DESPITE ALL THE HARDSHIPS, sorrows, calamities, and the pandemic, the Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church Of Christ) members all over the world still find plenty of reasons to offer thanks to God. Through His grace and protection, they still have their life and strength, have remained firm in their divine election, and the Church in its entirety continues reaping unblemished string of victories.
On July 24, 2021, full of eagerness and unwavering faith, brethren from various congregations worldwide attended the Church’s Anniversary Thanksgiving Worship Service officiated by the Executive Minister, Brother Eduardo V. Manalo. From the Central Temple in Quezon City, it was livestreamed to 32 local congregations and one ecclesiastical district that are celebrating their respective milestone anniversaries.
In his homily, the Executive Minister quoted passages from the Bible enumerating the signs portending that the end is near, and emphasized that they all have been fulfilled and the only one that remains to be fulfilled is Judgment Day itself. Thus, for the members to be all the more prepared for that day, Brother Eduardo Manalo announced the theme for the Church’s activities starting on its 107th anniversary: “The Time Of The Fulfillment Of Our Redemption Is Near.”
He reminded the brethren that now, more than ever, is the time for them to further strengthen their faith, fully obey God’s commands, and pray fervently. These are what some of the fortunate brethren who witnessed the special gathering testified to be doing, as they look forward to the salvation that is fast approaching.
Templo Central, Quezon City
By April Joy Meneses
“I was with my brother’s four grandchildren whom I was taking care of when my house burned down,” Sister Lilia Cabacungan-Aniciete narrated. Sister Lilia’s house in Quezon City was engulfed by a fire that quickly spread from a nearby building. “Nothing was left to us, except for the clothes we were wearing that day, my passport, and a small amount of money,” she recalled. This happened last May, two months before the Church’s 107th anniversary.
In April 2017, after 44 years of residing in San Diego, California, Sister Lilia decided to go back to the Philippines after the untimely death of her second eldest son.
Coping with the pandemic has been made even more difficult by these recent tragic losses: “I felt empty and lonely.” But the 72-year old widow finds peace and joy through prayers and by continuously fulfilling her duty as a deaconess. “My Church duty has been my source of strength,” she continued.
Despite all these challenges, Sister Lilia recounts the blessings she received. “Although we were left homeless, God did not forsake us. Three days after the blaze, the owner of the building where the fire started looked for me and extended financial assistance for our immediate needs, especially shelter,” she said.
For God’s faithful servants, there are always reasons to be grateful and to continue rendering thanksgiving to God. “All that had happened to me could have caused me to fall into depression, especially at my age. I was at rock bottom. But I stood my ground. I remained strong in my faith. There was not a single moment when I questioned and doubted God.”
On the day of the Anniversary Thanksgiving Worship Service, Sister Lilia was given the blessed opportunity to attend through videoconferencing in her new home. Being able to witness the biblical preaching of the Executive Minister was more than enough to lighten her burdens and strengthen her faith to overcome what lies ahead. “As what has been taught to us, whatever we go through in our lives, we should keep our faith alive because God will never forsake His people, which is more than enough reason to offer God our thanksgiving and praises,” she declared.
Cubao, Quezon City
By Kate Russel Mabale
“It was Friday night when the flood reached our house due to the heavy rains caused by the typhoon,” Sister Melanie dela Cruz, a finance officer, said as she recalled the challenges her family faced the night before the livestreaming worship service.
Typhoon Fabian was the Philippines’ sixth tropical cyclone for 2021. On the third week of July, it continued to strengthen the southwest monsoon or Habagat even after it went out of the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR), bringing monsoon rains over most parts of Luzon.
“Our area is just beside a creek. When it rained heavily, flood was expected,” Sister Melanie shared. They were undaunted amid the distress caused by the typhoon, knowing they can always count on God’s help. “We were not afraid because we knew that we could depend on God. That’s why, that night, we held our household devotional prayer.”
Just like the rest of the brethren in Cubao Local Congregation, she considers the worship service officiated by the Executive Minister through videoconferencing a very special occasion because it was part of the commemoration of their local congregation’s 90th anniversary.
Having been all the more inspired by the words of God taught by Brother Eduardo Manalo, Sister Melanie expressed, “In the worship service, God comforted and gave me strength to go on despite the trials in life.”
