Category Archives: Faith Journey

Out of the abundance of the heart…

I have been tempted to blog on the kindness and generosity of people towards me in times like these. But I kept on resisting it, for some time, mainly because they don’t want publicity. Secondly, I don’t want to be misconstrued as encouraging others to give. But the latest overwhelming spontaneous and unexpected support from these kind-hearted people touched me so deeply that I succumbed to temptation.

One of my weaknesses is being poor in asking favour from others. Considerably, I am good in fund raising for a cause or for others as proven by successful fund raising projects undertaken by the organizations I have led or involved in. Not only because of our academic training as social workers to link the needs and resources to serve others. I have also attended various resource mobilization seminars, one of which was sponsored by Ventures for Fund Raising. Admittedly, I miserably failed in applying this for my self and my family. The most that I can do is look for loan or sign promissory note, when applicable.

Fund raising

I cannot forget the comment of a topnotch lawyer when I texted him after receiving the cheque of a requested loan in 2011. By circumstance, I was forced to approach him, overcoming my pride, thru text for some expensive laboratories: “That’s not a loan. Consider it a small token of appreciation for your support to Nanay and myself when I had nothing…. I have always wanted to help you, Nong. But I was also very careful knowing you. I did not also want to hurt your pride. But it’s good that you opened up to me. It liberates us both.”

Yes, I have difficulty in asking favour so much so that in my recent hospitalization much of the financial assistance coming from PCSO and Congressman’s Office thru the DSWD which helped settle my bills were done by the initiatives of my masteral students and co teacher. Had it not been for them, my wife and I could have sought for additional loans from respective employment and elsewhere. Few days after my confinement, I was surprised to receive a call from my co teacher informing me that she was also hospitalized with an instruction that a masteral student would facilitate the requirements for she has requested assistance from a congressman for both of us. Indeed, the assistance came after some days. They supplemented  our resources augmented by the contribution of our respective siblings.

Talha

In not a few instances during confinement , either my wife or I received cash from colleagues in the academe and ministry who paid a visit. Few days after my discharge, a pastor friend paid me a visit at home. After a hearty conversation, he gave me a P500 bill telling me it’s all that he could share at that moment because of other necessities too. The amount appeared to multiply when I learned from him that he decided to forego a privileged trip abroad for spiritual enrichment as he felt uncomfortable to enjoy while others suffer including me. He then decided to use the funds he raised as counterpart for other purposes that would benefit others also. I was touched by his gesture, although I did not expect him to give because his companionship, moral and spiritual support during my sickness and prior to that, in many instances, are more than enough.

Blessings continued to flow when my brother paid me a visit at home coming from Bacolod City. He brought with him some envelopes containing cash gifts from a high school classmate and some town mates. Days later, some masteral students also came with fruits and some amount, followed by our retired maninay who still teach part time in the University.

inspiring words

When I resumed my work in the Department, cash gifts have been minimal as I return to the mainstream. But gifts continue to come in various form. The touching messages thru social media from former students, friends, colleagues and superiors including esteemed national figure in Social Work lift up my spirit. The gestures of students to express their concerns have been inspiring, as well. Some shared with me printed materials on health and healing, detoxification and use of natural healing process, herbs, fruits and vegetables coming from respective churches . Friends both here and abroad sent me related web links and stories of cancer survivors. Others came to my office after class asking me if they could pray for me. Some masteral students and colleagues gave me food supplement believed to be good for my particular illness. In another instance, my wife brought from Negros fresh honey given by a pastor in mountain churches.

round table

Most of the gifts were in kinds until last January 8 when I attended a consultation at the national office of the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches that I was given a cheque and cash as gifts. Few days after, I received a text from a high school classmate informing me he was at home but intended to proceed to the office to see me before his trip to our hometown in Negros. When we met at the office, he gave me grapes and some amount. When I opened my FB account on same day I got a private message from former Social Work student who is now successful in her career, asking for my bank account so that she can send an amount with an inspiring message.

