My family were in uproar, learning that I changed religion. As my father was beating me, my uncle said, “You don’t know that the boy is correct! Did you ever once listen to Bro. Eli? Listen! You will know if this boy isn’t telling the truth. If I were you, I would respect your son’s decision. He is old enough.”
By Benson Santos
Had it not been for my grandfather’s healing power, my existence might not have been possible. That’s what my relatives were forcing on me. I am ungrateful for choosing the truth from the Bible over our family tradition, they said. Here’s the story behind that accusation –
My mother almost lost her first born due to her weak uterus, so my grandfather made some rituals on her to save the baby. I was that baby. I was born sickly as my elders were saying. My grandfather made some healing rituals on me too and I got well. Those facts in my early chapter of my life were being reminded to me by my aunts over and over, suggesting I be eternally grateful to my grandfather – a witch doctor.
In my younger years, I saw the works of my grandfather. People, including celebrities in the 80’s, were making a queue in our compound to seek spiritual service from him. I saw how he cures people bound with curses and victims of voodoo rituals. I saw frightening scenes brought by people possessed by evil spirits; some were even levitating, floating in midair just like in horror movies. With the rituals of my grandfather, the evil spirits were driven away. My grandfather had healing power- at least that was my belief.
My family are devoted Catholics. My elders were regularly praying to graven images every 12 noon, every 3 ‘o clock, and 6 ‘o clock at night. During Lenten seasons we regularly go to Mt. Banahaw. We have visited almost every Catholic Church in the country just to worship idols; my grandmother always tagged me along. They taught me how to recite the rosary. I even fasted during the holy week. I became a sacristan or an altar boy and was very active in youth activities in our church. My parents are not very different from the rest of family; they are also adherents of my grandparents’ beliefs and they are strict with that conviction. My father’s siblings live nearby, making us one compound, full of my father’s relatives.
Adding to those practices, my grandfather taught me how to perform witchcraft. The spells were in Latin and he had given me some amulets to go with the rituals. In short, the family tradition was passed on me. I could say that those rituals really worked. Later on, I learned from Bro. Eli that those rituals are works of the devil.
I grew up bearing a certain amulet with me – a wooden crucifix that came from our ancestors. My grandfather said it was a cross of Sinukuan from Banahaw, a “sacred” piece. He instructed me to keep it with me always so I could be protected from any harm. I did what was instructed with full conviction; I always wore it around my neck like a pendant.
I was graduating in high school when a problem hit me. There was a threat that I may not be able to go to college due to lack of budget, which I found depressing since I really liked to go to college. One time, I fell asleep with full of anxiety that resulted in a strange dream. I dreamt that I was climbing up a really high mountain. There was a certain level in that mountain that was very slippery, and not everyone could climb that part. At that area, there were rows of rope hanging down coming from the higher part of the mountain. I saw people attempting to climb the ropes; some could not make it, while some made it above. I grabbed one rope and started climbing. Thankfully, I was one of those who made it to the top; and then I woke up. I prayed after having that dream because I could not understand what it meant.
In 2002, my grandfather fell ill. One time, I stayed beside him and we were watching TV. We were looking for movies that time when we landed on RJTV29. The man was shouting, cursing other pastors. That got us intrigued so we watched the program. It was highly entertaining until he said that worshipping images is not biblical, that the Catholic faith is not biblical. I don’t know about my grandfather, but I got angry with that man because he was refuting the faith I grew up with. But I realized he was merely reading the Bible while attacking the Catholics. He was reading the letters written by the Apostle Paul. I got more interested to listen to him. The preacher’s name is Bro. Eli Soriano, and the program that we watched was titled “Ang Dating Daan.”
Then my relatives came to know that we were watching Ang Dating Daan, which for them is taboo since we were devoted Catholics. We were forbidden to watch the program in the house. My grandfather – although very fond of Bro. Eli’s program – was too sick to resist. He couldn’t do anything. But their discouragement didn’t stop me from listening to Bro. Eli. I secretly listened to his program using the old transistor we had at home in a very low volume. There were few times I got caught by my relatives, then my grandmother would suddenly come knocking on my door and command me to get out of my room so I won’t continue to listen. But most of the time, I was able to listen.
What was strange upon my listening to Bro. Eli was that the notes of verses I was jotting down during the program suddenly became inaccurate whenever I consulted them in the Bible after the program. When I read the verses, it was different from what I had heard. It was really strange because I was pretty sure that I have listened well and got the details down correctly. That got me more interested to listen to him, to determine what was wrong with my note-taking. In effect, it left me curious to search the right verses and unconsciously I was already reading almost the entire Bible. That led me to decide to ask that strangeness in a live question to Bro. Eli.
I learned that the program was airing live in the 15th floor of Strata building in Ortigas. I was already in college that time and I didn’t attend my last class that night so that I could get in to the program. As I entered the studio, I saw the rest of the hosts of Ang Dating Daan. And then I saw Bro. Eli in person and it felt really good to see him. When I saw him, I became very happy. It felt like I was already a part of a brotherhood that is of God. A call from my aunt suddenly cut that pleasant experience. They have learned through my classmate that I was part of a live audience in Ang Dating Daan. They called me up and commanded me to go home immediately or else they will close the gate and they would not let me in. Heartbroken, I left the studio without finishing the program. Later, I found out that Bro. Josel Mallari, one of the program’s hosts, called for my name as one of the live inquirers.
