EVEN IF THE YEAR 2021 has just ended, experts foresee that the world’s problems will carry over into the present year and beyond. More reliable than any human prediction, the Bible has long warned that hardships and troubles in life will further escalate as a sign of the world’s impending end or Judgment Day.
Knowing this, members of the Church Of Christ take to heart the Savior’s advice to stand firm in the faith and persevere until the end, for such are the people of God who will be saved (Matt. 24:13 Expanded Bible).
Such was the theme of the lesson taught by the Church’s Executive Minister, Brother Eduardo V. Manalo, when he officiated at the worship service held at the Central Temple in Quezon City, Philippines on December 4, 2021. On the same occasion, he ordained 22 new ministers as additional helpers in overseeing the Church members.
The proceedings of the worship service were streamed live to various places of worship all over the world, foremost of which were of the 36 local congregations that commemorated their milestone anniversaries.
The following are accounts of the experiences of several brethren from some of these congregations with regard the inspiring lesson during the worship service:
Templo Central, Central
By April Joy Meneses
In the secular world, living in a highly developed country with a high-paying job, being surrounded by friends, and gallivanting around is the lifestyle most people dream of. But for Brother Mark Angelo Rivera, that is not the way to attain true contentment in life. Growing up with all the opportunities and a promising career in England, he relinquished his comfortable life and left for the Philippines to join the ministry in the Church Of Christ.
“Since I was young,” Brother Mark narrated, “my parents have always taught me to prioritize God, to always accept Church duties and be of help to the Church Administration.” That is why, upon hearing a circular encouraging male members to study in the ministry during a worship service he attended, he made up his mind. “I didn’t hesitate to answer the call of the Administration.”
Born and raised in London and the only child of both retirees, Brother Mark was misunderstood by his colleagues for his decision. But despite all the negative reactions, he pursued his heart’s desire to be of help to the Church Administration. His parents supported him wholeheartedly.
Brother Mark’s inspiration to enter the ministry was his mother, Sister Norma, a brain tumor survivor who gradually lost her vision in 1991 due to the pressure on her optic nerve. But her critical condition did not hinder her from fulfilling her duty as a choir member. Brother Mark emphasized, “If a blind and fragile woman can still serve and have a greater drive to fulfill her duty to our Lord God, then what about me? I’m younger, healthy, and full of life. That’s all I need.”
He then recounted, “It was on my 9th birthday when my mother was operated on and from then on she has been blind, immuno-compromised. She was 43 back then when she was told by multiple doctors that she would be lucky if she could still live for the next five to ten years. But despite her failing health, I saw how she all the more continued fulfilling her duty the best she could. She memorized all the worship service hymns and repeatedly calculated in her mind the steps going up to the choir loft until she was familiarized.”
With strong faith that God will take care of his sick mother and aging father, in 2012 Brother Mark left his parents behind. To get through emotional turmoil, he set a devotional prayer. “Indeed, nothing is impossible with God, all situations have hope as long as He is our priority and we entrust everything to Him. I know this is all in God’s hands. He blessed my mother with another 30 years to her life and surpassed the life expectancy that the doctors have estimated,” Brother Mark said.
Now, Sister Norma just turned 73 years old, still an active member in the Church, firm and steadfast in her faith with her husband, Brother Francisco Rivera. Despite their old age, they still attend worship services and Christian Family Organization activities in their local congregation in Stratford, London. Despite not being able to go to the Philippines due to the current situation, through the livestreaming worship service, they were able to listen to the preaching of Brother Eduardo Manalo and witness their son, Brother Mark, receiving the laying on of hands from the Executive Minister to become a full-fledged minister.
Sto. Tomas, Pampanga
Sinulat ni Erwin Paul Sarita
“Dahil sa kahirapan ng buhay, hindi muna ako agad nakapag-kolehiyo,” salaysay ni Kapatid na Mark Philip Galang. Sa pagnanais niyang makapag-ipon at makatulong sa kaniyang mga magulang, nagtrabaho siya sa pagawaan ng kabaong kung saan kilala ang bayan ng Sto. Tomas, Pampanga. Nakapagtrabaho rin siya sa isang fastfood restaurant.
Hindi man niya agad naabot ang kaniyang mga pangarap ay mayroon naman siyang isang bagay na mahigpit niyang pinanghahawakan. “Bagaman palagi akong pagod sa pagtatrabaho, hindi ko iniwan ang aking tungkulin sa Iglesia dahil alam kong ang Ama ang tutulong sa akin,” pahayag niya.
