Answered Prayers and Prosperous Travels: MCGI’s International Thanksgiving to God in Brazil, 2015 – Part 1

News

Sitting inside the plane an hour before I officially entered my reality that is New York City, without so much as a provocation or any form of observable warning, I started crying. Hard.

At the corner of my eye, I saw the Spanish-speaking lady near me slowly lower her copy of a guidebook to New York and eye me with a mixture of worry and confusion. I couldn’t blame her — one minute, I was taking photos of the beautiful, luminous blue moon hovering on the ebony sky, the next, I was bawling.

If I could just explain to the lady that my tears were brought upon by a realization hitting me, and the old familiar feeling at the pit of my stomach welling up, uncontrollably, making me see how unbelievably lucky I was.

Though I was undoubtedly nothing short of being penniless and undeniably unworthy, Someone way beyond the beautiful moon and the vast skies made it possible for me to travel to Brazil for yet another time.

And for someone as small as I am, it was nothing but a modern-day miracle.

Luminous Luna. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015.]

Luminous Luna. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015.]

The feeling of gratitude and elation engulfed me, and before I knew it, my eyes quickly turned warm, and hot tears fell down my cheeks and chin, fogging up my glasses.

I was weeping and the only thing I could do was disguise my sobs into pretend yawns.

She was still looking at me with concern, and so I gave her a small smile to assure her that I was alright, as I wiped away my tears. She gave me a small smile back, and cocked her head to one side — almost as if she was trying to see what was going on in my head.

Señora, I thought to myself, I wish that you really could read minds because I would love to let you in on my thoughts and have you see the vivid, moving pictures of one of the best memories of my entire twenty-something years of existence.

The Journey Begins

March 31, 2015 – At 3:45 in the afternoon, my companions and I temporarily abandoned the lively mess of luggage, strollers and bags parked in our small kitchen/dining nook and quietly piled in our small bedroom.

The Church’s solemn hymn no. 50 came on and a gentle hush fell over the four of us. Silently singing, with hopeful hearts, we readied ourselves and sang hymn no. 1 – a wonderful prelude to a prayer that we all had to keep us safe on a journey to bring us to our heart’s desires.

Armed with a prayer and heightened enthusiasm, we went through the usual traveling motions with obvious joy, and eventually, braved the skies and transferred from one airplane to another.

Airport conversations. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

Airport conversations. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

A review. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

A review. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

Digital flowers. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

Digital flowers. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

Peek. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

Peek. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

At this point, I welcomed the allure of resting my tired eyes for a few hours of sleep.

Daybreak came and my eyes fell downward to admire the beauty of Chile. Snow powdered chocolate mountains were immediately below us, with ridges that rose and fell beautifully, as if a graceful symphony for the eyes.

Rocky cliffs. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

Rocky cliffs. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

The mountains cascaded to patches of flat land, forming an earth-colored quilt, laid out to perpetually spread warmth. A few thousand miles more, we were finally able to see familiar territory.

Finally, Brazil.

Familiar ground.  [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

Familiar ground. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

I uttered a small thank You to the Almighty for keeping us safe after almost a day of traveling and for giving me the opportunity to return to where I left a big chunk of my heart a year ago — beautiful Brazil.

The airport was filled with friendly faces, as delegates from USA and Canada, as well as several brethren residing in South America, welcomed us at the terminal. Awaiting our respective rides to transport us to our accommodation houses and hotels, we sat around and tried to control the palpable excitement.

A Welcome Surprise

On the eve of April 1, 2015, instead of going straight to our hotel, we were given the chance to see the venue where the International Thanksgiving to God celebration of the Members Church of God International (MCGI) will be held.

Needless to say, this was a very welcome surprise.

At around 8 p.m., a mixture of Filipino and foreign brethren were still busy helping one another in fixing tents, arranging chairs, and making final arrangements before the big event.

And after a day of airplane food, I devoured a plate of a home cooked meal prepared with love by our dear Bro. Eli Soriano.

Cooked and eaten with love.  [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

Cooked and eaten with love. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

After a few hours of meeting and greeting brethren of various nationalities, we were transported to our hotel rooms to rest.

With smiles on our tired faces, we slept for the night.

The Lord’s Supper

We arrived at the venue at noontime, giving us enough time to meet with our respective groups in the Church and prepare for the three-day event, as well as the Lord’s Supper.

Chorale members from different countries met and practiced their songs, while the ever energetic Teatro Kristiano members, the Christian dance troupe of the Church, practiced their choreography nearby.

Warming up. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

Warming up. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

Meanwhile, an adorable Brazilian Teatro Kristiano member practiced his steps alone. Not only did he know the steps by heart, his determination and desire to perform his duties caught my attention.

Unfazed by the passers-by, the young Teatro Kristiano prodigy kept on with his choreography. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

Unfazed by the passers-by, the young Teatro Kristiano prodigy kept on with his choreography. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

Inspirational. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

Inspirational. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

A few moments later, announcements came on in three languages — Filipino, Spanish and Portuguese, beckoning the brethren to assemble in the main area because the Lord’s Supper was about to take place.

To signal the start of the gathering, the Teatro Kristiano members of South America took the stage and performed a lively dance number to God and the brethren.

The small Brazilian dancer, now dressed in all white, danced with his fellow Teatro Kristiano brothers and sisters, to the delight of audiences.

In my mind, I thanked God for this boy and his parents — I thanked God for their dedication and effort. I thanked God for the humbling inspiration.

The performance of one's duties. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

The performance of one’s duties. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

The brethren then sang trilingual songs of praise to God, often pausing to clap their hands after a song has ended, to show their appreciation for such hymns that give joy as well as spiritual reminders.

The opening prayer was rendered in three languages, and was then succeeded by a very memorable topic. Simultaneously, the Filipino-based topic was translated to Portuguese and Spanish.

Bro. Daniel Razon and Bro. Eli Soriano, the Church’s Overall Servants, discussed the topic to the brotherhood — making sure to cover each point with care, always backed up by biblical verses.

The Overall Servants discussed the deeper meaning of the biblical event of Christ’s washing the feet of the apostles, and how it relates to Christians in today’s dispensation.

One of the more important parts of the topic was the great sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, and how it was truly “the most important part of the history of humanity.”

Taking down notes. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

Taking down notes. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

Answers to questions such as why Christians do not give offerings during the commemoration of the Lord’s Supper, as well as what the great effect of Christ’s being nailed on the cross was to mankind were biblically expounded.

The brethren need not wonder if the topic was clearly understood by all — joyful cheering and clapping can be heard almost at the same time, from the Filipino, Spanish and Portuguese delegates in attendance.

And as the night deepened, and the topic came to a conclusion, we once more knelt in prayer to the Almighty Father whose mercy and love were made all the more apparent once the God-given topic was concluded.

A few hours more and the first day of the International Thanksgiving was about to begin. And with a prayer in my heart and anticipation in my mind, I closed my eyes for a few hours’ rest.

[To be continued…]

Bro. Eli Soriano Tweets for Peace: #Noynoyparin Campaign Continues

News, Events and Second Glances

New York, USA — Just before Filipino televangelist Bro. Eliseo Soriano finished discussing a biblical topic to the multitude of members of the Church of God International, he exhibited his desire to fight fire with peace — by blogging about it.

On his newest blog entitled “Backing Up the President by Being Peaceful”, Bro. Soriano continues with his campaign to back-up the President of the Philippines by calling for peace in his land of origin.

Bro. Eliseo Soriano's newest blog -- Backing Up the President by Being Peaceful, published on www.controversyextraordinary.com.

Bro. Eliseo Soriano’s newest blog — Backing Up the President by Being Peaceful, published on http://www.controversyextraordinary.com.

The blog was debuted to Church congregants in six of the seven continents, on their regular Thanksgiving to God event on Saturday, February 21, 2015.

