Pushcarts

I had heard about Efren PeƱaflorida way before his name became a topic of prime time news shows. I received an email from a friend, encouraging everyone to support this Pinoy's bid to become the CNN Hero of the Year. So I did what I was told: I headed straight to the website, looked for his name, and clicked "vote."

Weeks after that, he was there on-stage, carrying a wooden trophy with his name carved on it, saying to the entire world, "You are the change that you dream, as I am the change that I dream, and collectively, we are the change that this world needs to be.”

I only knew him through the online news I had read over the net, but yesterday was the first time I actually heard him speak. He was interviewed by Kris Aquino on the Buzz. Like an ordinary non-showbiz man, untrained in speaking in front of the cameras, Efren explained what his organization, Dynamic Teen Co. (DTC), is doing. (The Inquirer also offers a brief background about this man.) His shyness was his charm.

The man used a pushcart that carried books and blackboards to teach kids on-the-spot. Only someone who understands the real value of education can do that. What's encouraging is that his organization has expanded to accommodate 2000 volunteers—that means 2000 volunteers who share his own vision—and more will be added, thanks to the media exposure he's been getting.

I must confess that I had voted for him primarily because he was a Filipino—and we know how we're unbeatable in these online voting campaigns—although I did like what he was doing when I read about it. But now Efren stands as a reminder, especially to the young, that education is important; it is worth the time and the sacrifice. After all, not everyone gets to study inside a classroom. As we have seen these past days, some kids only learn through pushcarts on the streets.

You did us proud, Efren. 

Configure Sun Cellular Wireless Broadband in Linux Ubuntu

My brother has recently subscribed to Sun Broadband Wireless. He plugs the USB stick to his Mac (it works in PC, too), waits for the signal to stabilize, and off he goes to read his email. I once asked the kind people at Sun if the stick works for Linux, and they said it won't. But I desperately needed internet in my laptop which runs on Ubuntu Linux Karmic Koala 9.10.

I searched for tutorials on installing this stick to Linux, and I came upon this site, detailing in layman's terms how to configure the wireless connection in ten easy steps. It doesn't take a nerd to understand—you simply need to change the APN from "minternet" to "fbband." And it works.

Mentor

One thing our administrators like to brag about is how different our school's curriculum is. For one—and this is the part I like best—all of us are assigned to mentors, usually a husband-wife pair, both of whom are graduates of UP College of Medicine. These mentors will meet with us occasionally to check up on how we're doing. They will help us adjust to the rigors of med school, making sure we don't commit suicide because of failed exams. And these meetings will happen for the rest of our medical education.

I'm in a mentoring group myself. Ours is a noisy batch. Ching is the only woman; the rest have testicles. Our mentors are Dr. Rodney and Belen Dofitas. So far, we've only met Ma'am Belen, but we look forward to seeing the husband soon.

Our meetings consist of small talks where Ma'am Belen asks us how we're faring in the exams, if we're having any problems at all. Usually these happen over a free meal, in some restaurant where we stuff ourselves with anything we can lay our hands on. She's kind in giving advice, tips, and stories—especially about how med school was like then during her time.

Tonight we had pizza and ice cream at Robinson's Place. All of us were there, save for Ching who had to attend to a serious matter. The timing couldn't have been more perfect: we had no exams to think of, and there are no classes tomorrow.

The conversation shifted to working abroad. Dalvie brought up the fact that almost half of each graduating class in Medicine goes to work in the States. Ma'am said that is always an option, but, for her part, she never felt the urge to go abroad. Then she gave us wise counsel: true, the pay outside is plentiful, but we must weigh the cost of the leaving. No family support, and it's harder to raise a family there.

There were many things we covered, like dealing with professors whose lectures disagree with the book, having a good time, and preparing for exams. It's different, I guess, when the advice comes from someone who's been there, done that.

I'm excited to see what happens next. Soon enough, we might do videoke or go to Tagaytay. But regardless of where we'll go, talking to Dr. Dofitas is always a breath of fresh air.

I promised

Bread

Taking a break from studying, I went outside with a camera. I noticed this bakery near my brother's apartment, and I thought the neat arrangement of the bread in the glass shelves was of photographic interest. I asked the vendor, this man on the photo, if I could take a shot. He then asked me where I'd be posting the picture. I promised I'd post it in the internet. I doubt it if he'd ever find this photo of himself, proudly displaying loaves of bread wrapped in plastic, but by any chance he does—Hi, Manong!

I'll be home for Christmas

Hanging

Yes, yes, it's probably too early for this, but I suddenly got giddy after calling my father minutes ago. He was alone in the house, lulling himself to sleep, waiting for my mother who still had patients in the clinic. I told him of the incoming exam, the choir contest, and the usual drink-your-milk matters.*

"You're really enjoying it there, huh?" he asked.

"Very much," I said, "but it gets the better of me sometimes."

"Don't worry; it won't be too long become you come home for Christmas."

What can I say? Can't wait.