Hindi siya nawalan ng pag-asa na makatatapos pa rin ng pag-aaral. Patuloy ang kaniyang pagpanata sa Ama at ito naman ay dininig. Edad 22 nang siya ay magsimulang muli sa kolehiyo. “Mula 2017, nakapag-aral ako sa kursong BSBA major in Marketing. Natapos ko ito nitong 2021.” Subalit hindi doon natapos ang mga pagsubok. “Noong nagtapos ako sa pag-aaral, akala ko, magiging madali ang paghahanap ng trabaho. Ngunit dahil sa pandemya ay nahirapan ako. May mga tumawag para mag-offer ng trabaho pero dahil ang work hours ay makahahadlang sa pagtupad ko ng tungkulin, hindi ko tinanggap.”
Patuloy sa pagpapanata si Kapatid na Mark na magkaroon ng hanapbuhay na hindi magiging hadlang sa kaniyang pagtupad. Aniya, “Ako ay sumasampalataya na kung paano ako tinulungan ng Ama para makatapos sa aking pag-aaral ay ganoon din sa paghanap ko ng ikabubuhay.”
Si Kapatid na Mark ay isang mang-aawit at Technical Support for Videostreaming (TSV) lead sa Lokal ng Sto. Tomas. Hindi siya sumusuko at matiyagang nagtitiis sa kabila ng mabigat na sitwasyon sa buhay dahil ang kaniyang pananalig ay, “Ang Diyos ang magbibigay ng kaparaanan kung paano malalampasan ang mga pagsubok. Kaya, hindi dapat iwanan ang pagtupad o pagsamba dahil dito Niya ipagkakaloob ang solusyon at lakas na harapin ang mga pagsubok.”
Sinulat ni Lerma Felipe
Isa sa pinakamasayang bahagi ng buhay may-asawa ay ang mabiyayaan ng anak. Isa ito sa mga inspirasyon para lalo pang magsikap sa buhay. Subalit naging isang malaking pagsubok kay Kapatid na Lorilyn Mendoza ang pagkapanganak niya sa kanilang panganay at pangalawang mga anak sapagkat kapuwa silang hindi nakaririnig at hindi nakapagsasalita.
“Hindi ko pinroblema ang kahirapan. Sanay naman ako roon. Ang ipinag-alala ko ay kung paano matatamnan ng tunay na pananampalataya ang mga anak ko dahil hindi nila naririnig ang pagtuturo ng mga aral ng Diyos,” sabi ni Kapatid na Lorilyn.
Gayunman, hindi siya kailanman nawalan ng pag-asa. Patuloy siyang kumapit sa Panginoong Diyos, naglagak ng pagtitiwala, at patuloy sa mga pananalangin sa Kaniya. “Dininig ng Diyos ang panalangin ko. Nakapag-aral ng basic sign language ang aking mga anak sa isang paaralan. Mula noon, nakakausap ko na sila at nagkakaintindihan na kami sapagkat natuto rin ako dahil sa pagsama ko sa kanila.”
Subalit nauunawan ni Kapatid na Lorilyn ang higit na kahalagahan ng pagkatuto ng mga anak niya ng sign language. “Ang isa pang kasagutan sa panalangin ko ay ang samahang itinatag ng Pamamahala na Christian Society for the Deaf sapagkat noong nagkaroon ng dako ng Pagsamba ng Kabataan sa amin, may isinusugo na manggagawang bihasa sa sign language.”
“Kami ay lubos na nagpapasalamat sa ating Ama at sa Kaniyang Pamamahala dahil sa ipinadarama nilang pagmamahal at pagmamalasakit sa atin, maging sa mga kapatid na deaf,” ani Kapatid na Lorilyn. At dahil nilunasan ng Diyos ang kaniyang malaking alalahanin, naipahayag niya: “Naging panatag ang kalooban ko dahil natuturuan ang aking mga anak ng mga aral ng Diyos sa paraang akma sa kanilang kalagayan. Natatamnan sila ng tunay na pananampalataya.”
By Casandra Fryxell
Fifteen years ago, on December 20, 2006, the Local Congregation of Albany in Oregon, USA was approved to become a full-fledged local congregation. Being the head deacon from that time until now, Brother Bienvenido Castillo III is witness to how God has spiritually nurtured the brethren in this part of the world. Brother Benny, as he is usually called by the brethren, expressed his conviction regarding the growth of their local congregation: “Our Almighty God continues fulfilling His promises to His nation in these last days.”