Then on Friday afternoon, a pastor friend came to our house with a white box and started counting the amount as love gift from the faculty of the Department of Religion and Ethics. I was elated. Yesterday morning when I opened my FB account, I got a private message from a US based pastor friend asking me to whom he would address the amount he intends to send thru West Union. In his follow up message, he promised to reveal the name of the giver* once I get hold of the amount.

I have been so overwhelmed with these goodness shown that I succumbed to the temptation of publishing a post on human kindness as expression of my thanks to all who shared their resources, love, concern and prayers. I look at this outpouring of support both in its immediate material benefit and beyond. For me, it’s another indication that I would still survive. An answered prayer for God’s provision and support from the community of faith.

Out of the abundance of the heart, my mouth, my mind, my blog speak. To thank all those who, out of the abundance of the heart, generously give. Thank you very much for your kindness. You know who you are. Your prayers, encouraging words, gifts, be it in cash or kinds- all  contribute to my inspiring journey towards healing. I pray that God bless you more.

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Note: Gifts continue to come in after this article was published which necessitates a sequel to this post. My US Based pastor friend revealed the *unexpected giver as we do not know each personally. She only knew me and my condition from a pastor friend. Although I know  about her principled stance, humility and magnanimity thru Positvely Centralians FB Group. A fine lady who loves to help/give in secret.

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An inspiring journey

It’s already one month since my discharge from the hospital due to intense abdominal pain. I was supposed to undergo gallbladder surgery based on the ultra sound result. Since there was a cyst in the tail end of pancreas, my doctor recommended CT scan in order  to be included  in the operation should there be a mass. However, result of the CT scan revealed no gallstones, only sludge and the mass measuring 5 x 4 cm is found in the pancreatic head not tail with nodules and cysts in liver and intestine.

sickOther findings were atherosclerotic aorta, prostatomegaly and hypertrophic degenerative osteoarthritis, lumbar spine. The doctor tried to make us understand these medical terms with the advise for exploratory laparotomy – a diagnostic surgery also to determine if the mass is malignant and the recommendation for subsequent chemotherapy. After discussing pros and cons and the possible costs, I decided to go home to rest for awhile as I already feel drained in all aspects after 5 day stay in hospital. Had it not been for social worker friends and masteral students who volunteered to facilitate with the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, Department of Social Welfare and Development and the City Congressman’s office for some assistance, my family would have incurred again debt for my hospitalization and laboratories. Gifts from colleagues in the academe, pastors, social work masteral students,classmate in high school and townmates plus contribution from my siblings and my wife’s family have also helped us in cashing out for the bills.Some well meaning friends and colleagues continue to send gifts which we appreciate.

family

Yes, finances affected my decision. After weighing all things including the worst i.e. my case is terminal and days are already numbered. I have said to myself, if ever I die, I would no longer burden my family for the debts to be incurred for the chemotherapy. Our experience in 2009, when I was seriously ill forcing us to loan from various sources, is more than enough. I cannot bear the thought of my family especially the children to suffer deprivation again because of me. Relatively, my wife and I have already lived our lives. But our kids are just starting to live their own lives. And they have their struggles, too. I consoled myself with the thought that in 1975-1976 during my first critical condition, I bargained to God for only one year to live so that I could serve him well since I was still in the seminary and too young to die. Indeed, upon recovery right after graduation I worked full time in a church, giving my all, thinking for only one year. And God has extended it for over 30 years already.

Of course, like any other human being, I wish to live longer because I have many unfinished tasks yet. I still want to see my children finished their respective courses and establish their family. I want to put in place the distance education program of the department before my retirement. And to publish the dream book– consolidation of our life’s experiences in life highlighting God’s faithfulness, mercy and grace in transforming my life into a productive one. How God has helped me survived more than 3 serious illnesses , accidents and threats to my life and security especially when I joined the people’s struggle during the dark years of dictatorial rule in the Philippines. And probably write other inspirational books and references that can be used in the academe and ministry.

