Heartwarming

I missed watching the Federer-Sampras matches when they were shown on cable last November. Too bad I had no tv. But thanks to Youtube, I got to see some of it anyway.

Yesterday, though, their Seoul match was aired on tv. Man, I miss Pete Sampras. His hair’s receding now. He used to be the Roger Federer of his time, the world number one of tennis, winner of numerous grand slam titles, before he resigned five years ago.

Roger Federer was great in court, too. Commentators call him the best tennis player who’s ever lived. He’s quick, smart, strong—and he’s just as passionate and soft-spoken as Pete.

Federer beat Sampras, of course: 6-4, 6-3. But it wasn’t an easy win for the Fed. Clearly, he had to improve his service receptions. Sampras scored a lot because of aces—he still has got it.

The match was amazing. Two of the best tennis players in history played each other. Surprisingly, there was no pressure—only hearty laughter from the crowd and the two of them. Sampras looked like the older brother teaching Federer some moves he needed to learn.

O, it was good, heart-warming tennis.

UP SOCCSKSARGEN Quiz-mas Challenge for High School Students is, like, tomorrow na!

If you're in Koronadal City, feel free to drop by FitMart Mall on December 22--my, that's tomorrow!--at 1-4 pm, for the UP SOCCSKSARGEN Quiz-mas Challenge for High School Students. Schools throughout Region 12 will compete for amazing cash prizes amounting to Php 10,000. Categories include Math, Science, English and Literature, and History and Current Events with focus on Region 12.

Support your schools and support UP SOCCSKSARGEN! See you all there!

A Christ-centered Christmas

1. We in YCF ministered to the street kids in UP more than a week ago. We had games, food, and gospel sharing sessions in Sunken Garden. The kids were very participative—some were harder to control, but they immediately listened the moment we asked them. The kids in my group asked relevant questions like “Lahat po ba ng simbahan ay tama?” (Are all churches teaching the truth?). We later handed out colorful bracelets whose colors represented an element in the gospel message. We were certainly blessed.

2. In Higher Rock’s Youth Fellowship, we ministered to kids in Barangay Payatas. We also had games. We presented a skit that was related to the gospel, which Kuya Lito followed up with a brief message. Meanwhile, a lot of us were able to share the gospel to people there even before the program started.

3. We had our Family Day in Higher Rock. The presentations were awesome! We in the Youth presented a choral medley. We sang songs like “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” “Raise Up an Army, O God,” and “We Have Seen God’s Glory.”

4. My friends invited me over to the Diliman Campus Bible Church’s Christmas Cantata. It’s something I look forward to every year. The title was “One Choice, One Voice This Christmas.” It was an exhortation to choose Christ and to worship Him with one voice, especially this season.

5. Koji Bulahan, a friend from church, wrote this inspiring entry about how he shared the gospel to people while he was stuck in heavy traffic. It's must-read!

Why did I write this list? To exhort you to celebrate Christ this Christmas.

God be with you, Glenda

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Jaylord had this as his primary headshot picture (himself, Jason, and myself) in his Friendster account, one of the most visited, most commented, and most viewed in the network. The caption read: "Mga pinakagwapong lalaki sa Yakal."

True, oh so true.

Then Glenda wrote an entry, Yes, Jaylord, in response to the photo. Glenda's just thoughtful like that. She writes about anybody the moment a person pops out in her mind.

Thanks for the kind words, Glenda. And yes, we dearly miss you, too.

Koronadal, here I come

The date is December 19, a Wednesday. I don’t know if it’s going to be sunny or cloudy—or if it’s ever going to snow in this part of the world—but what I do know is that I’m coming home for Christmas.

My kid brother Sean is down with chicken pox in his rented apartment in Davao. He’s probably stuck in his bed with all his bed covers on, his skin covered with itchy red and black sores. I hope it’s going to be over when he comes home. I’ve never had a chicken pox, and I can’t afford to look like someone has drawn black dots on my skin while I was sleeping.

My older brother Ralph is in his apartment two jeepney rides from where I live, also detained with his inch-thick readings that never run out of supply. If trees are being cut down for paper production, blame it on law schools.

And then there’s me, writing this entry as a petty excuse not to start reviewing for a Monday exam. I will, believe me, but in the near future. Exams have a way of distorting my schedule. I resolve not to be bothered this time.

Nanay already gave out instructions to buy gifts for this-and-that, part of our Christmas kringle tradition with close family friends in the city*. I said I’ll try because I’m still not sure if I could squeeze shopping (and my allowance, of course) in my itinerary for next week.

I’m also excited for the upcoming Quiz-mas Challenge 2007. It’s a regional quiz show for high school students that UP SOCCKSARGEN is organizing. It’s on December 22. So if you’re in Koronadal, feel free to drop by FitMart Mall, 1-4 pm, second floor, at the area near the cinemas.

I get awfully giddy thinking I’ll be home in less than a week. I thank the Lord for providing for the trip and for Christmas, which is really all about Him.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketCalling Koronadal a city still makes me uncomfortable. To my mind, it will always be the quiet town where I grew up, where everybody knew each other and those who didn’t acted like they really did.

