5/29/2019

Why VBS?


Way back in 1894, a Sunday school/public school teacher, D. T. Miles, in Hopedale, Illinois, felt that time spent on teaching Bible to children was too short. So, she started a daily Bible school during the summer.

Four years later, Virginia Sinclair Hawes, director of the children's department at Epiphany Baptist Church in New York City, started a summer "Everyday Bible School" for neighborhood children.

The idea caught on and so all over the world, churches (including our own PVGC) mount a summer VBS. I vaguely remember all the many VBS I attended when I was a kid, but the memory of getting to know Jesus has been inscribed in my heart.

Every year, PVGC uses the themed curriculum prepared by CSM Publishing. Inc., in  partnership with Philippine Children’s Ministries Network (PCMN) this year. CSM is my publisher, so I have seen how much time they take to prepare the curriculum every year.
This 2019, the kids enjoyed the Shield Squad: Secure in God’s protection. 


Aside from new activities and songs, they met the God who takes care of them, keeping them safe and secure. They learned about having the heart of a superhero, saving those who are in danger. 

I took a peek at the SRO graduation ceremonies and was awed by how our youth worked as a team to make the whole program unforgettable. Most important, they had planted the seed of God’s redeeming grace to 130 plus young minds.  

Why VBS?

Statistics: One-quarter of all people reached by any given church anywhere in the world are through VBS!

May all those who support the VBS in whatever form (time, effort, talent, snacks, budget, materials, prizes, presence, etc.) burst with blessings.


5/28/2019

777,777


This number caused me to wake up at dawn so I could freeze it in time. I knew it would come sometime in the morning so I went to bed early so I could wake up early and wait for it. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

Then, there it was! Screenshot.
I am euphoric, of course, just as I was when I reached 555,555 and 666,666. But this post will remain only for one day because euphoria is temporary and short-lived. On the other hand, seconds and minutes, where grace lives permanently, will keep rolling along.

Thank you to all my guests who dropped by to read my posts these past 12 years and a half. This number is about you—and about the joy that visits me with every post. 


5/25/2019

Saving Lives


Many Christian churches have outreach ministries—usually in communities where poverty-stricken people live. Our church has quite a few, mounted on an ad hoc basis.

But starting last year, a group of younger people/couples with a heart for children started one. It has since become a weekly activity that brims with life. Held in one of our village’s clubhouses, the children go through, to my mind, Sunday School (SS) curriculum.

This reminds me of my SS days where we prayed, sang, listened to Bible stories, learned about Jesus, and were served snacks. The only difference is that, today, the children are treated to digital images.

I was privileged to attend one, when my book on sharing was read to the children. What delighted me was their rapt attention and their quick answers to questions about the story. The outstanding ones were each awarded a book.

In my experience, outreach ministries have brought many lost souls to Jesus.  No wonder Pastor Jeremy Norton calls this church activity: Saving lives . . . eternally!  “Jesus was all about outreach ministry,” he said. 

Our Bible tells us that Jesus indeed moved from community to community, reaching out to throngs of people of every kind, bringing the lost to God so that that all may be saved. 

I am deeply grateful to—their names off the top of my head—Anne, Aaron, Carla, Ely, Esther, Joseph, Kit, Malou, Rhiza, Ric, Ruth,Tes, Twinzel, Yvonne, plus many more. They spend time, effort, and resources so that this ministry will stand strong week after week after week. We who are older, and therefore sapped of their kind of energy, can only watch in the sidelines.  

On my wobbly (and sometimes aching) knees, I pray for grace to rain on these faithful outreachers and the children—close to a hundred now—they minister to, so that more and more lives may be saved.

5/21/2019

#anyareCOMELEC?


In the language of millennials, this Facebook hashtag means: what happened, COMELEC?

It begs for answers to explain the multiple mishaps and irregularities that took place on May 13, mid-term Election Day. This ignited opposition groups to join forces in mounting a protest rally in front of the Philippine International convention Center (PICC) where the COMELEC (Commission on Elections) are still canvassing the votes—as of this post.    

