There was excitement in the air. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Republic of the Philippines was coming to give the keynote address at the Men’s Conference.

I got the sms from his staff indicating that the Chief Justice was near our conference venue. When it was time, I signaled our National Director to go down with me to welcome the Chief Justice.

https://compassionateconsiderations.wordpress.com/2008/05/14/how-great-is-our-god/

This was the answer to this prayer I blogged about last month. Finally, the Chief Justice was here.

“how are you Rex?” – he asked as I shook his hand to welcome his arrival.

It has been more than 4 years since I was with him in Singapore

We climbed the 5 level stairs of the Christian Development Centre while we engaged him in small talk.

“Justice Puno, you don’t know how this means to all of us…” I told him.

“I get invited to speak to a lot of conferences but I like to address the churches more…”

The brothers gave him a standing ovation when he entered the conference room. What an awesome privilege. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was about to give his keynote speech.

I went straight to the podium and had to catch my breath for awhile. I pulled out the 9-page Curriculum vitae emailed to me by his staff. I pre-selected the things I read and what an honor to introduce the Chief Justice himself.

I included in my introduction the powerful lesson in humility that the Chief Justice taught me. He was the Senior Associate Justice at that time. I was privileged enough to attend the same batch of leaders who attended the Haggai Leadership Institute in Singapore, back in 2004.

Haggai ASPAC presentation with then Senior Associate Justice Reynato Puno

Haggai ASPAC presentation with then Senior Associate Justice Reynato Puno

We were required to surrender our passports to the organizers. I was very hesitant to do that because the passport was the only valid international form of identification that I had. I turned behind me and saw the Chief Justice standing in line, a couple of people behind, nonchalantly holding his passport to surrender to the organizers. I approached him and asked about the “validity” of this requirement and he just simply said “it is okay, we can surrender our passports.”

If the highest ranking government official of the batch was willing to do that, how much more should I be willing to do the same?

The men at the conference stood up and gave him another ovation as he stood up and went to the podium.

He acknowledged the lengthy introduction and really inspired us when he said “I would have preferred to have been introduced simply as… he is a brother who happens to be the Chief Justice…”

Our relationship with him is not because of his high government position, but by the precious blood of our Savior jesus Christ.

He talked about the need for righteousness in the country, righteousness for the leaders who govern and more importantly, righteousness for everyone. And that begins with our individual hearts.

After his talk, Ptr Eugene Guzon gave him our certificate of appreciation, the fruit basket prepared for him. Afterwards, Dan Rogers, Director of WCG -USA Administration blessed him with a prayer.

Dan Rogers praying over the Chief Justice after his keynote address

Dan Rogers praying over the Chief Justice after his keynote address

I whispered to the Justice that we were taking him to dinner. But he whispered back that he needs to be in UP to receive the Centennial Award as the MOST DISTINGUISHED ALUMNUS.

Ooopss, I worried about my 15-seat reservation and pre-ordered dinner at Josephines!

Justice Puno telling me he needed to go to UP right after

Justice Puno telling me he needed to go to UP right after

We all clapped our hands and acknowledged him for that honor.

Being applauded as the UP Alumni Centennial Awardee

He indulged us for pictures to be taken. I was the one calling for people to join in the group and the participants quickly assembled themselves around him. After the second picture, he turned to me and said “Rex, you should come and join us…”

He needed to leave soon but clearly he was in no rush. “We have the siren anyway so we can move through the traffic” On the way out of the hall, I introduced to him my wife “Justice, this is my wife Sheila”.

What a magnanimous man. He stopped, shook the hand of my wife and leaned over to give her a kiss and a hug. ( Wifey would later brag that she was the only one hugged by the Chief Justice…!)

We accompanied him downstairs. He briefly asked about the Haggai batch in 2004 and I told him that I am still in communication with one of our batchmates. He shared his Haggai-related trip to Australia this August and I could not help but be amazed at the humility of this man.

His security detail and driver and other staff met us downstairs. One staff opened his car. He shook my hand for the last time and said “mauna na ako…” (I’ll go ahead)

His security detail also smiled and waved their hands as the two vehicles drove off.

