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.
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).
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.
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 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.
Watch the 10-minute slide show here: DCF Missions Exposure Trip
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?