Moreover, being prayerful has been beneficial to Sister Melanie, especially in times of harrowing ordeals. “God will never forsake His true servants. He is so merciful, and He keeps His promises as long as we follow His commandments. We need to have faith and hope in Him because He is our loving Father,” she shared.
With God’s help and mercy, Sister Melanie and her husband, a choir member, were able to perform their Church duties on the Anniversary Thanksgiving Worship Service. “We will continue praising Him—the Father, Whom we can pray to and depend on to care for us,” she promised.
Surrey, British Columbia, Canada
By Brian Ramirez
The renovation of the house of worship of the Surrey Local Congregation began near the end of 2019—a time when no one knew how the world would change a few months later with the Covid-19. When the pandemic struck, the brethren remained optimistic that a day would come when their newly renovated house of worship would be dedicated to God where they would continue worshiping and giving praises to Him.
They willingly extended their voluntary help from the start of the renovation to its completion. Even if it entailed sacrifices, they gladly did it because of their love for God and for His house. Brother Raul Matalang, a head deacon, shared, “I had at times needed to take a leave off from work to help in the renovation. The unity towards achieving the common goal of completing the renovation was truly evident in the brethren.”
Above all, trusting that God is the only One Who can provide success to His people, brethren held devotional prayers. Their faith did not waver despite the restrictions due to the pandemic.
With God’s help, the newly renovated house of worship was completed. Its dedication to God witnessed by the brethren having been able to attend through videostreaming in the Anniversary Thanksgiving officiated by the Executive Minister, Brother Eduardo V. Manalo. “Seeing it all come to fruition is a great blessing given the current situation of the world. All praises be to God for granting our congregation’s prayers,” expressed Brother Raul. He conveyed the brethren’s shared resolve: “We will always love and take care of the house of worship. We will also safeguard, as well as maintain the cleanliness of the house of worship and the beauty of its surroundings.”
Markham, Ontario, Canada
By Jolina Bunda
Over the years, the brethren in Markham Local Congregation have been renting various venues to conduct their worship services and other Church activities and this has come with some challenges.
“Finding a venue to conduct choir practices was difficult. Depending on the venue, we wouldn’t necessarily have a room to accommodate us for the length of practice that we would need,” shared Brother Wilfred Las Marias, a choir member.
According to Brother Joji Bunda, a deacon, since most rented venues only allow a certain amount of time, he said, “We didn’t have a certain place to conduct other activities. That is why we most often had to conduct these activities at some other places or would request to extend the time of usage of the venue.”
After fervent devotional prayers of the brethren, the local congregation was blessed to have their own house of worship. It was one of the chapels dedicated to God by Brother Eduardo Manalo, during the Anniversary Thanksgiving Worship Service he officiated.
Now that the congregation has its own house of worship, the brethren are very excited to continue their worship to God and unity with all the holy endeavors of the Church.
Understanding its importance, Brother Wilfred enthused, “This means that we now have our own place to go to, where we can hold devotional prayers, worship services, meetings, and other Church activities.”
Naawan, Misamis Oriental
By Jeffry Quiñanola
Due to the growing number of brethren, the former house of worship of Naawan Local Congregation, Ecclesiastical District of Cagayan de Oro City, Misamis Oriental, could hardly accommodate all the worshipers. “Our worship services before were always full-packed,” recalled Brother Larry Lantad, second head deacon.
In November 2019, the construction of a new concrete house of worship began on a piece of land donated by Brother Gorgonio Lagrosas. Through God’s abiding grace, the brethren’s prayers were answered. The construction was completed and their new 250-seater chapel was dedicated to God by the Executive Minister, Brother Eduardo Manalo, during the Anniversary Thanksgiving Worship Service through videoconferencing on July 24, 2021.
“I was in tears, as my heart was happy that we finally have a new and beautiful house of worship,” expressed Sister Christy Caballero, a choir member and finance officer, as she recalled the first time she set foot inside this new Church edifice.
“We are very thankful to God, and to our Executive Minister for this new worship building that we had prayed for,” said Brother Larry. “We will take care of this because this is where we all the more experience God’s power, especially during our worship service.”
Even with the pandemic, the Church Administration has continued building houses of worship in different parts of the world. Brother Leonie Amarga, head deacon, expressed, “This is the fulfillment of the Lord God’s promise that He will help His nation, whatever may happen to the world.”
