At the same time, I was hedging: I closed my ears to his words about false pastors. I was furious inside of me because of the way he lambasted pastors of other religious denominations, including that of the Baptists where I belonged.
By Ellen May Pama Bendol
I grew up in a religiously- divided family where my father is a Catholic and my mother, a Baptist. All of us siblings except the eldest grew in the Baptist faith, attending Sunday schools and going to youth camps and vacation church schools.
Way back in my elementary years I remember reading the New Testament Bible from start to finish, and being comforted by the act, I told myself that even if I didn’t understand some of the verses, God will bring the explanation in His own time.
That zeal to read the Bible and follow the practices of my Baptist faith grew lukewarm, then cold, after I experienced a lot of trials starting in high school. Lack of parental moral support and approval drove me and my sister to rebellious acts. We learned how to get drunk; I became friends with frat members and skipped classes just to be with them.
At the back of my mind, I just wanted my parents to notice and reign me in, and perhaps, establish an open communication between us. I had a boyfriend at an early age, too. At one point I tried smoking grass just for the heck of it. I was on a self-destructive streak.
When it was time for me to go to college, I changed my frame of mind. We were poor and my parents couldn’t support my preferred course which was supposed to be in a private (Baptist) university. I then applied as a student assistant so I could pay my way through college.
This time I didn’t have any vices, I focused on my work and my studies. I renewed my affiliation with my Baptist faith, thinking that if I go to church every Sunday, the feeling of emptiness will be dispelled. This was until vacation in 2006 when I stayed with my sister who was already a church member at that time.
I first saw Bro. Eli Soriano on a taped debate where the first impression I have of him is a very brave, intelligent and very logical debater. My sister’s home didn’t have cable and the only TV channel that had a clear signal was UNTV 37. And so I watched Bro Eli’s Bible Expositions and debates through UNTV. I was amazed at his ability to parry words with his opponents, with the calm logic that never wavered. Never have I heard him commit a “slip of the tongue.”
While he would read verses from the Bible as his basis, I absorbed the good things I heard, especially the verses he would read. At the same time, I was hedging: I closed my ears to his words about false pastors. I was furious inside of me because of the way he lambasted pastors of other religious denominations, including that of the Baptists where I belonged. I never thought the religion I grew up with, is actually not the true religion found in the Bible!
Like a sapling that experienced being watered after having been sprinkled with various polluted liquids, I was shocked and resistant. In my heart I knew the things I heard from Bro. Eli were very precious, and I never heard them from any other preacher. Despite my hectic schedule as a student assistant and editor of the university paper, I researched about religion, about the Bible, about Ang Dating Daan.
While yet with the Baptists, I began to watch our gatherings, our practices, our pastors with objective eyes, and saw many contradictions. One time I even saw this revered pastor sneaking into the University Production Room just to watch an ongoing beauty pageant incognito. And if that were not enough, why is there a beauty pageant practiced in there when obviously parading around in skimpy clothing for the sake of vanity and aesthetics is definitely not found in the Bible?
Alongside these things was the frustration that, despite all the awards and accolades I got from the University, I still lacked my parents’ approval – something that I so wished to have. A week before Recognition Day 2007, I was graduating then. I called my parents to attend to my awarding rites, to no avail. They had petty excuses. My English teacher was more enthusiastic to march with me and stand in for my parents during the program.
Their failure to come attend my graduation broke me emotionally, thinking that whatever I do, be it excel, be it rebel, I still didn’t have the moral support and approval I thirsted for. I hardened my heart since then. I vowed never to cry again and be vulnerable to any emotion. I learned to be callous and insensitive to people. Further, I drove away the few friends I had. My goal in life by then was to use my degree and experience having a high-paying job, be a rich career woman within five years and live a life of luxury.
Until I met Bro. Eli. He is the one preacher I heard who shouted in the strongest of voices in reproof of foolishness. If I had turned into a fool, his shouts rightfully echoed and targeted my slowly- eroding individualistic world.
Where before I used to refuse going to the locale gatherings with my sister, in July of 2008 I went to the locale by myself without her knowing it. It was unexplainable – this indescribable urge that pulled me to go to the locale and seek indoctrination. On September 5, 2008 at exactly 12:57 PM, I was baptized by Bro. Ato Tobias.
In the locale, the doctrines of Christ that I learned melted all the hurts I’ve harbored in my heart for so long a time. All the evil emotions I’ve been feeling towards life, people and even GOD all disappeared.
A lot of trials took place before I came to be baptized, but GOD spurred me on. That day, I cried and emptied my heart of all the negative things it has felt and there was only happiness and restored hope and faith and so much thanksgiving because of my new lease on life.
More trials came. I had my first job at a call center; my father left us for another woman; me and my Catholic boyfriend had fights and cold wars frequently because the time I spent attending gatherings should have been times spent together. One day, he asked me to choose: Go back to Manila so he could come and visit or we break up right at that moment. It was Day 1 of the quarterly International Thanksgiving to God and I was in Apalit with the family then. To his challenge, I never hesitated, not even considered the eight years we’ve been together, and told him goodbye right then and there.
I thank GOD for calling me into His fold, for letting me see that despite the heartaches in this life, there is hope in GOD. My heart is no longer empty; in fact it is overflowing with contentment, love, hope, and forbearance. I found that the richness of life is not in the abundance of material things and the wealth acquired, but rather in obedience to GOD’s laws and spending life in humble service. My mother is also a member now, and all has been discussed and forgiven.
I know Bro. Eli to have been maligned, cursed, and also beaten up, and yet he perseveres in allowing people to ask questions about the Bible, leading to the pure doctrines taught by God’s Words. He has suffered through a lot and yet he forgives; he sacrificed countless things and comforts of life, and still stays humble, and living the epitome of a servant of God and teaching all the brethren the same. I am happy to have known him and the truth that he propagates. #