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.

Why offering thanksgiving to God is the best way to end a busy week

News, Events and Second Glances
The New York band gets ready to play "Ama Salamat," which translates to "Thank You Father" during one International Thanksgiving to God celebration. Pauline Arellano, PVI NY

The New York band gets ready to play “Ama Salamat,” which translates to “Thank You Father” during one International Thanksgiving to God celebration. Pauline Arellano, PVI NY

After a week of memorizing several book pages’ worth of information to ace that one test and raise your GPA, traveling from one job to the next, going through seemingly endless traffic on your commute home, running your weekly 5K, running numerous miscellaneous errands for the family, a person is entitled to feel, what’s the word, exhausted. Some would spend the weekend at the beach when the season permits it, the mall, the park, or even just going on a movie marathon at home in their respective lazy clothes with chips and sodas handy. But for a group of believers scattered all over the world, the weekends are reserved for one worthwhile activity no matter how hectic their week was. They wisely cap the week off by offering thanksgiving to God.

You might be familiar with this group of believers. If you’re on Facebook and have them as one of your friends, you might see their peculiar updates that are quite unlike the usual posts you see on your newsfeed. While Facebook sadly serves as the go-to venue for people to hate on others and spread rumors, you’d see these peculiar people sharing thanksgiving quotes to God, both inspirational Bible verses and inspirational Bible quotes, and even partner these up with articles and blogs that brandish their desire to spread spiritual joy to their Facebook pals. Majority of the peculiar ones who live in the Philippines go on a weekly pilgrimage to Apalit, Pampanga, while those who live in other nations go to their respective locale chapters – all of them giddy to offer thanksgiving to God.

Choir members of the Church of God International in New York sing a lively song of praise to God. Pauline Arellano, PVI NY

Choir members of the Church of God International in New York sing a lively song of praise to God. Pauline Arellano, PVI NY

Despite a tiresome and hectic week, these people choose to sing songs of praise to the Almighty One: to express their heartfelt gratitude to God in song. For a week’s worth of deliverance, for His loving-kindness, for new duties entrusted upon them, for His unspeakable gift, for everything – even things that caused them sadness and pain, these peculiar people choose to offer thanksgiving to God over doing anything else.  They are well taught to put God first, among all things.

 

Bro. Eliseo Soriano, the Presiding Minister to these peculiar folks is never lacking when it comes to explaining the beauty behind offering thanksgiving to God. In his blog entitled Forever Offering Thanksgiving, Bro. Eli shares with his readers the things that he is forever indebted to God for:

“I am a grateful creation of my Creator, and I will forever be, with His help.  I have unspeakable reasons to be thankful to Him.  My being, my strength (and weaknesses), my wisdom (and ignorance), my abilities (and inabilities), everything I posses bespeaks of His power, loving-kindness, compassion, and grace that calls for praise and thanksgiving.” – Bro. Eliseo Soriano

 And he has taught the peculiar people to do the same – to give thanks unto God for everything in their lives.

 And so while the rest of the population relax or party the weekend away after a long and busy week, these people choose to pay respect and gratitude to the One who gave them permission to start and end the week in the first place, thanking God for the week that passed, and if it is His will, for the weeks to come.