On his blog, Bro. Soriano discussed how President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III took his rightful seat in office, listed some of his major accomplishments for the country — and in true Bro. Soriano fashion–  listed biblical bases for his sound arguments.

Stressing on the importance of peace, Bro. Eli called for his fellow Filipinos to focus on banding together as brothers, instead of calling for the President’s resignation, especially during times of crises.

“The fate of the gallant SAF44 who died in line of duty was not the fault of the President! Instead of calling for his resignation, let us rally behind him in helping these fallen heroes,” blogged the Filipino televangelist.

An advocate of peace, Bro. Eli Soriano started a five-day, possible record-breaking socio-political trending topic in Philippine’s Twitterverse by coining the hashtag #Noynoyparin — a campaign to support the president amidst calls for his resignation.

The hashtag was supported by thousands upon thousands of Twitter users not just in the Philippines, but in various countries as well. The campaign was published on several local news outfits and blog sites.

Not only did Bro. Soriano start the campaign for peace, he will also spearhead a charity concert for the benefit of the fallen 44’s families and loved ones. Starting the bid of 1 milliion PHP, he called on government officials and concerned citizens to extend a helping hand.

To bring the charity ball into a roaring start, MCGI will donate 1 million PHP to the fallen 44's families.

To bring the charity ball into a roaring start, MCGI will donate 1 million PHP to the fallen 44’s families.

His initial tweet that started the peaceful movement has been retweeted by more than 1,400 times. Bro. Soriano has 72,000 Twitter followers as of writing time.

The tweet that started it all -- Bro. Eli's first tweet about supporting President PNOY on Twitter.

The tweet that started it all — Bro. Eli’s first tweet about supporting President PNOY on Twitter.

Ang Dating Daan’s 34th Anniversary in New York: A Celebration of Good Works in the Big Apple

Events and Second Glances, News

New York, USA — The New York viewers and supporters of the Philippines’ longest-running and multi-awarded religious program Ang Dating Daan (The Old Path) celebrated the program’s 34th year anniversary with good works along with the rest of the world.

One with the anniversary’s theme “Shaping a Nation Zealous of Good Works,” the members of the Church of God International of New York and New Jersey set off to clean one of the biggest parks in New York — the popular Central Park in Manhattan.

ADD 34th Anniversary Public Service in New York

At 9 o’ clock in the morning, the volunteers braved the chilly low temperatures of early fall in New York to get to Central Park’s Belvedere Castle, for registration and documentation.

Supporters of religious program's Ang Dating Daan volunteered to clean New York's Central Park  in celebration of Ang Dating Daan's 34th Anniversary on Oct. 30, 2014. (Pol Arellano, Photoville International - New York).

Supporters of religious program’s Ang Dating Daan volunteered to clean New York’s Central Park in celebration of Ang Dating Daan’s 34th Anniversary on Oct. 30, 2014. (Pol Arellano, Photoville International – New York).

After filling out the necessary paper work, the volunteers walked the expanse of Central Park, with blue latex gloves and plastic bags in tow, helping to keep one of the most beloved parks in the city clean.

Walking around New York's Central Park. (Pol Arellano, Photoville International - New York).

Walking around New York’s Central Park. (Pol Arellano, Photoville International – New York).

Youth ministry members of the Members Church of God International (MCGI) in New York led the volunteers in cleaning up Central Park for ADD's 34th anniversary celebration (Photography by Pol Arellano, Photoville International - NY).

Youth ministry members of the Members Church of God International (MCGI) in New York led the volunteers in cleaning up Central Park for ADD’s 34th anniversary celebration (Pol Arellano, Photoville International – New York).

A volunteer walks along one of Central Park's many roads during MCGI's clean-up drive campaign. (Pol Arellano, Photoville International - New York).

A volunteer walks along one of Central Park’s many roads during MCGI’s clean-up drive campaign. (Pol Arellano, Photoville International – New York).

Service with a smile. (Pol Arellano, Photoville International - New York).

Service with a smile. (Pol Arellano, Photoville International – New York).

As the mid-afternoon sun rose higher, the spirits of the volunteers soared as well, walking for blocks and roaming around to pick up trash and disposing of them properly.

After walking around Central Park for most of the day, the more or less forty volunteers parked their plastic bags in the proper receptacles and made their way back to Queens to make early preparations for another event — a worldwide event from which souls of people all over the world will benefit.

Worldwide Bible Exposition in the Big Apple

As guests in the Philippines trooped to the Smart-Araneta Coliseum for the Ang Dating Daan 34th Anniversary Worldwide Bible Exposition held on Oct. 30, 2014 at four in the afternoon, the MCGI Coordinating Center in Queens, NY welcomed guests and brethren as early as four in the morning.

Not too early for spiritual bliss. (Pol Arellano, Photoville International - New York).

Not too early for spiritual bliss. (Pol Arellano, Photoville International – New York).

With bright, excited smiles, the event’s participants made their way inside the coordinating center to find their seats.

Meanwhile, some of the brethren were busy preparing breakfast for the visitors and brethren alike: brewed coffee, fresh fruit salad, bagels and other breakfast staples were served for free — an MCGI trademark.

The event started off with a beautiful musical production by the MCGI-produced A Song of Praise (ASOP) Music Festival finalists, wherein a medley of praise songs were rendered to the delight of those in Smart-Araneta Coliseum, and in various parts of the world.

Immediately after, a video of Ang Dating Daan’s humble beginnings were shown on the screen, as introduced by hosts Lyn Perez, Annie Rentoy and Jun Soriao. The video featured the start of Ang Dating Daan’s broadcast — how it just started with three people: Bro. Eli Soriano, Bro. Daniel Razon and Sis Luz Cruz.

Brethren from New York watch a video of Ang Dating Daan's humble beginnings during the Worldwide Bible Exposition on Oct. 30, 2014. (Pol Arellano, Photoville International - New York).

Brethren from New York watch a video of Ang Dating Daan’s humble beginnings during the Worldwide Bible Exposition on Oct. 30, 2014. (Pol Arellano, Photoville International – New York).

Fast forward to Ang Dating Daan’s broadcast in today’s time. More than three decades have passed and Ang Dating Daan is now regarded as the longest-running religious program in the country, and is now translated in various languages such as Japanese, Chinese, English, Spanish and Portuguese, to name a few.

Testimonials of brethren of different races surfaced on the screen, one of which is a Spanish-speaking brother from Central America, and was to the delight of a Spanish brother based in New York who attended the event.

Hno. Marcelo Flores of New York smiles after hearing a Spanish-worded testimonial from Central America. (Pol Arellano, Photoville New York).

Hno. Marcelo of New York smiles after hearing a Spanish-worded testimonial from Central America. (Pol Arellano, Photoville New York).

After the informative video, the Church’s Music Ministry and Teatro Kristiano members presented a lively and vibrant praise song and dance number. This was immediately followed by the congregational singing and the solemn opening prayer, a staple in all of MCGI’s major events.

Vice-Presiding Minister to MCGI Bro. Daniel Razon made his way to the Smart-Araneta’s center stage to greet everyone who came. The guests in New York listened on as he thanked the many guests who graced the momentous occasion.

And when Bro. Daniel finally introduced the man behind Ang Dating Daan, the hoots and cheers of those in Araneta were undeniable — which was the same case in New York.

Happily listening. (Pol Arellano, Photoville International - New York).

Happily listening. (Pol Arellano, Photoville International – New York).

Bro. Eliseo Soriano surfaced on screens the world over, greeting everyone who came to  participate in the spiritual event. “We are celebrating the 34th anniversary of this program. Gracias a Dios! Salamat sa Dios!,” remarked Bro. Soriano.

After a brief opening statement from the international preacher, Bro. Soriano immediately went on to the much-awaited Question and Answer portion of the event.

Bro. Eli answered questions from the main venue itself and from different parts of the Philippines and abroad. And as always, his informative, truthful and oftentimes interestingly entertaining answers are based on the Bible.