Christmas party at Kuya Dave's

Kuya Dave and Ate June Griffiths give one of the best Christmas parties in the world, something I look forward to each year.

The Christmas decors and lights are fascinating. The food is unmistakably and deliciously English: bread and butter, trifle (gelatin with custard and fruits), and well, some Filipino additions, too, like pansit.The games always seem new and fresh, even if they're the same ones we've played for the past hundred years.

In YCF's Christmas party this year, Kuya Dave invited three foreigners to speak about Christmas in their country and what the celebration means to them.

Pastor Nnamdi from Nigeria spoke on the increasing materialism in his country's Christmas celebration.

Pastor Vishna from Cambodia told us that there are very few Christians in his place. The celebration is mostly confined to the churches.

Pastor John from Papua New Guinea shared a good news to us: the materialism that's prevalent in Western (and our) society is not found in their celebrations. It's not in their culture. In fact, only few know about Santa! Ang galing!

And the meaning of Christmas for all of them?

It's a celebration of God becoming man, in the person of Jesus Christ. He came to this world to die for and save sinners. Take Jesus out of Christmas, and the season loses all its meaning.

Next year ulit.

Ten minutes

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I just boarded the jeep, then she did, after a few seconds. She sat in front of me.

During the 10 minutes of travel, we had a good chat: on life, on career, on faith. It was all so refreshing, like a glass of cold water after an exhausting jogging session.

We talked about how fast time flies: who'd have thought it's been four long years since we first enrolled in UP? We talked about God's faithfulness, and how He has, never once, left us nor forsaken us.

"How are you?" I asked.

"I have peace--I can't explain it--because I'm sure that where I'm going is where God wants me to be," she said.

I hope we could all say the same thing.

UP Singing Ambassadors: Tulad ng Dati


The air was biting cold as I walked my way to the Church of the Risen Lord to watch the concert of the UP Singing Ambassadors (UPSA). Aside from the carols I hear in malls, it’s the chills that remind me that Christmas is near.

UPSA’s Christmas offering, Tulad ng Dati, features songs from a wide repertoire—world song classics, Christmas songs in English and Filipino, as well as popular songs of the present.

Conducted by Ed Manguiat, himself an international prize winner, the choir gave masterful renditions of songs like Poor Wayfarin’ Stranger (an American folksong), I Thank You God For This Most Amazing Day (Eric Whitacre, written by E.E. Cummings), and Diwa ng Pasko (Ramon Tapales, arranged by L. San Pedro).

In one of my favorites, Creation, the choir cleared off age-old notions about choral singing by performing a word-less piece composed by B. Cmenypko. The song narrated—literally without saying a word—the story of how this world came to be. I was amazed when some singers shrieked like monkeys or hissed like snakes and did so gracefully, as if it were the most natural thing to do.

UPSA also showcased the Filipino celebration of Christmas through a song and dance rendition of Simbang Gabi (Lucio San Pedro).

My favorites include Someone Like You (L. Bricusse and F. Wildhorn) from the play Jekyll and Hyde, Sometimes You Just Know (Danny Tan), Birdland (Josef Zawinul, Jan Hendricks, arranged by J. Nowak), Dragon Dance (Leong Yoon Pin), and of course, the walang-kamatayang Joyful! Joyful! (L. van Beethoven, arranged by M. Warren) from the movie, Sister Act 2.

The entire performance left us all breathless. After UPSA’s final song, we all stood up in applause, affirming once again, that this choral group truly never disappoints.

Forgiveness

I sing because I'm happy, I sing because I'm free....--Civilla D. Martin and Charles H. Gabriel, 1905

I remember the night when I poured my heart out to the Lord.

Yes, I remember clearly. There I was, a filthy rag, guilty of my sins, deserving nothing less but punishment. I remember how my tears literally soaked my pillows, creating moist imprints that would disappear the morning after.

There was pain in my throat as I cried out to God for mercy. "Forgive me," I pleaded. But at the back of my mind, I knew I did not deserve what I was asking for. I offended my Lord and my God. When I sinned, it was as if I spat on His face shamelessly.

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

These words gave me courage to come to my Father that night. I confessed my sins to Him. I trusted in His faithfulness. He would forgive me not because I deserved it, but because He is merciful and loving.

Months later, I still find myself sinning against God, repeating the same sins I've already confessed. There are times when I'd cry out, like Paul, "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death!" (Romans 7:24).

But I rejoice in the Lord, the God of my salvation, for He is merciful. His grace is abounding, immeasurable, unfathomable....

"For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us." (Psalm 103:11-12)

Instead of backsliding or fleeing away from God's presence, it is best to come to God immediately the moment we sin. Let's not hesitate to do so. We will not be treated harshly; we will not be punished. Instead, we will be disciplined, as a good father does to his children (Hebrews 12:7). It is painful, yes, but it will yield the "peaceable fruit of righteousness" (Hebrews 12:11).

Let us saturate our minds with God's word, so that the devil can't get through. Let us offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to Him (Romans 12:1). Let us live passionate lives that ultimately glorify Him and make His name attractive to those who do not know Him personally.