Various groups of protesters marched from different parts of Metro Manila to call on COMELEC to bare what transpired during the seven-hour delay in the transmission of results from the transparency server—aside from glitches such as “961 malfunctioning VCMs, 1,665 defective SD cards, and 1.02 million bleeding markers.”

Photos and videos of people pre-marking heaps of ballots have also been doing the rounds on social media.

#anyareCOMELEC?

Weeks before the election, the National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), a credible election watchdog since 1984, opted out of the polls because COMELEC—for the first time—prohibited access to data that would be published on NAMFREL’S website for transparency. On this website, we read, “NAMFREL’S commitment to clean elections was best shown during the 1986 snap presidential elections with over 500,000 volunteers who offered their time, energy and even their lives, to preserve the sanctity of the ballot.”

#anyareCOMELEC?

Because serious suspicions of massive deception resulting in the wholesale loss of opposition senatorial candidates, Neri Colmenares, one of them, refuses to concede.

Many rallyists stressed, “Seven hours of silence is anomalous!”

On the same day, the opposition Liberal Party (LP) asked the COMELEC to identify the areas where defective voting machines held up balloting for hours, “possibly disenfranchising some 500,000 voters.”

Some groups also urged the COMELEC to conduct a special random manual audit of the elections to erase fears of manipulation.

Whether COMELEC will give coherent answers is uncertain. Up until then, #anyariCOMELEC? is a question I (and many others) will continue to ask again and again.

“No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes.” Psalm 101:7

Photo credits: Inquirer.net; Rappler; CNN Philippines; Twitter; and various posts on FB

5/19/2019

“It is Difficult to Love This Country”


It’s been six days since our mid-term elections, and the grief I feel is still lodged deep in my heart. I share this grief with many friends who have the courage to vent it on social media.

All the eight senatorial candidates I voted for lost. It was a straight win for the administration’s bets. If the results were the choice of the people, I would have said, so be it. 

But there were big, major glitches that could not be explained: over a thousand voting machines conked out; thousands of voters were disenfranchised; there was massive vote buying. And worst of all, there was a seven-hour blackout after the initial results were released where all the administration candidates (some of whom have zero platforms and experience in legislative work; some have been accused of plunder) were leading by a mile.

People stayed up all night waiting for partial results—zilch. Seven hours later, we got the same trend as those initially released.

Reading today the column of an esteemed author and national artist for literature, F. Sionil Jose, whose hometown is next-door to mine, I felt grace woven into his moving prose. He titled it, “It is difficult to love this country, so we leave.” He articulates what I could not begin to express.

May I quote him?

“It is difficult to love this country. But it is easier to do so if we think of her as our motherland, the way our mothers nurtured us, embraced us, and gave us their warmth, their loyalty, and caring . . .

“And so I go to the old hometown often, to look at immemorial vistas of well-cared fields and a people made enduring by work. I go there to listen to a language to which I was born but which I don’t really use anymore. Listening to it, I wallow in memory and I feel alive, keen to the sound of living, of memories of the past that I have read about which I know are now entwined with every fiber of my being as a writer who belongs to this unhappy country.”  
                        
"My Sad Republic" by BenCab*
Yes, it is difficult to love this country, and I will leave it someday. Not to other lands, but to where my citizenship belongs.

"But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior."  Philippians 3:20 (NLT)

*BenCab, short for Benjamin Cabrera, is another Philippine national artist (visual arts-painting).  

5/18/2019

Puppy Love


That intense feeling of attachment to someone that usually visits young people does not last long. It is romantic love that is transitory, as the world defines it. It fades away as he/she becomes older. That’s why it’s called puppy love.

Our puppy, Judge (born on Christmas eve), was so cute and so cuddly we all loved him to pieces. We were so intensely attached to him so much so that he began and ended our days.  We raced to put him in our lap, pet him, and play with him.