Sta. Maria, Quirino
Sinulat ni Wyndee Lucas
Malaking bahagi sa buhay ni Kapatid na Galileo “Gal” Viloria Jr., isang organista at tagapagturo ng awit sa distrito, ang bahay sambahan. Higit saanman, dito niya nararanasan ang kapangyarihan ng Panginoong Diyos, sa panahon ng mga pagsamba at pagpapanata, na nagbibigay-lakas sa kaniya upang ipagpatuloy ang masiglang paglilingkod at matuwid na pagdadala ng buhay sa kabila ng mga pagsubok.
“Sa panahon ng kasaganaan o maging sa panahong dinadalisay ang aking pananampalataya, iisa ang aking unang tinutungo—ang kapilya. Doon ako taimtim na lumalapit at nananalangin sa Ama,” sambitla ni Kapatid na Gal.
Siya ay nagmula sa pamilya na ang pangunahing kabuhayan ay ang pagsasaka ng mais at palay. Sa kabila ng kahirapan ng buhay, nakita niya ang sigasig ng kaniyang mga magulang na maitaguyod silang limang magkakapatid. Nadama niya rin sa kaniyang mga magulang na kung mayroon mang isang kayamanang nais nilang iwan sa kanilang mga anak, ito ay ang matibay na pananampalataya. Pag-alaala niya, “Maraming pagkakataong kinakapos kami ng pangangailangan subalit hindi namin kailanman nakita ang aming mga magulang na pinanghinaan ng loob o nagpabaya sa pagtupad ng kanilang mga tungkulin.”
Noong Oktubre 2015, dumating ang isang mabigat na pagsubok sa kanilang pamilya. “Pagkatapos ng ilang taong pakikipaglaban sa kaniyang karamdaman, pinagpahinga ng Panginoong Diyos ang aking ama,” saad ni Kapatid na Gal. Sa panahon ng labis na kalungkutan, ang bahay sambahan ang kaniyang naging takbuhan: “Doon ay nanalangin ako sa Diyos at humingi ng lakas upang kayanin ang mabigat na pagsubok.”
Nagdalamhati man sa pagpanaw ng haligi ng kanilang tahanan, nangibabaw pa rin ang pasasalamat ni Kapatid na Gal sa Diyos sapagkat natapos ng kaniyang ama ang kaniyang takbuhin. “Higit sa pagsasaka, itinuro niya sa amin ang kahalagahan ng pananatili sa loob ng Iglesia Ni Cristo at pagtupad sa mga kautusan ng ating Diyos. Isa na rito ang pagpapahalaga at pagmamalasakit sa Kaniyang tahanan,” sabi niya.
Kaya naman, labis ang pagpapasalamat ni Kapatid na Gal sa Panginoong Diyos nang ang Lokal ng Sta. Maria ay naipagpatayo ng isang bago at magandang gusaling sambahan. Batid niya na, “Doon ay maipagpapatuloy namin ang payapang pagsamba at pagtupad ng tungkulin.”
Caloocan, Metro Manila
Sinulat ni Mark Eugene Eugenio
Nang ang Lokal ng Caloocan ay pinasimulang itatag noong 1921, and mundo ay unti-unti pa lamang bumabangon mula sa nagdaang pandemya (Spanish flu). Ngayong sumapit ito sa kaniyang ika-100 taon noong Hulyo 24, 2021, laganap naman ang pandemya ng Covid-19. Dumaraan man sa mga pagsubok, ang mga kapatid ay namamalaging matatag sa pananampalataya sapagkat mabisang naisalin ng mga naunang kapatid ang kanilang matibay na pananampalataya sa mga sumunod na henerasyon.
“Simula pagkabata, iminulat na kami ng aming mga magulang sa kahalagahan ng pagtupad ng tungkulin,” sabi ni Kapatid na Eugene Villanueva, mang-aawit at katiwala ng grupo. Dagdag naman ni Kapatid na Anne Marinela Mendoza, guro sa Pagsamba ng Kabataan (PNK) at mang-aawit, “Ako ay hinubog ng aking mga magulang sa pamamagitan ng mga aral ng Diyos sa loob ng Iglesia Ni Cristo. Kahit bata pa, nagsimula na ako sa pagiging mang-aawit sa PNK.”
