A Different Devotional:

Encouraging Workers for Children

This new, one-of-a-kind book is not only a devotional, it is a partnership—from every possible angle you may look at it.
It’s a partnership between Philippine Children’s Ministry Network (PCMN), who birthed the idea, and OMF Lit, publisher. This partnership extends to the 36 contributors of different persuasions and serving in varied ministries for children.  

In all honesty, I was a bit wary when Ms. Fe of PCMN broached the idea, but Ms. Yna of OMF Lit wore her it-can-be-done smile all through our first meeting. I thought of logistics: choosing the entries, classifying them into topics or verses, editing, coordinating, and meeting deadlines. A nightmare! Working with one author is complicated enough—but with multiple writers?!

I was happy to help, but I could only do so much. Yet, they rolled out the project with a writing workshop. Michelle of OMF Lit was to be the point person, with the help of the publication staff, who, I suspect, did not know what hit them. They had to work extra hard and extra long for the book to be launched even earlier than its original schedule.

PCMN likewise had to solicit the endorsement of partner organizations, whose officers wrote blurbs and reviews that became integral parts of the devotional. 

This project began as a dream, a wishful thought by Ms. Fe, a long-time advocate for abused children—many of whom have not met Jesus—in hard areas. She knows how demanding it is for workers to trudge through dirt roads and roadblocks. A devotional written by kindred spirits would help keep them going.   

As I wrote my entries and reviewed many others, I realized the heavy load each advocate for children must bear every day. We need nourishment, help that can only stem from the Word.

There were many entries, but we had to focus on the vision: a devotional for those who dedicate most of their precious hours to serving little ones not their own.

Less than a year later, on August 14 this year, Encouraging Workers for Children: A Devotional was launched amidst an SRO crowd and SRO grace. The hall was packed with fellow advocates for children, representing different organizations—all in partnership to build each other up. 

"Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV)


Grace Found in Gone?

At the launching of Gone? on the first day of the Manila International Book Fair, I was gifted with so many surprises, I won’t be able to write about them all. 

There were kids, of course, but there were grannies, too. Each group had the same kind of excitement over the book. The kiddies loved it for themselves. The grannies loved it for their grandchildren.

In was in the conversations, which I prefer to call encounters, that Koi Carreon (illustrator) and I were swamped with hordes of guests in all sizes and piles of books to sign. Grace galore.

Koi is an award-winning illustrator for adult readers, and for the first time, I am delighted that he tried his hand at a children’s book. I can’t speak for him, but I believe he found as much grace as I have.

One kid could almost memorize the whole book (it was read to her the day before), including the turn of phrases.

Another kid wanted to know more about it but not too much, not the ending anyway. One more kid narrated how he lost things and never found them.

Yet another said, “I never lost anything!”

To which his mom replied, “Sure you have—so many things.”

“Oh yeah [giggles], my hat . . . and my . . .”

The title of the book is Gone? yet I found more than I thought I could in the short two hours spent with kiddies and grannies. And I hope nothing from those hours will ever be gone from my memory bank.

These photos will help me remember . . . how the Hiyas staff conceptualized and built the pretty, outstanding booth; how their smiles and words of welcome to every guest hid their tired eyes begging for sleep; how they explained to those who dropped by each book; and how they saw to my needs before I could even say them.


The Real Thief: Tackling CICL

The acronym CICL stands for Children in Conflict with the Law.

Lawmakers in the country have been considering lowering the age (18) that defines and classifies a child. This has to do with the alarming rise in CICL cases. From 2012-2105 alone, “children alleged as, accused of, and adjudged as, having committed an offense under Philippines laws” have reached a disturbing number of 40,000!

Organizations for children at risk are lobbying for the retention of age 18. They argue that children below 18 need guidance; they still lack decision-making skills. Minors who are caught committing crimes “have the right to treatment that promotes their sense of dignity and worth, aiming at rebuilding their lives and their reintegration into society.”

Although the government runs Bahay Pag-Asa (BPA), a center for CIBL, the funding is often short to maintain decent living conditions for these children. 

"The Real Thief" (#4 book in the Happy Home series) shows how a minor is pushed into committing a crime by an unscrupulous adult who brazenly abuses the law that spares children from prosecution.

Writing this book was an uphill climb. The workers for children I interviewed warned me not to have any scene spooking kids, nor any scene making the arresting officers look like devils, nor any scene showing the police station as a war zone.

Wearing kid gloves, I inched my way into CICL—internalizing Articles 37 and 40 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989): “Placing CICL in a closed facility should be a measure of last resort, to be avoided whenever possible . . . no imposition of the death penalty and sentences of life imprisonment for offences committed by persons under the age of 18.”

