But even though I was panning away my attention from Bro. Eli so I could do things that I like to do, his preaching kept ringing in my mind. Eventually, I felt that I was having a change of heart. Yes, he was actually guiding me, and I wanted to follow.
By Marie Viray
Growing up with a religious family while your mind is on worldly things is a bit complicated. That’s how I was before. I could not belong as I was one odd soul. In my experience, it also took one odd soul to bring our household to know the truth. That led from one thing to another until we all were gathered in the Church of God.
Since I was young, my family had always been practicing Catholic beliefs and traditions. A typical Filipino family in Bulacan, we were El Shaddai members to be exact. My father was, in every sense of word, strict. He preached to his children what he knew about religion and his belief. He overdid it sometimes that I could say he had assumed the role of a preacher. I see it as his way of protecting us, however. That’s how conservative my family was. In contrast, I had a liberated mind.
When I was in my teenage years, I often witnessed my father arguing with my eldest brother, John Jerry, because of religion. You see, I was not the only one who was different in our family. My brother was also religious like the rest of our household, but it was his belief that was different. He didn’t agree with our father’s faith, like worshipping idols and other Catholic practices. He even countered them. Sometimes he seemed to be doing it on purpose just to prove to my father that those practices were wrong. My brother believed the one he kept on watching on television. The program Ang Dating Daan, was his daily fare; he was hooked on that. He kept on listening to Bro. Eli Soriano.
I was hearing Bro. Eli Soriano’s broadcast before because of my brother, but I had very little interest with that kind of program. As a young adult exposed to the banalities of the world, I was fond of whatever pleasant and trendy were to my senses. I preferred watching movies than viewing the religious program that my brother was loyally watching. As an effect, we often argued about who would be TV commando. Oftentimes he won, because he was older than I who repeatedly would ask him, “Why do you always watch that show?”
I often heard Bro. Eli’s voice in our house whenever my brother was around. One time I tried to entertain what Bro. Eli was discussing. He was pointing out the beliefs of the Iglesia ni Cristo and the Jehovah’s Witnesses that were contradictory to the beliefs written in the Bible. He was so frank and straightforward, and he gave examples to prove his point using gestures and words. It got me entertained.
I was laughing and laughing while he was discussing. I did not know how much foolishness was involved in those beliefs. I didn’t have the slightest idea about Iglesia ni Cristo and Jehovah’s Witness’ doctrines, but only what I heard from Bro. Eli that time. But they were funny and illogical.
Then he turned to the Catholics’ beliefs, pointing out its differences from the teachings in the Bible. He gestured with his hands and he did so for emphasis. I got hurt and was so angry with Bro. Eli because we were born and raised as Catholics. It was so hard to accept that we were practicing unbiblical ways all throughout our lives. However, what he was saying was true and he had basis for those as he read the Bible. At the back of my mind I couldn’t deny that he was telling the truth; I was agreeing with him.
It went on like that. As my brother kept on watching the program, I got interested too with Bro. Eli’s preaching although I was not expressive about it. I laughed whenever I heard him discussing the errors of other religions. It always entertained me.
During those times I was worldly and that was the truth. I was fond of wearing micro miniskirts – measuring just a stretch from the thumb to the middle finger. Imagine that length! I often went out for stroll with my peers, wearing the latest trend in fashion – and walking by the streets in micro -minis.
Tattoo was one of the craze among teens during my time. The day I was scheduled to have my very first tattoo – and it was supposed to be at my nape – I heard Bro. Eli on his broadcast. He read the verse stating that imprinting even a comma on your skin is an abominable act in the sight of God. I suddenly got scared! I didn’t know that tattooing was like that in the standing of the Bible. Not wanting to be an abomination in the sight of God, I didn’t continue.
Then body piercing followed as the next hip thing among teenagers that time. I was planning to have my nose pierced, and then I heard again Bro. Eli saying the same thing for body piercing as an act that is not pleasant in the sight of the Lord. I cancelled again my plan. Next, I had my haircut. That’s how vain I was. After that I heard Bro. Eli reading the passage in the book of Corinthians 11:24, stating that it is glory to women to have long hair. He explained that women must keep their hair naturally long and for men to keep them short. The pang of guilt in me was too much. I regretted having my hair cut. It was already down to my hips if I didn’t have it cut.
Why did he seem to know the things I planned to do? Why did he manage to speak words that apply to my case each time when he could not see me? With those series of events, I decided to avoid listening to him, resorting to watching movies instead. But even though I was panning away my attention from Bro. Eli so I could do things that I like to do, his preaching kept ringing in my mind. Eventually, I felt that I was having a change of heart. Yes, he was actually guiding me, and I wanted to follow. Later, it got me to reconsider my faith.
The turning point in my life – when I abandoned the Catholic faith – was when I tested myself asking for a sign. I remember Bro. Eli saying one time about the sign of the cross being unbiblical and is actually being anti-Christ.
One day, my brother invited me to attend their Pasalamat (Thanksgiving Service). He was already a member of the Iglesia ng Dios (Church of God), the name of the church that Bro. Eli Soriano is presiding minister to. I said yes, I will come with him. That night before we were set to attend the gathering, I tried to pray asking for a sign. I said if I do the sign of the cross and if it’s indeed wrong, show me a sign and I will leave the Catholic faith. If I see no sign, however, I will remain a Catholic.
After that, I did the sign of the cross. When I opened my eyes, I saw black smoke! It was weird and frightening. I got very scared and I covered myself with a blanket. So, I got the sign! I already got my answer. The morning after that, I went to Apalit, Pampanga with my brother. That affirmed my belief that Bro. Eli is indeed leading the true church.
On June 11, 1999, after completing the indoctrination sessions, I got baptized together with my whole family, including my strict father. My brother John Jerry got affiliated ahead of us. His persistent watching of the TV program, Ang Dating Daan, had led all of us to this. Prior to our baptism I experienced some kind of dilemma. Since all of my skirts were micro mini, I didn’t have a single modest dress and I had no more time to shop for new clothes. I consulted our worker who had attended to our indoctrination. What should I wear?
He pointed to our curtains saying they can be modified and sewn into skirts. What is that curtain doing up there, he asked. He knew my mother is a dressmaker and that we have a sewing machine at home. That may sound funny to hear but I then realized the seriousness of following the doctrines of modest dressing in order to be a Christian in the true sense.
Days after getting baptized I returned to school and surprised my peers with the way I looked. They were shocked to see me in modest clothing as they were used to my micro mini skirts and wild fashion sense. My peers were chiding me, saying my skirt can be enough for the three of us for mini skirts. They kept on taunting me. I lessened my time going out with them and busied myself with Church activities. With the help of God, I was able to endure that phase.
Then came a humble duty assigned to me inside the church that gave me opportunity to be with Bro. Eli. It’s a wonderful feeling to work with him. It’s something unexplainable. I learned a lot just by observing him. I witnessed how he cares for the brethren, how he values even one single soul.
How does Bro. Eli react to honest mistakes in performing tasks? Bro. Eli would just laugh instead of getting angry. When we, his companions, get sick, he takes care of us personally; he attends to our needs. You would never accuse him of forsaking a brother or a sister. To think that his obligation now is in a worldwide scale, yet he’s able to endure. So whenever I experience hardships as I perform my duty, I just think of Bro. Eli and the things he taught us; then I would feel better.
Without Bro. Eli, it would be very hard to find truth in this world that is clad with earthly pleasure and leisure. I thank God that I was called into the Church despite my worldly pleasures then. I believe that the events in my life when I was younger have helped to usher me in accepting the true faith that my late brother had discovered first.