I will open with this verse from the Book of Mark where Jesus asked Peter “Who do you say I am?” As I look back into my life I now realize that indeed God has been asking me who He really is in my life and all throughout I have always put the question aside while I got on with my life. Well, until 16 years ago when He sent the BCBP to Ormoc…
God brought me into this world as the 3rd of 10 children of a lawyer and a farmer businesswoman who were both good Catholics. Attendance at Sunday mass together as a family was a must and so was the Rosary after dinner. Our family is closely knit, and so Sunday was always family day at the beach. Today this practice continues specially because all 4 of us brothers who decided to make Ormoc our home together with our mom are all members of BCBP Ormoc.
High school gave me my first taste of freedom from home and I made the most of it – fun with the boys, drinking beer by the case. College was a time of limbo as I didn’t know what to do with my life. I moved on to the College of Medicine and married Janet, started a snack business, and worked in a hospital. God took a back seat in my life.
At this time of my life I thought I had it made. Blessed with a growing family, a job in the hospital that I loved and a business that was starting to give us financial rewards, life seem good. But I was also a very angry man so that what would seem to be very trivial matters to others would elicit in me a reaction that was simply out of proportion. I was always sweating the small stuff. I loved pushing my weight around.
Then in October 1995, BCBP brought the Breakfast fellowship to Ormoc. But Saturday was my tennis time. After some arguments Janet had to go alone. I did take time and took stock of my life. I had a good life. I knew that I didn’t really thank God for all the blessings but I thought my wife could do it for me. Also I considered myself a good catholic. I never intentionally hurt anybody and I was a regular church go’er. However the breakfast affected Janet so much that there was no way she would let me miss the second one 2 weeks later.
Since I was adamant in not going, Janet turned to the most influential person in my life – my Mom as I lost my dad quite early in life – and so with the 2 of them ganging up on me I went though very sure that I will attend only one breakfast and that’s it. One breakfast. . . but 16 years down the road I am still here attending breakfast and now even sharing my life as well. It has indeed changed my live forever . . .Why? Because God knocked on my door a little harder that morning. In the Book of JOHN He says, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.”
As I started to live my Brotherhood Commitment card and do our first 2 basic commitments – daily prayer and Scripture time, I slowly came to the realization that indeed God wants a personal relationship with each one of us. HE then started guiding me to areas in my life that needed to be addressed, that needed to be changed and so HE started pruning me.
First was my pride. As I started reading the scriptures I was led to the Book of Sirach: “How can there be such pride in someone who is nothing but dust and ashes?” That hit me real hard. I came to realize that my unreasonable temper was just an offshoot of my pride. I was actually throwing my weight around knowing fully well that with my size and my status in the community, I could intimidate people. Now my patience has grown and I would sometimes astonish even myself when I do not blow my top anymore in situations where before would elicit a major eruption of my temper. By God’s grace my self-control has now vastly improved and I could now regain my senses easily.
The second area where God guided me to a shift in my paradigm is in business. As we all very well know, we are just stewards of the businesses that God gave us. He gave businesses to us as another venue to help others. In our snack business I started with my brothers, we have begun to adjust our pay scales but more importantly have decided to put into place other benefits as health and retirement. We share with them and their families a yearly Lenten reflection and yes, a yearly family day just like in the brotherhood. We now regularly consult God on how to manage our business.
God then allowed me to further grow in this area. I am also in sugar farming and sugar being a seasonal crop, I have always been bothered by the situation of having no work for our people in the off-season. I struggle to keep a dozen key men on the payroll but I know I cannot keep everybody. One day I brought this up in prayer and God answered right away. Another sugar farmer shared in the newspaper how he shares with his workers a % of his gross sales for the year as aid to the workers in the off-season. Mental calculations told me it was quite big but I decided to take up the challenge. I only asked the Lord to help provide the funds. I did it for the first time last 2002. And yes, the Lord also showed me that he can never be outdone in generosity, He increased my production that year and matched it with a good price, too, thus I even ended up making a little more for myself. I have since then been doing it every year, even during a particularly bad year when the business ended with a loss.
Then one day while doing my prayer time I was challenged in a reflection to get out of my comfort zone and do several things – accept community service, travel, adopt a child, and run for public office. At that point in my life I thought that most of these challenges were ‘long shots’ at best except travel which I love to do since I find it a learning and very enriching experience specially since we usually try to do it as a family. I had just committed to be a member of the then BCBP and so accepting a community service was a possibility, though my sights were limited to my BCBP chapter. Adopting a child and running for public office were nowhere in my sight. Those were my plans, but God had other plans for me.
Slowly, God revealed His plans for my life and I could only say, “Yes!” because He prepares me, He opens my mind, He softens my heart to accept His plans with the assurance that He is in control. . After a year of service in the community I felt I was already too deep into it and was planning to lie low in service. I was a medical doctor with a private practice, also managing a private hospital, and I had just begun farming.
And so what does God do? He gave me more responsibility as Outreach Head and I heard God clearly in my heart, “You do not serve Me because you are ready, I make you ready.” Soon my service in the brotherhood became more fulfilling but I never considered community service beyond my chapter. God had other plans so that today I serve way beyond our BCBP chapter at the national level.
