But I disliked listening to Bro. Eli, even if I privately (and grudgingly) admitted that whatever he said was right. He would answer my innermost questions, things no human being knew, right there on TV. I almost thought it was a conspiracy. Whenever I go to my parents’ house and heard him, I would frown and leave the room.
By Francis Marcelo
“I hate them all. I refuse to believe in any religion because they’re all man-made.” People close to me in my former life have heard me say this at one time or another. It was a sentiment that’s part of me; I wasn’t meek to express it – because truly, it was my conviction. How did it come about?
I did not actively seek out the truth, as some may have, by listening to religious leaders. However, I wasn’t a stranger to the spiritual realm. My father used to like the occult as a hobby in his younger years. Not until something happened to me when I was small that was similar to the Exorcist, it was only then that he got scared. Spurred by fear and wanting safety for his family, he led us (and we tagged along since I was just a kid) into different sects. After being Catholic, we became Mormons, then Baptists, then Methodists (I don’t know the others).
I don’t remember the Mormon part but the Baptist, I think I do. I remember holding a small leaflet in black print, with the picture of a church building on it (similar to the Union Church architecture). Then there was the Born-Again movement. At the same time during this religion-hopping, we also moved residence a lot.
It may sound adventurous for some, but when you’re in that position, you know it isn’t. It merely sharpened the pang of isolation I was already beginning to feel.
There were many other strange (and painful) experiences our family had while I was growing up. But the one good thing is that, I credit my father for instilling in me the fear of God. He may have not done it in an entirely enlightened way, but still, he had taught me some things he’d learned along the way, such as the worship of idols being an abomination.
I’m not sure when my age of discernment was but I remember that by the time I entered high school, I had a lot of doubts about many Catholic practices. The pang of isolation swirled languidly. As much as I did have friends and such, I was starting to feel how different I was from everyone. I didn’t do what they normally did, so, most of my friends were boys. I enjoyed boys’ games such as robots and cartoons. I was deeply into music, which I considered my first love. It became my medium of expression in everything. Far from being a normal female, I spent much time thinking.
My motto at that time was, “Life is pain, for there can be no life without pain.” I laughed at myself recently when I saw that written beside my graduation photo – looking all young and innocent on the outside, bitter inside – but it said a lot about what I thought about life.
College opened a whole new world, so to speak, and began my age of awareness. From a small school, I was thrust into a big university. So big, the registrar clerk will not remember your face after two seconds of servicing you.
After the dust of culture shock settled, I eagerly lapped up all there is to know about the world: from advanced levels of the 3 R’s (reading, writing, ‘rithmetic) to the biggies (science, philosophy, politics, social studies, history, lunch).
My family settled by this time with that Born-Again thing, headed by that overly emotional Butch Conde. Recently, I learned from a source that this dude had totally freaked out at the mere mention of Eli Soriano’s name during a dinner party.
Only because it’s there, it was simply a routine for us. In fact, we used to fight a lot going to church, but we smiled like nothing happened when we got there. Hypocrisy to the max. Looking back now, I realized one gets into that Born-Again thing because of the belief in Jesus Christ as God. You can say it’s almost instinctive – it’s like “follow the Christ!” But that’s pretty much it.
It was around this time that I met a friend who was part of a local Born Again group. At first, I was all “wow” from the fact that she wanted to read the Bible with me and gave me pointers and advice. But after a while, she started creeping me out – the last straw was when she said she wanted to give me the “gift of the Holy Spirit” and asked if she could lay her hands on my head. Luckily, I was able to excuse myself out of it.
Yes, I cannot and will not get enough saying over and over that, actually, the reason why I became a disbeliever is because of the Born Again(st). It was then I said, oh no, what if this group was the last religion on earth? I was convinced I can’t find any other group who was as zealous about the Bible as they are. So if they were the last, then I would not believe in religion at all, ever, and I will reject every religion there is, because as far as I know, they’re all suspect/suspicious to me and they’re all wrong because they’re man-made.
I went along thinking, well, maybe this girl has some answers, but it did hurt when it turned out she hasn’t any – at least not to the questions I was asking.
Because the funny part is, deep inside, in that place where no one is privy too, I was actually searching. For something. As to what, I didn’t know just yet. But one thing was certain – I had a lot of questions.