Before becoming a local congregation, Church members who lived near Albany used to travel around 80 miles to get to the closest local congregation then, the Local Congregation of Portland. Sometimes they would even have to face extreme weather conditions, such as heavy rains and strong winds. Another challenge would be during the winter season because of the snow and, worse, they had to navigate through icy roads.
Regardless of having to travel a great distance, the Church members understand that the worship service is of utmost importance. During such gatherings, they receive God’s guidance through His words taught by His Church Administration. Brother Benny said, “I am so thankful to our Almighty God and to our Lord Jesus Christ for placing an Administration that truly loves and cares for us, always teaching us so that we will all remain in our divine election and reach our salvation.”
San Antonio, Lubao, Pampanga
Sinulat ni Francis Rowen Yusi
Dumarating talaga sa buhay ng mga kaanib ng Iglesia Ni Cristo ang iba’t ibang suliranin na susubok sa kanilang pananampalataya.
Si Kapatid na Bryan Garcia ay dumanas ng pag-uusig mula mismo sa kaniyang mga magulang noong nagpasiya siyang umanib sa Iglesia. Ngunit sa kabila ng pagsubok na pinagdaanan, nagpatuloy pa rin siya sa pag-anib sa Iglesia. Pahayag niya, “Ang nag-udyok sa akin na magpatuloy ay dahil naunawaan ko ang mga aral sa Iglesia Ni Cristo na nakasulat sa Biblia. Totoo ang mga ito. Ang mga aral na iyon ay natanim sa aking puso.” Dahil dito, kusa siyang nagpadoktrina, nagpatuloy upang maging ganap na kaanib ng Iglesia, at hanggang ngayon ay iniingatan niya ang kaniyang pananampalataya.
Bunga ng kaniyang pananalangin sa Ama at walang tigil na pag-aanyaya sa kaniyang mga magulang, dininig ng Diyos ang kaniyang pagpapanata. “Naiintindihan na nila kung bakit ako umanib sa loob ng Iglesia Ni Cristo at ngayon ay kasalukuyan silang nagsusuri at nakikinig sa mga aral na itinataguyod ng Iglesia Ni Cristo.”
Kahit ano pa ang dumating sa buhay ng mga kaanib ng Iglesia, sumasampalataya sila na, gaya ng itinuturo ng Biblia, mapalad ang mga nagtitiis sapagkat kung sila ay makapasa sa pagsubok, tatamuhin nila ang gantimpala na mula sa Diyos.
By Krislyn Pagaduan
From its humble beginning, the Local Congregation of Tempe has witnessed and experienced closely the work of our Lord God.
“I am happy to witness how the Church has progressed and how the Local Congregation of Tempe gave birth to more local congregations, Group Worship Services, and an extension in Arizona. Through God’s grace and mercy, the Tempe Local Congregation continues growing,” said Brother Leo Jussilla, 82 years old, who retired from being the head deacon because of his age.
During the livestreamed worship service, Brother Eduardo Manalo taught that despite all hardships, trials, and sorrows, members of the Church Of Christ are strengthened because of God’s teachings that they receive during the worship services. Brother Fernando Dela Paz, a head deacon, attested to how joyful and thankful the brethren are because the worship services have been continuously held, whether inside the house of worship or in the brethren’s homes. “This is because the Almighty God always blesses us with His presence in our worship services,” he said.
Church members are able to endure and carry on with their services to God because, through the Bible, they are taught that they must never give up, but instead stand firm, be active in their Church membership, and keep their faith by upholding the teachings of God until the end.
By Nesafe delos Reyes
In September 2015, while working as a utility worker in a public market, Brother Jonathan Lopez met Brother Patricio Belando, who was selling vegetables. Brother Jonathan, a nonmember of the Church Of Christ then, was invited by Brother Patricio to attend an evangelical mission in their local congregation. “Without any hesitation, I accepted his invitation,” Brother Jonathan recalled. What happened next was a life-changing experience for him.
A few days later, Brother Patricio encouraged him to attend the worship service. Brother Jonathan vividly remembers how he felt as he was seated inside the chapel: “Listening to the biblical lesson preached made me feel uplifted, as if my worries went away.” He then decided to continue listening to God’s teachings upheld in the Church Of Christ.
When his family found out, they tried to stop and discourage him. However, that did not keep him from joining the true Church. He was eventually baptized on April 22, 2016. He hopes that his family would also be able to find the peace that he feels in his life now. “I always seek God’s help through devotional prayers, hoping that my family will also be called by God and be part of the Church Of Christ,” he shares.
