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.








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.


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


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/