That was just six months ago. Too fast, he has grown into a real dog, no longer a puppy, and has ceased to be cute and cuddly. Where has puppy love gone?     

Judge sleeping with his mom, Attorney
Don’t get me wrong; we all love Judge still, but that feeling is no longer as intense as when he was little.

Thank God, grace isn't like puppy love. It is love everlasting. It is there for us from the womb to the tomb. It does not diminish. In fact, it grows as we mature spiritually. In a way, it matches our faith. It remains as intense as the awe, wonder, and gratitude with which we receive it.

"Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my live, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever." Psalm 23:6 (KJV)   

Judge (middle) on Christmas Day 2018

5/14/2019

Art 2 Art


This is a TV/radio show hosted by Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, identified as Ballerina ng Bayan (Ballerina of the Country). I think it is a most apt title for an outstanding Filipina who has danced solo on many theater stages all over the world.

Produced by the Manila Broadcasting Company, the show airs every Sunday, from 3:30 to 4 PM on radio via DZRH, on cable television via RHTV, and on Cignal TV and Ch. 3 on Cablelink. It also has online livestreaming and may be viewed via the Facebook account of DZRH News Television.

Within half an hour, the show features conversations on art and culture with an invited guest from an art genre.

When I got the invitation to guest the show recently, I was ecstatic—not because I  would appear on TV, but because I would personally chat with the Ballerina ng Bayan, whom I have watched only from the balcony of a theatre, and therefore as small as my thumb. 

On the TV set, there she was, as big as life. She is real, down-to-earth, and a natural.

She asked about the many sides of my love for children’s iterature—where I get my ideas from, who my books’ characters are, and how I weave stories. For 30 minutes, I forgot I was before the cameras and enjoyed the rare encounter with a global celebrity, whose discipline and form as a ballerina are impeccable.

Well, the set was familiar territory—my milieu for more than two decades, shooting talents, products, and celebrities. The only difference was, the computers did all the work. The cameras stayed put, and therefore, stage hands running around were missing. 

You’ve come a long way, baby, I said to myself. I meant that to refer to my age, which grace has allowed to come this far—emboldening me to still write my next books, and talk with the likes of Lisa Macuja-Elizalde.

“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.” 2 Corinthians 4:16

5/13/2019

Merry Monday of May

Approximately 61 million voters in the Philippines will trek to polling places today to select local government officials and members of both houses of Congress. I will leave my computer alone for now, and join the rest of concerned citizens who are taking time to decide the future of our country.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5 (NKJV)

Lord, by your grace, please grant us wisdom to choose candidates who honor You with their sincerity and commitment to serve the country. Amen.

My kodigo (personal list of choices) for senators and party list:

5/09/2019

Davids, the Underdogs


In four days, we will go to the polls and elect 12 senators, representatives, and all city-and-municipal-level officers.

For three years, our president, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, has practically hushed all opposition to his regime. Many editorials in media here and abroad say that this strongman has quickly managed to control all three branches of government: executive, legislative and judiciary.

He has also cowed the Catholic Church and has been deliberately crass behind the presidential seal—cursing, cracking lewd jokes, maligning women, threatening and harassing critics of his administration, accusing people minus due process, kowtowing to a foreign power, China, and worst, blaspheming the loving God of grace, Who allowed Himself to be nailed on the cross and die for me. This presidential  blustering has become the new normal, to the delight of his followers.

He is Goliath.

But there has been a birth of Davids, underdogs with nothing but a slingshot of principles. No stature, no money from our taxes, no power, no clout, and no fighting chance to slay the formidable giant.

OTSO DIRETSO (Straight Eight) they are called. Eight courageous, straight-shooting and hard-working professionals who have solid platforms, and if elected to the senate, will at least give our ailing democracy in this country a chance to survive via a dissenting voice in crafting self-serving laws.