Untitled

Thus my one month journey is a mixture of ambivalence greatly affected by my health condition. When I feel good my spirit is high, contented with my decision. But when the abdominal pain/inconvenience recurs, I am tempted to reconsider my decision. More so, when I read the Discharge Summary  indicating in the Final Diagnosis: Advanced intraabdominal malignancy; Etiology undetermined. I tried to search the web on pancreatic disease, cyst, or cancer and alternative medicines and their consequences. I started using some of those herbs/vegetables that are familiar to me like the turmeric, ginger, lemon grass, babana. Until a friend, whom I helped formulated the vision-mission-goals of his Dreamers Valley some years, invited me in one thanksgiving of the success of his ministry.

dreameRS.

The place has been wonderfully developed,  according to the brochure I made for him. It can accommodate now 300 participants for seminar using organic products for food. He let me try his fermented 3 C composed of carrots, cucumber and celery which are believed to kill cancer cells. These are my natural resources in faith journey, taken daily with faith and prayers that they come from God and the power of God works through them, at times trying imagery as culled from the testimony of some survivors. Of course, with the hundreds prayer partners who signified their commitment to join me in prayers for healing. Yes, throughout the month’s journey, I internalized the acrostics I used in my sermon on THANKSgiving.

Prayer

So far, my faith journey works well and has been inspiring. Except for some days of inconveniences, especially when I consumed sea foods and weeds for my viand for consecutive days, the intensity of abdominal pain did not occur. I become cautious with my food intake. Admittedly, I do not know the real happening inside my body –whether medically the situation has minimized or worsened, whether the mass is malignant or not, whether the cancer cells were eliminated or compounded. But deep within me is a peace of mind, a healthy disposition, an undying hope and faith that I will survive, a resolve that whatever happens, I will continue to internalize THANKS: Trust God, Hope that never ends, Accept realities, Never give up, Keep the faith and Shift the focus. I discipline my self to look for good things my illness or each day brings rather than entertaining pain, suffering, fear and negative thoughts. The journey goes on. Hope you will continue to be our prayer partner in this journey towards healing.

From pain to gain: A shift in focus

For more than a month, pain has dominated my world as I experience abdominal pain I haven’t encountered before. Even in one of my most critical health conditions, five years ago, and the subsequent gradual process of recovery, the pain is more on emotional and spiritual, less in physical. This time it cuts across all other aspects. In fact, I was supposed to undergo surgery because of gallstones as observed in the ultra sound. With reservation, I took heed of the advice consoling myself that is the only way to get rid of the pain. Because there was also a pancreatic cyst in the ultra sound, the surgeon recommended CT scan first so that he can include the tail end of pancreas in the operation.

sickMuch to our amazement, the gallstones disappeared in the CT scan. But the joy was short lived as another CT scan was recommended – the result of which highlighted the pancreatic cyst. Diagnostic operation was recommended as sure method for biopsy to determine if the cyst is malignant. I was caught off-guard. Unprepared because of my assumption that I would be excused from other illness having not fully recovered yet from previous one in almost all aspects. Considering all scenarios even the worst, with my wife’s consent, I decided to leave the hospital and take a rest, meditate, pray, try nature’s healing process at home. I want to have more time with God, especially that earlier I have inspiring experiences with Him . I even prayed for more opportunities to publicly bear witness to God’s faithfulness to me and my family.