I was really blown away by his humility. He was a very gracious man. His voice sounded older now but the same friendliness he has shown while we were in Singapore was still there. I could not help but smile because of the awesome grace he has shown us. They drove through the traffic from Manila to address our conference, and then drive through the traffic all the way to the University of the Philippines. I was very conscious about all these but he reassured me by saying “meron naman kaming wang-wang, mabilis lang yan” ( we have the siren, it will be easy to get through the traffic.)

I headed back upstairs to present the Leveling of Expectations to the participants. I could not seem to erase my smile as I thanked God again and again for the favor He has given us.

“A brother who happens to be the Chief Justice of the Philippines…”

I could almost hear another great and awesome brother, whose humility and obedience is beyond what we have ever seen or heard.

I could hear Jesus say “I am not just a brother. I am your Savior and Lord!”

A Nation in Grief

June 24, 2008

The skies are clear. Things are going back to normal. Deep inside i didn’t want things to go back to normal. Normalcy has a way of forgetting the unresolved issues in life, and can easily lull people into thinking that things are going well. The skies are clear. But there are still hundreds missing from that ferry ship that sunk off the coast of Romblon. Princess of the Stars

I wanted to be angry. I wanted to ask someone who could give me definite answers. But yesterday, I had to listen to a friend about the problems caused by a drug-dependent husband. There seems to be no justice in sight. I turned on the TV late at night and a geriatric lawyer of the Sulpicio Lines tried to present the company as compassionate and caring. I mean really tried to show the compassion.

But tell that to the marines.

We see pictures of families waiting for the any news, any updates as they wait outside the closed doors of Sulpicio Lines Building. With their security guards not allowing anyone to enter the building. There is no compassion there. No sympathy from that company at all. More questions left un-answered.

On our way to see my distraught friend, we passed through a mall to get my wife’s new glasses. There in the center of the mall were all the flashy and new cars on display. There were all glossy cars. Really, really nice. Under normal conditions, I would have inspected all those flashy cars, taken note of their details, asked for their prices and looked at the interiors, maybe sat on the driver’s seat – all that. But yesterday, my heart was still grieving. It still is. This was not the time to look at these flashy cars when more than 700 people are still perishing.

Still no children were found…. yet children’s footwear were found floating everywhere. Last night, I tried to listen as much as I could, to the harrowing stories of the 38 survivors….

It is getting to be too tiring to listen to how these agencies are trying to explain how things are being done now to attend to the families of the victims. I am still waiting to see candles and flowers being offered in memory of the victims that perished at sea. I do not see any flowers at the Sulpicio Lines office…. no candles… no signs of compassion to those who were left with inconsolable grief.

Everywhere in Metro Manila, things are going back to its same chaotic pace. The images on the TV screens showing Iloilo and other areas and the sunken ship, are fast becoming images that do not elicit any more emotions.Flooded streets of Manila

This nation is in grief. But clearly, this nation does not know how to grieve.

Death of a Pastor. . .

June 23, 2008

We were about to end the Men’s Conference last Saturday when a colleague showed me an sms on his phone. One of our elder pastors in Southern Luzon died from a cardiac arrest early that morning. Ptr. David Oloya has passed on.

I was on the phone giving instructions to my wife who was at that time having car problems, when the Area Superintendent in Southern Luzon approached me and shared some very recent events with Ptr. Dave. He said that last June 16, Pastor Dave celebrated his 77th birthday. The church leaders gathered around him and presented to him a birthday cake (it was his first bday cake) and he blew the candles. The Superintendent said “he was a picture of perfect happiness” at that time. It turned out to be a wonderful birthday gift, a wonderful time with people who loved him, a wonderful time to honor the man of God because he was about to go home.

In 2004, Ptr Dave was sent to Kerala, India to teach at a livelihood center there as part of the denominational missionary efforts. I still remember him sitting with us inside the office of the national director as we were waiting for the send-off ceremonies downstairs. I was part of the Missions Board at that time and part of the sending ceremonies would be to ask some questions we would like to ask our missionaries before they take off. I remember asking him why in his old age would he want to go overseas to become a short-term missionary?

