THE WAY WE WERE
By Boy Dimalanta
A debate took place soon after some of the members of the Iglesia ni Manalo intruded in one of our Bible expositions in Pampanga. That was in 1969. The theme was, ‘The True Church of God: the ‘Church of Christ’ of Felix Manalo or the ‘Church of God’ which Bro. Perez was advocating. The venue, a plaza in Guagua, Pampanga which we fondly called as ‘Glorietta’, was profuse with people from all walks of life, majority of which were INC members.
It came to a point during the debate that the theme evolved into, “Who was the real founder of the ‘Church of Christ’ in the Philippines? Is it of God or not?” When it was Bro. Eli’s turn to respond, he read the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) document stating that, “The founder of this society (INC) are the following: Felix Manalo…etc.”
The crowd instantly bellowed the name ‘Manalo’when Bro. Eli asked them who the founder of the INC was. By then, a displaced person grabbed Bro. Eli’s clothing, snapping out its buttons and even manifesting the former’s brusqueness by flicking a lighted cigarette in the midst. That incident was a lucid reflection of how ‘possessed’ Bro. Eli’s enemies were. But he was determined and nothing could apparently stop him.
I admire Bro. Eli as a worker. He is extraordinary in his field. I yearned then to get close to him when news came to me that he was preaching in San Matias Kilo, Pampanga. Barely 2 or 3 months after I became a member of the Church, a flood of thoughts and wishes occupied my mind: What could I possibly do for the Church? I wanted to learn how to read the Bible. I want to hear the Word of God more often. These thoughts all stemmed from my initial response as a newly baptized member to partake in the divine workmanship of God in the Church.
Subsequently, due to my fervent desire to acquire Biblical truths and wisdom, my journey with Bro. Eli reached shores. “Kanino ka pa didikit, siyempre doon na sa may alam; sa may makukuha ka.” (You should definitely keep company with someone whom you can learn something from). And it was through music that Bro. Eli and I drafted a long and inspiring story of a man’s dream of saving ‘souls.’
Bro. Eli and I are ‘colleagues’; he is just 3 years older than I am. And music-wise, we are ‘band mates,’ so to speak. I would discover later that we both like the songs during that time. But then, I got a hint of what I could do to position myself an inch closer to him; I tried to play the songs which he usually sings with my guitar just in case the master guitarist doesn’t show up.
One time that the exposition was about to start but the latter was out of sight. I grabbed the opportunity to carry out my scheme and to my utter joy, I didn’t go unnoticed. Bro. Eli acknowledged my presence. From that time on, we would always sing the songs we both knew and liked. Actually, his guitarist was my uncle. But he was unable to stick to the schedules because he was already aged and married (This situation worked on my advantage considering that I was a bachelor then.) The principal of innumerable songs that we adapted was ‘Like Strangers’ by the Everly Brothers (“Hesus Ligaya ng Puso“). Inherently gifted, Bro. Eli would render the poets appreciative owing to his being expeditious in adapting songs.
Prudence is one thing but determination is another. Bro. Eli wanted to propagate the Word of God through broadcast media, particularly radio. Radio broadcasting was already developed at that time. But Bro. Perez was hesitant with that. I overheard him questioning Bro. Eli regarding who would be spokesman; he would abhor embarrassment.
We resorted then to preaching in the barrios and peopled places. Those places were the key areas wherein we hoped to reap sympathizers and prospective members. Apparently, we believed that the poverty-stricken people were more open-minded and seekers of the Truth. That was when the number of locales grew.
The most important goal in Bible expositions is to acquire sympathizers. I learned from Bro. Eli that one need not preach everything he desires in one sitting. An evangelist has to arouse in the audience a kind of craving for the Word of God. And with that, Bro. Eli is faultless.
Bro. Perez asserted that manifestation as I’ve heard once when he recognized Eli Boy’s (the old man’s nick for Bro Eli) good qualities. “Huwag itatangos ng ilong ni Eli Boy. Walang uubra sa inyo kay Eli Boy pagdating sa Biblia. Para ikang tape recorder yan, pag itinuro ko ay salo niyang lahat agad, mabilis!” (This should not be owed to Eli Boy’s arrogance yet no one will ever match up to him. He can easily and swiftly remember and assert what I’ve taught him.) But I know Bro. Eli won’t surely take that compliment because he was down-to-earth, as well as apologetic, loving and philanthropic.
We would commence the exposition at around 7:00 or 7:30 p.m. the usual time when people had already eaten their meals. When we arrived at our destination, we would light up the coleman (a sort of burning lamp). That would serve as our light whenever we had an exposition.
We were also lacking for a sound system so Bro. Eli had to shout his lungs out to make his voice audible. In the prelude, we would sing until there were relatively sufficient people to proceed to Bro. Eli’s preaching. It would last for 1 ½ of 2 hours at most. But he would not end there. It was his own technique, so to speak, in exciting the audience with statements like: “We have learned tonight that it is God who created all things. Let’s study further from queries like ‘What are His qualities?’, ‘What is His name?’
“On that note, we would temporarily end our discussion and continue… ” Ah! The crowd’s seemingly assured faces would distort in dismay! Unknown to them, they were in for a more overwhelming panorama: unlimited question-and-answer forum until they would get exhausted. A commendable method that Bro. Eli used. If the crowd were interested on what he was saying, he would make himself accessible for harmonious relationship. From there came Bro. Daniel Razon’s idea of a ‘Bible Exposition’ which we are conducting until now.
Our problem which occurred during that time was ‘transportation’. The Bible Exposition would end at approximately 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. and we had no choice but to walk home by foot because we had no vehicle. In urban places then, we could still afford to travel to our destination by auto since it was still early (Commuting is accessible until 7:00 p.m.).
We would sing along while walking and before we knew it, we’re home. Bro. Eli had frequent asthma attacks from smoke and dust but he had continual medication. Rheumatic heart disease plagued him in 1968. Eventually, his doctor diagnosed him having only 6 months to live if he would not refrain from abusing his body. But look at Bro. Eli now! That 27 year-long prediction went down the drain, form and all.
The Word of God is deeply embedded in Bro. Eli’s heart. No typhoon or sickness can stop him from preaching what he knew is right. From 1969 to 1981, the barrio folk witnessed a preacher who never sleeps; unreserved and devoted to his God-given duty.
We would just march 500 meters away from where we embarked first and on with the battle. A proof that he is sincere in propagating the Word of God: Even if we lacked money, we tried to preach to the whole world Christ’s teachings to which we have faith in under the staunch leadership of Bro. Eli Soriano.
First published in Believer Newsmagazine, 2005