Answered Prayers and Prosperous Travels: MCGI’s International Thanksgiving to God in Brazil, 2015 – Part 1

News

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…]

Prayer is the Answer: The Philippines’ Refuge against Typhoon Haiyan

News, Events and Second Glances

In one of the more popular coffee houses in New York, a Filipino man stood in line, waiting for his order. His eyes fall from the colorful displays to the shabby newspaper stand. He sees a photo on the front page of the New York Times depicting a frightening sight – uprooted trees, houses and buildings reduced to rubbles, and traumatized people stood still in one scene. This is what a town’s been reduced to after the fierce ravaging of Typhoon Haiyan.

The scene is set in Tacloban City, Philippines. After almost a week since one of the deadliest typhoons in history struck the country, the scene has not improved significantly.

If news stories are to be believed, days after the Typhoon, the situation in the typhoon-hit areas have not improved at all.

  ————————————————————————

The Destructive Force that is Typhoon Haiyan

Typhoon Haiyan, locally named Typhoon Yolanda, has managed to make a mark – rather, a painfully unforgettable dent – if you will, in Philippine history. Bringing with it brisk winds and a deadly storm surge as high as about 20 feet, the famous typhoon took the lives of about ten thousand Filipinos, and still counting.

If the unbelievable pain of tragically losing family members and friends isn’t bad enough, survivors also battle the hard-hitting realities of hunger, diseases, lack of shelter, lack of security, lack of a whole list of things that are ideally, the rights that each individual should have.

“Get international help to come here now – not tomorrow, now!” states one of Typhoon Yolanda’s survivors as interviewed by Anderson Cooper. Screen grab from CNN.com.

“Get international help to come here now – not tomorrow, now!” states one of Typhoon Yolanda’s survivors as interviewed by Anderson Cooper. Screen grab from CNN.com.

On broadcast journalist Anderson Cooper’s report on CNN, viewers see just how widespread the devastation is in the region of Visayas, Philippines, and just how badly the people seek the international community’s help – because the local and national government units are just not as effective in giving aid to people in the affected areas than expected.

The Surge of Problems after the Storm

With the surge of financial donations from private individuals, small and large companies, and even from various international organizations and countries, not to mention donations in kind hauled and repackaged in various makeshift centers, it is still a wonder how majority if not all news materials stemming from the region still feature the hungry, angry, homeless citizens of the nation.

Up until now, not all areas have been reached. And in the areas that have been reached, not all of the people have received help in any form.

With relief operations at a snail’s pace, the very hungry survivors are said to have no choice but to resort in looting and other similar acts, in order to live.

With the low security in local subdivisions and main streets, people fear that rebel groups and criminals will take advantage of the situation and cause trouble for the already troubled folks.

The bodies of those who did not make it after the super typhoon still lay on the roads, on main streets, and some, even inside barangay centers. Not all of the corpses identified, there are still an unknown number of dead people underneath the piles of debris in the streets of Tacloban and neighboring cities.

It would seem that attaining relief in situations as dire and as dismal as these, a question would inevitably dance inside a person’s mind – who can a person turn to? When the forces of nature overwhelm the combined forces of man, where can a person run to seek solace?

The Power of Prayer

Bro. Eliseo Soriano's take on the power of prayer. Image taken from MCGI.org.

Bro. Eliseo Soriano’s take on the power of prayer. Image taken from MCGI.org.

“A prayer is an act of humbling oneself before God! The reason we pray is that we are asking God to do something we cannot do,” writes Bro. Eliseo Soriano on his blog entitled A Prayer and a Wish, where he discusses the importance of prayers.

“In prayers we admit before His majesty that we are inferior and helpless! In prayers we thank and praise Him, realizing that what He is doing, He alone can,” adds Bro. Soriano. The international preacher and blogger is also the popular host of television show Ang Dating Daan (The Old Path).

Members Church of God International (MCGI) Presiding Minister Bro. Eli Soriano has recently launched a Community Prayer service on UNTV 37 together with the Church’s Vice-Presiding Minister, Bro. Daniel Razon.

At a time when it could be considered to be right on spiritual cue, the UNTV Community Prayer aims to unite the country by promoting the Christian lifestyle of regularly calling upon God’s name in prayer.

And a nation that has been so badly beaten and bruised by one devastating calamity after the next needs the help of He who can do more than what any experienced medical practitioner or any generous millionaire can.

He can give us the strength to stand up after the storm, the wisdom to see through the hardships and the pain, and the hope that there will be perfect justice in God’s perfect time for those who do His will.

In times like these, the value of a solemn, heartfelt prayer is a little over the cost of being priceless.

  ————————————————————————

The man in the coffee house stared at the frightening image on the newspaper for a while without him realizing it, almost mesmerized by the destruction brought about by Typhoon Haiyan. For a moment he felt that everything had stopped in mid-air.