Questions ranging from what were included in the Book of Life, what the mark of a person who’s about to die was, to when does a day start according to the Bible, and much more were raised and answered,  all with sound biblical bases.

On that evening, Bro. Soriano even answered a Spanish-speaking guest’s question in Bogota, Colombia in near-flawless Spanish.

As the night progressed in the Philippines and as the sun rose higher in New York, more questions from different parts of the world emerged and were successfully answered. Bro. Soriano tried to answer as much questions as possible, to serve and enlighten more people in one night of spiritual reckoning.

A little before eleven o’clock in the morning in the USA, Bro. Eli invited everyone to join in the event’s closing prayer.

“A good evening to all who attended, to all brethren in the whole world!,” remarked Bro. Eliseo Soriano as the special Worldwide Bible Exposition in celebration of Ang Dating Daan’s 34th anniversary came to a blissful close.

A Sojourn to the South – MCGI’s International Thanksgiving in South America, 2014 (Part 2)

News, Events and Second Glances

The first day of the International Thanksgiving to God of the Members Church of God International came to a close.

Outside the Convention Center in South America, the afternoon sun gave a golden halo to everything it touched – the tents, the beautiful multi-color sand, and most finally, the brethren who traveled to see Bro. Eliseo Soriano on his 50th year of service.

The whole day felt a little like standing in the middle of a beautiful ocean while staring at the biggest sunset you’ve ever seen. You then welcome a friendly, crashing wave with outstretched arms and wait for it to slowly and gracefully vanish behind you and at the same time, around you. You then smile contentedly.

There was beauty, joy, excitement, and finally as nighttime drew nearer, there is a peaceful calm in our neck of the woods.

It felt a little like this, only better – only more indescribable.

At Nighttime

Before I slept, I prayed and hoped hard to get the opportunity to be able to see Bro. Eli up close and be a recipient of his smile. I wanted to hold a conversation with him, no matter how brief. I wanted him to feel how much he is missed not just in New York, but also in all places.

And though I knew in my heart that I already have been greatly blessed with just the opportunity to travel to South America, I prayed for the chance to hold Bro. Eli’s hand and give him my greeting in person.

I remembered my older brother, who asked that I hug Bro. Eli for him. And I prayed and wished to be able to do so – for my brother, family, loved ones and the rest of the brethren who weren’t able to travel to South America.

I prayed for that one chance. Timidly and with the knowledge that I do not deserve it, I prayed that night.  I made my wishes known to Him who knows it even before I say it.

The Second Day

After a quick meeting with the rest of the Photoville International photographers a little after 5 a.m., I made my way to the Convention grounds.

The Photoville International members of various countries pose for the first shot of the second day ITG. (Mark Ilutin, PVI Australia).

The Photoville International members of various countries pose for the first shot of the second day ITG. (Mark Jail Elutin, PVI Australia).

The choir members were already doing their vocalizations; prepping their vocal chords for the songs of praise that they will be leading the congregation in singing.

After the congregational singing and the heartwarming trilingual prayer, Bro. Daniel stood by the pulpit, to pick up from where the topic left off the day before. Bro. Daniel spoke in Portuguese and Filipino to carefully explain the topic to the brethren.

As I sat there watching Bro. Daniel speak fluent Portuguese, a certain feeling of pride settled in my heart. A Filipino preacher stood in front of thousands of South Americans, speaking a language that was not his own.

He would speak, and patiently await the corresponding translations before moving on to reading and explaining a verse. He would pause to ask if the congregants understood his point — which was delivered in various languages.

And based on everyone’s reaction, anyone can tell that he was well understood.

Portuguese and Spanish-speaking brethren cheer as MCGI Vice-Presiding Minister Bro. Daniel Razon explain the first part of the topic during the International Thanksgiving to God celebration's second day. Pol Arellano, PVI NY

Portuguese and Spanish-speaking brethren cheer as MCGI Vice-Presiding Minister Bro. Daniel Razon explain the first part of the topic during the International Thanksgiving to God celebration’s second day. (Pol Arellano, PVI NY)

A short recess was announced so that the brethren can have their lunch and also listen to the Yearend A Song of Praise song entries. The sun was high and the heat was a far cry from what I had to battle this time of the year in chilly New York.

As I stepped outside, I was greeted by a happy group of Teatro Kristiano, choir members and brethren volunteers who formed a line between the makeshift kitchen area to the convention center for the speedy delivery of food to the brethren indoors.

Bro. João Paulo Chaves, a Teatro Kristiano member from Rio de Janeiro helps in the speedy delivery of food to the brethren in the Convention Center.

Bro. João Paulo Chaves, a Teatro Kristiano member from Rio de Janeiro helps in the speedy delivery of food to the brethren in the Convention Center. (Pol Arellano, PVI NY)

Despite high temperatures, Teatro Kristiano members and other volunteers stood outside and made a human line connecting the kitchen to the convention center.

Despite high temperatures, Teatro Kristiano members and other volunteers stood outside and made a human line connecting the kitchen to the convention center. (Pol Arellano, PVI NY)

Learning from the Learned

In the early noon, to the delight of the crowd, Bro. Daniel called upon Bro. Eli Soriano to the stage.

It was a beautiful experience.

It was the second day of the three-day affair but I still wasn’t able to get over the fact that I was there, seeing Bro. Eli animatedly and powerfully discuss biblical points in person.

Bro. Eli Soriano speaks in Portuguese, Spanish, English and Filipino in delivering the topic during the ITG's second day. (Pol Arellano, PVI NY).

Bro. Eli Soriano speaks in Portuguese, Spanish, English and Filipino in delivering the topic during the ITG’s second day. (Pol Arellano, PVI NY).

 

He would patiently, lovingly go over one major point, showing his audience of different nationalities the deeper wisdom behind such beautiful Scripture.

He would face the Filipino-speaking brethren and relay a point in the vernacular as Bibles would open, and pens would scribble. He would wait for the translators to relay his statements to the other side of the convention center, where the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking brethren sat.

He would often ask the audiences if they understood him. He would encourage brethren to speak up, to let him know that they understood him.

He would ask questions. At one point, he announced that whoever gets the answer right would get one sack of rice as a prize, with a good-natured laugh. He would ask that a microphone be passed around for the brethren to give their answers or pose their questions.

He was careful in choosing which words to use in explaining biblical facts – he was particular, he was exact.

Numerous times did he spot and correct mistranslations even from the native speakers of Spanish and Portuguese, and they would concede with a smile or a shy laugh, for they knew he was astonishingly right.

It was there that Bro. Eli’s standard of fairness and equality shone.

He wanted everyone to understand what he has understood.

And so aside from the blessing of the wonderful topic I’ve written down in my notebook and heart, I was given the blessing of learning how Bro. Eli wants to impart what he’s learned.

How his love for all and for his God-given duty compels him to have patience, to be careful, to have a strict sense of equality in everything that he does.

Simply Indescribable

After the closing prayer, holding my thirteen-year-old Bible, I made my way in front of the stage. I didn’t know what to expect. I just hoped hard.

I saw Bro. Eli walk on stage from the right a few heartbeats later. Bro. Daniel followed him, together with his security personnel. Those who saw him immediately gathered below the stage, wanting to see him up close.

Bro. Eli stood by the edge of the stage and leaned forward to hold the outstretched hands of the brethren just below him. I found myself raising my right arm, and saying Bro. Eli’s name softly. The voice I heard didn’t sound like my own.

He looked at me and with a large grin, held my hand. He gave it a slight squeeze, and the first thing that registered in my mind when our eyes met and his hand held mine was “thank you for celebrating my 50th year of service with me.

I stood there in disbelief. I couldn’t put my hand down. He shook other brethren’s hands and shook mine again. It took me a moment or two to take everything in. Then, with misty eyes, I captured the moment.

Bro. Eli leaned towards the brethren below the stage to hold their hands. Pol Arellano, PVI NY.