Slave

Sidewalk

Whenever I'd read Paul's letters, I would imagine how he must have looked or sounded like. He practically had everything—a great education, a lofty status in society, and a comfortable wealth—before he knew Christ. But his world turned around during that episode on the road to Damascus where Jesus spoke to him.

Eventually, Paul began telling others about the great news of salvation, renouncing all worldly things, calling them rubbish (Philippians 3:8) compared to the surpassing knowledge of knowing the Lord. He became a major character in the New Testament, having written most of the books contained therein.

In introducing himself to the Romans, he called himself a slave of Christ (Romans 1:1). In those days, being called a slave was an insult, but Paul considered slavery to Christ true freedom and a great privilege. Jesus, after all, meant the world for him.

While Pastor Oscar Villa was sharing these things in church this morning, he was also asking us to examine ourselves if we have the same heart as Paul had. And now, as I'm meditating what I learned during that preaching, I ask myself if I have that Christ-is-my-master mentality, if my life is completely subject to His lordship.

Thank You, Lord, for these reminders.

Paraphernalia

Pencils are my favorite writing materials and given a choice, I'd pick a Mongol over a cheap ball-point pen. Normally, though, I'd use a Pilot G-Tech Pen (black or blue, but more of blue) whose stroke must not be less than 0.4 mm, reserving my pencil for sketching arterial branches or jotting down notes on the transcriptions.

I bought this Parker mechanical pencil last June. It's shiny, sleek, and ergonomic. It feels good to hold, and seeing personalized engraving of my name on its metal surface gives me a warm feeling. It's rather pricey for a pencil, but I console myself by thinking of it as an investment for the future.  

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Which is not to say I don't use normal pencil anymore. I still do. While its strokes are more varied and harder to control (my letters really look fat sometimes), it gives me a false feeling of being smart. Like: I'm writing a really long equation that could alter the course of world history, when all along I'm just caricaturing the sleeping classmate beside me.

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What do you use for writing?

"Di kasing laki ng hirap kong ito / Ang ginhawang maiaalay sa 'yo."

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The song is about making little, everyday choices. It sounds a lot like a friend talking to someone: casually at first, before the conversation climaxes to words of excitement and deep conviction, ending in a hopeful, optimistic note.

That's how Isang Lagda goes. Written by Ryan Magtibay, it vividly captures our hearts' longing to eventually serve the country as doctors. The theme is timely, as our batch is the first in history to sign the Return Service Agreement (RSA) which binds us to serve in the Philippines for at least three years right after we graduate.

Anne Barraquio, with major inputs from conductor Jana Mier and the TRP Song Committee, arranged the song, resulting to a dynamic and enjoyable melody—even hair-raising in certain parts.

The piece is our class' official entry to the upcoming Tao Rin Pala (TRP) song competition, a much anticipated event in the UP College of Medicine. This has been running since the time when my classmates' parents were still med students themselves.

This afternoon, it gave me the chills to listen to the entire class sing the song together in all four voices, and the experience was like hearing the notes in the midi file take the shape of audible, human voices. That version was far from perfect, of course, and clearly there's still a long way to go. Making 158 159 people sing together harmoniously is no easy feat.

But I'm excited to see what happens next. It's been a long time since first year med students won the title, but, who knows? We might have it in the bag this time.

How she looks like now

After a long break, we were dismayed to find Big Bertha hosting an army of bugs, maggots, and other fungal infestations. Her extremities were covered with white, powdery streaks. Her flesh was partially chewed up by the insects. On her face, worms were crawling. And she didn't smell any better.

This didn't come as a shock to us, of course. Early in the sem, we already expected the worst to happen. Joreb, our youngest, was probably even disappointed when he didn't see mushrooms sprouting.

As we were finished disinfecting her (and injuring ourselves with the itchy and painful phenol burns), relief came to us when we realized Bertha's abdominal organs were still intact, fit for anatomical study. Yesterday, we cut her open, took out her intestines, and checked to see what she had for dinner before she had died. The last part's a joke, obviously, but why I'm telling you these things, at 3:33 AM, is something I don't quite understand myself.

Missions Saturday

My church's Youth Fellowship is observing the Missions Month. So far, it has been a blessing, a time for all of us to be reminded of Jesus' Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20.

Last week, we had JF Salazar, youth leader of Word International (WIN) Ministries - Marikina, as guest speaker. He spoke on the sovereignty of God in missions and evangelism.

He defined sovereignty ("God is in control") and then pointed different implications of what this means for the believer. Because God is in control, we must be bold and confident in proclaiming the good news to people. The results don't lie in our hands. Although we are God's mouth piece, converting a man's heart of stone to that of a flesh is supernatural, to be accomplished by the Lord alone.

JF was quick to establish that God's sovereignty doesn't take away man's responsibility. The correct response, he said, must be to work hard to spread the gospel, carefully entrusting the results to God. He cited Paul as an example. The apostle was a staunch believer of God's sovereignty, and yet spent he practically his entire life telling people about Christ.

Young and brimming with excitement, JF gave wonderful analogies, offered Biblically-saturated insights, and served as an encouragement to all of us there.

