He was in the midst of these foreigners and they were crying and shaking his hands, embracing him as if Bro. Eli had just opened their eyes from being blind all their lives!
By Ehite Tan-Cabanilla
One afternoon, I received a text message from Bro. Fred Cabanilla asking me to prepare our travel documents. At first, he did not disclose where we’re going, but when I found out it was Papua New Guinea (PNG), I hastily opened my computer and began searching the internet about the country I had never thought I would visit.
Malaria, hot weather, root crops, and beautiful diving locations were few of the information I gathered. Not to mention the usual notion about this country that there are still cannibals that existed. I was quite apprehensive why of all people I was included in the team. “What am I going to do there?” I had mixed emotions: anxiety, excitement, curiosity, and diffidence because the mission was very noble.
Bro. Fred never thought of those things. He was very excited and was looking forward to the new experience. He was constantly asking those who have been there about the do’s and dont’s and the possibilities the team can make in order to help the brethren and the ministry. Having known of these things, my apprehension gradually subsided and was changed to plain submission to whatever plans God have for us and for the journey.
Three weeks after the announcement, we boarded Air Nuigini at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. It took us 5 hours to reach Port Moresby, Papua’s capital.
In Port Moresby, we waited to catch our next flight going to Madang Province. An impatient Australian male who was also waiting for the same flight told us that PNG is indeed a country of delays. He might be correct; we had to wait for 6 hours for the 1 hour travel.
The moment we arrived at the Madang Airport and saw the faces of our brethren, our hearts melted. It was like we had known them and had been together before and just came back after years of absence. They welcomed us so warmly that we felt like we never left home.
Everyone was speechless and all we did was to hug each other and try to memorize their names and get familiar with their faces.
The place is called Madang Province. It is 50 years behind technology: no electricity, no water system, little formal education, impoverished transportation system. They only relied on generator, chlorine-treated well water or rain water for their drinking, and mostly, they just walk to places.
Despite this, Madang is blessed with abundant natural resources which made it look like the ones we see in movies such as Blue Lagoon, the Beach, Land Before Time cartoon and the like. The grasses are well-trimmed almost like a green carpet; birds flying, foxes around, crystal water on the bay, organized plants and flowers often looking fresh, ready for pictorial. It is a big beautiful landscape!
The following day was the start of our schedule. We met the rest of the brethren. All of us tearfully spoke in front. We could not hold back our tears for we were so overwhelmed and ecstatic by their spirit. Until now, we cannot describe that feeling.
You might be wondering how they started to hear the words of God through Bro. Eliseo Soriano.
Bro. Renny Datoy, one of our Church workers who was working there as an Engineer, got sick of malaria twice. That was the only time he realized that he needed to do his duty as a church worker. He has been there for almost a year then.
During his stay, he gained a lot of local friends that he was able to learn Pidgin (a native language of PNG). One time he found himself with the Born Again group. He was requested to share his testimony during their gathering. He quoted a lot of verses for proof. People’s curiosity got aroused and started to ask where Bro. Renny learned all those knowledge. He then started sharing his Bible Exposition CDs where Bro. Eli was expounding the Word of God.
The requests to have Bible study started to come one after the other. Then, indoctrination took place when Bro. King arrived.
Many were gladly admitting that it was their first time to encounter many verses being read in one gathering. They were amazed that Bro. Eli is very fast and keen when it comes to reading the Bible. Some were repetitiously attending the indoctrination even to the extent of denying that they had already attended as per attendance record.
And then, the inevitable came. Many wives were restrained by their husbands and other family members from changing their religion. A young girl’s bible was burned by her father.
But no matter what persecutions come, a true sheep will still heed the voice of its Pastor, our Lord. And they behaved so. Overall, they strongly believed that what this Filipino preacher is saying is TRULY the Word of God.
I can still vividly remember that whenever they agree with Bro. Eli, you can hear them often saying “Tsk! Tsk! Tsk! Tru! Tru!” (Just like the sound of the lizard and Tru means “It’s true.”)
Majority of the people in that country are Bible believers. And it is very good to know that there is no Iglesia Ni Cristo there.
After they completed the thirty topics of the English indoctrination, the first baptism was administered last June 1, 2008.
A pregnant woman named Sis. Anne was due to give birth on the day of the baptism. Her husband, Bro. Greg, was having second thoughts whether to pursue or not, because of his wife’s condition. After consulting Bro. Resty and Bro. Efren, who were there to conduct the baptism ceremony, the couple decided to push through with high hopes that the baby would come out after the baptism. True enough, the following day, Sis Anne gave birth and named her “Baby Ruth,” after Sis Baby Reyes and Sis Ruth Soriano who were also there as baptizers.