Bro. Eli leaned towards the brethren below the stage to hold their hands. (Pol Arellano, PVI NY.)

To give way to other brethren, I moved towards the side. It was then that I saw a line forming on the left side of the stage. I moved fast and got in line. The line ended where Bro. Eli and Bro. Daniel stood.

From afar, I saw those in front of me hugging Bro. Eli and Bro. Daniel.

I waited for my turn.

Breathless. Lawrence Espano, PVI Canada.

Breathless. (Lawrence Espano, PVI Canada.)

I exchanged excited smiles with those behind me. The line grew longer, and I thought to myself, after a full day of preaching and tending to our needs, Bro. Eli and Bro. Daniel made time to greet everyone who came.

It was finally my turn, and Bro. Daniel greeted me first. “Hello po kuya,” I found myself saying, and he greeted me with a smile and a gentleman’s hug – not at all tight yet respectful and warm. It was the perfect older brother’s hug.

And finally, I faced Bro. Eli.

I moved closer, smiled, and said “Happy birthday po, Ingkong.” He answered “Salamat,” or “thank you,” with a sincere smile.

The last thing I saw was Bro. Aaron Romero, one of the workers who kept things in order, and he gave me a slight nod and moved his eyebrows up and down, and I could almost hear him say “Go, this is your chance.”

And it was.

I closed my eyes.

Dividing a split second, my thoughts went to my prayer the night before, my family, my loved one, and the rest of the brethren who weren’t able to come see Bro. Eli in person that night.

I hugged Bro. Eli. I rested my face on his right shoulder. It was soft, and it felt like coming home after a long, arduous journey. I made that moment last for as long as I could. I hugged my Ingkong ever so tight.

The blessed chance. Rovic Balunsay, PVI Philippines.

The blessed chance. (Rovic Balunsay, PVI Philippines.)

We both let go of the hug, knowing that behind me, another thousand or so brethren stood in line. As I walked down the stage, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably out of sheer joy.

Though I did not and I still feel that I don’t deserve it, God answered my prayer. And there will never be enough words, in centuries past or in years to come, to ever describe the joy I felt that night.

My friend Apple saw me going down the stage. She asked me if I hugged Bro. Eli, and I nodded yes. She hugged me and told me how happy she was for me, which prompted me to cry a little bit more.

On that blessed night, hugs became one of my favorite things in the world.

 

That concluded the second day of the International Thanksgiving in South America.

A Sojourn to the South – MCGI’s International Thanksgiving in South America, 2014 (Part 1)

News, Events and Second Glances

 

The Genesis of an Exodus

Armed with a little bit of caffeine and a system-full of adrenaline plus a copious amount of excitement, we prepared to brave the skies with heavy bags – both in our hands and eyes.

We were part of the New York delegates of the International Thanksgiving to God celebration of the Members Church of God International (MCGI), and we traveled to South America for the first time to witness biblical history unfold.

The night before our journey had been hectic; with last-minute preparations, there had been no chance to lie down and rest. Not that we wanted to. In reality, we were too giddy to sleep, even after a full day’s worth of working.

Several hours later, I found ourselves sitting by the waiting area of our first flight’s designated gate. At 12 p.m., less than two hours before our flight, we joined the community prayer on UNTV 37’s Radio La Verdad via the network’s mobile app.

We joined the community prayer at 12 a.m. PHT via the UNTV radio app. Because we were taught to pray before each undertaking.

We joined the community prayer at 12 a.m. PHT via the UNTV radio app. The UNTV app is free to download on iTunes and the Play Store.

A sudden hush fell over every corner and crevice of the airport as the prayer started. At least it had for my friend Eunice and I.

In that moment, the small gap of time between wiping away warm tears from closed eyes and saying “amen” in my mind – I knew our journey had officially begun – because everything that has led to this blessed opportunity had started with a prayer.

And as I closed my eyes during take off, I thanked God silently. I lost track of how many times I’ve uttered my gratitude to Him who made this possible.

Because it is nothing short of a modern-day miracle: a relatively cash-strapped girl from New York traveled thousands of miles to be with her Ingkong once more.

Take off. Self-portrait. April 2014.

Anticipation, a self-portrait. New York, NY. April 2014. Pol Arellano, PVI NY

 

Bogota, Colombia

Our trip consisted of a 12-hour stay at Bogota, Colombia.

We arrived in the wee hours of the morning.

To pass the time, we walked around. Though on a strict budget, we were able to eat and even drink amazing Colombian coffee, because thankfully, prices in Colombia were not as steep as New York’s. We napped.

We ran out of things to do, and time went by slowly. Numerous times did we wish to speed it up a bit so we could get to our special destination faster.

Colombian coffee. Bogota, Colombia. April 2014.

Colombian coffee. Bogota, Colombia. April 2014. Pol Arellano, PVI NY

 

A bit over an hour before we left Colombia, we found a group of people who made us re-think our wishes about time even for just a few more minutes.

It was there that we met the Colombian delegates who were accompanied by Filipino Church workers. As fate would have it, we were sharing the same flight from Colombia to our final destination.


PVI_PArellano_2014 (19 of 586)

Our Colombian and Filipino brethren pre-departure. Bogota, Colombia. April 2014. Pol Arellano, PVI NY

They all greeted us with firm and friendly handshakes and warm hugs. In my excitement, I forgot that there was an issue of me not knowing enough Spanish to let them in on what I was feeling at that time.

I wanted to let them know how thrilled I was to see native Colombians – non-Filipinos, who are the fruits of God’s calling in that foreign land.

I wanted to tell them that there are thousands upon thousands of Filipino brethren who would be ecstatic to see our Spanish-speaking believers in that part of the world.

I wanted to explain the tears of happiness that fogged up my square glasses.

But everything that I wanted to say seemed to have already been said in an unspoken manner after every smile, handshake, and hug were exchanged. And for this language of love, I am deeply thankful to God.

A little fun before boarding the plane. Bogota, Colombia. April 2014. Pol Arellano, PVI NY

A little fun before boarding the plane. Bogota, Colombia. April 2014. Pol Arellano, PVI NY

And as we were on our final flight, Filipinos and Colombians alike,  I napped with a smile etched on my excited face thousands of feet up in the clouds.

 

When and Where Dreams Came True

As we made our way towards the airport’s arrival area, a group of brethren from different countries such as Oman, United Arab Emirates, Dubai and the Philippines were already there, waiting for us with welcoming smiles. We all traveled together to our final destination.

KNP Bro. Bong Bodeña welcomed the Colombian brethren and the rest of the delegates at the local airport. April 2014. Pol Arellano, PVI NY

We all felt that we were finally near the place of our common dreams.

Almost there. South America. Pauline Arellano, PVI NY

Almost there. South America. April 2014. Pauline Arellano, PVI NY

 

And it was when the bus finally stopped I felt my heart race the most.

The skies were lit up by the moon and numerous stars when I first stepped foot on the venue, and reality struck the wind out of me, leaving me breathless with glee — I was really there. It was really happening, I thought.

As I waited for my luggage to be brought down from the vehicle, brethren from various countries milled around me. Spearheaded by the youth ministry, several brethren greeted those who arrived from other long flights. I welcomed the feeling of deja vu.

I have seen this before and I have felt this peculiar feeling, years ago, in a place called Apalit, Pampanga.

 

Graças a Deus

On the first day of the International Thanksgiving, I stood  by the left side of the stage holding my three-year-old Rebel T3i camera. On stage stood choir members of different races donning the same signature black and white uniform. Below them, the Teatro Kristiano members of the Church danced gracefully and as one.

The Teatro Kristiano danced their praise to God, as accompanied by the Church's international chorale members.

The Teatro Kristiano danced their praise to God, as accompanied by the Church’s international chorale members. Pol Arellano, PVI NY

Choir members led the congregants in singing both lively and solemn songs of praises to God, simultaneously switching from Tagalog to Portuguese songs.