Ptr. Dave was quiet for awhile and then slowly opened his hands before me and said ” Pag tinitignan ko nga ang mga kamay ko na kulubot na… tinatanong ko nga ang God kung may magagamit pa ba Siya sa mga kamay na ito? Ang sabi ko sa Panginoon – gamitin lang Niya ang mga kamay na ito ng naaayon sa kanyang kagustuhan…” (When I look at my wrinkled hands, I could not help but ask the Lord if He could still use these hands? I told the Lord to use these hands according to His purpose and will…”)

What he said 4 years ago never left me. I can still picture him infront of me with his wrinkled hands open before my eyes. I was asked to say the prayer at the send-off ceremonies. There were no dry eyes in that conference hall that afternoon. God in His abounding grace and mercy, has deemed to send 2 senior citizens to India so that through their skills, the gospel will be preached.

Ptr. Dave Oloya is now with the Father. He has faithfully served the Lord for 30 years.

Thank you Lord for the life of Ptr Dave. Thank You for your life that has been made manifest in His. Thank you for the impact that his life had on the people, communities, churches and outreaches that he did. Thank you for loving him and sustaining him throughout his physical life. We have been blessed by who he has become.

I am looking at my hands as I type this and the same prayer is being formed in my lips.

“Lord, I also open my hands and wonder how you could use these. Use these hands according to your will and purpose in my life…. Thank you for the privilege of participating in your Kingdom work. Our efforts are puny and we make a lot of mistakes. But I realize now that we do not need to worry too much about the results because it is not about us, it is all about YOU. ”

In Jesus’ name.

AMEN.

PS. Ptr Dave – I will see you in heaven. The next time I see you and you open your hands, I will see how glorious your hands have become.

Yesterday the Men’s Conference ended in Tagaytay. It was a very wonderful conference! My mind had initially listed the insights I wanted to share in the blogworld. The Chief Justice Reynato Puno was a sterling example of humility that I will not forget. There are other things I would like to write about but all of these would need to be written at some other time.

Today, typhoon Frank is ravaging the country. Massive floodings have taken place in the Visayas. Signal Number 3 has been raised in Southern Luzon all the way up to Pangasinan. At 4am today, I called up our National Director and suggested the cancellation of our combined Metro Manila Worship. Our guest speaker from the United States was supposed to address our congregations. At 5AM I got word that the rented PA equipment were all set up… but all had to be cancelled.

Maybe we are at the eye of the storm right now – it is quiet, but the skies still looks foreboding. We lost power this morning and it was resumed by noon. Once the TV was turned on, news of the disaster and the recovery efforts were being broadcasted. I was appalled at the insensitivity of the networks who still went on with their trashy noon-time shows instead of having an alternate programming. For me, having those shows in the midst of tragedies everywhere does not do anything but desensitize the people and instead of allowing compassion to well inside inside their hearts, they attend to their prurient interests by watching these so called entertaining noontime shows.

While I write this, there have been confirmed 4 deaths and unconfirmed 74 bodies from the ship that sank off the coast of Romblon. Sulpicio Lines – The Princess was reportedly carrying 700 passengers when it sank somewhere off the coast of Romblon. Body bags are being given now to Sulpicio Lines as bodies are being recovered floating at sea.

The NDCC Live coverage of meetings and consultations showed Dick Gordon saying ” in our experience at Red Cross, there have been times, when we would recover survivors floating at sea even after 4 days… so we will not report them as dead until we see bodies. Right now they are presumed missing…” You know what really got me? General Eduardo Ermita turned to him behind the back of the Vice – President Noli de Castro and whispered something. He covered his cheek with a piece of paper and said something and they both smiled and tried to laugh quietly….

I did not know what it was all about. But I did not understand what would be so funny right after his comments about floating bodies at sea…. I wanted to get mad. But deep inside I just wanted to be alone and beg God for His help.

Lord God, Creator of the Universe… Our Father who loves us more than we could ever ask or imagine…. have mercy and rescue us from this typhoon. Municipalities in the Visayas are under water and now the threat of flooding in the plains of Central Luzon is really imminent in the next couple of hours. God, we are inundated with challenges. Flooding in Central Luzon would mean destruction of rice fields and crops and would make impassable highways for the products from Northern Luzon to be brought to the lowlands.