Yes, I long to do that since I survived the aforementioned critical periods in our life. I want to stress God’s hand in my healing. Since my condition is volatile yet, I shelve it for a while until my full recovery to make it real, powerful and with full confidence. However, observing the very gradual healing process, I decided to start doing it in every opportunity to preach and teach. At the back of my mind, with my age, full recovery may not come and I’ll forever lose by default. While I keep on believing and hoping for it, I also started to be realistic.

capiz cbmaIndeed, opportunities came. Lots of speaking engagements in line with respective themes on God’s faithfulness and thanksgiving. I have gone to Bacolod City after five years during the Foundation Day of the First Bethany Church. I was privileged to be the speaker in the CBMA Capiz Chapter Assembly in Maayon, Capiz. And lately, at the  Baptist Church of Forward in Badiangan as Thanksgiving Sunday speaker. This is the church which adopted me as member almost 40 years ago because of a very productive ministry with young people during our Gospel Team while still a seminarian in Convention Baptist Bible College.

certificate

Forward

I grabbed each opportunity to boldly proclaim Gods faithfulness even in pain and sufferings. Although not used to a prescriptive sermon, I even made an acrostic to emphasize my point in one of my sermons. i.e. THANKS. Meaning, Trust God at all times even in bad times, Hope that never end e.g. hoping against hope, Accept realities even if harsh, Never give up, Keep the faith and Shift your focus.

I feel blessed and pray to God for more opportunity to bear witness on His faithfulness. I even thought of reactivating my blogs to broaden its reach.

BethanyUnexpectedly, however, I found myself in another crisis situation where I am entangled now- a painful one i.e. literally. While considering the worst scenario, deep within is a hope that I will still survive. The comments on facebook particularly those who offered prayers for my recovery inspire me to hold on. Of course, there were times when I cried to God like a child when the pain lingered more than expected disturbing even my sleep. Until I remembered the acrostics I made on THANKS and started to internalize each point of the word.

That’s the time I realized that God might have allowed this painful experience so that I can walk my talk because this physical pain was absent during that near death experience in 2009. Probably, God is not through with me yet. He is preparing me for something else beyond my imagination. “His thoughts are not our thoughts. Neither His ways, our ways.” Shifting my focus, I began to look for the gains, rather than the pains. The first thing I have seen is the revival of this blog which hibernated for some months due to my hectic schedule . I expect for more. Dear God, enlighten me more.

Bloom even where you’re not planted

Bloom where you're not planted

Taken beside the Swimming Pool of Central Philippine University, Iloilo City

When I saw this flower yesterday, while doing my early morning walking exercise, the first thing that came into my mind was the popular quote “bloom where you’r e planted.”

Impressed by the way the flower struggled to sprout and bloom in an unlikely situation, I thought of making an amendment to the quotation. So, I requested my daughter to take a photo of the flower before it withers or somebody plucks it.

Surfing the net, I found out that while Mary Engelbreit popularized the phrase, others give the credit to the Bishop of Geneva, Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622). Hence, my apologies to them for this amendment which, hopefully, does not distort their intention.

But isn’t life sometimes like that? We are compelled to live and  give our best even in unlikely situation, condition, fields, places or circumstances.

Faith conversation on scribbles of ambivalence

My post on scribbles of ambivalence has elicited faith conversations in social media. I shared the link on my Facebook timeline with the following comment: “Thereafter, I had that sort of mystical experience- an inner peace, a sense of security and confidence that when I resumed reading the bible, I got struck by Revelation 3:20 in its literal sense.”

Many liked it while others made comments. An intriguing one came from a friend and partner in development and volunteerism endeavors who is now based in the United States . Below is our faith conversation.

Arlyn:  Yes mystical experiences can never be questioned and I always take it with ambivalence.

Me: Thanks for your comment which has triggered more thoughts on ambivalence. It made me recall more of my faith journey in 1975. After the flashing effect of the literal interpretation of Revelation 3:20 on my psyche, which was sustained/fertilized by the insights from books on miracles by Pentecostal writers, I started to “walk by faith.”

Whereas before, I needed assistance to get out of bed, with the new found faith, I tried to walk out of the room after prayers of faith. And I succeeded. However, just when I thought it was a miracle and moved further and faster, I got exhausted and forced to lie down on bed for some days. But I got thrilled with the new faith experience and continued the “walk with faith.”