And for the first time in Church history, the solemn hymn number 50 was sang in Filipino, Spanish, English and Portuguese all at the same time.

The solemn prayer was uttered in three languages and was accompanied by the sound of helpless yet hopeful sobbing by brethren of different nationalities.

Afterwards, a colorful burst of energy and excitement flooded the stage as the different representatives of various countries paraded in front of the whole congregation. This was aptly called the Parade of Colors.

 

And after the different nations’ flags have been raised and flown, the celebrant made his way into the stage.

After several years of not seeing Bro. Eli, at the first sight of him standing amidst a sea of brethren who traveled from different corners of the world to be with him, a feeling of indescribable elation overwhelmed me. I felt light, and at the moment, I knew what happiness was.

I remember the last time I saw Bro. Eli vividly. He wore a purple barong and walked around the Ang Dating Daan Convention Center in Apalit, Pampanga in the Philippines. Back then, he was thinner, and had more energy.

As I stared at Bro. Eli, the fact that he is no longer as young as he was before was obvious. The years of hard work, of sleepless nights, of burdens that abound — is unmistakable.

With an excited and warm smile, Bro. Eli greeted the brethren in Brazil and in all parts of the world. He  was welcomed with deafening cheers and claps.

The international preacher who had been in exile in a foreign land for several years, has not been in the company of a multitude of brethren, especially Filipino brethren. As he spoke to the brethren in South America, on that very moment, his bliss, his appreciation of and his gratitude to God for this grand Church event was evident on his whole person.

Bro. Eli was happy to see the brethren once more. Tears of joy made his eyes sparkle even more than it usually does.

And when words of love, of gratitude are not enough, sometimes, a fitting song does justice — the right song speaks from one longing heart to another.

From the grateful hearts of Bro. Eli and Vice-Presiding Minister Bro. Daniel Razon sprung the desire to sing to the brotherhood. To express their love for each and everyone of the members, regardless of language or color.

The Church leaders sang Through the Years. And even though at times, their voices broke with escaping sobs and tears, the joy in their hearts were felt by the whole congregation who sang along with them.

Looking at our Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking brethren who did not understand much English, the tears in their eyes were enough to tell me that even though the song was sung in English, the spirit of the song transcends language barriers. It was enough to let me know that they understood what our preachers wanted to express.

Bro. Eliseo Soriano sang Through the Years with Bro. Daniel Razon.

Bro. Eliseo Soriano sang Through the Years with Bro. Daniel Razon. April 2014. Pol Arellano, PVI NY

Bro. Eli:

I can’t remember when you weren’t there
When I didn’t care for anyone but you
I swear we’ve been through everything there is
Can’t imagine anything we’ve missed
Can’t imagine anything the two of us can’t do

Through the years
You’ve never let me down
You turned my life around
The sweetest days I’ve found
I’ve found with you
Through the years
I’ve never been afraid
I’ve loved the life we’ve made
And I’m so glad I stayed
Right here with you
Through the years

Bro. Daniel:

I can’t remember what I used to do
Who I trusted whom, I listened to before
I swear you’ve taught me everything I know
Can’t imagine needing someone so
But through the years it seems to me
I need you more and more

Through the years
Through all the good and bad
I knew how much we had
I’ve always been so glad
To be with you
Through the years
It’s better everyday
You’ve kissed my tears away
As long as it’s okay
I’ll stay with you
Through the years

The song hit me right in the chest, and I found myself sobbing, with my camera parked at my hip, with a violent mix of emotions. 

After a memorable opening song number, in true Members Church of God International fashion, the day was filled with a Bible-based topic, delivered by Bro. Eli and Bro. Daniel.

The day flew by so fast. And before I knew it, I was making my way towards where I would rest a good night’s rest after saying thanks to Him who gave me the gift of that wonderful day.

 

And that concluded the first day of the International Thanksgiving in South America.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Other Face of Pride: MCGI Christians on The Good Kind of Pride

News, Events and Second Glances

People do not normally say, “I am a proud person” on a regular basis.

We do not normally hear that sentence mentioned with enthusiasm during the first day of school when students are asked to state their name and something interesting about themselves. Or when meeting one’s future mother-in-law for the first time, where first impressions are incredibly, life-alteringly important.

And it’s not that big of a mystery – pride has had a negative connotation over the years, with it being one of the seven deadly sins.

One can say that if the word pride were a novella, it would be the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, because the word pride doesn’t just represent a dark-sided face. It is one complexly beautiful term with an underrated good side.

Pride Has Two Faces

In the world of psychology, there are two types of pride. In a scholarly paper entitled “Types of pride and their expression,” the stark difference in pride’s two types based on the studies of Jessica Tracy, PhD and Rick Robbins, PhD, are explained:

Authentic pride, represented in words like accomplished and confident, is positively associated with personality traits of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and with genuine self-esteem, whereas hubristic pride, related to words like arrogant and conceited, is related positively to self-aggrandizing narcissism and shame-proneness.

Based on the types of pride, fortunate individuals possess the healthy authentic pride, which is a positive interpersonal trait that springs forth from accomplishing something great.

In an interview published in the American Psychological Association, Dr. Tracy remarked on the importance of having pride.

“If you have an achievement or success, it’s important that other people know about it. It says: ‘I’m someone who shouldn’t be rejected,'” stated Dr. Tracy.

Christian Pride at its Finest

And it is that good kind of pride that Members Church of God International (MCGI) Presiding Minister Bro. Eliseo Soriano urged Church members to have: to be proud of being Christians.

Bro. Eli tweets how proud he is to be a follower of Christ's doctrines. Photo courtesy of Bro. Eli's official Facebook page.

Bro. Eli tweets how proud he is to be a follower of Christ’s doctrines. Photo courtesy of Bro. Eli’s official Facebook page.

The international preacher reminded the Christian members of MCGI to be proud of being Christ’s followers, because God Himself is proud of those who follow His words.

“The Son of God thinks of things that are of heaven. Brethren whose vision is directed towards things that are of heaven, those are the people that God is proud to call His children. He is delighted when they call upon Him,” remarked Bro. Eli.

Which was greeted by a positive sense of pride by Church members all over the world. From Apalit, Pampanga where the Ang Dating Daan Convention Center is located to various coordinating centers all over the world.

Online, MCGI Christians brandished their sense of pride on social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Here are some of the crowd favorites:

Sis Karol writes in her native language how proud she is to be a Christian. Screenshot courtesy of Sis Karol's Facebook account.

Sis Karol writes in her native language how proud she is to be a Christian. Screenshot courtesy of Sis Karol’s Facebook account.

Hailing from Perth, Australia, Sis Aileen Ravalo posts one of the Bible verses discussed By. Bro. Eliseo Soriano on Christian Pride.

Hailing from Perth, Australia, Sis Aileen Ravalo posts one of the Bible verses discussed By. Bro. Eliseo Soriano on Christian Pride. Photo courtesy of Sis Aileen’s Instagram account.

Bro. Robin Mendiola states that the best thing that happened to his life was when he became a member of the Church. Courtesy of Bro. Robin's Facebook page.

Bro. Robin Mendiola states that the best thing that happened to his life was when he became a member of the Church. Photo courtesy of Bro. Robin’s Facebook page.

“We have nothing to be ashamed of. The word of God is something to be proud of every time and all the time,” remarked Bro. Soriano.

And so these Christians  herald their pride to the world, and they don’t stop at uttering and posting words — they strive with God’s help and mercy to live by it.

