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Part 1: Despite Major Challenges For Local Music Group, Mission Trip To the Philippines Was A Success

Members of the local music group, Joyful Noise, from left: Jon Fansler, Charlene Norris, Stanley Wilson, Paula May and Jeff Hemric. 

By Sherrie Norris 

When local music group, Joyful Noise, left Boone in late February for a mission trip to the Philippines, group members had no real concerns for their safety or health — only excitement for a chance to help spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The anticipation was real for the four, especially for Stanley Wilson, the local music group’s bass singer, who was making his seventh trip to the islands and was looking forward to renewing acquaintances with his friend, Pastor Edgar Nono; the two had met several years prior during one of Nono’s visits to America.

 “A preacher friend of mine called me one day and said he had a missionary from the Philippines who wanted to meet me and come over to see my mules; he was interested in getting mules into the mountains to carry packs, etc.”

So, they came over the next day to visit Wilson, during which time Nono asked Wilson to come to his country.

“ I told him I didn’t have any business over there and sorta blew him off, but my preacher friend kept on me until I finally gave in,” Wilson recalled. “My church found out and offered to pay for my ticket if I went. I didn’t really want to at first, but I did. And I’ve been going ever since. I’ve been to a couple youth camps and their huge tent revivals beats anything I’ve ever seen. The tent holds about 3,000 people and that many more are just standing outside. The singing is a drawing card. It’s a Catholic nation  and people won’t come just to hear preaching, but if you tell them an American singing group is there, they’ll come.”

Wilson has hosted Nono and his wife in his Bethel home during their subsequent visits to this area, which led to invitations for Joyful Noise to bring their music ministry to the Philippines. Those trips were halted during the pandemic, but the four friends/ musicians were eager to resume their travels this year, joined by four more fellow Christians/pastors from Tennessee and Arkansas, with whom they departed from Charlotte-Douglas Airport at about 4 p.m. on Wednesday, February 23. Their 5 ½ hour  flight to Los  Angeles was followed by 15½  more hours to the capital city of  Manila, where the trying of their faith was first put to the test.

It was only after their return trip home, almost two weeks later, that the High Country, as a whole, began hearing about how things could have easily turned out  much differently at that point.

Thousands of villagers gather into town for the nightly revival, hungry for “the truth of the gospel.” 

Taking Care of Business

“When we arrived in Manila, (our second flight of three before reaching our final destination), we were lined up to board the plane to Bacolod when Stanley was pulled out of line at just the last minute to take care of a ‘small matter’ with his checked bag,” recalled Paula May, retired law enforcement officer and current director for Christian Tours. 

“The rest of us and the other plane passengers were directed through the doorway to what we thought led directly onto the plane, but, instead led us to a bus. We were told Stanley would be out shortly.”

The bus left without Wilson.

“We were driven out to a tarmac, which was fenced in by chain link and razor wire, where the plane was parked,” May described. 

Rolling stairs led to the entrance of the plane. 

“We were then directed to board the plane, but still no Stanley, and we had no way to get back into the airport to look for him. “

As concern began to mount for Wilson among his fellow travelers,  May began to ask questions.

“We were told not to worry, that two other buses were bringing passengers and he would be on one of them. We were directed onto the plane.”

 At the point, May said, they were still not yet “alarmed,”  because they had already had to deal with “minor paperwork issues” in LA, when they changed airlines from American to Philippines. 

 Wilson’s traveling companions had taken their seats,  two other buses came out to the plane, and the plane prepared to take off,  “But still no Stanley,” May said. 

“Andrew McKay and I decided to try and stop the plane from leaving, so we got out of our seats, went to the front of the plane and told the personnel we were not leaving without Stanley — and urged them to call to see what was happening with him.  As one of the personnel made the call, we could only hear her side of the conversation; she told us Stanley was a ‘no-fly’ on our flight, that   something had been found in his baggage (she didn’t know what) and that he was being detained.  She assured us  that while Stanley was not allowed on this flight, he could take the next one to Bacolod.”

The group was stunned. “We all knew there was no way that Stanley carried any type of contraband in his bags. We discussed the possibility the seven of us exiting the plane,  but by this time the rolling stairs had been removed and there was no way we could get off and back into the airport.”

The group returned to their seats and immediately began making calls for help — before losing cell service. Approximately 90 minutes later, they landed in  Bacolod, where Pastor Nono and his son were waiting to greet the American travelers.

After his harrowing ordeal in Manilla, Stanley Wilson might be contemplating being back home in the woods, longing for a living in the quiet surroundings of his mountain home.

 Wilson Detained, but Not Deterred

In the meantime, Wilson  shared with High Country Press, he was waiting in line to board the plane with his friends when he heard a woman’s voice in back of the line, calling out for a Mr. Wilson. Undaunted at the time, it was only when she came closer and he heard his first and last name called out, that he said, “That’s me”

“She came up to me and told me I needed to go to ticket counter 31 and take care of an issue. I didn’t say much to the group, I was in a hurry. I just told them I’d be back.”

Everything happened “so quick,” Wilson said. “I was led upstairs and to booth 31 beside Philippines Air information desk where they asked me my  name.  Then, a man and a woman escorted me  across the entire airport to an elevator that took us down to the basement, ground level. We entered a secured, metal room; all that was in there was a long table.”

Eventually, about six “officers” were in and out of the room, as Wilson stood with his two original escorts. The interrogation began: “Are you with the police or military? Do you have a gun on you? Do you  have any weapons on you?”

“I answered ‘No’ to all their questions — and by that time, I was starting to get really confused. Then, they started asking me general questions, about the nature of my trip, what I was doing there, etc.”