Lord, somewhere out there – there are people who are perishing at sea right now. Maybe they are clutching on to each other. Maybe they managed to don their life vests, maybe some of them were not able to do so in the midst of the confusion as the ship was sinking. Lord, rescue the powerless…. they have been at sea for many hours now. Rescue the children, the old women, the infirmed who could not swim… let them all be found by the small bancas trying to find them. You are King over the floods, over the waves….rescue them from the high waters….. many slippers of the children were found floating….. but Lord, where are the children?  Lord God, a couple bound themselves together – and both of them were found floating still bound to each other….. Lord have mercy.

Lord God, the contrast of what we have heard about YOU, what we have experienced from you at the conference – and then the sobering reality of how this whole creation is groaning in agony. Your love is not diminished in our pain. Your mercy is never diminished in our tragedies. You are the Father whose love for us goes beyond the pain of the present. We worship You even as our tears fall as we see destruction around us.

Thank you for your mercy. Thank You for being with them – those who are perishing and those who have been rendered homeless and helpless.

“Though the oceans rise and thunders roar

I will soar with You above the storm

Father , You are King over the floods

And I will be still

Know You are God….”

In the precious name of the SON.

AMEN

I was coming down the stairs from the second level of the University theater when I heard my name being called. The worship service had just ended. I sang “Via Dolorosa” before the sermon was given that morning. I was trying to exit the building quickly to meet with some friends when I saw an elderly man rushing to meet me. He was all smiles and his arms were already wide open.

I reached the bottom of the stairs where he met me and gave me a very tight hug. I felt my body tensed up a bit because of how tight he was hugging me. Pretty soon, it gave way to feelings of embarrassment because an elderly man was bear hugging me in public. Throughout that hug (which seemed a very long, long time) he kept on saying “thank you for the song… thank you for the song…’

After what seemed like a hug that would last for eternity, he let go of me and shook my hand while the other hand patted my shoulder. I felt the love he was trying to communicate. He was really moved by the message of the song.

This happened in 1995. Thirteen years ago, and I still remember it so vividly, that if I close my eyes and think about it, I could still hear the auditorium noise of people chatting about after the worship service. And I don’t even have to think hard enough for me to feel that hug he gave me.

The elderly man was someone I had seen as I grew up in the church. Not long after that, he contracted a serious illness and later on, this wonderful man who showered me with so much love that unforgettable day, passed on to be with the Lord.

I remembered him as soon as I woke up on Father’s Day. Driving to Church, memories of that single event flooded my mind. It was amazing how my mind soaked up all the nuances of that experience and embedded in my memory, and now 13 years later, on Father’s Day, those memories were emptying into the deep crevasses of my heart, filling me with warm and tender memories.

Thank you Mr. Joseph Boone for unashamedly showering me with your appreciation after that worship service. I never did get to tell you how much that hug meant. It was the first time that I was paternally and lovingly hugged as a son. It was a simple gesture that lasted less than a minute, but here I am now, 13 years later, reminiscing how it felt.

It was an eternal instant. Thank you. I pray that I will also be able to do just that to a young person who may be needing to experience the hug of a father. Someday when I get to heaven and see you, I would be expecting another bear hug from you.

4 young scouts died when the twister rampaged through the Little Sioux Boys Scout Camp in Iowa. Hours before when it was being flashed on CNN – they did not have the full report of the damage.

Now complete with interviews, aerial shots and other pictures of the devastation, I felt a huge lump in my throat as they showed the pictures of the young scouts whose lives were snuffed away when the tornado passed.

They were too young… two were 13 year olds and the other two were 14 year olds. What a tragedy for the 100 scouts who were there. The survivors gave their testimonies on camera, with one of them saying “maybe God still has something for me to do…” and looked away trying to fight the tears.

This has been another difficult week. Floodings in iowa, wildfires in California, children dying in Africa, high rising cost of fuel worldwide, another earthquake in Japan…. the whole mankind is taking a massive beating – and left wondering when will all of these stop?

Lord, surround the grieving parents of the scouts. Fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters are all grieving right now for the loss of a young brother, a young son, a young friend. Comfort Lord those who are broken by the things they have no control of. Lord God, please be merciful and let the innocent children in Africa survive the famine brought about by war and devastation. Let us hear of your miracles as You reach out to the little ones who are desperately crying out for You.

In Jesus’ Name

AMEN