Nang dumating ang Covid-19, na lalong nagpalubha ng kalagayan ng mundo, lalong pinatunayan nina Kapatid na Eugene at Anne ang kanilang solidong pananampalataya sa pamamagitan ng lubos na pagtitiwala sa magagawa ng Diyos.
“Tayo ang may karapatang tumawag, manalangin, at humingi ng tulong sa Panginoong Diyos kaya hinding-hindi Niya tayo pababayaan,” patunay ni Kapatid na Eugene.
Ayon naman kay Kapatid na Anne, kahit pa lumulubha ang kahirapang dulot ng pandemya, hindi niya ipagpapalit ang kaniyang tungkulin sa hanapbuhay. “Mas malaki nga ang kikitain ko sa trabahong inalok sa akin pero hindi naman ako makatutupad ng tungkulin. Kaya tinanggihan ko ang inalok na trabaho sa akin. Sinasampalatayanan kong kapag ipinagpauna ko ang para sa Diyos, hindi Niya ako pababayaan.”
Ang ganitong pananalig sa pangakong pagtulong at pagliligtas ng Diyos ang pinanghahawakan ng mga kaanib sa Iglesia, noon at ngayon, kahit ano pang pagsubok ang kanilang masagupa.
By Lydia Fran
An island country in the Caribbean Sea, Aruba is home to two group worship services (GWS) of the Church Of Christ in the Ecclesiastical District of Caribbean, first of which is the Oranjestad, located at Aruba’s capital city.
Among the brethren who witnessed its growth and expansion is Sister Evangeline “Vangie” Gemao, a 71-year-old who has been in Aruba for three decades now. “Most of the brethren here work at the hospitality and tourism industry. We arrived here to look for greener pasture in order to provide for our families in the Philippines,” she said.
Although their reason for being in the island is better livelihood, they never neglect what is far more important in their lives—their divine calling in the Church. Sister Vangie attested, “When the time comes for worship services and fulfilling my Church duties, I prioritize them no matter how busy I am working.”
The struggles she experienced living far away from her family made her conviction even more firm to uphold her membership. Sometime in 2016, Sister Vangie experienced having a blurred vision and headache. She thought that is was just part of aging. “Every time I got off from bed, I had a hard time walking straight because I experienced double vision. In addition to that, I had severe headache from time to time,” she recalled. Her failing eyesight caused her to no longer be able to perform as a deaconess. Upon consulting the doctor, she was diagnosed with aneurysm.
However, Sister Vangie unfailingly prayed to God to give her the strength she needed: “I thank God for giving me the chance to live. I promise to always worship Him and obey His commands.”
Sister Vangie’s life and strength are one of the many reasons she is grateful to God. “Though my vision did not go back to normal, my faith never weakened. Instead, it becomes stronger and stronger. I will forever cherish this gift from God,” she declared.
By Kristhina Rosales
With the help of God, over the years, the brethren in Italy are active in sharing the true faith. As a result, more local congregations have been established, and one of them is the Torino Congregation, which was established in 2011.
The Dimaculangan family was one of the households who were converted into the Church through the brethren’s efforts in the work of propagation. Like other converts, they also had their fair share of persecutions from their relatives and friends.
“I was the last one in our family to decide to be enlisted as a Bible student on doctrines,” said Sister Maricel. Her husband, Brother Jerome, and their two children were the first ones to join the Church. The delay was due to her being worried about how the members in her former religion would take her conversion.
“When my former religious leader back in the Philippines found out that I was joining the Church Of Christ, she immediately excluded me from our group and prohibited me to speak with any of her members,” Sister Maricel recalled. That time she felt alone and uncertain if her decision to become a Church member was the right thing to do. However, seeing her family being content and happy in their services to God made her conviction reaffirmed, and she was motivated to be also part of them.
“God has been so wonderful to our family. He guided and led us into the proper way of worshiping and serving Him,” expressed Sister Maricel. With God’s grace, she was baptized in 2012 and is now a deaconess and a finance officer, while her husband is a deacon.
“My household will always be united with the Church Administration in all the intensified works in the Church as we await the day of our redemption, which is very fast approaching,” promised Sister Maricel.
