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.

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.

#BibleExpo: Biblical Wisdom through a Hashtag

News, Events and Second Glances

From music to money, the flexible pound sign (#) has been making  lives easier since the 12th century.

And it was that one fateful day in August of 2007 when a mere suggestion by Chris Messina turned out to become the start of something that would change the face of the # forever.

Photo courtesy of InternetMediaLabs.com, from the article entitled The Hashtag: A Door to Discovery on Twitter. Link: http://internetmedialabs.com/twitter-hashtags-101-guide/

Today, the hashtag is everywhere – Twitter pioneered its usage while Google + and now Facebook has followed suit. Thanks to one symbol, social media users are now able to follow and track what topics interest them.

Just as long as a topic is preceded by the #, it is archived in the vast recesses of the Interwebs and will be there waiting patiently for you to peruse it until you get to the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot.

Fast forward to six years from the first hashtag created: August 2, 2013 – a group of people who believe in sharing God’s wisdom to others via technology will be making use of this popular symbol to impart biblical logic to the world.

God willing, these people will be using the hashtag #BibleExpo on Twitter, Facebook and Google + for the Members Church of God International’s (MCGI) Worldwide Bible Exposition.

The official Bible Exposition hashtag: #BibleExpo. Photo courtesy of Ang Dating Daan's Facebook page.

The official Bible Exposition hashtag: #BibleExpo. Photo courtesy of Ang Dating Daan’s Facebook page.

Just like the hashtag, Bible Expositions were created to bring people who would like to learn more about an important topic together – salvation. Visitors from all over the world get to ask their questions on the Bible – and they would get a Bible-based answer from international preacher and MCGI Presiding Minister Bro. Eli Soriano and Vice-Presiding Minister Bro. Daniel Razon.

During Bible Expositions, guests and online followers who may be stuck in traffic or their work desks benefit from the live blow-by-blow account of the questions and answers from the live Twitter feed from the Church’s official Twitter accounts –  @TheOldPathTV (English) and @AngDatingDaanTV (Filipino), as well as from visitors who join in on the live blogging using the #BibleExpo hashtag.

There’s a lot of use to the #. And for a group of humble believers the world over, its use is of something great:

#Salvation

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

References:

1] http://socialmediatoday.com/kevin-basset/1545426/history-hashtag-infographic

2] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/magazine/in-praise-of-the-hashtag.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

3] http://www.mcgi.org/about/leaders/

4] http://internetmedialabs.com/twitter-hashtags-101-guide/

One More Reason to Heart This Place: Finding Apalit in New York – Day 2

News, Events and Second Glances

It’s safe to say that if there’s one place in the world I so terribly miss, it’s the Ang Dating Daan Convention Center in Apalit, Pampanga.

Believers from the Add Convention Center in Apalit, Pampanga wake up to a special day -- Day 2 of MCGI's International Thanksgiving. Photo Credit: Rovic Balunsay, PVI

Believers from the Add Convention Center in Apalit, Pampanga wake up to a special day — Day 2 of MCGI’s International Thanksgiving. Photo Credit: Rovic Balunsay, PVI

Every so often, I would regale myself with memories of ADD Con – traveling by bus very early in the morning from Baclaran to get to Apalit, smelling the freshly cooked arroz caldo and champorado from nearby vendors, walking the aisles of the convention center to find the perfect seat, singing at the wide stage with the rest of the brethren, the jamming sessions after the international thanksgiving celebrations.

And of course, the people I share those memories with.

By fate, it seems, I’ve found myself living in America. And though I am thousands of miles away from that special place in Apalit, somehow, I have stumbled upon Apalit here in New York. This is a realization that came to me during the second day of the Members Church of God International’s (MCGI) International Thanksgiving to God celebration.

To get to Apalit before 7 a.m., I used to have to make it to Baclaran at around 4:30 a.m. with my family and friends. Here in NY for the second day of the ITG, I travel with friends from New York, Connecticut and Canada to our ITG venue a little over four in the afternoon.

On our way to the ITG venue!

On our way to the ITG venue!

Arriving early at Apalit years ago, I always see choir members practicing before the congregational singing commences. In NY, choir members do the same, making sure that they perform their best because God deserves the best — a bit of wisdom we have learned from our preachers Bro. Eliseo Soriano and Bro. Daniel Razon.

Choir members practicing their opening song number in NYC. Pauline Arellano, PVI NY

Choir members practicing their opening song number in NYC. Pauline Arellano, PVI NY

The beautiful and colorful presentation of choir members and the Teatro Kristiano never failed to astound me as I sat in one of the ADD Con’s white monobloc chairs. I may be sitting on a different kind of chair in NY, but the feeling upon watching these talented individuals remains the same.

Starting day two with music. East Coast USA & Canada Choir members together with the Teatro Kristiano on MCGI's International Thanksgiving to God on July 5, 2013. Pauline Arellano, PVI NY

Starting day two with music. East Coast USA & Canada Choir members together with the Teatro Kristiano on MCGI’s International Thanksgiving to God on July 5, 2013. Pauline Arellano, PVI NY

With the bountiful wisdom being unfolded with each topic delivered by Bro. Eliseo Soriano and Bro. Daniel Razon, rejoicing is inevitable. I have experienced it seemingly endless times in Apalit, and I, together with the believers in America, feel it still, even from afar; simply thankful to God for His wisdom and kindness.