More importantly my service in the brotherhood opened my heart to service in the greater realm of God’s kingdom. For the past 12 years I have been actively involved in service with the parish council / more recently as chair of the PFC. I am also actively involved in 3 foundations, all based in Ormoc, of which I am a founding member, all involved with education, both formal and informal, all targeting the underprivileged sectors of our society.
Then 9 years ago while serving then as CH of BCBP Ormoc, we had a surprise call from a friend, an Italian Franciscan nun running an orphanage in Borongan, Samar, asking us to adopt a newly born baby girl whose 15 year old mother was simply not ready for motherhood. She just wanted to get rid of the baby and move on in life. We had visited the orphanage a few times but adopting a child was never a part of our plans in life so I told Janet that we will sleep over it first.
Well, the next morning while during my scripture time the reading was from the Gospel of Mark where Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” ‘Who is He really in my life?’. . . In my heart I just knew that the baby was Jesus wanting to get into our lives. So I told Janet to go to Samar — 12 hours later she came back with our new baby – the shortest pregnancy in history! Our daughter is now 9 years old and she proudly tells everybody that she was born not out of Janet’s womb but from Janet’s heart. She is simply a bundle of joy to all of us.
I have now taken on the last challenge of that reflection a few years ago, running for public office, something I would never have considered but God has His ways and I just know that this was part of His plans for me.
Sometime mid-2008 I was at a crossroads in my life. It was also at this time that the CBCP (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines) came out with their pastoral message addressed to active members of the church, urging us to get involved, to go beyond poll watching, encouraging us to run for public office based on principled politics. The “call” hit a nerve.
I committed to run for the city council although there was no peace in my heart. I knew that the political arena was an entirely new world for me. The presence of similarly minded people in the group who just wanted change—hopefully for the betterment of our city—somewhat calmed down my apprehensions. Eight of us, 5 of whom were BCBP brothers, put up a ticket knowing we had a long shot at best. We didn’t even have a party and we were up against a political dynasty that had been there forever.
To all of us then, it was not just about winning; it was more about making a stand, getting out of our comfort zones, getting out of our indifference, to stop just grumbling about it, — to stop closing our eyes and turning away pretending things were all right when we know they definitely were not. We decided to light our one little candle rather than just continue to curse the darkness.
We were up against household names in a political contest that was based on political largesse and patronage but we were bent on doing it right, to practice a new kind of politics. . . to campaign hard, to focus on issues and pure motives of service and not to rely on distributing political largesse – ( yes, we did house to house campaigning and I lost a good 18 lbs during the campaign – mayo pato cige nalang ug campanya ). We experienced the dark side of politics but we stood our ground because we all believed that we have a God of the impossible.
Well, God’s ways are indeed not our ways. He allowed me to win but I was the lone winner from our group. Guess our people were not ready for our kind of politics. It was hard to accept and when I finally started my government service I was totally lost.
Then God allowed me to meet some BCBP bros who had had some experience in government. They cautioned me ‘not to aim too high’, that I can only do so much. Democracy is a game of numbers and no matter what I do, I have only 1 vote. They made me realize that my foremost responsibility was to be a good and responsible fiscalizer. These realizations helped me focus on what I could realistically do and should be doing in my government service. The more important thing was to try to do the right thing at all times. It was a tall order indeed for me. I will always need all your prayers.
It’s been almost a year since I started my government service and I know that I have given my best. Some of our constituents can be very demanding because that is the political culture that they have been used to, but I just have to try to stand firm.
So today I live a busy and very challenging life. My government service takes most of my weekdays while the BACP takes many of my weekends. In between I juggle my time for my other commitments – to the parish, to the 3 foundations, to my wife and family who are very important to me, to my medical practice (though now it is mostly ‘gratis’ ) and of course to myself as I try to keep my mornings open for tennis – I love the game, I enjoy the company and most importantly I need the exercise. . . .
God has seen to it that I will have the time and focus to do all these. Our fastfood business is now more professionally run thus requiring less and less of our personal attention. My son Ting has taken over the farm and is doing quite well. He has not only made it more productive but more importantly it has helped him grow more mature and made him more responsible. My 2 daughters in the US have immersed into the American way of life quite well – my prayers for them are that they will be able to have time for God amidst the demands of the western way of life – but I feel that God prepared them for this since they both were actively involved with a singles faith community, Lingkod, while they were here . . . . and yes, today, I now sleep with a grandma. We have a 1 yr old grandchild and a second one is on the way.
Our God is never done with us while we are on this earth. My relationship with my God is still a struggle and I know now that the struggle will continue throughout this life. I still fall very often. There are times when my prayer and scripture time are just a blur with no real meaning but I struggle on. God has made me realize through the brotherhood that a Christian life is not just a circle where one ends up in the same point where he started. A Christian life should be a spiral where every year one goes up to a higher level of relationship with His creator, a continuous process of conversion. I believe that since joining the BCBP16 years ago I have grown to a higher level in my personal relationship with my God. I am now more attuned to His whispers.
Now I know for sure that my God will always be there with me and for me no matter what happens. But whatever comes my way I will accept because I know He intends to use all these life experiences, both good and bad, to strengthen me in this journey and make me grow in Him.