|   Posted: January 24, 2022

Raymark, a 14-year-old from the Philippines, leads a weekly church service for the other children in his neighborhood.

The 14-Year-Old Pastor

Raymark, a 14-year-old from the Philippines, leads a weekly church service for the other children in his neighborhood.


It’s a balmy Sunday morning in tropical Santa Cruz, a small village on the island of Bohol, Philippines. As locals work their gardens and roosters crow, an unusual church service is about to take place.

The service always begins the same way. “Ritchel! Rea! Rieana!” calls 14-year-old Raymark. “It’s time for simabalay!” With the patter of feet on concrete, his sisters and other neighbor children come running from throughout the neighborhood, followed by their parents at a more sedate pace.

Today, Raymark sits cross-legged in a hammock inside his bamboo home, his congregation sitting on the cement floor before him. He’s wearing a yellow T-shirt emblazoned with Proverbs 22:6: "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Raymark and the other kids
Raymark helps a young girl read the Bible

It’s an appropriate verse for this visionary young leader. In March 2020, COVID-19 was sweeping across the Philippines. Soon the country was recording thousands of cases per day. The government restricted social gatherings to stop the spread, shuttering schools and most businesses — and churches.

This news deeply concerned Raymark. His family would miss listening to Bible teaching, singing worship songs and praying together on Sunday. Since he was four years old, Raymark has been part of the Child Sponsorship Program run by Compassion’s partner, Seekers Baptist Church. As well as receiving nutritious food, health care and education support, at the Compassion center he also received his first Bible, heard the gospel message and confessed his faith in Christ.

Sunday church services were a special time for his family and their small community, so Raymark knew he needed a solution for the challenge of lockdown. While the church couldn’t gather, Raymark’s family and their neighbors could. Under the teenager’s leadership, a home church was born.

“No one told me to do it,” says Raymark. “I just thought of doing it because I want to be like my teachers at the Compassion center — serving as an inspiration to all.”

Known as simabalay — short for sima sa balay in Cebuano, meaning “church at home” — Raymark’s Sunday service is a natural extension of the young evangelist’s ministry. Before the pandemic, he gathered his friends for a Bible study every Friday afternoon.

“I am teaching the children so they can learn about God and be saved, too,” he said. His friends, mostly aged five to 12 years old, live nearby. Raymark would shout for them when it was time for Bible study. “His voice would echo throughout the neighborhood,” says Raymark’s mother, Maribel, with a smile.

The whole family is involved in the Sunday service, with Maribel leading the prayers and Ritchel, Raymark’s younger sister, serving as the worship leader.

“I am so grateful that my son thought of continuing the Sunday service at our home,” Mirabel says. Raymark is an inspiration in his neighborhood, church and family!