Rejoicing in New York for the many biblical knowledge learned. Photo courtesy of Members Church of God International official Facebook fan page.

Rejoicing in New York for the many biblical knowledge learned. Photo courtesy of Members Church of God International official Facebook fan page.

And the same way as it when I was in Apalit, I am blessed to enjoy hearing such biblical brilliance with God-given friends.

Time will come, in His will, that I will get to walk in ADD Con’s aisles once more and sing, listen, and praise with the rest of the brethren in Apalit. But for now, I am truly grateful for having found a version of Apalit right here in NYC.

Time flies when you’re learning spiritual wisdom! Day 3, up next, God willing!

Faith and Fireworks: Celebrating the International Thanksgiving to God in Sunny New York – Day 1

News, Events and Second Glances

July 4, 2013.

While people from all over New York go to Times Square to watch the yearly fireworks display for the Independence Day celebration, members of the Church of God International in New York enjoy a different kind of fireworks from inside one event hall in Queens, New York.

Six hours before the big event, I, together with two sister-friends boarded the Q17 bus to get to the Thanksgiving location. On a hot, humid day, people wore short shorts and sleeveless tops.

Our “outfit of the day” looked somewhat different, eliciting looks as we passed by residents and commuters alike. No matter, we were proud of what we were wearing: Teatro Kristiano uniform and the usual modest, Thanksgiving garb – like what we were taught in the Church.

The sun shone down and heated pavements at a high 88 degrees Fahrenheit as I checked my old phone’s clock. It proudly told me that it was 1:09 p.m. At last, after about an hour of traveling, we reached the venue – all set, waiting for everyone.

Group by group, brethren from Canada, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, South Carolina, Massachusetts, and even Oklahoma arrived – with suitcases, duffel bags, and their adorable kids in tow. Despite the long travel hours, they all had something in common – they all brandished excited smiles.

Before I knew it, it was 5:55 p.m., and the music ministry choir led the congregants in singing songs of praise in Apalit, Pampanga. In New York, the East Coast USA Choir led us in singing.  Finally, after three months of long wait, the International Thanksgiving to God has finally begun!

The East Coast USA choir, together with choir delegates from Canada, lead the brethren in singing songs of praise during the ITG. Pauline Arellano, PVI NY

The East Coast USA choir, together with choir delegates from Canada, lead the brethren in singing songs of praise during the ITG. Pauline Arellano, PVI NY

Cheers resounded in the small hall where brethren are in Queens, as Bro. Eli, in his signature turtleneck and coat, spoke to brethren all over the world. Bro. Eli Soriano, Presiding-Minister to MCGI welcomed the brethren on the first day of the ITG, immediately after the choir and teatro offered a song of praise to start off the event.

Two topics were discussed on the first day. Vice-Presiding Minister to MCGI Bro. Daniel Razon gave the first part of each topic, while Bro. Eli delivered each topic’s climax.

During the International Thanksgiving celebration, believers from our neck of the woods turn night into day so we could listen fervently to spiritual knowledge that we won’t be able to hear anywhere else.

While some of the brethren in the Philippines drank coffee because it is the morning time norm, the brethren in the Americas did too, at night, to keep awake and focused while listening to the wisdom being unfolded during the three-day spiritual feast.

To make sure that all are up in the wee hours of the night, each short break was used to eat and recharge with power naps. At midnight, while brethren in the Philippines took a break for lunch, we here in New York prepared to take a short nap.

Before I closed my eyes, at 1:09 a.m., I stole a glance out the window. A couple of hours ago, traces of green, red, and blue muted fireworks peppered the ebony sky.

The night turned into day, and with their notebooks and Bibles in hand, the brethren were still up with God’s help and mercy, listening to Bro. Eli up until the very last biblical wisdom shared for the day.

Brethren from East Coast of US and Canada gather in New York to celebrate our International Thanksgiving. Januel Arriola, PVI NY

Brethren from East Coast of US and Canada gather in New York to celebrate our International Thanksgiving. Januel Arriola, PVI NY

Looking out the window, the sun was already high, and no trace of fireworks can no longer be seen from yesterday’s Independence Day celebration here in America. But inside the small hall in Queens, the fireworks are still very much alive.

The fireworks are the exuberant, excited glow of the brethren’s eyes. And as the International Thanksgiving is happening, the fireworks become stronger, more vibrant, and more extravagant. Never fading, never waning; despite the long travel, heat, and exhaustion, the fireworks don’t end.

Happy International Thanksgiving to God, from the brethren in East Coast USA and Canada! Pauline Arellano, PVI NY

Happy International Thanksgiving to God, from the brethren in East Coast USA and Canada! Pauline Arellano, PVI NY

These kind of fireworks may very well last forever.

HAPPY INTERNATIONAL THANKSGIVING TO BELIEVERS IN ALL PARTS OF THE WORLD!

