Vices were at every corner. Anywhere one turned to, temptation could overrule. Without the values inculcated in my mind from constantly listening to Bro. Eli, I would have been lured to these filthy temptations – earthly temptations that bring nothing but spiritual sorrow.
By Jhowel Mendoza
I was only sixteen years old when I heard Bro. Eli Soriano preaching. It was in 1998. I was so young then. At that age I could say I really was exposed to many vices in my surroundings. I lived in a place where vices were rampant: at the heart of Tondo.
By all means, this place where I grew up had been a place of terror. People were terrified in awe when they heard that I came from this place. Who would not be terrified since everyone knew that this place was popular to riots in the early sixties and seventies. Not only that; until now this place is a haven for criminals.
Not only once has Tondo been starring in the news for the crimes committed in this place. Remember Leo Echegaray who raped a five-year old girl? It was in Tondo that the rape was committed. I understand people’s reasons to be terrified of this place and of the people coming from it. However, I did not want to think that living in Tondo was a kind of curse.
Tondo is where I grew up, and where I learned a little from the different facets of life existing in this place. At any rate, Tondo was it that made me who I was. Observing how people react when they hear that I grew up in Tondo melted me like spaghetti being overheated in the oven. I could not say a word. What I could only say was, Tondo is not as terrifying as you thought it to be. I knew ever since that good people also lived here.
I believed it was not by chance that I lived here. It was God’s opportune time for me to hear His words. At my early age, in the heart of Tondo, I found a local chapter of the Ang Dating Daan (The Old Path) where the members gathered together. My gut-feel did not fail me. Who would think that a place like Tondo had a small room to worship the real God? After so many years of battling against the tirades of non-Tondo residents, I proved to myself with God’s help that not all people in this place are bad or are criminals as they are being referred to.
I could remember the exact date when I found the church locale in Tondo. Right after class, I headed straight to Pacheco Street near Velasco Street. The Ang Dating Daan Coordinating Center was at the corner of these two popular streets. I felt so relieved after I found the place.
After a couple of months of having watched Bro. Eli Soriano on RJ29, I thought of looking for a local church of his group. I craved for something more than merely watching him on television. Watching was just the beginning; it should not end there. I felt I had to do something more.
I could not compare Bro. Eli’s program to any religious program. The first time I watched him, I was fascinated about how he preached. Totally, it was different. He started by sharing biblical insights while exposing other religions’ wrong doctrines. He exposed religious groups making money out of people. They professed they were prophets but the truth is that they merely profited from their members. This kind of teaching attracted me to listen more.
The night, I was so enthralled. He didn’t preach in a monotonous voice, but shifted from one tone to another, from one feeling to another. His voice was clear enough, loud enough to share his message. He lambasted religious leaders who falsely led their members by teaching not the doctrines of Christ from the Bible but merely told stories. That done, he would answer questions from his live audience. He was that brave to face people and answer spontaneously.
I have never heard of anyone toppling Bro. Eli’s knowledge of the bible. Questions thrown him were all answered. Some from the audience would ask him questions to test his knowledge. Follow-up questions were intended to corner him or confuse him to embarrass him for his answers. However, none of them excelled.
I observe that he answers in details. Nothing is left hanging. Anything the audience wanted to know was completely expressed through his answers. I was satisfied with his answers too. These made me realize that this man with thick spectacles, who shouted at false pastors, was a man of God.
The signs are obvious. Bro. Eli spoke the word of God. He could not be contested. In answering questions, he answered them as if it automatically came out from his mouth. He did not think totally of what to answer people. He is being helped. These, according the verses of the bible, are primary signs if someone is from God.
A couple of months later, still sitting before our TV set, I entertained thoughts of undergoing indoctrination sessions. I asked myself if I was ready. I knew it was not a simple thing – not one for pranks. Religion is something that should be taken seriously as it is about salvation.
The calling was so great that my mind and heart got along and I said yes. I was ready for a new life, of a promise of salvation of my soul that could not be found in other congregations. I thought this could be the time.
Young age should not be a hindrance. I was not young anymore not to understand the doctrines. I remembered a verse Bro. Eli would recite: ‘Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure on them.’ I had found pleasure on them. At my young age, through Bro. Eli’s tutelage I found myself enjoying every minute of his program that drew me to crave, and love the words of God. Despite the place I was in, I should follow what God wants me to follow; that is, to follow His words: shun what is evil and cleave to what is good.
I did not regret what I did thirteen years ago. I have so many things to be grateful for. My decision to join the Members Church of God International (MCGI) at my early age was God’s way of saving me from the many tribulations in life and evil things in a place where I grew up.
What is it like living in Tondo? In this place of dim surroundings, it is difficult because of vices and evil things. One might be induced to do what many people in the place do. The probability is so great.
Anyone who does not have the faith and guidance of God might find himself sipping a bottle of beer after another bottle. Or, he might be one of those who laugh with no reason after sniffing fumes of prohibited drugs. Merriment is no exception. Houses of whores in Tondo sprout like mushrooms on fertile soil. Every corner has not less than two beer houses where my uncle and his friends go when drinking beer is not enough to make them happy.
Vices are at every corner. Anywhere one turns to, temptation can overrule. Without the values inculcated in my mind from constantly listening to Bro. Eli, I would have been lured to these filthy temptations – earthly temptations that bring nothing but spiritual sorrow.
Though at an early age I did evil things, those could not be compared to the wickedness I would have done if I had not known the words of God. I believe no one could say he is upright and perfect before he came to know the truth. I, too, had a seed of wickedness. My orientation was in a filthy environment.
I came from a Catholic family. These orientations could have been so influential to stir the seed in me to become wicked and an evil doer. What could I expect? That seed would have grown. I could have been influenced if I had not known the words of God at an early age.
Looking back at my contemporaries, some of them are living a crazy life. They live full of vices, without the teaching of Bro. Eli Soriano and Bro. Daniel Razon. They follow not the path of righteousness but the path of their ancestors who had denied the existence of truth by living in foolish belief.
It is us who craft our way as God guides us. Twelve years ago, He had guided me to make a decision that I shall never regret, or crafted a way for me to follow the path of righteousness. I believe it was God’s great mercy on me. He knew what kind of place was I was living in. I am so thankful to Him that at an early age he let me know His words through His true messengers.
[Members Church of God International (MCGI) is the registered name of the church organization, though local people refer to it as Ang Dating Daan (The Old Path) for its popular radio-TV-internet program hosted by Bro. Eli Soriano.]