By Melvin Camasis
One day, in October 1998, my father was watching a religious television program. I was on the phone, when suddenly I overheard one very interesting question about the Bible. I didn’t notice that I was already hooked in viewing the program and I was unaware that I still had my hand on the phone. From there my enthusiasm about religion, faith, salvation, “Ang Dating Daan” (The Old Path) and especially about Bro Eli Soriano started.
I had already heard about him in my teen years. My father back in 1990 was still searching for the truth that on one instance, while he was waiting for passengers to ride his tricycle, he uttered to himself a simple prayer saying, “Please Lord, help me find the way to you.”
At that time my “Ninong” or godfather was also inviting my father to come and join him to listen to sermons at the Iglesia ni Cristo of Manalo convincing him to switch religion and be one of their members. He also added that if my father joined their congregation, he will never experience any hardship in life and said that if my father got into a fight, they have underground artillery in their church that will take care.
At the back of my father’s mind, however, he really can’t accept the Iglesia ni Cristo’s (INC) doctrine that Jesus Christ is just a man. This thing between my father and godfather happened almost every day. But one day, while my father kept on turning the dial of our radio looking for something good to listen to, he heard the voice of a man exposing the teachings of other preachers which cannot be found in the Bible. The man was shouting very loud saying those people only tend to bring the souls of their listeners to damnation and not to salvation. It was like that ever since the first day my father heard the man and whenever he listens, our whole family can also hear the voice of that man who made a lot of changes on my father.
I was just 14 years old then and everything that I hear from that man in the radio were just faint whispers. It was just a background sound while I play games at my Nintendo Family Computer. But from that point on, some verses that were repeatedly read by that voice on the radio kept on coming back to my mind. I became interested to read the whole book of Revelations although I didn’t understand most of the verses and most of what I have read scared me. It seemed to me that I was reading a fantasy novel and it made me laugh every time I remember that instance.
At that instance when I was on the phone, I told the person I was speaking with that I have to hang-up and told her that I will call her later. After hanging-up the phone and there were no disturbances as I watch Bro Eli answer the question that was raised by a live studio guest, I asked my father the questions I had in my mind but my father told me that these were also questions he had in mind. I decided then to go to the studio and personally ask the questions I had to Bro Eli.
Since the “Ang Dating Daan” program air live every Tuesdays and Fridays, I went to Ortigas in Mandaluyong on a Friday night and found the studio beneath a rocket silo-like staircase outside Robinson’s Galleria Mall. On my way to the studio, everyone I pass by had that unique, familiar smile on their faces which made me relaxed and very welcome. Everyone was in joyful mood and there was an ambience that says something very good is about to take place.
Upon reaching the place, I saw a group which stands out from the rest because of their all-blue uniforms while they attend to arriving guests, ushering them to their seats and asking them if they wanted to ask some questions to Bro Eli. I was fortunate enough to be included on the first ten guests who have enlisted. To my delight, they seated me near the panelists’ table. While waiting for the show to start, the choir started to position themselves in front and they were wearing blue and cream uniforms. The music began to play and they started to sing different kinds of songs which brought peace to my heart and it seemed that I was hearing angelic voices.
While the choir sang, one by one, the panelists entered. First to come out was Bro. Josel Mallari, followed by Bro. Danny Navales, Bro. Willy Santiago and Sis. Luz Cruz. I was very excited and happy to see them for the first time while overwhelming smiles came from the crowd. While the panelists spoke with each other and with the studio staff, I thought that they would be like actors and actresses who pretend that you’re not around but they were actually very different from actors and actresses.
Then the moment I’ve been waiting for arrived: there standing at the table was the person I wanted to see, Bro Eli Soriano. He was also smiling but in a very different way. His smile was one that gave me the feeling of hope that my spirit gushed with joy and gladness. It was like he was an animated superhero whose powers mounted so high that you can feel his aura flowing out like energy waves.
The program started with a continuation of the topic last Tuesday after which they played a quick commercial break and the refreshments were served by the people in all-blue uniform. The program resumed with the question and answer portion wherein all my questions were answered because some of the questions asked were similar to my question. Still, what I was feeling did not go away until such time that they finally called me. “It’s my turn,” I said.
I suddenly started feeling cold from head to toe and had second thoughts if I should still stand up and ask my questions. My hands were shaking and my throat began to dry and I asked myself, “Why am I here in front of the camera being watched by so many people?” But my feelings changed when I stood up and said to myself, “I am here because it is something that I have to do and something I have to know: the TRUTH.” Then I felt different again when I uttered my first words to Bro. Eli then I smiled at him and felt very happy at that time.
I asked my first question on how a man can attain salvation and what does man have to do to attain it. Bro Eli answered that to obtain salvation, you have to go to where the truth is, cleave to the truth and follow Christ’s instructions. He also said that a man must maintain his faith by doing good works. My second question was, “If a man who was before an active member of your Church and became inactive, can he still come back to continue being a follower of God?” To this, Bro Eli answered, “A man can still come back if what he has done is not a willful act because of things he doesn’t know and things he didn’t understand. A man can still be forgiven, but if he had done it willfully, that’s the time that he chooses to turn back away from God.” I felt very satisfied and very much pleased with those answers that they lingered in my memory until this day. Three days after, I decided to attend the indoctrination sessions.
From that moment on, I have felt that on the first time I have met and spoken with Bro. Eli Soriano it was my unforgettable encounter with the Man of God. The memory of that acquaintance day with Bro. Eli will never leave my heart; my simple story on an event in my life which I know I would cherish as long as I live.