 

______________________________________________________________

 

References:

1] Carey, Benedict. (April 6, 2009) When All You Have Left Is Your Pride. Retrieved fromhttp://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/07/health/07mind.html?_r=0

2]  Azar, Beth. (March 2006). The faces of pride: New research on pride suggests it deserves more credit as a basic human emotion than previously thought, Vol 37, No. 3. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/mar06/pride.aspx

Going Beyond Time Zones with Bro. Eli Soriano and Bro. Daniel Razon: The Bible Exposition Experience in America

News, Events and Second Glances

Queens, New York – At 5:15 a.m. EST, Phoebe awoke with a slight excited jolt. In the dark, she reached for her glasses. She wanted to see what time the alarm clock right next to her empty cup of coffee said. She feared that she slept through her alarm and she couldn’t afford to have that happen: today was the Ang Dating Daan’s Worldwide Bible Exposition, after all. Phoebe allots a special Friday to wake up extra early and listen to her favorite preachers Bro. Eliseo Soriano and Bro. Daniel Razon.

Phoebe had nothing to fear, apparently. She didn’t sleep through her alarm – she even beat it with several minutes to spare. In the dark, she smiled and uttered a short prayer of thanks to God for the gift of life and all the blessings, both big and small.

Outside, the sun was glowing a hazy yellow, seemingly covered in a blanket of frost. As she braved the cold and walked towards the Ang Dating Daan Coordinating Center in New York, Phoebe was convinced that this is the way all Fridays must start from those in the West, and how it should end for those in the East.

The Ang Dating Daan’s Bible Exposition

From the Philippines to the rest of the world. The Ang Dating Daan Worldwide Bible Exposition, hosted by Bro. Eliseo Soriano and Bro. Daniel Razon, aims to address the spiritual questions of people from various countries in one memorable night. Photo grabbed from Ang Dating Daan's Facebook Page.

From the Philippines to the rest of the world. The Ang Dating Daan Worldwide Bible Exposition, hosted by Bro. Eliseo Soriano and Bro. Daniel Razon, aims to address the spiritual questions of people from various countries in one memorable night. Photo grabbed from Ang Dating Daan‘s Facebook Page.

The Ang Dating Daan’s Bible Exposition has always been a one-of-a-kind event. The event started in 1993, and it has since then gathered guests who are interested to ask spiritual queries or listen to interesting biblical answers in one location.

This event is the brainchild of Vice-Presiding Minister Bro. Daniel Razon, who raised the suggestion of inviting one or two of the brethren’s close friends or family members to form an intimate gathering, where they can freely ask their questions about the Bible, big or small, and learn from others’ interesting questions as well.

The intimate gathering, which began in Manila, has now become a global event unlike any other.

And with the advent of newer, more advanced technology, the opportunity for the Bible Exposition to occur in various countries simultaneously happened. Today, the Bible Exposition has become a worldwide phenomenon, significantly increasing its uniqueness.

Ang Dating Daan (The Old Path) host Bro. Eliseo Soriano spearheads this live question and answer symposium focusing on biblical truths. The international preacher, who is the Presiding Minister to the Members Church of God International (MCGI) hosts the event from South America.

Beyond Time Zones

Listeners from New York gather together to attend one of Ang Dating Daan's Worldwide Bible Exposition Marathons held in 2012. (Pol Arellano, PVI NY)

Listeners from New York gather together to attend one of Ang Dating Daan‘s Worldwide Bible Exposition Marathons held in 2012. (Pol Arellano, PVI NY)

Through technology, people in America and in various parts of the world are able to attend the Bible Expositions and ask questions of faith to Bro. Eli.

To accommodate the great number of individuals who follow varying time zones, Bro. Eli and Bro. Daniel has started the “Marathon Bible Exposition,” which lasts for a whopping 10 to even 12 hours of non-stop biblical Q&A with the preachers. From evening in the East until morning in the West, the preachers try their best to answer as much questions from as many people as possible.

The Ang Dating Daan’s Bible Exposition hosted by Bro. Eli Soriano and Bro. Daniel Razon is regularly done every first and last week of each month. Live tweets of important points during the event can be read by following @AngDatingDaanTV and @TheOldPathTV on Twitter.

Prayer is the Answer: The Philippines’ Refuge against Typhoon Haiyan

News, Events and Second Glances

In one of the more popular coffee houses in New York, a Filipino man stood in line, waiting for his order. His eyes fall from the colorful displays to the shabby newspaper stand. He sees a photo on the front page of the New York Times depicting a frightening sight – uprooted trees, houses and buildings reduced to rubbles, and traumatized people stood still in one scene. This is what a town’s been reduced to after the fierce ravaging of Typhoon Haiyan.

The scene is set in Tacloban City, Philippines. After almost a week since one of the deadliest typhoons in history struck the country, the scene has not improved significantly.

If news stories are to be believed, days after the Typhoon, the situation in the typhoon-hit areas have not improved at all.

  ————————————————————————

The Destructive Force that is Typhoon Haiyan

Typhoon Haiyan, locally named Typhoon Yolanda, has managed to make a mark – rather, a painfully unforgettable dent – if you will, in Philippine history. Bringing with it brisk winds and a deadly storm surge as high as about 20 feet, the famous typhoon took the lives of about ten thousand Filipinos, and still counting.

If the unbelievable pain of tragically losing family members and friends isn’t bad enough, survivors also battle the hard-hitting realities of hunger, diseases, lack of shelter, lack of security, lack of a whole list of things that are ideally, the rights that each individual should have.

“Get international help to come here now – not tomorrow, now!” states one of Typhoon Yolanda’s survivors as interviewed by Anderson Cooper. Screen grab from CNN.com.

“Get international help to come here now – not tomorrow, now!” states one of Typhoon Yolanda’s survivors as interviewed by Anderson Cooper. Screen grab from CNN.com.

On broadcast journalist Anderson Cooper’s report on CNN, viewers see just how widespread the devastation is in the region of Visayas, Philippines, and just how badly the people seek the international community’s help – because the local and national government units are just not as effective in giving aid to people in the affected areas than expected.

The Surge of Problems after the Storm

With the surge of financial donations from private individuals, small and large companies, and even from various international organizations and countries, not to mention donations in kind hauled and repackaged in various makeshift centers, it is still a wonder how majority if not all news materials stemming from the region still feature the hungry, angry, homeless citizens of the nation.

Up until now, not all areas have been reached. And in the areas that have been reached, not all of the people have received help in any form.

With relief operations at a snail’s pace, the very hungry survivors are said to have no choice but to resort in looting and other similar acts, in order to live.

With the low security in local subdivisions and main streets, people fear that rebel groups and criminals will take advantage of the situation and cause trouble for the already troubled folks.

The bodies of those who did not make it after the super typhoon still lay on the roads, on main streets, and some, even inside barangay centers. Not all of the corpses identified, there are still an unknown number of dead people underneath the piles of debris in the streets of Tacloban and neighboring cities.

It would seem that attaining relief in situations as dire and as dismal as these, a question would inevitably dance inside a person’s mind – who can a person turn to? When the forces of nature overwhelm the combined forces of man, where can a person run to seek solace?

The Power of Prayer

Bro. Eliseo Soriano's take on the power of prayer. Image taken from MCGI.org.

Bro. Eliseo Soriano’s take on the power of prayer. Image taken from MCGI.org.

“A prayer is an act of humbling oneself before God! The reason we pray is that we are asking God to do something we cannot do,” writes Bro. Eliseo Soriano on his blog entitled A Prayer and a Wish, where he discusses the importance of prayers.

“In prayers we admit before His majesty that we are inferior and helpless! In prayers we thank and praise Him, realizing that what He is doing, He alone can,” adds Bro. Soriano. The international preacher and blogger is also the popular host of television show Ang Dating Daan (The Old Path).

Members Church of God International (MCGI) Presiding Minister Bro. Eli Soriano has recently launched a Community Prayer service on UNTV 37 together with the Church’s Vice-Presiding Minister, Bro. Daniel Razon.

At a time when it could be considered to be right on spiritual cue, the UNTV Community Prayer aims to unite the country by promoting the Christian lifestyle of regularly calling upon God’s name in prayer.

And a nation that has been so badly beaten and bruised by one devastating calamity after the next needs the help of He who can do more than what any experienced medical practitioner or any generous millionaire can.

