ANSWERED PRAYERS AND PROSPEROUS TRAVELS: MCGI’S INTERNATIONAL THANKSGIVING TO GOD IN BRAZIL, 2015 – PART 2

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International Thanksgiving to God – Day One

April 3, 2015 — A little after 3:00 a.m., we were knocking on Bro. Aaron Romero’s hotel door, ready, willing — and with God’s help and mercy — able, to go to where the rest of the brethren are.

It was the first day of the International Thanksgiving to God (ITG) celebration of the Members Church of God International (MCGI) in Brazil, and even without a hint of caffeine, we were already wide awake.

The sky was still in its proud ebony state as we traveled our five-minute drive from our hotel to the venue. From inside Bro. Aaron’s rented car, I saw the familiar convention grounds, already lit up — a refreshing scene both for the eyes and the soul.

Chorale members were already starting to gather near the stage, wearing their pristine white and black uniforms, topped with ties and scarves. Pieces of notes and tunes escaped from the ADD Band and Orchestra’s instruments, and hung in the air for a few seconds before they fluttered away.

Chorale members in Brazil ready themselves for the ITG's first day. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

Chorale members in Brazil ready themselves for the ITG’s first day. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

At about 4 a.m., chorale members boarded the stage whilst Teatro Kristiano members in their flowing blue and white uniforms took their spots just underneath the stage, directly in front of the brethren.

The combined force of the chorale and teatro members rendered a lively opening number — a song of praise to God. And even before daybreak, loud cheers and claps emanated from the convention grounds.

The MCGI chorale and Teatro Kristiano render an energetic opening number early in the morning. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015].

The MCGI chorale and Teatro Kristiano render an energetic opening number early in the morning. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015].

The chorale then led the brethren in Brazil and in various remote points all over the world in the congregational singing — an MCGI staple in all of its gatherings.

From upbeat to solemn songs, MCGI's international music ministry chorale members led the brethren in the congregational singing. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015].

From upbeat to solemn songs, MCGI’s international music ministry chorale members led the brethren in the congregational singing. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015].

And just as the brethren sang hymn no. 50 and 1 in three beautiful languages — Filipino, Spanish and Portuguese, respectively — the regal sun began to beam its rays on the brethren, casting a golden glow on everyone.

The prayer, which was also translated into three languages, was uttered solemnly. Since last year’s induction to the brotherhood, the trilingual hymns and prayers were quick to become dear to my heart.

After another round of joyful praises to God led by the chorale and teatro members, Bro. Daniel Razon meekly boarded the stage with his head bowed down, to teach the brethren the first part of the ITG topic — one of the main highlights of the event.

After the solemn opening prayer, the Music Ministry Chorale and the Teatro Krisitano members led the brethren in a joyful song of praise. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

After the solemn opening prayer, the Music Ministry Chorale and the Teatro Krisitano members led the brethren in a joyful song of praise. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015]

Bro. Daniel started the timely and interesting topic on the great value and the deeper biblical meaning of serving God. With Portuguese and Spanish translators on the stage with him, he discussed the topic with clarity and patience.

He would speak his point in Filipino, wait for it to be translated in Spanish then Portuguese, and continue with his train of thought. Now this was not an easy task — without focus and patience, there’s a big possibility that you’ll lose your train of thought.

Bro. Daniel Razon delivered the first part of the topic in Brazil for MCGI's first day of the International Thanksgiving to God celebration.

Bro. Daniel Razon delivered the first part of the topic in Brazil for MCGI’s first day of the International Thanksgiving to God celebration.

But Bro. Daniel carefully spoke and listened — making sure that his message came clear to all those in attendance who came from various parts of the world. He would pause and think, and take the time to ask everyone if they understood the important topic being discussed.

And based on the cheers, the smiles, the agreeing nods, coupled with the hands and flags shooting in the air, it was clear that the answer was a resounding yes.