When we do so, we will find freedom, and with it, the peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

Stem cells from skin

In my Ethics class, we discuss the issues that surround the field of research. There are many troubling questions. Different sectors of society respond differently. It's a chaotic debate that's going on. It seems endless. As each year unveils a development in the biosciences, new issues are inevitably introduced.

But here's good news for everyone, something that could "quell the ethical debate troubling the field":

Two teams of scientists reported Tuesday that they had turned human skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells without having to make or destroy an embryo.

All the scientists did was add four genes which reprogrammed the chromosomes of the skin cells, much like clicking the system restore key to a computer.

This is a breakthrough because it shows that cells of the body can be induced to become "embryonic-like." Cells in this state are best for research because they're easily manipulated. They can easily become other cell types. This characteristic renders them ideal of medical purposes--like growing your ear back.

JP Asong at Game KNB?

When JP told me one night if he could borrow my black shoes, I sensed something strange. I got giddy when he broke the news: ABS-CBN called him up. He qualified to play at Game KNB?

JP on national tv! How could I miss that? I almost cut class just to see the show. He looked good. But I could tell he was shaking.

He won 60 thousand plus an entertainment showcase. As soon as he got back after taping, he rushed to my room, said he couldn't believe it, and thanked God profusely.

He lost to an Atenista in the second round. He chose "Seeing stars" category, thinking it was about constellations. Sadly, it was about some movie.

It wasn't for him this time. But, my golly, we were walking after dinner awhile ago when some people on the other side began screaming, "JP!"

He didn't win the million, but he's a certified star.

Paper Dolls

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Paper Dolls is a documentary film featured in the 8th Israeli Film Festival in the country. It tells the story of homosexual Filipino OFW's in Tel Aviv who work as caregivers in the morning and as entertainers at night. Touching, moving, true to life. Made me realize how hard it must be to work abroad.

I watched the movie with Mike, as a requirement for Art Stud 1. After the show, I congratulated critically-acclaimed director, Tomer Haymann. Mike and I even had our photos taken.

Prelude

Getting ready

We set out, twenty of us, from Metro Manila to Sibalom, Antique.

The bus in Cubao was nothing imposing. Trust me, you won't even bother taking a second look at it. The green paint looked new, with the words Dimple Star--the name of the company, I guess--sprawled on its sides. But curiosity got the better of me. I surveyed it carefully, and when I saw the sign hanging in front that said "Antique," I was taken aback. Times have changed, old people will tell us. They used to travel for weeks to hop from this to that part of the country. Now all it takes is a bus.

Dimple Star

From Cubao, we went to Batangas City. From there, we rode a ferry to Mindoro. Then, we took another bus ride to reach the other port, from which we rode the ferry going to Caticlan. We took another bus ride to take us, finally, to Antique. All in all, travel time was 19 hours.

Batangas City port

Not, it wasn't easy. It wasn't torturous either. At the end of the trip we all looked haggard, almost like refugees: layers of oil in our faces, our hair a fuzzy frieze, and our eyes bloodshot because of stress. But these harships were nothing compared to the joy we felt during those, uhm, trying times.

At dusk

The Lord granted us opportunities to share the gospel. While other people were mindlessly watching tv or idly staring at the foaming waves of the sea during the ferry ride, we took the chance to hand out gospel tracks to them. That way, we thought, instead of doing nothing, they might find ample time to leaf through the tracks. Still, the Lord used some of us to actually talk to people and share the gospel to these people personally.

I myself talked to two women whose names, weirdly, were both Marivic. The first Marivic was nursing her child, looking at the far horizon, disturbed occasionally by her son's crying. God granted me grace to talk to her. I asked her if she was sure where she was going if she died tonight. Surprised, she said no one can really be too sure. Men are sinful, she said, and it's a long way up to heaven. I told her that the good news is that we can be sure. I said I was sure I was going to heaven. She looked interested, so I shared to her the message--that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus. I praise God for Razel who occasionally translated the big English words for me.

After sharing I felt a rush of excitement, the kind that made my knees shake and my throat dry. It's been a long time since I last witnessed, I thought. What was I doing with my loud, big mouth?

I then talked to the second Marivic seated very near me. She might've overheard me because she looked as though she already knew what I was saying. I was led to witness to her anyhow. I asked if she was sure she was going to heaven; no, she said. Why? I asked. I'm sinful, she said. She interrupted me with sharp, valid questions. She wondered that if salvation is by grace, then man need not do good works, that following God's commandments will be useless. Isn't holiness demanded of us? she asked.

In my mind, I was praising God. She was really paying attention! I told her that man is not saved because of his good works, he is saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). Good works are the result of genuine salvation. If he genuinely received and believed Christ, then it is inevitable that he will do good works, that his life will drastically change. She didn't immediately agree with me on this point, so I took the time explaining the truth to her again and again.

She later told me that she has been sinning--just how, she didn't disclose. But I comforted her with the fact that Jesus' death is sufficient to cleanse us from all sins, big or small. That's why it's the good news, I said. Her face brightened. I could tell she was digesting what I've just told her. We then prayed together.

These all happened even before we even got to Antique--certainly a prelude to yet more amazing wonders the Lord was going to perform.

