The Genesis of an Exodus
Armed with a little bit of caffeine and a system-full of adrenaline plus a copious amount of excitement, we prepared to brave the skies with heavy bags – both in our hands and eyes.
We were part of the New York delegates of the International Thanksgiving to God celebration of the Members Church of God International (MCGI), and we traveled to South America for the first time to witness biblical history unfold.
The night before our journey had been hectic; with last-minute preparations, there had been no chance to lie down and rest. Not that we wanted to. In reality, we were too giddy to sleep, even after a full day’s worth of working.
Several hours later, I found ourselves sitting by the waiting area of our first flight’s designated gate. At 12 p.m., less than two hours before our flight, we joined the community prayer on UNTV 37’s Radio La Verdad via the network’s mobile app.
We joined the community prayer at 12 a.m. PHT via the UNTV radio app. The UNTV app is free to download on iTunes and the Play Store.
A sudden hush fell over every corner and crevice of the airport as the prayer started. At least it had for my friend Eunice and I.
In that moment, the small gap of time between wiping away warm tears from closed eyes and saying “amen” in my mind – I knew our journey had officially begun – because everything that has led to this blessed opportunity had started with a prayer.
And as I closed my eyes during take off, I thanked God silently. I lost track of how many times I’ve uttered my gratitude to Him who made this possible.
Because it is nothing short of a modern-day miracle: a relatively cash-strapped girl from New York traveled thousands of miles to be with her Ingkong once more.
Anticipation, a self-portrait. New York, NY. April 2014. Pol Arellano, PVI NY
Our trip consisted of a 12-hour stay at Bogota, Colombia.
We arrived in the wee hours of the morning.
To pass the time, we walked around. Though on a strict budget, we were able to eat and even drink amazing Colombian coffee, because thankfully, prices in Colombia were not as steep as New York’s. We napped.
We ran out of things to do, and time went by slowly. Numerous times did we wish to speed it up a bit so we could get to our special destination faster.
Colombian coffee. Bogota, Colombia. April 2014. Pol Arellano, PVI NY
A bit over an hour before we left Colombia, we found a group of people who made us re-think our wishes about time even for just a few more minutes.
It was there that we met the Colombian delegates who were accompanied by Filipino Church workers. As fate would have it, we were sharing the same flight from Colombia to our final destination.
Our Colombian and Filipino brethren pre-departure. Bogota, Colombia. April 2014. Pol Arellano, PVI NY
They all greeted us with firm and friendly handshakes and warm hugs. In my excitement, I forgot that there was an issue of me not knowing enough Spanish to let them in on what I was feeling at that time.
I wanted to let them know how thrilled I was to see native Colombians – non-Filipinos, who are the fruits of God’s calling in that foreign land.
I wanted to tell them that there are thousands upon thousands of Filipino brethren who would be ecstatic to see our Spanish-speaking believers in that part of the world.
I wanted to explain the tears of happiness that fogged up my square glasses.
But everything that I wanted to say seemed to have already been said in an unspoken manner after every smile, handshake, and hug were exchanged. And for this language of love, I am deeply thankful to God.
A little fun before boarding the plane. Bogota, Colombia. April 2014. Pol Arellano, PVI NY
And as we were on our final flight, Filipinos and Colombians alike, I napped with a smile etched on my excited face thousands of feet up in the clouds.
When and Where Dreams Came True
As we made our way towards the airport’s arrival area, a group of brethren from different countries such as Oman, United Arab Emirates, Dubai and the Philippines were already there, waiting for us with welcoming smiles. We all traveled together to our final destination.
KNP Bro. Bong Bodeña welcomed the Colombian brethren and the rest of the delegates at the local airport. April 2014. Pol Arellano, PVI NY
We all felt that we were finally near the place of our common dreams.
Almost there. South America. April 2014. Pauline Arellano, PVI NY
And it was when the bus finally stopped I felt my heart race the most.
The skies were lit up by the moon and numerous stars when I first stepped foot on the venue, and reality struck the wind out of me, leaving me breathless with glee — I was really there. It was really happening, I thought.
As I waited for my luggage to be brought down from the vehicle, brethren from various countries milled around me. Spearheaded by the youth ministry, several brethren greeted those who arrived from other long flights. I welcomed the feeling of deja vu.
