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 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.

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!