Cheers for a well understood topic. [Percy Caroro, PVI PH. April 2015].

Cheers for a well understood topic. [Percy Caroro, PVI PH. April 2015].

At noontime, a short break was announced for the brethren to eat and rest for a bit. In the Philippines, where the bulk of the members are, it was already midnight.

Instrumental music of fast-beat Church songs were playing in the background while The little Teatro Kristiano from the day before started to dance one song to another. Before long, the brethren started to take notice — and he was being broadcasted in all MCGI remote points across the globe!

The adorable Brazilian Teatro Kristiano danced one Church song to another by heart, while the brethren in Brazil and in all parts of the world watched with joy. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015].

The adorable Brazilian Teatro Kristiano danced one Church song to another by heart, while the brethren in Brazil and in all parts of the world watched with joy. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015].

The adorable Brazilian Teatro Kristiano danced one Church song to another by heart, proving that he might be young at age, but his dedication to his craft is steadfast and well beyond his years.

Brethren from different countries who were visibly delighted by this little irmāo‘s dancing abilities and innate cuteness, whipped out their smartphones, videocams and cameras to record him in action.

They also put chocolate bars and dollar bills right next to him. But this did not sidetrack him. He didn’t even glance at the sweets nor the money. He kept on dancing. He kept on with his duties.

And I stood there, basking in the humbling event unfolding before my eyes with a huge grin plastered on my face.

Bro. Rodel Mangiliman, one of the Helpers of the Ministry, then came on the microphone and announced that the rest of the brethren should join the child in praising God through dance — and that’s exactly what ensued, to the delight of everyone.

Believers from different nations sing songs of praises to God during day one of the International Thanksgiving to God celebration of MCGI in Brazil. [Aaron Romero, PVI NY. April 2015].

Believers from different nations sing songs of praises to God during day one of the International Thanksgiving to God celebration of MCGI in Brazil. [Aaron Romero, PVI NY. April 2015].

And I will never forget that the whole congregation, not just those gathered in Brazil but in other places as well, was united in praising God — led by an innocent little boy — who performed his duties without hesitation.

Children truly are of heaven, I thought with a smile, while singing and dancing with the rest of the grateful ones.

A beautiful Brazilian Kawan ng Cordero (KNC) member smile adorably for the camera. [Diane Mercaida, PVI UAE. April 2015].

A beautiful Brazilian Kawan ng Cordero (KNC) member smiles adorably for the camera. [Diane Marcaida, PVI UAE. April 2015].

Then came Bro. Eli Soriano

Bro. Eli arrives on stage with a smile on his lips . [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015].

Bro. Eli arrives on stage with a smile on his lips . [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015].

Walking down the stage, with a smile on his lips and his Bible in hand, the crowd in Brazil almost immediately stood up and cheered simultaneously, as if a zealous orchestra played beautiful symphony all at the same time at the first sight of their loving conductor.

A few of the brethren from Singapore and North America weren’t able to contain their excitement upon seeing Bro. Eli again — some of them, for several years, while others, for almost exactly a year. They stood up and crowded near the stage, taking photos of Bro. Eli.

With a smile, he asked the brethren to sit down so that the important part of the festivities — the studying of God’s words — may commence. With happy faces, the brethren did as they were told, and readied their Bibles and notebooks for the discussion.

During the discussion of the topic’s final leg, the Overall Servant of the Members Church of God International (MCGI) made sure that the importance of what it is truly like to be a preacher of God’s words were understood by all.

He patiently discussed a biblical detail in Filipino, then in English, Spanish and Portuguese. He listened intently as translators spoke to the Spanish and Portuguese brethren, making sure that the translations are accurate. He spoke and listened with love for the word of God, and for those who are intently listening to it from all across the globe.

As Bro. Eli discussed during the second part of the topic, the true servants of God who preach His words are ordained by God to teach the brethren how to render their service — all according to what the Bible dictates.