But the more they were forbidding me to listen to Bro. Eli, the more I was longing to hear him. It was like I fell in love with his preaching. Thus I kept returning to the studio as a live audience. I was contended being like that, not knowing the deeper meaning of the things he was preaching, until the anxiety brought by the US-Iraq war set in. When America declared war on terror, a fear stirred within me because the world may be facing another world war. I was moved to seek comfort from the preaching of Bro. Eli. So when I learned about the upcoming Grand Bible Exposition in Araneta Coliseum on that particular period, I didn’t hesitate to go.
“Kapag nakasumpong ka ng mabuti, huwag kang magpatumpik-tumpik, huwag kang magpadelay-delay!” (Once you discover good, do not hesitate, do not delay!) Bro. Eli shouted before the thousands of people who have attended the event. Those words pricked my conscience. Then I met there my childhood friend who is already a member of the church that Bro. Eli is presiding. He had invited me to attend the Mass Indoctrination, and I immediately said yes.
On February 2, 2003, I attended the first session of Mass Indoctrination. I was very eager to be part of the true Church. I even cut my classes just to attend the indoctrination sessions. Then came our midterm exams. It was scheduled at nighttime conflicting with the last session of indoctrination. Although my interest in studying declined as I fell in love with Bro. Eli’s preaching, I knew I had to make a choice. Which will it be? Torn between two important things, I prayed for the solution of the conflict. I pursued with the indoctrination session instead and didn’t take the exam. The next day, I found out that the professor had rescheduled the mid-term exam and luckily, I was able to take it. I believe that, that was a work of God as an answer to my prayer.
I was able to finish all of the indoctrination sessions and received my baptism on February 28, 2003 in Apalit, Pampanga without any interference. It was because no one in the family knew what I have done. My being a member of the Church of God was only discovered when I was about to attend the Thanksgiving Day that is regularly being observed by the members of Church of God International.
“You what? What did you say?” It was a shock to them. My parents were in uproar – they were raging mad!
My aunts were saying, “We are devoted Catholics! Your ancestors are Catholics! You owe your life to grandfather, and because of him you are alive!”
My grandfather had never seen that scene as he already passed away. The first time I heard them say that to me, I felt the urge to defend my faith.
“I feel that this is the true religion; Bro. Eli is preaching the truth. The Bible prohibits us to worship idols,” I told them defensively.
My father was boiling mad. “Get out! Leave! Go where you want to go! You don’t belong here!”
I took that as my cue to leave and go to Pampanga for the Thanksgiving Day, but my father got even madder. He threw a fist at me and I got hit in the face though I tried to dodge his punches. Then my uncle – my father’s eldest brother – stepped in.
As my father was beating me, my uncle said, “You don’t know that the boy is correct!” Everyone’s attention turned to the visitor.
My uncle is a former police and his siblings have high regards for him. My father suddenly stopped. My uncle continued.
“Did you ever once listen to Bro. Eli? Listen! You will know if this boy isn’t telling the truth. If I were you, I would respect your son’s decision. He is old enough,” my uncle said.
It turned out that my uncle was also listening to Bro. Eli’s program. When chaos had subsided, my father spoke to me. He told me that he would accept my decision as long as I finish my studies, which I did.
I finished my course in Psychology. However, my first days of attending the regular services of the Church were always a challenge since my leaving home to attend was always an issue to my parents and my relatives, particularly the Thanksgiving Day because it was set every Sunday.
To avoid another messy scene, I woke up very early in the morning, took baths in our bathroom without any lights on so that no one would notice. I would sneak around the house to leave every Sunday in order to attend the important gathering. Whenever I returned home after the gatherings, they were just keeping quiet. Perhaps they were also afraid that I would get away from home permanently if they continued persecuting me.
With the help and guidance of God, my family got used to my routine. They have accepted the faith I chose. In fact, three of my eight uncles including their respective wives have also converted to the same faith I found. There were lots of changes that happened in our compound after some of us had discovered the true Church through the preaching of Bro. Eli Soriano.
There is no more practice of any rituals that my witch doctor ancestors used to perform and my remaining Catholic relatives became more understanding with the faith of others. I suddenly remembered my dream – this could be the meaning of it. I am one of the lucky ones who were able to climb that slippery mountain.
I have told you about the amulet I was keeping that my grandfather had given me when I was younger. A strange thing happened to it: it suddenly disappeared from me when I started falling in love with the preaching of Bro. Eli. I have learned from his explanation that those supernatural things I have witnessed, the healing of the sick through witchcraft and the driving away of evil spirits, were actually works of the devil – his schemes to deceive the spectators into believing the beliefs attached with it. Thank God I was saved from the devious ruse that ensnared my witch-crafting ancestors.
God is truly a loving God. He had provided our generation an honest steward of His wisdom and mysteries, Bro. Eli Soriano, assisted by Bro. Daniel Razon. The true religion will be preached among nations and for people to be saved from the wicked devices of the devil.