By Allen Jade Ching
“When the pandemic was just starting, my husband and I both got affected in our jobs. As a nurse, I was given more assignments due to the influx of patients hospitalized with Covid-19. My husband’s livelihood, being in a car business, almost came to a halt,” recounted Sister Maryann Ugoh, a choir member.
But as a servant of God, she did not find these uncertainties surprising at all: “No matter what happens to this world, God won’t leave me and my family.”
Aside from the pandemic, a calamity struck the lives of many people in Texas when a historic winter storm hit on February 14 this year. “We spent the days without electricity and heat,” said Brother Eddie Ramos, one of the head deacons. “We were freezing, but our faith in God far outweighed the struggle.”
Their struggles served as a constant reminder for him and his family to remain steadfast and be prayerful. “Even if the world is in such desperate times,” he said, “God’s love to our family and the Church is all the more manifested in the ways He keeps us safe and full of hope.”
Meanwhile, for a choir member and CWS secretary, Sister Jeaneen Ching’s duties in the Church have kept her grounded from all the things that are happening in the world. “I am thankful to God for allowing me to perform my duties, to worship and to serve Him,” she said. Her faith has not wavered during this pandemic because she believes, “God is watching over me and making sure that I and my entire household are safe.”
Prince Edward, Hong Kong
By Geanna Trisha Tobar
Among the residents of Prince Edward, Hong Kong are Church Of Christ members, most of whom are Overseas Filipino Workers. Despite their workloads, they are unhindered in upholding their divine election and are continually thankful to God amid the challenges they experience.
“Whatever the situation of the world is, we never cease worshiping God because His teachings give us joy and inspiration,” said Sister Mary Ann Hidalgo, a choir member. She actively participates in all the activities launched by the Church Administration. One of these is the recently held EVM Art (Expressing the Vision and Mission of the Iglesia Ni Cristo through Art) competition conducted by the district, where she emerged as the winner. “It is a great blessing and inspiration for both my household and me to be active in serving God come what may in our lives,” she expressed.
Although away from her family, Sister Mary Ann is hopeful that God will take care of them. “We thank God because His kindness to us is immeasurable. We are always safe and active in our services to Him,” she said.
As the pandemic continues ravaging the world, the distance from their loved ones also seems to get farther. Yet, for Sister Mayumae Joy Flores, a choir leader, she never felt alone in enduring the trials because she still finds happiness with the help of God.
“All the hardships we experience in this world are only temporary. We become more enthusiastic in fulfilling our duties because we are inspired by God’s promise of reaching the Holy City where there is true happiness and peace,” she explained.
Ecclesiastical District of Quezon
By Charmaine Villanoa
Before leaving home to fulfill her Church duties sometime in November 2012 Sister Ligaya Luzentales, a choir leader and assistant group overseer, and her husband prayed together to God, entrusting their woes to Him. Sister Ligaya had been lovingly taking care of her husband, bedridden for two and a half years due to prostate cancer.
When she came home, she learned that her husband already passed away. Nevertheless, she remained thankful because the last moment they shared together was spent in praying to God. That moment, she says, will forever remain in her memory.
“Every day, my husband and I entrusted to God his condition. Even when he was sick, his situation never hindered me from consistently performing my Church duties. During worship services, I would collect myself and renew my strength,” Sister Ligaya said.
When the pandemic struck, Sister Ligaya continued experiencing God’s goodness as she stands firm as an active member of the Church. “Before the pandemic, I usually experience having coughs and asthma attacks, but during the whole time of our lockdown, I never got sick,” she said.
Just like other Church members, it was proven many times in Sister Ligaya’s life that whenever she strives to obey God’s commands, whatever the circumstances are, He will never abandon His people.
“The hardships will always be there. But when you prioritize attending the worship services, setting aside for the offerings, and having your devotional prayer, He will enable you to overcome them all,” attested Sister Ligaya.
Through the Church Administration’s strong exhortation to the brethren to renew their lives and actively participate in all the works inside the Church, the brethren, being God’s people in these last days, are indeed being prepared to attain the fulfillment of their redemption.
Brother Renato Naynes, head deacon, said with conviction, “God will always be with us. He will strengthen us, especially in times of our weaknesses. Even in times of famine and poverty, He will enrich us. He will give us whatever we need if we continue living a righteous way of life.”