He can give us the strength to stand up after the storm, the wisdom to see through the hardships and the pain, and the hope that there will be perfect justice in God’s perfect time for those who do His will.

In times like these, the value of a solemn, heartfelt prayer is a little over the cost of being priceless.

  ————————————————————————

The man in the coffee house stared at the frightening image on the newspaper for a while without him realizing it, almost mesmerized by the destruction brought about by Typhoon Haiyan. For a moment he felt that everything had stopped in mid-air.

And it is in that moment when the man —  standing inside one of the more popular coffee houses in New York, in the middle of the coffee smells, bossa nova music, and people stating and taking coffee orders — that Filipino man closed his eyes to silently and secretly pray.

 References:

1] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/11/11/world/asia/typhoon-haiyan-photos.html?_r=1&

2]http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/philippines/10448420/Typhoon-Haiyan-Philippines-government-on-defensive-over-slow-response.html

3] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2507119/Philippines-Typhoon-Haiyan-UN-aid-chief-admits-response-slow.html

4] http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/11/12/21419678-typhoon-haiyans-hungry-survivors-we-are-not-looters?lite

5] http://www.mcgi.org/multimedia/downloads/

6] http://esoriano.wordpress.com/?s=power+of+prayer

7] http://www.mcgi.org/community-prayer-philippine-tv-launched/

When O stands for Objectionable, not OK: A Brief glimpse of Ostentatiously Opulent Scandals Trending in the Philippines

News, Events and Second Glances

Jenny holds her daughter tight inside the crowded makeshift evacuation center, both of them just two wet faces amidst a sea of relocated people due to Typhoon Maring. Her gaze is blank; her mind is lost between thinking about their small house flooded through and through, the streets of their barangay which are teeming with badly paved roads, their yet-to-be-paid-in-full TV set where she watches Ang Dating Daan on and her daughter, sleeping quietly while running a fever.

The television camera pans over her for half a second while she holds that gaze.

It is that gaze that a 23-year-old absently saw on the muted television set in one prominent hotel’s hip bar in the heart of the Metro. From a higher area of the country, where the typhoon’s strong presence can’t be felt, the seemingly rich young lady ordered a round of drinks for her friends with a wave of her bejeweled hands.  She swipes one of her many debit cards, which is one too many for a 23-year-old to have, fueled by money a 23-year-old could never have unless she’s Richie Rich’s sister.

But even Richie Rich’s hypothetical sister would probably have enough sense not to waste the fortune that her parents worked hard for. But then again, when your parents didn’t acquire the fortune you buy flashy stuff with fairly, who’s going to keep count, right?

Why, the Filipino people, of course.

 ________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The above story may or may not be fictional but at the same time, to some, it may feel absolutely real.

Even with displacing thousands of Filipinos, causing high-level floods, disrupting schools and businesses, the anguish Typhoon Maring brings won’t be able to compare with the level of anguish some unbelievable scandals have brought to the Filipino consciousness.

A Scandal’s Theme: I Can Name The Truth in Four Notes

It’s not really hard to pinpoint what a scandal is. Especially when there’s a theme.

First up, we have the lady of the dismal hour, Ms. Janet Lim-Napoles.

Janet Lim-Napoles. Not even Typhoon Maring can drown her 10-B pork barrel scandal. File photo from rappler.com

Philippine authorities are currently hunting down businesswoman Napoles, allegedly the woman behind the 10-billion Pork Barrel scam.  All that money was supposed to have gone towards the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), which could have gone to projects that would benefit taxpayers – like better flood-resistant roads for low-lying areas, benefiting both the poor and the rich alike.

But all that money that the Filipino people worked hard for seemed to have gone to personal bank accounts, her younger daughter’s spending sprees, real estates, and more.

If that wasn’t enough, word around town is that she funneled the funds to fraudulent non-governmental organizations, which was supposedly built under the guise of giving aid to the people. Ironically, instead, she stole from them.

Now, Napoloes is in hiding. But rumor has it that she will be hard to catch since allegedly, her politician friends who helped her with her grand scheme, got her back.

So to sum it up: an evil scheme, ruthless self-spending, an ironic twist and powerful connections.

Which brings to mind a lesser-known scandal of equally appalling misuse of funds. A few years back, a man named Daniel Veridiano did the exact same thing Napoles is now famous for – using money that wasn’t his in gut-wrenchingly opulent proportions.

Daniel “Puto” Veridiano. File photo from an article penned by Jane Abao entitled “Portrait of the ‘raped man’ for whom the Interpol would mobilize”

Not so long ago, one Daniel “Puto” Veridiano used one credit card of the Members Church of God International (MCGI) for his personal gain. By using a credit card that was supposed to have been used for purchasing broadcast equipment for the Church’s propagation efforts, Veridiano used millions of pesos to pamper himself with expensive things.

If stealing money wasn’t enough, Veridiano decided to file a false rape case against MCGI Presiding Minister Bro. Eliseo Soriano to get on a rival religious organization’s good side.  Ironically, he was the one who admitted to raping 14 young men who were his subordinates at the time when he was still a member of the Church. Here’s a video of Veridiano admitting to his misdeeds.

Now Veridiano is hiding in the wealthy bosom of his influential religious friends, as he betrayed MCGI for continued financial support from the company of those whom he said would be “like a quick jump to hell” if he ever joined.

After betraying Bro. Eli Soriano, the very man who helped him when he was ill, Veridiano became a member of the Iglesia ni Cristo. Screen capture from Youtube video.

After betraying Bro. Eli Soriano, the very man who helped him when he was ill, Veridiano became a member of the Iglesia ni Cristo for financial prosperity. Screen capture from Youtube video.

Like the rest of the thinking population of the Philippines, I can’t help but sense a theme here.

The Truth Comes Out of the Shopping Bag: What Scandal-Laden Money Can Buy

Money can buy lots of things.

For the Napoles clan, millions of dollars was spent on posh properties outside the Philippines. And that’s just the tip of the spending iceberg.

The family also owned several luxury cars that she and her family cruise the many beautiful places of the Philippines with.

“Sec. Leila Delima releases the list of vehicles reportedly owned,& possibly being used now by Janet Napoles. pic.twitter.com/a34rvPeGiC” from Nikolo Baua @Nikobaua. Screen capture from Mr. Baua’s Twitter account.

This famous list of cars, now retweeted and emailed by Filipinos for dissemination purposes, has a funny twin in satire form, originally posted on this blog:

Making light out of a very absurd situation: a list of the many absurd things one could probably get away with with the people’s money. Screen capture from “So, What’s News?” blog.

While the list contains things that might make you break into a chuckle, the social networking site of one of Napoles’ children can make you channel your inner 8-year-old and break into a tantrum.

Jeanne Napoles, daughter of Janet Naploes, lived a very lavish lifestyle and “flaunted” it for people to see.

On her Tumblr page, she posted photographs exhibiting the dilemma only a few young ladies face in today’s hard economic times:  Just what should a girl wear to the Grammy’s?

On her list: Purple Max Azria dress. Screen capture from: http://jeanenapoles.tumblr.com/page/5

On her list: Purple Max Azria dress. Screen capture from: http://jeanenapoles.tumblr.com/page/5

She probably wore these to the Grammy's. Christian Louboutin shoes. Screen capture from: http://jeanenapoles.tumblr.com/page/5

She probably wore these to the Grammy’s. Christian Louboutin shoes. Screen capture from: http://jeanenapoles.tumblr.com/page/5

The public's sneak peak: Finally, after days of deep thought and introspection, her Grammy's get-up. Screen capture from: http://jeanenapoles.tumblr.com/page/4

The public’s sneak peak: Finally, after days of deep thought and introspection, her Grammy’s get-up. Screen capture from: http://jeanenapoles.tumblr.com/page/4

This is on top of course of her numerous trips to various countries like Japan and London. You can see more of her photos here.