It was such a significant experience for me. Being with them was like being with your dear family whom you have missed and haven’t seen for such a long time. It feels like I was newly baptized. Bro. Fred even thought that, that was his baptism of fire. Their simplicity and humility is so moving that I felt so ashamed of myself. I took so many things for granted as a person and as a Christian.
The people there have the attitude of habitually whispering to one another. At first, we thought it was negative (as how we, Filipinos, see it as offensive), but later on, we found out that it was still for the benefit of the people around them.
The brethren there will never leave your side. They will never leave the house of worship until the workers are onboard heading home (We go there by boat). Even the children (whom they call “pikininis”) are in front seriously listening to the topic until they doze off on the floor. Whenever Bro. Eli and Bro. Daniel sing English and even Tagalog songs, they would always giggle and smile. Especially if they discuss the “paksa” (topic of the biblical exposition) in English, you would see the glow on their faces, as if the whole afternoon of listening paid off.
Through word of mouth, relatives and friends from different villages and even their former church mates became curious about this NEW way of worshiping.
The team was able to visit seven (7) places for Bible Study. These included Main Village where some of our brethren live there; Mire, a place where only few can understand and speak English; and Lamtub, 3 hours drive via speed boat, no electricity, very much in need of medical assistance;
Nirao , Jomba School, that is attended by teachers where they appreciated so much the topics of Bro. Eli regarding parent-children relationship; Rewo, where people highly appreciated the way Bro. Eli and Bro. Daniel read the verses in the Bible;
Erima, where most of them are high school students, and in Town (Imagine this, a Guinean speaking Visayan dialect! Mati is a cook working in a company with many Filipinos that includes Bro. Renny). The people there never fail to give smile, to show enthusiasm, and be thankful for what they have heard.
Someone said he thought that he was already reading the Bible until he heard Bro. Eli and Bro. Daniel’s preaching. They have not seen any gathering that discusses and reads many verses in one sitting. They might not understand English well, but we always believe and have witnessed that the Holy Spirit is always present to guide them.
Many of them even had dreams one after another which made them longing to hear more and understand the Bible. I see them as a desert so thirsty with God’s word and in search for Truth. Even if what they hear and see came from foreigners – from a third-world country like theirs – without a bat of an eyelash, they believe that Bro. Eli and Bro. Daniel are preaching the TRUTH.
Sad to say that even though this country is way behind technology (Jurassic is the usual word we used), the cost of living there is no joke – especially if we wanted our brethren there to be updated with our TOPIC for the past 7 months. We had to invest 50Kina for every download (1Kina = Php18). Each download of a 35-minute Prayer Meeting topic takes 3 hours.
Moreover, the quarterly International Thanksgiving will entail a 4Kina-per-minute phone patch hook-up. If I will itemize it all, we will never stop converting and computing. The only cheap items there are their staple food because you can get it free from your garden, but the rest…never mind.
Nevertheless, seeing the delight and the awe on the faces of our brethren, as well as our guests, it was worth it all!
Who would have thought that Papua New Guinea will be reached by the teachings of our Lord God through our Preachers? Who would have thought that a small village would come to know who to worship and pray accordingly? Who would have thought that in PNG we will find our long lost brothers and sisters? They may not look like us and even speak the same language. But when we were there, all we could see were same faces – the mirror of a TRUE CHRISTIAN, the language of LOVE and the manifestation of GOD’s endless blessings.
The efforts of our leaders, Bro. Eli Soriano and Bro. Daniel Razon, paid off. I believe in their commitment, whenever we hear such stories of how God works in the lives of those people. No matter how hard it is, no matter how many oppressions they encounter, how many tears they have shed… they are indeed happy and it is all for the GLORY OF OUR LORD GOD!
During one of the Bible Expositions Bro. Eli hosted abroad, Bro. Daniel said he had never seen such an unfathomable scenario! Bro. Eli was in the midst of these foreigners and they were crying and shaking his hands, embracing him as if Bro. Eli had just opened their eyes from being blind all their lives! Their faith has led them to desire to know the Truth. And thank God they have found it!
Faith to faith, just like our brethren in Papua New Guinea, they have so little in this world. That is why they were able to treasure and embrace wholeheartedly what they have found in the Church of God. It’s like a diamond that they have found.
Papua New Guinea, tru! tru! People of the Nation of God.