Sibalom, Antique Town Hall

Going


I had many reasons to go.

These I pondered as I packed my clothes for the trip that would take me to Antique and then finally to Negros. I'd be out of town for two weeks, so I had better have my clothes, socks, and underwears ready--or I'd have to wash them in the course of the trip. Because I'm a pretty light traveller, I packed as few clothes as I could. You're free to disagree with me, but I believe that the enjoyment in travelling decreases with an increase in baggage. I'll bring a tote bag if I can help it.

I was going on missions. To tell people of Christ. To show them that they can be assured of their salvation. To remind them of God's love and mercy. After I finally zipped my bag, patted it like a man would to a friend, I said, "Ayos! Ready to go na."

But was I ready?, I asked myself. In my room, I pleaded God to search me. After all, I might just be going with all the wrong motives--for sheer companionship with dear friends in the fellowship, for experience's sake, or for self-glorification in that fact that I have gone somewhere to do Christ's work. I was guilty of all these. But inside me, I found a burning passion: I wanted to know God more.

For three years of being in DCF, I've heard my friends tell of the wonders God had performed during the annual missions trips (I've never been to one; this was my first time). I've personally seen how much they've grown in faith and in love with Christ. In a way, like them, I too wanted to be changed.

And what a changed man I've emerged after the trip. And what wonders the Lord has performed!

Wandering

Travelling is like having four years of college education—it transforms you, but only if you let it.

This I remember my favorite University professor telling us in class three years ago. In my seat, I was in what can only be descibed as a trance: my teacher's voice playing in the backgound, my imagination taking me to places—in an old castle in Spain, in sprawling vineyards in Italy, or in some fireplace in Sweden. I left that class with restless feet. I was determined to travel the world, but when I learned of the staggering cost of plane tickets, I had to think again.

You see, I've always loved travelling—both the experience of reaching places I've never set foot in, and equally, of the process of getting there.

The past two weeks have seen me travelling around the Philippines. A cross-country vacation, I'd tell people in amusement, when they asked me what I had been up to.

It's no secret. I joined the UP DCF Missions Exposure Trip to Sibalom, Antique. After more than a week there, I travelled to Iloilo, Bacolod, and Kabankalan to visit some family friends. I even had the chance to visit my friend's house in Himamaylan City before finally flying back to Quezon City. I'll be writing about these travels pretty soon.

I think it was Steinbeck who said that travelling is a lot like marriage—you destroy it when you attempt to control it yourself. I guess the people who truly enjoy travelling, myself included, let the experience lead them, transform them, and teach them.

Where have you gone to lately?

Nobel 2007

Every time the world rejoices at the winners of the Nobel Prize for the year, I get a little frustrated because no Filipino has ever won it.

Cory Aquino was close to getting the Peace prize, I was told, but she didn't make it. Not one of our home grown scientists and writers and economists have earned the award either.

To see a Filipino win a Nobel is to bring the Philippines back on the map. But more than that, it will affirm that the Filipino is not merely a spectator, watching other powerful countries play the game in the international arena. A Filipino winning the Nobel is proof that the Filipino is, in fact, actively involved in human affairs, propelling this world to change, and to change for the better.

I'd like to see that happen in my lifetime, inasmuch as I'd like to rejoice over a Filipino grabbing an Olympic gold. But when?



Here are this year's notable Nobel Prize winners:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucketfor Peace: Al Gore and the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for their work to alert the world to the threat of global warming.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucketfor Physiology and Medicine: the three scientists who discovered the principles for introducing specific gene modifications in mice by the use of embryonic stem cells.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucketfor Physics: the two scientists who discovered Giant Magnetoresistance, the basis for technologies like hard drives.

You can view the rest of the winners at the Nobel Prize website.

Who says we're nerds?

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A basketball girls match in the College of Science (SC) Sportsfest. In this game, MBB defeats Biology.

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Checa Robles emerges as the highest pointer of the match. She's poised to pull off that crucial free throw, advancing MBB's lead by a point.

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In a technical time out during the first half, MBB head coach Juanchi Pablo reminds the players of the game strategies.

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Five minutes before the end of the game, MBB and Biology players anticipate where the ball is going to fall.

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Dianne Deauna of MBB warms up after being called to the bench.

As for me, well, I took the pictures.

Evangelism

I. Frustration

Frustrated, I walked out.

You know the feeling when something you've been praying for has been granted, but you didn't have enough courage to grab it at that very moment?

Today could've been the chance for me to share the gospel to a friend. But I was dumbfounded. I was hesitant. I was afraid.

II. Evangelism

Frustrated, I went to church.

The preaching on evangelism dug deep into my heart. Evangelism was defined as the "sharing of the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit to sinful people for them to trust in God as their Savior and Lord."

To share the truth about Christ is a command (Matthew 28:19-20, Luke 24:47, Acts 1:8). Sadly, we often choose to disobey it.

Why?

We are afraid. We fear that the message we carry will be rejected. We fear for our reputation.

We think that a specialized training is a prerequisite for evangelism, such that we have an adequate amount of Bible knowledge to answer every single question thrown at us.

