With about 90 members, the Locale of Magata converged with the tens of thousand congregants at the ADD Convention Center in Apalit, Pampanga one regular Thanksgiving service. These members were prepared spiritually to offer their sacrifice of thanksgiving. With kids in tow, they marched on stage to sing their song of praise. These members can still vividly recall their Thanksgiving on March 9, 2013.
“For God’s innumerable kindness, we agreed to offer our thanksgiving as a locale,” remarked Bro. Nestor Vasquez who is one of the pioneer members of the Locale of Magata. “With His grace we were able to, little by little, contribute and raise funds for our fare going to Apalit.”
Ain’t No Valley Low Enough
A far-flung highland of Rizal province in the Philippines, the town of Magata is an area where transportation and electricity are not available. It is as if in this modern-day world, Magata failed to catch up.
Some pointed to the area’s mountainous topography as one to blame why modernity didn’t yet reach Magata. As a result, locals subsist mostly in charcoal trade, raising goats and planting vegetables.
“If we want to make it to our thanksgiving on time, we must leave Magata at around 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. to get to Tanay between 10:30 a.m. and 11 a.m.,” explained Sis Juanita Resureccion, another pioneer member of the locale.
“We have to be on our way to Tanay as early as possible so we don’t miss the public transport,” added Sis. Juanita. The ‘public transport’ she was referring to is a big customized jeep built for the terrain that can even carry people on its top. It only makes one trip per day. “If we’re unlucky and our vehicle got into trouble during the trip, it would take us up to 2 p.m. just to reach Tanay.”
It is from Tanay where they ride regular means of public transport that can take them to Pampanga. City folk can only imagine the inconvenience and discomfort Magata-dwellers bear just to travel to Tanay, let alone another province like Pampanga.
Receiving Love, Giving Thanks
One of the primary reasons why the locale members of Magata offered thanks was because of the installation of a water pump to boost their water supply. “We are also offering thanksgiving because of our preachers, who never forget to care and show their concern for us,” Bro. Nestor further added.
Bro. Daniel Razon learned of Magata’s water problem during one of the Vice-Presiding Minister’s Visita Iglesia activities earlier this year. Bro. Daniel learned of this problem that affected locale members’ daily subsistence. In his willingness to always take advantage of opportunities to do good, Bro. Daniel visited the location of the brethren in Magata and had a water pump with a hose installed.
“The location where we get water is really far. Most of the time we rely from our non-member neighbors who have water hoses. Unfortunately it seems our water supply is cut off during our Saturday Church service or when brethren come visit the locale,” revealed Sis. Juanita.
“With God’s mercy, our prayers were heard and Bro. Daniel assisted us in getting the hose installed.” This kind gesture caused them to feel very blessed again as a locale. As a group who “seldom gets attention from the government,” said Sis. Juanita, they felt relieved with Bro. Daniel’s urgent response to their woes.
Small Wish Granted: (Truckload of) Bread
But it wasn’t the first time they had been recipients of the compassionate acts of Bro. Eli Soriano and Bro. Daniel Razon. In the Munting Pangarap (Small Wish) project of the MCGI Leaders, one member’s wish was granted in 2001.
“There’s the wife,” said Sis. Juanita, pointing to Sis. Maribel who was laughing on her chair. Asked what Bro. Datoy’s wish was, Sis. Maribel said her husband unblinkingly replied: “Bread. Just bread will do, Bro. Eli.” The modest request touched the hearts of Church members who witnessed the video recording of the gift-giving event played in a Thanksgiving service that year.
When other members from the locale asked him why he only requested for bread, Bro. Batoy casually replied, “Because we very seldom get a taste of bread in the mountains.”
More Than Bread
When the wish was granted, the Dela Cruz family and all of the Magata brethren were surprised not to see baskets of bread, but a whole truckload. Sis. Maribel, recounted that her children didn’t ask for rice during meals that time, but bread instead.
The bigger surprise however came together with the mountain of bread that were delivered to them — by the MCGI Leaders themselves. “It felt surreal,” expressed teary-eyed Bro. Nestor, as he recalled his reaction upon seeing Bro. Eli and Bro. Daniel in person.
“It was a time when you just know that no one can compare our Church to other religions,” stressed Bro. Nestor. “Leaders of other churches wouldn’t even make the effort of reaching out to members like us, especially not to a remote place where we live in. I then realized that our Church satisfies what the Holy Scriptures prescribe to leaders, to visit and see members face to face. And Bro. Eli and Bro. Daniel really do.”
The Church leaders also had a satellite dish installed so the brethren there can connect via satellite to Church services. Due to difficult transport facilities and fluctuating electric supply, all Church services in the locale are conducted on Saturdays.
Apart however from the water pump and satellite dish, Bro. Eli and Bro. Daniel gave them a generator for use in Church gatherings as well as in indoctrination sessions. According to locale officers, all these helped resolve problems like poor attendance of members who mostly encounter problems making trips back and forth to the area.
Life Goes On
“It’s very hard to get a stable source of income, it was tough even for us. That’s why some of us experienced temporary setbacks from attending our Church services in the previous years,” told Bro. Nestor. “But with God’s mercy, our leaders’ guidance and the assistance of our assigned workers, we were able to pack Saturdays with prayer meeting, thanksgiving and worship service. We’re very thankful.”
With all the daily struggles, not to mention the kind of discomfort they must endure, the Locale of Magata members are a hearty lot of people. Easily laughing at jokes, especially when they remember funny memories shared together as brothers and sisters in faith, they shed tears of joy for their overwhelming gratefulness despite their status in life. These people feel blessed and awed for having faithful leaders and a kind God.
“We have several batches of newly baptized brothers and sisters, which is part of the other big reasons for our thanksgiving. Even if our leaders are physically distant from us, we can feel God’s love and provisions. He has never left us alone, through Bro.Eli and Bro.Daniel,” added Bro Nestor.
His final words, “As part of our request for our thanksgiving, we pray to God that before He takes Bro. Eli from us to rest for the time being, may we all be able to see him again personally, here in the Philippines.”
Like the disposition of the members of the Locale of Magata, most congregants of Members of the Church of God International (MCGI) can list a measly piece of bread for a wish. They do not grumble, complain and curse when they suffer. Life’s struggles and troubles are part of the package to these Christians. They endure hardships yet they are zealous to offer songs of thanks and praises. It’s their way of life in Christ.
(Words by Apple D. Arco)
(Photo by Rovic Balunsay)