I have seen this before and I have felt this peculiar feeling, years ago, in a place called Apalit, Pampanga.
Graças a Deus
On the first day of the International Thanksgiving, I stood by the left side of the stage holding my three-year-old Rebel T3i camera. On stage stood choir members of different races donning the same signature black and white uniform. Below them, the Teatro Kristiano members of the Church danced gracefully and as one.
The Teatro Kristiano danced their praise to God, as accompanied by the Church’s international chorale members. Pol Arellano, PVI NY
Choir members led the congregants in singing both lively and solemn songs of praises to God, simultaneously switching from Tagalog to Portuguese songs.
And for the first time in Church history, the solemn hymn number 50 was sang in Filipino, Spanish, English and Portuguese all at the same time.
The solemn prayer was uttered in three languages and was accompanied by the sound of helpless yet hopeful sobbing by brethren of different nationalities.
Afterwards, a colorful burst of energy and excitement flooded the stage as the different representatives of various countries paraded in front of the whole congregation. This was aptly called the Parade of Colors.
And after the different nations’ flags have been raised and flown, the celebrant made his way into the stage.
After several years of not seeing Bro. Eli, at the first sight of him standing amidst a sea of brethren who traveled from different corners of the world to be with him, a feeling of indescribable elation overwhelmed me. I felt light, and at the moment, I knew what happiness was.
I remember the last time I saw Bro. Eli vividly. He wore a purple barong and walked around the Ang Dating Daan Convention Center in Apalit, Pampanga in the Philippines. Back then, he was thinner, and had more energy.
As I stared at Bro. Eli, the fact that he is no longer as young as he was before was obvious. The years of hard work, of sleepless nights, of burdens that abound — is unmistakable.
With an excited and warm smile, Bro. Eli greeted the brethren in Brazil and in all parts of the world. He was welcomed with deafening cheers and claps.
The international preacher who had been in exile in a foreign land for several years, has not been in the company of a multitude of brethren, especially Filipino brethren. As he spoke to the brethren in South America, on that very moment, his bliss, his appreciation of and his gratitude to God for this grand Church event was evident on his whole person.
Bro. Eli was happy to see the brethren once more. Tears of joy made his eyes sparkle even more than it usually does.
And when words of love, of gratitude are not enough, sometimes, a fitting song does justice — the right song speaks from one longing heart to another.
From the grateful hearts of Bro. Eli and Vice-Presiding Minister Bro. Daniel Razon sprung the desire to sing to the brotherhood. To express their love for each and everyone of the members, regardless of language or color.
The Church leaders sang Through the Years. And even though at times, their voices broke with escaping sobs and tears, the joy in their hearts were felt by the whole congregation who sang along with them.
Looking at our Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking brethren who did not understand much English, the tears in their eyes were enough to tell me that even though the song was sung in English, the spirit of the song transcends language barriers. It was enough to let me know that they understood what our preachers wanted to express.
Bro. Eliseo Soriano sang Through the Years with Bro. Daniel Razon. April 2014. Pol Arellano, PVI NY
I can’t remember when you weren’t there
When I didn’t care for anyone but you
I swear we’ve been through everything there is
Can’t imagine anything we’ve missed
Can’t imagine anything the two of us can’t do
Through the years
You’ve never let me down
You turned my life around
The sweetest days I’ve found
I’ve found with you
Through the years
I’ve never been afraid
I’ve loved the life we’ve made
And I’m so glad I stayed
Right here with you
Through the years
I can’t remember what I used to do
Who I trusted whom, I listened to before
I swear you’ve taught me everything I know
Can’t imagine needing someone so
But through the years it seems to me
I need you more and more
Through the years
Through all the good and bad
I knew how much we had
I’ve always been so glad
To be with you
Through the years
It’s better everyday
You’ve kissed my tears away
As long as it’s okay
I’ll stay with you
Through the years
The song hit me right in the chest, and I found myself sobbing, with my camera parked at my hip, with a violent mix of emotions.
After a memorable opening song number, in true Members Church of God International fashion, the day was filled with a Bible-based topic, delivered by Bro. Eli and Bro. Daniel.
The day flew by so fast. And before I knew it, I was making my way towards where I would rest a good night’s rest after saying thanks to Him who gave me the gift of that wonderful day.
And that concluded the first day of the International Thanksgiving in South America.