LGBT Pride Month or Not, “Happy Christians” Celebrate Christ’s Love

News, Events and Second Glances
Hope. Pauline Arellano, PVI NY

Hope. Pauline Arellano, PVI NY

It was mid-morning on June 28, 1969, and the hazy bar light half-shone on the hurt and angry faces of Stonewall Inn’s gay patrons. Angered by much police harassment, they fought back and riot ensued. Soon, the riot became a series of riots spearheaded by gay men and women who battled police harassment towards the queer community. This is the infamous Stonewall Riots, the turning point for gay rights in the United States.

This is why June is a special month for the LGBT or Queer communities from all over the world. This is when the LGBT Pride month is celebrated.

But for the Christian queer community in the Church of God International, all months are special months, for they have learned the deeper, biblical definition of gay rights through preacher Bro. Eliseo Soriano.

The Church’s group of talented and vibrant individuals is aptly called “Happy Christians.” And for good reason too. They are indeed, gay, but they are, most of all happy – for they are welcomed, appreciated, and valued in the Church and enjoy the rights to equality awarded to them by a power higher than the highest courts of man: God’s laws.

 “Homosexuals are human beings. All human beings are product of God’s pro-creative power. What is attainable by ‘normal’ human beings (if homosexuals are considered by others as abnormal) can be equally attained by them, also,” writes Bro. Eliseo Soriano on his blog Can a Homosexual Make it To Heaven?

The preacher is often asked about homosexuals and their chance to salvation. And his answer has always been on the positive side of the salvation equation:

“God wants all men to be saved,” states Bro. Eli: a concise yet powerful biblical sentence, full of God’s fairness and justice that many homosexuals have been fighting to attain all their lives. This right to equality in salvation is being enjoyed by the faithful gay community of the Church, making them enjoy the gift of inner peace and contentment in their lives.

The best right that the gays, or anyone else, can ever have, is the right to be saved – and that right has been given by God to all, regardless of sexual orientation, race or color. It’s right there all along, as Bro. Eli teaches, in the Holy Bible.

Now to exercise and celebrate that God-given right is completely up to each human being.

The Self, the Identity, the Choice, the You

Literature or Something Like It

Imagine yourself in a cafe somewhere, waiting to meet your long-time Internet pal. You met her on a World of Warcraft quest and you enjoyed her company immensely that you decide to bring your relationship to a different level – the three-dimensional kind, non-virtual kind. You wait for her and imagine how you’d introduce yourself to her. Right now, you are more than just a game character. You are you.

Then it hits you, I am me, you think to yourself. I am a student, a dozen or so virtual game characters, a son, a lousy basketball player, a physics marvel. I am a lot of me’s simultaneously. How do I get all that across on the first date? Who am I really, generally?

You panic. you remember that you are also an extremely shy guy, and decide that meeting her wasn’t really a good idea after all. You start to head for the door.

_________________________________________________________

Very few are the instances wherein one can write about the self and not be tagged as vain or narcissistic. But we are here, you and I, with a tacit agreement not to talk about the parts of the self that needn’t be discussed at length, like what ice cream flavor goes hand-in-hand with one’s favorite episode of Bob’s Burgers on a cold night. We are here to discuss the deeper sensibilities of the self, the parts that are (hopefully) not meant to induce an aneurism to the most convenient human being around, which is (surprise, surprise) you. And so I write about the superstar of the self, the identity. She is that sensual lady with the red stilettos and the amazing curves that clings to the arms of the balding, middle-aged man of the self, who dictates how the world views the person she’s in, and how that person views the world, respectively.

Before that sensual lady becomes what she is in all her splendor, she was the adorable little girl.  The identity, like all things within the self, has to be nurtured and be taken care of.  Since it is an integral part of who we are as a whole, it is important that it grows and matures with us. There are influences that play a major role in the development of one’s identity, starting from one’s childhood. We’ll delve into these influences in another post.

The identity, like art, is also a tool for change. It may be used for positive and negative means. We see it all the time, this here truth, when a politician, corrupt and involved in drug trafficking, pays the local media to build him up to the masses as an all-saving superhero, who will deliver the country from poverty. His or her identity is being morphed into something bigger, something greater in scope, the development of a persona that will inevitably result in deception. But every now and again, a single individual decides to become an inspiration to those around him and molds his identity into someone worthy of being followed – of being thought of in good light; someone who is worth listening to and the end result will lead to positivity and progress. That person has served his identity well, and vice versa.

A person’s identity may be the result of traditional, cultural, situational and spiritual factors. It may arise and harden from conflict, from hardships, from trials. Whatever a person’s identity is, it will always be dependent on one key factor, which is choice. We humans are given the great gift of free will, or free choice, and our identities are tied to the choices we make.

Choice. It’s free and it’s beautiful. Prettier than the prettiest woman you know, it is.

So now that you have an idea about who you are, you may want to reflect upon it before you scurry out that door. You’ll see that you’re not that bad, and is worthy of becoming anyone’s friend. Extremely shy? This may help.  It’s about how faith can move mountains of shyness. If you have faith that you can be a very good friend even outside of a quest, then read away and take your seat. Your friend should be there any moment now.