Inevitably, exposure to the university’s philosophy and social studies courses sort of persuaded an atheist tendency in me – which isn’t far off after coming from a traumatic pseudo-religious experience. However, the one thing that nagged at me was the declaration itself that God doesn’t exist. I kept turning it over in my head thinking, it’s a bit absurd to name something that supposedly isn’t there.
So I thought, well, absolutism in terms of things you don’t fully grasp is simply denial, and the smug complacency that results from pretension come from foolishness. I can’t close myself up to everything like a brick wall, you will never learn nor move forward, I decided. If you face facts, a truly intelligent person is inquisitive – he asks questions and never stops asking. Even science does this to a fault.
So I learned the definition of that other word, albeit casually – agnostic. Maybe God exists, yeah, but well, I don’t think He’d care about me since I’m just nothing but a speck in the universe. And since this is the case, I can move on, I decided – to be a total hedonist – and just do whatever I want, I thought.
Up until the time I ended up finding a mate and getting married, I indulged in worldy activities and vices. Everything, except drugs. I almost got into it, but for some strange reason, I’d find myself with an excuse, a way out, not to do it. Looking back, I’m convinced that God truly knows one’s heart – deep inside. Even then, I didn’t want to because I knew it was wrong and would destroy me. I also believed back then (but didn’t accept outwardly, of course) that it was a gracious act of Him that He helped me get out of sticky situations.
The story didn’t end there because I had to contend with my life question – the problem of true love. My fairy tale shattered – marriage and immaturity don’t mix. It didn’t help that despite having a husband, I still felt incomplete and empty. More so when the honeymoon stage ended and we would fight. A lot. Fiercely, and even violently. I also believed that if it wasn’t for God intervening, both of us would be dead by now – killed by each other. I was angry and depressed often.
Around this time, I didn’t know that my dad had already encountered Bro. Eli on TV. The only thing I remembered was that one time, he handed me a cassette tape. It was songs from a guy I don’t know singing “One in A Million.” Imagine my chagrin since I was a rocker, I didn’t listen to such music.
I don’t remember when I first saw Bro. Eli on TV, but what I do remember most clearly is that the first time I laid eyes on him, my heart said, “It’s him.”
But I disliked listening to him, even if I privately (and grudgingly) admitted that whatever he said was right. He would answer my innermost questions, things no human being knew, right there on TV. I almost thought it was a conspiracy. Whenever I go to my parents’ house and heard him, I would frown and leave the room.
Even after that one time my mother finally dragged me to Apalit, I told her, I don’t like your religion, I don’t think I’ll join you. I also add that, the people there are so sad.
As time passed though, the deeper I got into sin, I found less and less pleasure in my activities and became more and more anguished. Since I was a chain smoker, I was suffering from its ill effects, always sickly – I’ve always tried stopping but I ended up chained to it again. I already felt ‘dead’ – both spiritually or physically. It was then I said, this is it, it’s either this is my end or a miracle happens.
I was reading one night to my daughter her usual bedtime Bible story. When we got to the part that rephrased John 3:16, something hit my heart as though I understood the verse for the first time. I read the Bible every so often but I never understood any of it, until that moment.
I cried and cried when I left her room. For the first time, I said, to Jesus, in particular, since He’s the one I’m familiar with during my Born Again days – I will leave my vices and I don’t know how so I will just leave myself in your hands. I threw away my lighter and cigarettes.
I never went back to it again. I’m clean until now – that was five plus years ago.
Everything happened like a dream, one event leading up to the other. We moved near my parents’ house. I started listening now to Bro. Eli and thought I was already okay by myself but heard him say this: that to be complete, one has to be part of the community that does and believe in the truth. Praying for it, one day, my parents called me to join them in a gathering (which I learned now was the viewing of a prayer meeting at home, because my mother got sick).
Funny thing is, the topic was about the true nature of evil, which I strangely understood parts of. I used to think evil was 666 and horns, but Bro. Eli said, it’s false religion and false prophets, in which satan transforms himself into a supposedly source of “light” and deceives many through fake beliefs.
When the workers were leaving, I almost wanted to hold one person’s wrist and beg him to bring me along. A day after, my mother asked if I wanted to learn more. I said yes. That’s when I went through indoctrination. What I can say, though, with much confidence, is that the happiest moment of my entire human life was when I was baptized.
And the rest is history. Filled with experiences worthy of an exciting full-length movie. A movie only the faithful Creator of us and the universe can make.