HARRISBURG (BRN) – In Filipino, the word “Tatay” means “daddy” or “father,” but to International Mission Board (IMB) missionary Jess Jennings, Tatay is a dear friend who, after 50 years of reading the Bible, only came to know Jesus after someone explained the gospel to him – after Jess explained the gospel to him. 

Perplexed at how Tatay could read Scripture for so long and just now, at 68-years-old, come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, Jennings asked his Filipino friend, “Why?” 

“I’ll never forget what he said,” recalled Jennings. “He said, ‘because no one ever told me how.’” 

Tatay is just one of many stories Jennings and his wife, Wendy, have experienced from their more than 30 years of living on mission in the Philippines. A life supported by the generous dollars given to the Cooperative Program (CP). 

“When people sitting in the pews give to the Cooperative Program, it’s going for people like Tatay. God has prepared people like him, and so Southern Baptists all over America are helping us do that – that’s our story, but it’s also their story,” said Jennings. 

Jennings’ own story of faith began when he was 16, when he attended a Crusade sponsored by a Baptist association in his home state of Alabama. 

“I knew that night, March 3, 1983, as a junior in high school, that that I was a Baptist, but I didn’t have a relationship with the Lord,” said Jennings. 

When prompted by the Crusade speaker to come forth, in front of all of his peers, and acknowledge Christ as Lord Jennings did. 

Almost simultaneously from his salvation moment, Jennings started to feel a pull towards ministry. So, he got involved with a local church and its youth group, where he met his now wife, Wendy. During their college years, both got involved with summer missions through the Alabama Baptist Convention. 

Struck by the mission bug, the Jennings enrolled in seminary with the intent of becoming missionaries. In December 1992, Jess and Wendy were appointed by the IMB, formally known as the Foreign Mission Board, to the Philippines, where they have served ever since. 

“It’s been a great privilege to be able to stay that long. We know a lot of people who have come and have had to go home for a lot of good reasons, so we’re just very thankful that we’ve been able to stay,” said Jennings. 

The Philippines, unlike many other nations, is a country and culture that is very open to the gospel. Since 1948, Southern Baptists have been sending missionaries to the Philippines. 

“We have a great heritage in the Philippines…Filipinos actually call themselves Southern Baptists. It’s the only place in the world, other than America, where they do that,” explained Jennings. 

While there are other denominations present in the Philippines, including other Baptists, Jennings says the distinction of Southern Baptists lies in “how we do missions together.” 

For Southern Baptists, the Cooperative Program is that “how.” 

“I’ve heard a statistic that says that only like point 3% of all money given by the Christian church goes to the unreached around the world. I don’t know, maybe that’s true if you put everyone together, but that is not true of Southern Baptist,” said Jennings. 

He continued: “When people give, and their church is giving to the Cooperative Program, it is going to reach those who have never heard the gospel. There’s no easier way, or a more accessible way, that I can be a sender [than] by giving my money and knowing that the church that I’m a part of is giving a percentage of that to take the gospel to those who had never heard.” 

For Jennings, the CP allows him and Wendy to keep reaching the Tatays of the Philippines and raising up the next generation of IMB missionaries through Nehemiah Teams, a mission opportunity founded by Jennings for college students. Whatever the task, cooperative giving is what keeps Jennings in the field and where God has called him and Wendy. 

“We’re very happy people with the IMB, it’s where we’ve spent over half of our life…but being a part of the IMB support is so much more. It’s not just support in terms of money, it’s support in all of the ways that helped us to go to the field and stay on the field, and to do that in a good way.” 

Hear more about how your cooperative giving is impacting Jess and Wendy Jennings and their mission efforts with the IMB in this month’s episode of Celebrating Cooperative Missions (this podcast is also available on  SpotifyAppleGoogle, and Amazon Music):