Having heard what Brother Eduardo Manalo taught about the importance of renewing one’s way of life, Brother Jonathan declared, “Before I became a Church member, I indulged in different vices. I even forgot about God. But because of listening to God’s words, I was able to change my way of life for the better. Now, I am a choir member in the Church and my hope is firm that I am certain of salvation come Judgment Day.”
Punta, Sta. Ana, Maynila
Sinulat ni Renz Jozabelle Creus
Disyembre 8, 1913 nang itinatag ng Sugo ng Diyos sa mga huling araw, ang Kapatid na Felix Y. Manalo, ang pinakaunang lokal ng Iglesia Ni Cristo, ang Lokal ng Punta sa Sta. Ana, Maynila. Nagsimula man itong maliit, subalit sa pagdaan ng mga taon ay lumago ang bilang ng mga kaanib at nagpatuloy sila sa masiglang paglilingkod sa Panginoong Diyos. Makalipas ang 108 taon, ang mga kapatid sa lokal na ito ay namamalagi pa rin sa matatag na panghahawak sa kahalalang tinanggap mula sa Diyos.
Isa sa kanila si Kapatid na Norman Alfonso, pangulong diakono sa Lokal ng Punta. Sa kabila ng matinding karamdaman na kaniyang dinanas ay matibay pa rin siyang nanghahawak sa mga aral ng Diyos na itinuturo ng Pamamahala. Patuloy niyang itinutuon ang kaniyang pansin sa hinaharap at inilalagak ang kaniyang pag-asa sa biyayang darating.
Nauunawaan ni Kapatid na Norman ang halaga ng pagsamba upang manatiling buhay ang pag-asa niya sa mga pangako ng Diyos. Aniya, “Tuwing pagsamba, lalo na kapag ang Kapatid na Eduardo Manalo ang nangangasiwa, laging binabanggit na dapat magpakatatag, harapin ang lahat ng pagsubok, huwag mawawalan ng pag-asa, huwag bibitiw sa kahalalan, at huwag uurong kundi, lalong magpakasigla, lalong itaguyod ang mga paglilingkod, tuparin ang tungkulin habang nabubuhay, at huwag ubusin ang buhay at lakas sa mga bagay sa mundo. Malapit na ang wakas, kaya doon lang ako nakatingin—sa kaligtasan natin.”
Winslow, New Jersey
By Lamont Daniels
In the 1970s, the brethren in the South New Jersey area used to attend worship services and Church activities in the Local Congregation of Philadelphia, now called the Local Congregation of Aston. The brethren had to travel about 35 miles in order to attend worship services there.
Time came when an extension was established in the South New Jersey area. On December 3, 2001, this extension became a full-fledged local congregation and was later called the Local Congregation of Winslow. It has been 20 years since its establishment. And through those years, the brethren have undergone many trials, but they have remained steadfast in their faith in God. Brother James Glackin, a Church officer and pioneer member of the congregation, shared his story of the trials and hardships he endured.
Some years back, he experienced having a hard time finding a job and having to deal with his wife getting sick. His wife fell into a coma in 2011, and has not woken up since. Remaining positive despite his situation, Brother James said, “God still gave me the strength to attend the worship services. I always conducted devotional prayers at the house of worship. Doing so gave me the strength to go on and not fall into depression.”
Brethren in the Local Congregation of Winslow have their own story to tell and trials they face. But they all persevere, keep firm in their faith, and endure because this is what God expects from His servants as taught by the Holy Scriptures.
By Sheena Faye Ecobisag
The year 2017 was quite memorable for Sister Ma. Divina Biglete, the head secretary of the Local Congregation of Palauig, Ecclesiastical District of Zambales North. It was the year when it was found out that her husband was suffering from lung cancer, which was only detected when it was already in its terminal stage. He did not survive the disease. Facing such trial is certainly strength-draining. But Sister Divina did not falter in her faith.
“My husband was my inspiration,” she said as she recounted her husband’s battle, adding, “Even when he was undergoing treatment, he still managed to fulfill his Church duties.” Her husband is the former second head deacon of Palauig and she recalled how he never failed to prioritize his duties despite his condition.
Balancing all her responsibilities in life has its challenges, but she never gives in to the pressure. The inspiration her husband gave her and her devotional prayers are her crutches. “I always tell my kids to be like their father—to constantly fulfill their Church duties.”
That year is now a memory that will stay with her as the year that made her stronger. Knowing that God will always guide her, Sister Divina continues living peacefully. Trials may come, but as what the Executive Minister said, perseverance pays—the more God’s servants persevere, the more their fortitude thrives. This, Sister Divina attested, has always been evident in the life of the true members of the Church Of Christ.