And it is in that moment when the man —  standing inside one of the more popular coffee houses in New York, in the middle of the coffee smells, bossa nova music, and people stating and taking coffee orders — that Filipino man closed his eyes to silently and secretly pray.

 References:

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

2]http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/philippines/10448420/Typhoon-Haiyan-Philippines-government-on-defensive-over-slow-response.html

3] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2507119/Philippines-Typhoon-Haiyan-UN-aid-chief-admits-response-slow.html

4] http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/11/12/21419678-typhoon-haiyans-hungry-survivors-we-are-not-looters?lite

5] http://www.mcgi.org/multimedia/downloads/

6] http://esoriano.wordpress.com/?s=power+of+prayer

7] http://www.mcgi.org/community-prayer-philippine-tv-launched/

Blessings in Disguise: Behind the Exiles of Jose Rizal and Bro. Eliseo Soriano

News, Events and Second Glances

Photo linked from Bro. Eliseo Soriano's blog entitled

Photo linked from Bro. Eliseo Soriano’s blog entitled “The Lucky Person I Am: Most slandered me” Blog: http://esoriano.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/the-lucky-person-i-am-most-slandered-me/ on Esoriano.wordpress.com

Yesterday, June 19, Jose Rizal would have celebrated his 152nd birthday. Jose Rizal, the champion of the Malay race, died facing a firing squad when he was just 35 years old. It was then that the Philippines lost a doctor, poet, linguist, artist, author, revolutionist, philosopher, activist, professor, and hero.

Before his untimely death, he was exiled in Dapitan. And though he was far away from those whom he loved, his time was not used in vain.

In a website chronicling the life of the national hero, his time away was not time wasted – he spearheaded the construction of an easier water system, taught farmers how to operate modern agricultural devices, learned how to farm himself, practiced medicine, taught students, collected specimens for scientific research, and wrote a book and some poetry.

One could say that his stay in Dapitan was peaceful and at the same time, fruitful.

Fast forward to today’s time, wherein another Filipino gentleman lives in forced exile due to rampant death threats and invented lawsuits. The gentleman is Bro. Eliseo Soriano, a preacher who exposes biblical truth at all costs – even at the cost of his leaving the country to continue his crusade on letting the truth of the Bible be heard.

It was in the latter part of 2005, when Bro. Eli left the country. From then on, following God’s will, Bro. Eliseo Soriano has traveled various parts of the world to preach God’s words. More and more coordinating centers are being established in the western part of the globe, and more is to come, with God’s mercy. Jane Abao,PhD gives a detailed and colorful read on Bro. Eli’s exile here.

Like the late Jose Rizal, Bro. Eliseo Soriano’s exile is fruitful – spiritually fruitful – as evidenced by the many emails he receives on a daily basis asking for services, baptism schedules, and the establishment of nearby coordinating centers.

His Bible-based question and answer program Ang Dating Daan is now translated in various languages. He holds Spanish and Portuguese online Bible Expositions. He travels weekly to different locations to meet and tend to the spiritual needs of brethren and visitors.

He maintains a faith-based blog. He answers any and all spiritual questions on Twitter. He gives a weekly dose of spiritual knowledge to the congregation during Thanksgiving celebrations and answers questions on the spot. He responds to questions via his email. He runs businesses to support the ballooning costs of propagating God’s words in more and more places. He regularly cooks for his family and broadcast staff.

All these, and more, the Filipino preacher does on a regular basis at an age more advanced than Jose Rizal.

Though both were exiled, Bro. Eliseo Soriano’s exile is not as peaceful as the late hero’s. The preacher who’s reputation is continuously besmeared  wrote in his blog entitled “The lucky person I am: Most slandered me”:

I believe using mathematical and logical calculations that, I am the most slandered man in the history of Christianity. The defamations being thrown to my person “go beyond borders.” I mean beyond the borders of the land of my birth, the Philippines. By using the most efficient cyberspace technology that is however lenient in terms of charging responsibility and accountability, my detractors were able to popularize these lies beyond borders.

Both of these remarkable men managed to make the most out of a situation they did not choose to be in.  Both men were exiled, but still, were able to see the blessing behind being afar from those they love. Both remained doing what they do best.

The word “interesting” would be an understatement to describe a conversation between these two men if they met, somehow.

References:

http://esoriano.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/the-lucky-person-i-am-most-slandered-me/

http://kotawinters.wordpress.com/2009/04/30/thank-you-for-the-sorrows/

http://www.joserizal.ph/dp01.html

http://kotawinters.wordpress.com/2009/06/14/dr-jose-rizal%E2%80%99s-language-very-much-alive-in-bro-eli-soriano/

http://www.mcgi.org

http://www.mcgi.org/about/history/

http://joserizal.nhcp.gov.ph/Biography/man_and_martyr/chapter14.htm