Finally, when the manuscript was given the go-signal by my interviewees, which included a lawyer-advocate for children’s rights, Leo Kempis Ang, talented illustrator of the Happy Home series, was busy finishing an equally noble pursuit. I used the waiting time to polish and re-polish the text. 

Two years later, by sheer grace, here it is: "The Real Thief," specially created for our young reader’s understanding. We invite adults, who may chance upon the book, to advocate for children in whatever way possible, so that minors may not transfigure into CICL. 

(Leo and I will be at the Manila International Book Fair, SMX MOA, OMF Lit Aisle I, 1:30 to 3:00 PM today, to meet and have fun with our readers. Please join us.)   


No Means No: The Backstory

My only brother-in-law (Tony's younger brother), who was my dear friend and whom I admired for his intelligence and creativity, overdosed on drugs. He died at the age of 30. 

I briefly wrote about this tragic event in my book "Grace under Pressure." It caught the attention of the VP of Publications, and the next thing I knew, she was asking me to write a book on drug abuse. It is urgent, she explained, because it is the president's pet project. We need a book that can help people resist or crush the scourge of illegal substances.

Understanding the drug menace is borderline impossible. I didn't know where to begin. I started by interviewing people at random: psychologists, medical doctors, parents of drug users, drug users, rehab volunteers, youth pastors, pastors involved in rehab, lapsed and recovering users, and finally, the officers tasked by the president to take charge of the war against drug: the Philippine National Police.

Now bursting with scribbles of both my thoughts and my interviewees', my notebook bled from heartaches, guilt, and what-should-have-been.

In the end, I realized that, unless grace suddenly releases a user from the grip of drugs, addiction cannot be solved. Not even with the relentless brutal killing of carriers and users in our country today.

One of the PNP officers I talked to was emphatic, "The one and only way you can stop drugs from victimizing people is to stop the threat from closing in.” It's akin to erecting an impenetrable steel barrier as protection, because once these substances flow into the victim’s veins, he could be hooked for good, and the success of rehab centers is dismal.

"Have you given up, Sir?" I asked.

"Never," he said. "But those are the facts."

A drug barrier is built in the home, not in jails or rehab centers, by parents—not by the police or the government. And the construction should begin early: when the kids are old enough to understand gestures and listen to words.

Illegal drugs alter the brain, the psychologists and medical doctors I talked to stressed. A drug addict is no longer the person he was.

Ergo, before he malforms, he has to be kept as he was created, as he was meant to be by the Creator—right in the home. Proverbs 22:6 (NKJV), “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."

This nugget of wisdom is just one of many that parents can use to build a fortress for their children. The best parenting book ever written, the Bible, has all the principles we need to drug-proof our children.

In No Means No, after a barrage of research, I went back to Scripture. I mined these principles, and demonstrated them through experiences shared by various people who so generously opened their hearts—for readers to be encouraged and blessed.    
(No Means No will be launched at the Manila International Book Fair on 13 September 2018, 4 PM, MOA SMX.)


I Am Going to Hollywood!

During the American Idol auditions, finalists jump and whoop, “I am going to Hollywood!” Glamorous Hollywood is where their dreams are made.

I facetiously hooted the same words when a nephew and a niece said they would take Tony and me to Hollywood. Bong was our patient driver and OD was our tour guide-cum-photographer. We’ve been to LA a few times, but never downtown.

Hollywood did not disappoint.
Like true-blue tourists, we set foot on the Walk of Fame and gawked at enterprising people costumed as super-heroes posing for a few bucks with adventurous tourists. Fortunately, we are classified under non-adventurous. 

The first thing I did was take a shot of my foot on Ryan Seacrest’s star—the guy whose ears hear “I am going to Hollywood” first-hand, and took shots of landmark theaters like Grauman’s Chinese Theater, El Capitan, Dolby—the works. And to cap the tour, we were taken to the West Griffith Observatory where we had our must-have shot with the Hollywood sign as background (above).
Both Bong and OD urged us to walk here and there, see this and that, but Tony’s knees and fractured wrist, plus my grasping toes and spine, aggravated by the freezing temperature, demurred. Let’s just say, it was a geriatric tour, albeit a magnificent one.         
Then, like additional manna from heaven, a few more cousins, nieces, and nephews happened to be in downtown LA, too. They invited us to dinner at—one guess—Chinatown. 

In all, grace, marvelous grace, took us to Hollywood. But beyond that, it enabled us to bond with dearest kin we rarely see. I sang all the way home.

“I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving.” Psalm 69:30