Until one afternoon, after much prayers and certainty, I decided to take a leap of faith outside our house carrying a wooden chair going to the river bank some hundred meters away from home to meditate and watch the sunset.(Of course, to the amazement or protest of my mother whose love and concern for me overcame all her ambivalence). Although exhausted, my faith had been strengthened by another success. Unfortunately, the weather appeared to be uncooperative. Dark clouds gradually enveloped the bright sky as if the forces of darkness wanted to mar the beauty of faith journey. Caught on ambivalent situation, I took it as test of faith.

Instead of retreating, I prayed to God to vanish the darkness. But the clouds appeared to be less threatened by prayers. I prayed more assuring God I won’t surrender my faith. The more the weather was agitated and shower started to fall. Undaunted, I held my ground with ambivalence, as raindrops keep falling over the leaves of banana and trees covering me .

And in the last ditch attempt to save my faltering faith, I closed my eyes and told God, “ I won’t leave this place. I know you hears and answers prayer and won’t fail me. Even it rains heavily, you will cover me with your grace.” As the sound of raindrops got louder, my meditation got deeper. And would you believe, Arlyn, despite heavy pouring of rain, not a single drop ever reached my head, as if somebody was shielding me. Amazed, I slowly opened my eyes. Guess what did I see?

Arlyn: What did you see?

Me: Dare to guess or your share your imagination?If you were in my place, what would you expect to see? Something that would strengthen your faith. Something that would convince you that, indeed, God hears and answers prayer.

Arlyn: You looked up and you saw big umbrella over your head…ah… it was your wife holding big umbrella up to protect you from rain…

Me: I was not married yet in 1975.

Arlyn: Then let’s change wife to Mom .

Me: This confirms my perception that you are a prophet. Yes, I was so engrossed in prayer that I did not notice my mother holding the umbrella. Seems funny but at that time, it did not matter much to me whether my mother or an angel was shielding me from rain. What was important for me was the fact that God answered my prayer, that my faith had stood the test of time and circumstances. I went home together with my mother with a happy and grateful heart believing it was a miracle. My faith was strengthened. That experience, including the literal interpretation of a particular scripture had contributed to my healing.

I cannot help but smile as I recall and reflect on that experience.God could have been amused with my child like faith and alerted my mother, knowing the impact on my heart condition at that time had my prayer not answered. I wish to recapture some elements of that past faith experiences to guide me in my journey.

Arlyn: You really made me smile Rev. Lariza. But thanks for sharing. Child like faith is sometimes funny as we look back but we know in the heart of our hearts that this faith has guided our journey like the “pillar of fire” during the night and “pillar of clouds” during the day.

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Article first published  on Faith Journey: On Higher Ground. The author is in the process of transferring posts from other blogs to  converge on this official website.

The challenges of holistic ministry

 

The author delivering the Closing Challenge. Photo Credit: Ms. Henna Baclagon, Director, Development Ministries, CPBC

The author delivering the Closing Challenge.
Photo Credit: Ms. Henna Baclagon, Director, Development Ministries, CPBC

I have been an advocate of holistic ministry. I talk about it in every opportunity given to me, in season or out of season, in whatever fields of endeavor I am in. I have witnessed and encountered various reactions of church people on the issue. In fact, when I was at helm of leadership in our Baptist ministers association and part of the leadership of the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches, I initiated an extension program for pastors which lead to a Master of Social Pastoral Ministries.

The mission of the Master of Socio-Pastoral Ministries program is to prepare pastors for leadership roles in church, church-related institutions and community. Specifically, it is geared towards a healthy and balanced pastoral leadership in church and community services. Pastor are taught that they are pastors not just  of churches but also of communities. So that they can also teach their parishioners the commitment to service both in churches and communities.