“We do not just serve God. We serve God in an exact manner,” added Bro. Eli as he read 1 Corinthians 9:26.

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Bro. Eli speaks in Portuguese to further elaborate on a biblical point during MCGI’s International Thanksgiving to God celebration in Brazil. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015].

 The basis is God’s holy words, and the lives of those whom God chose to preach them as stated in the Bible.

“The true apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ are not dependent on the members for what they are going to eat and what they are going to dress,” said Bro. Eli to the congregants.

And Bro. Eli lives by this belief in his own life — working from daybreak to nightfall to finance the growing number of coordinating centers and broadcasts in South and Central America, he has put up his own businesses with his own two hands, with the help and mercy of God.

Bro. Eli talks in Spanish for the brethren hailing from Central and Latin America. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015].

Bro. Eli talks in Spanish for the brethren hailing from Central and Latin America. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015].

Today, he has purchased a bigger coordinating center named after the Church in the city of Sao Paolo, for the ever-growing number of congregants in the area. Another bigger coordinating center in Curitiba was also purchased, without members being asked for any financial support whatsoever.

His selflessness is something that’s known not only to the brethren, but also to those outside the Church. The many charities that he and Bro. Daniel Razon have started cater to people of all ages, nationalities, and beliefs. Most of the charitable institutions spearheaded by Bro. Eli and Bro. Daniel remain in his land of origin, the Philippines.

Bro. Eli looks on to the brethren in the Philippines on the LCD monitor in Brazil, as he tells them how much he misses his native land. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015].

Bro. Eli looks on to the brethren in the Philippines on the LCD monitor in Brazil, as he tells them how much he misses his native land. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015].

It is quite evident that the Philippines remains to be a very special place for Bro. Eli — during the event, he recalls walking along the aisles of the Ang Dating Daan Convention Center in Apalit, Pampanga, where he used to conduct his teachings to the brotherhood in person almost a decade ago.

Pointing at the screen where he used to tread as he spoke God’s words, he uttered with a wistful smile, “I miss the Philippines.” The joyful brethren in Brazil waved hello to the brethren in the Philippines through the wonders of modern technology.

Bro. Eli had the brethren in the Philippines deep in his heart and mind — he wanted to make sure that the brethren in the Philippines had enough time to rest so that they can listen and understand the trilingual topic being discussed, not just for the event’s first day, but for the rest of the event’s proceedings.

Bro. Eli keeps an eye on the time, out of his love and concern for the brethren in the Philippines. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015].

Bro. Eli keeps an eye on the time, out of his love and concern for the brethren in the Philippines. [Pol Arellano, PVI NY. April 2015].

And so the first day of the International Thanksgiving to God officially concluded to give way for the brethren in the Philippines and nearby countries to rest their eyes and gather strength for the next day.

But the day was not over for Bro. Eli. It was still quite young for the likes of Bro. Eli, to be honest.

He called for a consultation session for the brethren in Brazil to ask their questions of faith. And Bro. Eli, being the man that he was, asked for his table and chair to be brought down from the stage and be transferred to where the brethren are — so he can listen to their concerns more clearly.

Bro. Eli sits right in front of the brethren to better listen to their concerns and problems. [Aaron Romero, PVI NY. April 2015].

Bro. Eli sits right in front of the brethren to better listen to their concerns and problems. [Aaron Romero, PVI NY. April 2015].

A sister from Brazil asks her question to Bro. Eli during the consultation session served by Bro. Eli Soriano. [Derrick Manila, PVI Canada. April 2015].

A sister from Brazil asks her question to Bro. Eli during the consultation session served by Bro. Eli Soriano. [Derrick Manila, PVI Canada. April 2015].

At nighttime, when questions of the brethren from South America have been answered with biblical bases, Bro. Eli Soriano bade farewell to the congregants so that they could rest for another round of biblical studies on the following day.

[To be continued…]

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

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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…]

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.