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.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 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. 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.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.
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.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, 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.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.
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.
Then came Bro. Eli Soriano
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.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.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.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.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.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…]