worship.
This was distressing to Rev. Morales because many had been Christianized back home and some were the result of his ministry. So, while at the convention, he mentioned the plight of the Filipinos to Dr. Royal and Mrs. Dye, retired DOC missionaries who served in Africa.
The Dyes were sympathetic to the struggles of the Filipinos and opened the garden of their Hollywood area home for their Bible study and prayer meetings, thus, forming the Filipino Christian Fellowship with Rev. Morales serving as minister.
Their association with the Dyes led to the opening of other doors, for the Dyes were influential members of the First Christian Church of Los Angeles. Soon, they were offered the basement of the First Christian Church located in L.A., at First and Hope streets.
The Disciples of Christ State Board adopted the work with the Filipinos as its mission and called on Rev. and Mrs. Frank Stipp, former missionaries to the Ilocos provinces, to oversee the work. Through them and the Disciples of Christ State Board, a center was later started when the Disciples secured for the Filipino Christian Fellowship four bungalows complete with apartment facilities and a worship place located at First and Bunker Hill, where the Music Center and Disney Concert Hall stand today. It is believed that these quarters sparked the start of what is known now as Historic Filipino Town.
The Dyes’ influence continued to be far reaching since they were also trustees of the California Christian College (now Chapman University) of the Disciples of Christ. Because of them, Filipinos, as never before, were accepted to the college- among the first of them, Morales, and then Pascua.
Rev. Pascua was ordained in 1933, and took over the ministerial duties when Rev. Morales returned to the Philippines. Also in 1933, the Filipino Christian Church was organized, patterned after the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination and using the members of the Filipino Christian Fellowship as the nucleus and charter members.
When the Stipps left to minister another church, the Disciples of Christ asked Miss Grace Lacock, a school teacher in L.A. and Sunday school teacher at the First Christian Church to take their place as sponsor. As Director of Christian education, her priority was always the children and made sure that they were in Sunday school whenever possible, personally fetching the children, driving all around Los Angeles. During the 53 years of her service she never accepted a salary and sponsored hundreds of children to the church’s annual summer camp.
Meanwhile the church moved to Winston Street nearby, where it grew in membership. It turns out that other American Protestant churches had decided that since the DOC Christian church had more success among Filipinos, they would delegate all Filipinos they knew, including Catholics to the FDCC.
In 1940, the church moved to a building vacated by the Chinese Presbyterian church, due to the razing of China town, to make way for the Union railroad station. The church met here for the next 10 years until the site was chosen for the LAPD headquarters.
In 1950, the church leaders voted to make it their goal to buy its own building. Through God’s guidance, they found the Union Avenue Methodist church building at 301 North Union Avenue for sale. Unable to obtain a loan through the normal channels due to banking discrimination, their low salaries, and lack of credit history, the church leaders appealed to the Disciples of Christ board of church extension, which gave them a cash gift and granted a loan without qualifications – the amount of $32,000 needed to purchase the property. Other pastors who served the church include, Rev. Casiano Coloma, Rev. Dan Calderon, and Rev. Rick LaPaz.
Today, the property is the only Filipino American Property- Historical Landmark designated by the city of Los Angeles. Three to four generations of Balderamas, Dumapiases, Bitanas, Morales, Obillos, Rallonzas and Rigors worship there while Guzmans, Suetoses, Mendozas, Navarettes, Valeras, Payuyos, de Veras, Nobles. Reyeses and others give support.
In this age of modern technology, several people have discovered us on the internet and other mass communications sources. The church also recognizes its important role as one of the first Filipino American entities in the United States to earn the rare distinction of being named as a historic cultural monument of a premier American city. It continues to be involved in shaping the cultural landscape of the Filipino American community, and thus, also continues to contribute to the furtherance of the cultural development of L.A., which serves one of the most culturally diverse metropolitan areas in the world.
(based on an interview with Rev. Felix Pascua by Edwin Balderama)