We think we can leave the work of evangelism to the leaders of the Church, to pastors, and to those who are more mature in the faith. We think they're better at it than us.

III. Grace

Like everything else in the Christian life, sharing the Gospel is by grace only. Therefore we can never say that a person received Christ because of our eloquence--no. It is the Holy Spirit who empowers us to evangelize.

Successful evangelism is sharing the gospel in its entirety, regardless of whether the person accepts it or not. We're called to proclaim Christ (1 Peter 2:9). We don't worry about the results. It is God who converts sinners, not us.

IV. Prayer

O Lord, help me overcome my fear, my pride, and my insensitivity in order that I may preach Christ to sinners who need Him ultimately.

Heroes, Season Two


I hated Heroes when I first saw it. I eventually outgrew all my prejudices and began to like it.

My brother, who’s a huge fan of the show, laughed at me when he learned I was hooked. “I told you,” he said, grinning. “It’s still terribly un-scientific, though,” I told him.

“What do you expect?” he said. “Science taken all by itself is boring. One has to fictionalize it.”

Last Tuesday afternoon, I watched the first episode of the second season. New characters have emerged. There are many more coming, I think. I’m glad my favorite Matt Parkman is still on the show. Many questions are left hanging, too. Is Peter Petrelli going to come back? Who’s the next big villain after Sylar? And, of course: When will Nathan shave again?

Why we dream

I awoke in the middle of the night. The restroom was four rooms away from mine. A long walk, yes, especially if you want to sleep some more. But my bladder was going to burst big time. Besides, I was too old to pee in bed.

Relieved, I set out to sleep the moment I got back. I attempted to continue the dream that was interrupted. Sadly, the virtual movies that play in our minds while we're asleep have a way of evaporating, unnoticed, into the land of the forgotten. This was no exception.

I twisted and turned, waiting for sleep to come. It wasn't a severe case of insomnia, but it was enough to give me a headache.

Of course I tried counting sheep, but they looked so unfamiliar and detached as they hopped from one side of the fence to the other, floating in mid-air fashion, that I just had to stop. I resorted to thinking happy thoughts instead, imagining I was in some place in the Pacific, lying on a hammock, drinking from a coconut with a long, colorful straw. The picture was way out of reality and downright impossible that it kept me from thinking further.

But aren't dreams supposed to be like that?

In a graded impromptu speech I made in class, I was asked which I would prefer: to eat or to sleep. I chose the latter. It's a form of escape, I reasoned. Escape from reality, from the problems and stresses of life. Sleep gives way to dreaming, I added, and it is in dreams where we rediscover what we want and who we truly are. I ended my talk by saying that, no matter how we may choose to sleep forever, we have to wake up because we cannot really detach ourselves from reality, can we?

Maybe the reason why people get crazy is that they want some form of escape, and they want it permanent.

Maybe the same goes for suicide. Sadly, death does not offer an escape, it leads to a dead end.

But why? Why do people choose to kill themselves, like Rey's childhood friend who ended his life some two days ago? At the edge of my bed, in what seemed to be a sleepless night, I grappled for answers. And I could only find one. These people don't know God enough to trust Him. God always lifts the veil of darkness and sorrow, He always leads us to greener pastures of comfort and delight, He always provides and is always in control, no matter what the situation is. And if God does not immediately provide the solution to our cares, He always gives some form of temporary escape.

That's why we dream.

Light

Glow from an extension wire plug

This picture taken just before I slept one night reminded me of how a tiny spark of light of God's truth can serve as a beacon for the salvation of many. Regina Jansen, Dutch missionary to the Manobo in Mindanao and the urban poor in Manila, spoke in YCF last night. I was reminded to ask God for opportunities to share the gospel, and be a salt and light to this darkened world.

Seeing and Savoring Christ

I've just finished reading John Piper's Seeing and Savoring Christ. If you haven't read it yet, I suggest you do. The book can be downloaded for free at desiringgod.org.

Piper has faithfully created a Biblical sketch of the Person of Christ, from his birth, crucifixion, resurrection, up to his second coming. The book has 13 very short chapters, each ending in a prayer.

Piper argues that since "the deepest longing of the human heart is to know and enjoy the glory of God," one must know Christ to satisfy that longing. Christ, after all, is the image of the invisible God.

The author also talks about Christ's humility. Our Lord left the thrones of heaven to assume the despicable frame of man. He endured mockery, rejection, and hypocrisy, and the most painful suffering imaginable: death on the cross. He came to save us because He loved the Father, He loved His glory, and He loved us.

Piper expounds on Jesus' power, wisdom, and mercy, explains why Jesus had to die to disarm Satan rather than kill the deceiver in an instant, and highlights the mercy of God.

Chapter 7 (The Glorious Poverty of a Bad Reputation: The Desecration of Jesus Christ) is, to me, the most moving of all. While reading, I had to repeatedly pause to let my eyes and my throat recover.

I highly recommend the book for meditation. Chew on it, savor it, and process every idea presented. This sketch of Christ, although inferior compared to Scriptures, will help you a great deal.

If you can't download it, drop a comment here, and I'll gladly send you the file.