The Davids are also the people who believe in them and are helping, minus the budget of Goliath, to craft the slingshot by hand, moving others to do the same:     

 
They have moved me. My conscience now dictates that four days from today, I should vote for OTSO DIRETSO—never mind if the giant is forbidding. 

Samira Gutoc, the lone woman in the OTSO DIRETSO team, messaged the president on stage and in interviews without batting an eyelash, “I am not afraid of you.”

Such is the guts of David, the underdog. 

Photo ctredits: Rappler, photo of candidates; others, from FB posts

5/05/2019

Gawad Balagtas Awards Night (2)


The awarding ceremony of Gawad Balagtas capped the 45th UMPIL National Writer’s Congress with the theme: “Literature, Healing, and Wellness.”

All the seven awardees were each given two pages in the printed program, and this one’s mine. 

The citation reads:

"In writing stories for children, she time and again deploys narrative as an efficacious manner of awakening and illuminating. Awakening, as she presents, by way of the various facets of action, the myriad aspects of being human and humane; illuminating, not merely to instil morals among her young readers, but more so, to enlighten a world usually shrouded in darkness. She sows in the field of her stories the seed of valules enriched by Christian perspective. In its growth, in every flip of her books, hope is reaped, time and again, this fruit of faith, not only in the word, but also in the Word became flesh."

The chosen excerpt from my works:

From the “Tree of Life” (13th book in the Oh, Mateo! Series)

I believe that aside from the reasons cited by UMPIL for giving me the award, the real ones are out there—three of them, holding the book quoted above, are these: 
Yna (publications director of OMF Lit, publisher of my children’s books) and son #3 (as Tony can’t navigate stairways and long hallways these days), took time off from their busy schedules to be my cheerers on that special afternoon. 

And so we enjoyed the food, laughter, photo ops, encounters, and conversations. Old and new friends huddled in one hall to celebrate literature.     




Photo credit: Mars Mercado, for children's photo (3rd from top) 

5/01/2019

Gawad Balagtas Awards Night (1)


So this is how it feels to receive a lifetime achievement award, I thought when I heard the loud thud-thud of my heart.

As soon as my name was called, photos of my various life stages faded in and out of the big screen. Then an excerpt of one of my books was voiced and scrolled up.  On stage I was handed a heavy and awesome wooden trophy hand-carved by national artist and writer Manuel Baldemor.     



   
Out-and-out Grace.

In my two-minute speech, I had wished to express the gamut of feelings churning my guts. I tried, but sometimes, words are inadequate to say it all: 

"I am a true-blue Ilocana. In my time, the medium of instruction was English. Imagine my shock and awe when I came upon Florante at Laura in my High School Filipino class. Although the language was difficult to understand, I found the words beautifully written.

"Unfortunately, I had no chance to learn this beautiful language because the children’s books and classics in those those days were all in English. Also because after graduating from UP, I went abroad for further studies.

"Many years later, back in the Philippines, I followed my heart and focused on writing—in the language that I read in books and taught me in school. I had dreamed of writing in Filipino, too, so I wrote a piece, which I slaved over for days, and sent it to my friend, Luis Gatmaitan*, for his comments.

"The piece came back with more comments than my original manuscript. So I wrote another piece and sent it to him. After maybe the 5th try, Luis returned the manuscript to me and said, 'Grace, ang payo ko, mag-English ka na lang!' (Grace, my advice is, stick to English!)

"Forty published children’s books later, I read on Facebook that UMPIL has recognized my work in English. I read and re-read my name aloud. Me?! A GAWAD BALAGTAS awardee?! In my joy, I jumped so high—if I were taller, I might have reached the sky.

"To UMPIL, you can’t imagine how honored I am for this recognition. It means the world to me. Please be assured that this true-blue Ilocana, who writes only in English, will treasure this GAWAD BALAGTAS forever and ever.

"I offer it to the One who enables me to write."

* * * 

*A Palanca Hall-of-Fame Awardee, an excellent writer in Filipino, and a pediatrician, whom I fondly call my BFF

(to be continued . . .)