It’s not so much as her blogging about her life and what she owns and what she wore that’s the problem — every other teenager in the world who lives in the Me Millennium does this too. What’s extremely bothersome is that the young lady is reportedly unemployed, and that the money that funded all her lavish activities and belongings weren’t hers or her family’s. Her parents only made  Php 577,807.47 for 2011-2012.

Hence, that money is the Filipino people’s.

In the same light,  Daniel Veridiano, who doesn’t own any businesses or doesn’t belong to income-generating families had the bad habit of showering himself with expensive gifts.

In an expose article written by Jane Abao entitled “Portrait of the ‘raped man’ for whom the Interpol would mobilize,” she writes about how Daniel “Puto” used an extension credit card to support his opulent and highly unnecessary vices:

Puto loved jewelries so much like he has many hands and neck to adorn, but he appeared to be buying gifts for himself and for others too. The list of Puto for 2003 just for watches and jewelries showed the following in Philippine Pesos: Swatch, 800; Swatch, 3,500; Swatch, 13,600; Lucerne, 6,400; A. Rialto 39,697.00; Montre watch, 26,620; A. Rialto 18,800; A. Rialto 14,776; Venice jewelers, 40,000; and L. Heng Jeweller (Singapore) 79, 131. For 2003 alone, he spent a total of PHP 243,324.00.

For 2004, his list also showed the following just for watches and jewelries alone: Mossanite, 9,000; A. Rialto 23, 364; Multi Time, 446, 777; Gorriceta karat, 18, 801; A. Rialto, 14,750; and No Curfew, 23,940. For this year alone, and for these items, he incurred PHP 536, 632. In two years time, he bought several watches and fine jewelries from only a few thousands to enormous amounts to total PHP 779,956.

This is of course, aside from the many cash advances, posh clothes, town-to-town hops, pricey dermatology appointments, numerous gadgets and devices..

Veridiano on focus. One of Veridiano's shopping sprees caught on camera. Screen captures taken from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZE2DFrRsuOc

Veridiano on focus. One of Veridiano’s shopping sprees caught on camera. Screen captures taken from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZE2DFrRsuOc

And of course, to top it all off, a penis enlarger.

All of these, he spent lavishly on himself. And who paid for what amounted to  millions of pesos worth of self-serving damage? The very man who helped him get through his illness — Bro. Eliseo Soriano, or Bro. Eli for short.

Daniel "Puto" Veridiano talks about Bro. Eli Soriano, the man who took him in and helped him get through a serious illness. He would later accuse him of rape. Screen capture from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9zc0lf52Ms

Daniel “Puto” Veridiano talks about Bro. Eli Soriano, the man who took him in and helped him get through a serious illness. He would later accuse him of rape. Screen capture from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9zc0lf52Ms

And so what do we, the Filipino people, get from these cases of gross opulence on account of innocent people’s money?

We get to see very clear pictures of injustice.  If we think about it, these self-centered events have very cogent linkages to the very basic of what the rest of the populace should enjoy: the money they’ve squandered should’ve gone towards projects of goodwill and community betterment.

We as a country are used to being struck by numerous back-to-back typhoons. And we are proud to say that the Filipino nation is a country of fortitude and resilience: our streets may be flooded, but our hearts and spirits remain high and dry.

These heinous acts of opulence form just a small part of the corruption that strike the country from the highest levels of power, worse than any natural disaster we can ever encounter, weathering our country to the core. And it’s up to us if we let such ostentatious displays of opulence, greed and corruption happen again, and again, and again.

Or we can stand up, object, and do something about it. Let these folks and everyone in the world know, that this show of opulence on our expense is definitely not OK.

Show them that we truly are a resilient people. We do not just spring back at corruption, greed, and injustice.

We strike back by arming ourselves with the truth and holding on to it like it was all we have in life — holding it as tight as we would our only daughter, who has a fever in the midst of a typhoon.

Blessings in Disguise: Behind the Exiles of Jose Rizal and Bro. Eliseo Soriano

News, Events and Second Glances

Photo linked from Bro. Eliseo Soriano's blog entitled

Photo linked from Bro. Eliseo Soriano’s blog entitled “The Lucky Person I Am: Most slandered me” Blog: http://esoriano.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/the-lucky-person-i-am-most-slandered-me/ on Esoriano.wordpress.com

Yesterday, June 19, Jose Rizal would have celebrated his 152nd birthday. Jose Rizal, the champion of the Malay race, died facing a firing squad when he was just 35 years old. It was then that the Philippines lost a doctor, poet, linguist, artist, author, revolutionist, philosopher, activist, professor, and hero.

Before his untimely death, he was exiled in Dapitan. And though he was far away from those whom he loved, his time was not used in vain.

In a website chronicling the life of the national hero, his time away was not time wasted – he spearheaded the construction of an easier water system, taught farmers how to operate modern agricultural devices, learned how to farm himself, practiced medicine, taught students, collected specimens for scientific research, and wrote a book and some poetry.

One could say that his stay in Dapitan was peaceful and at the same time, fruitful.

Fast forward to today’s time, wherein another Filipino gentleman lives in forced exile due to rampant death threats and invented lawsuits. The gentleman is Bro. Eliseo Soriano, a preacher who exposes biblical truth at all costs – even at the cost of his leaving the country to continue his crusade on letting the truth of the Bible be heard.

It was in the latter part of 2005, when Bro. Eli left the country. From then on, following God’s will, Bro. Eliseo Soriano has traveled various parts of the world to preach God’s words. More and more coordinating centers are being established in the western part of the globe, and more is to come, with God’s mercy. Jane Abao,PhD gives a detailed and colorful read on Bro. Eli’s exile here.

Like the late Jose Rizal, Bro. Eliseo Soriano’s exile is fruitful – spiritually fruitful – as evidenced by the many emails he receives on a daily basis asking for services, baptism schedules, and the establishment of nearby coordinating centers.

His Bible-based question and answer program Ang Dating Daan is now translated in various languages. He holds Spanish and Portuguese online Bible Expositions. He travels weekly to different locations to meet and tend to the spiritual needs of brethren and visitors.

He maintains a faith-based blog. He answers any and all spiritual questions on Twitter. He gives a weekly dose of spiritual knowledge to the congregation during Thanksgiving celebrations and answers questions on the spot. He responds to questions via his email. He runs businesses to support the ballooning costs of propagating God’s words in more and more places. He regularly cooks for his family and broadcast staff.

All these, and more, the Filipino preacher does on a regular basis at an age more advanced than Jose Rizal.

Though both were exiled, Bro. Eliseo Soriano’s exile is not as peaceful as the late hero’s. The preacher who’s reputation is continuously besmeared  wrote in his blog entitled “The lucky person I am: Most slandered me”:

I believe using mathematical and logical calculations that, I am the most slandered man in the history of Christianity. The defamations being thrown to my person “go beyond borders.” I mean beyond the borders of the land of my birth, the Philippines. By using the most efficient cyberspace technology that is however lenient in terms of charging responsibility and accountability, my detractors were able to popularize these lies beyond borders.

Both of these remarkable men managed to make the most out of a situation they did not choose to be in.  Both men were exiled, but still, were able to see the blessing behind being afar from those they love. Both remained doing what they do best.

The word “interesting” would be an understatement to describe a conversation between these two men if they met, somehow.

References:

http://esoriano.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/the-lucky-person-i-am-most-slandered-me/

http://kotawinters.wordpress.com/2009/04/30/thank-you-for-the-sorrows/

http://www.joserizal.ph/dp01.html

http://kotawinters.wordpress.com/2009/06/14/dr-jose-rizal%E2%80%99s-language-very-much-alive-in-bro-eli-soriano/

http://www.mcgi.org

http://www.mcgi.org/about/history/

http://joserizal.nhcp.gov.ph/Biography/man_and_martyr/chapter14.htm