Herman is in town

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Herman Padernal, classmate from grade to high school, is in town for a field trip. Shean and I met with him at the SM Mall of Asia. We had had a great time relishing the good ol' high school days.

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Herman will always be remembered for his nose where most of his pimple took residency, and for his tongue that's as long as a dog's. Really.

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Who in the Philippines doesn't know anything about SM? So there we went, for lack of any places to go to.

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Most of the time we walked. The photo shows SM Mall of Asia during lazy Sunday afternoons. Makes me wonder why these people seem to have all the time in the world strolling around.

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After three hours or so of talking, laughing, reminiscing, and updating (who's involved with whom? whatever happened to this and that classmate?), Herman eventually went back to his hotel and bid us goodbye. We'll miss you, man.

Cris Mendez

It was just before my anthropology class when I learned Cris Mendez was dead. I didn't recognize the name at first. But my hands got moist and cold when, upon reading a newsletter, I saw his picture, smiling, his hair combed like Jose Rizal's, and his aura so alive no one would imagine that he was but a cold corpse.

"I know him. I know Cris," I told my seatmate in a hushed voice. "We were classmates in Geog 1." That was three years ago. We were both wide-eyed freshmen then, curious of what UP would be like. He was good in class. Always present, hardly ever late. And who'd forget the field trip we had in Corregidor? Great times, great laughs.

Now I'm wishing I had the power to turn back time to tell Cris, "Don't bother joining that frat. You'll simply get yourself killed." I know he'd listen because he always did. But I can't, can I, because one cannot travel through time, let alone bring the dead back to life.

It pains me to imagine Cris being harassed, tortured, and maimed by the people he wanted to call brothers. Blindfolded, he must've screamed every time a hard piece of wood smashed his buttocks, broken his bones, injuring his ribs. Did he cry foul when he felt it was going beyond the limits? Did his so-called brods-to-be even hear him out when he did?

Cris was my age when he died. At 20, he could've graduated from Public Administration, enrolled in a good law school and defended the oppressed. Or, he could've married a great girl and have kids. Or run as the next Philippine president, for all we know.

Death through this kind of violence is senseless. Does physical torture really forge a brotherhood that would last a lifetime?

But it's too late for Cris now, isn't it?

We mourn for his death but we fight for justice. We fight for the abolishment of hazing. Quixotic, yes, but not impossible. In the end, justice will be served.

Hot momma

"Joe, what if you suddenly feel like peeing while delivering the baby?" I ask.

My friend smirks at me, amused. "I don't know. What's important is that I let the baby out."

"They say having kids softens even the hardest hearts," I say.

"I guess so. I don't feel that excited now. But I'm curious as to how he'll look like."

"What will you name him?"

"Aleph Yakov, but my family wants Stephen Andre instead," she says, her face replete with confusion. Names matter, after all. Give your child a name like Maria Pigsa and people will laugh at her face.

A frightened yet indignant scream jolts the hospital ward. The feeling is terrible. She feels as if she's going to be ripped apart, inside and out. "He's about to come out," she whispers to herself in between bouts of recurring pain.

She looks at the large, bulging area in her stomach and gradually strokes it. "Relax, Baby. Everything will go on fine," she says, as if it's helping to ease the torture.

Was the delivery normal, or did they do a C-section? Did the baby cry out, "Hello world!" the moment it got out of Joe's womb?

There's no news yet, but we're hoping for the best.


"Having this baby... you've matured overnight, haven't you?" I ask her.

Teary eyed, she smiles at me. I could tell she has grown up.

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It's a baby boy. "Cute," Joe tells me. "Everytime I hear him, it makes me cry." And the name's Joseph.

Three deaths

How will my life end?

Will it be like
the inglorious white-hair fuzz
of a balding dandelion fluff,
scattered into the wind by
the soft, steady puffs of old age
with the memories of years long-gone?--
Jef Sala

Three deaths in two weeks.

First was of Ermin Soloren who died chasing the Abu Sayyaf. Second was of Cyrus, someone I met in a debut party my family attended during the Christmas break of 2006, who died of cardiac arrest. Third was of Cris Mendez, a classmate in Geography 1 four years ago, who died in the process of joining a fraternity. Whoever said hazing has completely vanished?

Three deaths in two weeks. Reminds me of an article I wrote in fourth grade, “Nothing lasts forever. Life, like everything else, is fleeting.”

A hero's death

I hardly know him. In fact, I don’t—except from the vague personal sketches I’ve heard from the ones who did.

He went to the same high school as my brother but almost half a decade earlier. He lived from a nearby town, about an hour drive from Koronadal City. But I don’t remember ever seeing him, not even vaguely. His name, though, has a familiar ring into it. Weirdly, Michael tells me my father were friends with his.

Is it just my memory, or we’ve never really been introduced?

My friend Katrina tells me he was a math genius. Days before Kat would join math contests, she’d run to him for some tutoring, which he’d do gladly and for free. Michael tells me he was quiet. He’d probably only talk when it was called for, with every word from his mouth eliciting some sense.

His dream was to become a soldier, so goes the Inquirer article. When he was young, he liked to play military drills. Funny, when I think of it, because I never had that phase in my life. To me, the most perplexing question was whether I’d be a botanist or a zoologist. It’d be interesting to know why he wished that kind of life.