Then, Wilson said, his suitcase was brought in and placed upon the table. 

“Is this yours?” they asked. “They didn’t open it, but just stood around talking among themselves. A few more minutes went by before a well-dressed older gentleman, wearing what we would consider a tuxedo suit with name tags, etc. came in. It was obvious he was someone higher up.”

The environment changed when he came in, Wilson said. “He talked to the others, asking questions, talking back and forth. Then, he asked me some of the same questions they had already asked: What was my business there, etc. and asked if I understood that it’s illegal to have a weapon and ammunition in an airport?

“ Yes, I know all that,” I said. “It’s my seventh trip over here.”

He told me to stand right in front of my suitcase — about three feet back — that they were going to search it. “

They started unpacking his suitcase, Wilson said. “They had not even gone through it before then. Everything was in place, just as I had packed it. They put everything out on the table, completely emptied it; they were feeling around all the corners, in a  big zipper pouch, and then,  from a little zipper pocket on the outside, they pulled out a gun magazine, a clip — and just looked at me. I said, ‘This ain’t mine and I don’t know how it got in there.’”

The “officials” continued to talk among themselves, Wilson said, before telling him that one live round of ammunition is an automatic jail sentence and carried a large fine. “ They said there were six live rounds in that clip.”

The men also took a lot of pictures, asked for Wilson’s passport and ID, continuing to photograph it all, he said.

“Then, they started asking me about  my occupation, and did I have guns at home, etc.”

In the meantime, Wilson recalled, “I thought this is it – I’m in a world of trouble. But, I wasn’t afraid,  I was silently praying, telling God that he had  answered too many of my prayers before, and I that I wasn’t going to accept that was how it was going to end. I knew I was in a mess, according to their laws, but I was at peace. I trusted the Lord to get me out of it. I can’t  remember all the scriptures that came to my mind, but several came to me in different pieces. I knew that I would be ok.” 

At the same time, however, Wilson admitted to feeling “a little helpless  and alone,” in a strange place, his cell phone not working, etc.

“They talked a little more and the well-dressed gentleman came back up to me, wanting to know my contact information, etc.

I showed them pictures, and the flyer about our trip that included dates of the event we were trying to get to. All of a sudden, he said, ‘Well, given your age and the nature of your business, we are going to release you.’ I still couldn’t believe it. They hadn’t patted me down, searched my backpack and carry-on bag, or anything.  If I had found a gun clip in someone’s bag – I think I would’ve been looking for the weapon.”

What seemed like forever, Wilson said, his detainment lasted only “about an hour,” but long enough for him to have missed his scheduled flight with his companions.

Told he would have to purchase a ticket for the next flight, Wilson was escorted back through the terminal to the familiar ticket booth 31.

“I knew the next flight would be leaving soon, so I needed to get back and get in line. That’s when I saw the gentleman in the suit come into the waiting area, apparently looking for someone. I waved to him, and realized it was me he was looking for.  He came over to me and started asking me a few more questions. Then, he asked did I mind if he took a selfie of us together? I said no, so I removed my face covering — and he took his pictures.”

In retrospect, Wilson said, “I don’t know who he was or what his position was, but he was almost like an angel in disguise. He wished me well on my trip.”

Free To Fly

So it was then that Wilson was on his way, with his suitcase in hand, his carry-on, and another bag belonging to a team member —and he

I finally got to the counter. 

“I showed them my ticket, told them I had missed my earlier flight, and was handed a new ticket – after they searched my suitcase and sent it through claims. Once I got out of there, I didn’t look back.” Another 90  minutes later, he reached Negros, and after another hour-long drive, he arrived at his final destination, happy to see familiar faces.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that  the Lord brought  me through it all. And if it hadn’t been for my friends praying for me and doing what they could, I’d be in jail now.”

In the meantime, Pastor Nono’s son, who owns  a private security business, had started making calls, as did his friends from the plane, which,  May stated, “resulted in a federal official making calls and going to the airport in Manila while Stanley was being detained.”

The official? Likely his “angel.” 

“You can only imagine how shook up we all were,” said May. “When Stanley finally made it to Bacolod, we were so thankful to see him again, unharmed!“

Three days later, Wilson said, his team learned from the local news source, that four Philippines Airline employees had been arrested for corruption.

“The victim at that time, was a man from Thailand whose money had been extorted from him. It was a similar situation – something illegal had been found in his bags. They charged him 200,000 pesos – He paid $3700 just to get free. I figure, if I had to have paid the fine, my bond would have been at least 100,000 pesos — about $1851 — and automatic jail time for one live round of ammunition. They said there were six in the clip, so no telling how much time that would’ve been. But they never were real clear about all that.”

“It is possible that another passenger slipped it into Stanley’s bag at some point, but not as likely as an employee,” added May. “This was our first major hurdle and we believe it all to be an evil attack designed to hinder and dissuade us from our mission. But Satan is a defeated foe, and our God is always victorious!” 

And as far as the revival and their mission work in Bacolod? “It was a huge success,” Wilson said. “I was really thankful to get home this time — more so than any other time in the past. Through it all, I wasn’t terrified. I was at peace that it would be all right. I prayed silently the whole time and just tried to make the best of the situation. The forces of evil are real. It seems like when you try to do good, evil will attack you and try to stall  or stop what you are doing, anything to kill your joy.”

Just as their plane was landing back in Charlotte, a canine car pulled up, and out came the drug dog, Wilson said. “The man behind me said, ‘They’ll not find anything in my bags.’ I thought to myself, ‘Oh, no, here we go again.”

Will he go back again? “They’ve invited us again next year, but I can’t say right now. Time will tell.”