Credit: kidmia.org

For me, this is one challenge of the holistic ministry. People should be taught to memorize and internalize not only John 3:16 but also of 1 John 3:16. Of course, all of us know by heart the enviable privilege in John 3:16. But how many pastors or church members know about the accountability in 1 John 3:16? Indeed, it is heartwarming to know that there is a God who loves us so much that He gave His only son for us. But it is different thing when the time comes for us to lay down our life for others. And if we move on further to the next verses, we will hear this rebuke from John: 

john

When I was still involved with our theological institutions, one of the questions I asked Theology students to engage them into discussion is why they enroll in the seminary or why did they take up theology. The common answer is to serve God. Seldom do you hear responses on serving the people or community. My follow up questions then are: Are you sure God wants you to serve Him? Can you cite biblical basis? How would you relate the question to Christ’s own statement that he came not to be served but to serve? Haven’t it cross your mind that  our assertion  to serve God alone can be  an escapism in fulfilling his mandate to serve the people?

For it is more convenient to serve God than serve the people. God never complained the way we serve him. How much time and resources we give him? But it is different from people. You will hear negative feedback if you deliver poor services to them.

Another challenge of holistic ministry is for us to preach and teach church members the whole story not just a compartment that would satisfy their need. So in emphasizing the good news in Ephesians 2:8-9, we should not exclude the succeeding verse that involves accountability. Lest we falsely assure people of eternal security without minding what has been expected of them. For while it is true that salvation is a gift of God, not from ourselves or by good works for it is by grace through faith, we are also God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

whole

Holistic ministry challenges us also to introduce people to the Way, which Christians believe to be the only way to heaven. But it is just one third of His claim. For this Way also expects us to be on the side of the Truth and stand for it without fear or favor; advocate and work for that which brings or gives Life, not destruction. Thus, Christians should always seek & do things in proper way; stand for the truth and nothing but the truth and engage in service and in life giving endeavors especially to the marginalized so that they too can attain the promised abundant life.

Similarly, holistic ministry challenges us to let the people know the answer. But not without the benefit of engaging them into critical discussion on questions. For it is when people understand and properly analyze the questions that they find the relevance and significance of the answer.

Holistic MInistry

This reminds me of the risks involved in espousing holistic ministry. In my case, it caused a delay in the completion of my theological studies. In fact, I had experienced some sort of isolation because at that time, our denomination was quite not comfortable with our advocacy. So I was forced to shift to another course. After finishing my Bachelor of Science in Social Work degree, I resumed my aborted theological studies. During the first day of the class, in her effort to make me feel comfortable, our professor asked me to differentiate theology and social work or the difference between a pastor and a social worker.

In jest, or should I say, out of the abundance of the heart, I quickly responded: “When a social worker enters the community, although he/she may have prior knowledge of the problem, still  the social worker immerses with the people and learns from and/or with them their problems. The process may take sometime, perhaps weeks or months. Thereafter, the solution undergoes another participatory process in order to find and work out the solution. A pastor, on the other hand, has already the answer prior to knowing the problem or even before entering the community. Worse, if he/she would not even dare ask the questions.

(To be continued)

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Delivered during the Closing Celebration of Training on Disaster Risk Reduction and ManagementSeptember 7, 2013 at Highway 21 Hotel, Iloilo City. Organized by Asia Pacific Baptist Aid of Asia Pacific Baptist Federation, the 3 day training was hosted by the Development Ministries, Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches.

Breaking the status quo

It seems I have reached a some kind of plateau in my journey both in blogging and in my spirituality. Indicator: No new post on any of my seven other blogs for the past three months.

Probably, I was just exhausted after a successful defense of my dissertation last June. So exhausted that until now I have not submitted the final copy despite a minor revision. Although I know I can do it, if I will, in less than a week.

But I don’t want to prolong this experience. Today, I decided to break the plateau by idly opening this blog, attempting to make a new post. Surfing the web related to the subject matter, in random, two links caught my attention. Hence, I am sharing the Post dissertation stress disorder and Have You Reached A Spiritual Plateau? to break the status quo.