He was a man who wasn’t afraid to follow his dreams. He eventually got into the Philippine Military Academy, ranking ninth in his graduating class. I can imagine his family with tears of pride, his father probably shouting, “That’s my son!” as his name was being called in the graduation rites.

But his life ended when enemy bullets hit him during clashes in Ungkaya Pukan in Basilan. They were running after the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group. He was probably carrying his gun. The sound of bullets must have sounded like thunder. His feet must have been soiled by the dirt and grime of the jungle. But he must’ve thought that everything—there and then—he might just have to say goodbye. What was he thinking before he breathed his last?

Ermin Soloren was only 22. And he died a hero.

Room 125



June 2007, Start of First Sem (2007-2008)

The room looked the same when I left it two months ago, except for the tiny shreds of paper a summer resident may have left on my desk. I switched the lights on and opened the windows to let some air in. It was so quiet I could hear my steady breathing.

It was like this, too, when I first came to Yakal. My brother was with me, and we were both tired carrying our luggage. When he left me to get a drink nearby, I sat in a corner, thinking what would happen next. Would I call this place home? Would it be as fun as Kalayaan? Would I meet friends here? Silence has a way of keeping our mouths shut and our minds talking.



2005-2006

I was roommates with my brother for a whole year. It was a mistake, I thought at first, for we would only quarrel like immature brats in front of others. But we did get along, and the only disagreements we had was when he played music while I was solving math equations. He works better with the Media Player turned on; I get distracted so easily. And there was my big, loud mouth, of course, which was always an issue.

There was Art, too, who would still be my roommate for another year—Art who never once failed to bring us food whenever he went to org activities (which was almost nightly), Art whose looks can disarm any woman’s thinking, Art whose cell phone would always ring incessantly for minutes and wake us all up but not him.

Chesson was the fourth resident, but he was always out, always at home in Tondo, so I never got to know him that much. He only came to sleep during times when he had to study, and it was usually with the same clothes he had during the day. But he’s a cool guy, always smiling even at times when it’s least expected. Once I asked him, “Who’s your calculus professor?” and he smiled for two minutes before I got an answer. His gentle voice has always given me the impression that if we were words, we’d be antonyms—I’d be “noisy”; he’d be “quiet.” Chesson’s cool like that.



First Sem, 2006-2007

Manong graduated, Chesson didn’t apply for dorm readmission, so Art and I were the only ones left.

Two roommates moved in with us. This was a hard time for me, especially now that my brother was staying somewhere else and left me to fend for myself and wash my own socks. But when I think of it, we’ve been roommates since the day we were born, so I called it “change for the better.”

Al, the first, took what was originally my space: my bed in the lower deck near the window, my brother’s desk that I had used the summer before, even my favorite sockets. I was mad at first—the unwritten, unspoken dormitory rule of seniority provides that the older resident has the right to choose first. Just when I was about to explode, my mother told me to let him have what he wanted as long as I was comfortable where I was. My angry phase died off quickly, and we lived along happily.

The second was Mac. He never failed to make me laugh with his sarcastic antics. At first he never spoke until asked, never made a noise except when he yawned, but I couldn’t forget the time when he cracked his first joke at me. I couldn’t remember what it was about exactly, but it was good—had me jumping at my seat. Nightly we were visited by many of his friends. It was crazy to have them around. He’s a great kid—Mac—and I miss him.



Second Sem, 2006-2007

Art graduated that sem, so in came Ronnie, a short guy with a pierced right earlobe. He was originally from the noisy area of the corridor and decided to move in with us in hope of a sounder sleep. I’d always remember Ronnie as someone courageous in sharing his life story openly, something I could not do so easily. Until now he still yells at my window to say hello.

It was at this point when dorm life was at its worst. I was in conflict with another roommate. His loud music was unbearable. He wouldn’t listen. He was getting scarier every minute. For weeks I hardly slept at my room and had to rush to good friends to spend the night in silence. I didn’t report him to the authorities—I guess I was too scared, too afraid to be the cause of his probable eviction from the dorm.

It was at this point when I had learned a lot from God. My patience was like a frayed piece of rope carrying a piano from the sixteenth story. But I asked God to help me piece my patience together—to persevere in praying for him instead of biting his back when he wasn’t looking. At that point my friends were with me all the way, always asking me how I was, even taking the courage to face him when I found no strength in me.

Every night I asked, “When will this end, Lord?”



First Sem, 2007-2008

I wasn’t done exploring the room when I heard something stir in the opposite corner. There were already people sleeping. I walked slowly to take a look at the beds, curious who my new roommates were.

In the midst of the investigation, the fact didn’t sink in completely yet: Mac, Ronnie, and Al were no longer admitted because of the new dorm policy. In a way, it was an answered prayer. He was out, finally. For a time I looked forward to more peaceful nights and was actually excited. It was a chance to retrieve my original desk, by bed space, and my favorite sockets. But on the other hand, I was saddened—I’ll definitely miss the others.

I saw the first one sleeping on the bed above mine. Adroel, he’d tell me two days later—his name’s Adroel. Later on I would learn that he sleeps at irregular hours, usually during most of the day, and can withstand hours and hours and hours of watching movies on his newly-acquired laptop. Very polite and respectful, he’d always say sorry whenever he dropped his phone in my bed during times when he did sleep. Plays a great selection of songs, too, and listens to this radio program where people call and talk—live on air—of their love problems. The last topic was, “Did you ever commit suicide because of love?” How corny can you get.

The second is Felix, just as polite as Adroel. There’s always a bright smile on his face the moment he wakes up. He’s the renaissance sports man—plays well in basketball, volleyball, table tennis, badminton, which makes me wonder if he’s good in rhythmic gymnastics, too. I watch a lot of movies on my PC with him, usually after I’m done reviewing for tomorrow’s exam. Before we’d begin, I’d give him instructions: turn the PC off if and when I fall asleep, which happens 20 minutes after the movie has started. Perhaps he’ll never forget me for the things I often tell him, usually during corny movie scenes: enjoy your single-hood before you decide to marry, marry a sweet, bright, godly girl, and don’t iron your future wife’s face when you get angry. Nuggets of wisdom from yours truly—maybe I should right a book?

The third is Clinton. Yes, that Clinton. He used to live in the room beside mine in Kalayaan. A great guy, too, albeit corny. One of his friends told me, “Ibang klase ‘yang si Clint. Gawin lang singkit ang poste at lagyan mo ng skirt, maiinlab na ‘yan.”



As I write this, the rain just keeps falling, without regret nor restraint, washing the dirt and dust and grime of the previous sunny days. The coolness helps in my thinking. All the sounds I hear are the dripping water, the staccato of my keyboard, the electric fan in full blast, but the loudest of them all—the echoing memories of the past three years.

Cellular


I thank the Lord, for never have I regretted my decision of shifting to MBB. It's my third year in the program, which means I'm nearing the finish line, but still not there yet. So far it's been a learning experience. When people ask me (and they normally do, usually with bewildered eyes and gaping mouths) why I shifted from English Studies to Molecular Biology, I'd normally tell them that I no longer wanted to be a lawyer, English being a recommended pre-law course, but that I wanted to save lives by being a doctor. It's true, of course, but not exactly complete. I shifted because I wanted to know God more through His creation. My utmost consideration for a course was this: where I was going, would I come to a deeper understanding of God? I thank the Lord because now my answer is a resounding yes.

For the past years I've learned so much, my mind like a sponge being soaked in information. And each time, I'd be amazed at how things work in the molecular level: the precision, the speed, and the sheer complexity of biological systems. I often tell friends of my amazement, to which they'd conclude, with a deep-seated surprise, that God's glory isn't only reflected in the immensity of the universe, it's also manifested in the cellular level. And I agree.

It's because of grace that I'm able to see things in this perspective: one that acknowledges that everything is created by God and is under His sovereign control. I could very well dismiss that everything was created because of some theoretical explosion, that the intricate design we see both in the micro- and macro-levels was borne out of probability...but I find these things hard to swallow.

The things I've learned must create in me a sense of humility. "When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?" (Psalm 8:3,4). The God who created my cells is the same God who provides for my orange juice during class breaks, my PhP 6.50 Ikot jeep fare, and a cozy bed to sleep on at night.

Dear readers (at least, for those still studying), the challenge is to find God in the things you're learning. If you're studying philosophy, you should see that logical reasoning leads to the inevitable conclusion that God exists. If you're pursuing law, you should see that God is the giver of the Law and that His law is perfect. If you're taking up engineering, you should at least remember that Noah's Ark was created with His instructions (He knows buoyancy more than you ever will). If you're studying literature, you should see how wonderfully written and refreshing His word is. Do that friends, and you will never waiver in your desire to finish a degree.

As for me, it's still a long way before graduation!

Photo: Philippine Military Academy, Baguio City. Summer Break. May 2007.

Summers of childhood


An hour and a half of watching Gulong reminded me of the summers of my childhood: afternoons spent playing under the sun, hanging out in the quiet neighborhood, and going where our feet led us. Life, like everything else, was enjoyed in simplicity.

Gulong, directed by Sockie Fernandez, is a finalist in the Cinemalaya Film Festival (Full Length Films Category) now showing at the UP Film Institute.

The story is told by Apao, a kindhearted boy who wants to buy an old bicycle. With his cousin Momoy and friend Tom-tom, they work for weeks to purchase the bike--all these for the price of going to a fishpond where beautiful women are found bathing.

But they learn that life isn't so easy after several instances that hinder them from finally buying it. And each time, Apao's kindness would prevail, like a waft of cold mist in the sweltering heat.

The movie isn't pretentious.; it tells the story as it ought to be told. It's also distinctly Filipino, definitely one of the movies that will destroy age-old notions that films made in this country are only about teenage lovers with Korean blood and American accents. It's engaging, funny, heartwarming, and romantic in its unique way.



I watched the film with Es, arguably my favorite movie buddy because she howls at sad scenes and rocks the moviehouse with her infectious laughter. On our way out, we spotted Momoy, a robust, polite child, and had our pictures taken with him. Good work, kid.

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