During the program, brethren from WIN sang a song based on Ecclesiastes 12:1. How the lyrics of the song—even the funny chorus—moved us! We then had snacks where we munched marshmallows dipped in the creamy fluid coming out of the chocolate fountain.

May we live out the truth of Jesus Christ daily.

Company

I was on my way home from an ice cream shop when it dawned on me how lonely—to a degree, even depressing—dinner time has become. While the dessert (a scoop of blueberry cheesecake ice cream) and the meal I had before that (embutido, egg, and fried rice) were heavenly, something was starkly missing: the joy of having friends around the dinner table.

In undergrad, I used to eat with friends from the dorm. We'd wait for each other in the lobby at 6:30 to 7pm; if someone didn't show up, we'd text the missing person with instructions on where we'd be. Usually we'd go to Lola Lita's, the second store to the entrance of the Shopping Center, because the food was just delicious, as if it came straight from our home kitchen.

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Later on, that dinner gang was slowly dissolved. We all had our own things-to-do. I had to work overtime to finish my thesis. Others had classes. Some had already graduated. Eating together was becoming the exception rather than the rule, and I found myself eating alone with no one to pray for the meals with, no one to tell stories of how my day went. It was a sad, sad feeling, so much so that I would drag my roommate (who had eaten hours ago) to accompany me.

Now I'd like to think I'm past that stage. I no longer look for friends to eat with. I understand that everyone is busy. Sometimes I just laugh at the fact that I've lost count of how many times I've been spotted eating alone by people I know. In an ice cream shop. In McDonald's. In the mall.

But I can't help but wish that things were different. Dinner, then, would be so much fun. Iba pa rin kasi talaga kung may kasalo ka.

Luther and Jason

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Congratulations, Luther Caranguian (left) and Jason Enriquez (right) for passing the boards for Electronics and Communications Engineers!

I am witness to how the Lord has been faithful to them in five years of their university life. Jason was my roommate in freshman year; Luther occupied the room in front of ours. Since then, we've been part of the UP Dormitories Christian Fellowship. I consider these guys among the closest friends I have.

I've been encouraged by their steadfast devotion to the Lord. In college, the two of them balanced strenuous academic life with huge responsibilities in the Christian fellowship. Luther became chairperson of the UP DCF, while Jason served as president of Yakal Christian Fellowship. Given this, they still went on to graduate with honors in 2009: Luther was summa, Jason was cum laude.

And the Lord has remained faithful—they're now full-fledged engineers. To God be all glory!

Restless

My November 2009 header features a line derived from Augustine's Confessions: "Our hearts are restless 'til they find rest in Thee."

God, after all, is the supreme source of joy. Gladness flows from Him. Those who study his Word and live for Him find rest, satisfaction, and peace. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, understood this—perhaps more deeply than the rest of us do.

I've resolved to read Augustine's Confessions (translation by JK Ryan) as part of my non-academic reading for this sem. I bought a second-hand copy when I dropped by UP Diliman.

I pray that the Lord would use this to inculcate in me a deeper love for and a grander view of God. How I wish I could write the same things as Augustine did. He yearned for the Lord. He lived for His glory. He dearly loved his Savior.

Old phones and the new Nokia Ovi

Until now I could still imagine the disappointment of the man who stole my phone. This happened in 2006, the days when cell phones with colored screens were only starting to become the norm. My unit then was a battered Nokia model. I've forgotten what it was exactly; I've lost count after 8210.

There wasn't anything special with that phone, except probably the old, old messages I chose to not delete. It was worn out. The letters in the keypad were barely visible. The screen had scars. Dust had accumulated in the tiny crevices. Even the most desperate thief would think twice because it wouldn't even sell for 500 pesos.

But the man who stole my phone might have only seen it bulging from my pocket. He didn't know he was stealing something that would amount to, well, a decent jeepney fare perhaps. A shame, really. So when I alighted from the jeepney, my Nokia was gone. I felt an incision in my pocket—a good one—that now I think that man might've made a good surgeon if only he had the chance.

I've never been a die-hard fan of popular technology, but now, since we're on the subject of mobile phones, a friend recently told me about Nokia Ovi. It offers features like Ovi Mail, Ovi Share, and Ovi Store. Ovi Mail can easily be created on any Nokia mobile device and is accessible through the phone and PC. Ovi Share offers unlimited storage space for all photos, videos and audio clips for free. Ovi Store is a one-stop shop for mobile applications and content—from what I gather, there are a lot of freebies. You can read all about them here.

My current phone is a primitive Nokia model; it has worked well for me, and I have no plans of changing it. But if yours is capable of web surfing, emailing, or taking pictures, try Nokia Ovi out. Get a username, enjoy its features because, well, it's absolutely free.

Catching up over dinner

Perhaps the previous months have been too unforgiving in terms of work or school. I say this because I couldn't remember a night when my friends and I from the Youth Workers Cell ate out for dinner in the last five months. We used to do that—eating together—on a regular basis.

God has been gracious in giving us time to fellowship with each other elsewhere. One thing I cherish about my friends is their love for the Lord, something that manifests in even in dinner table conversations. I am, in Pastor Bob's words, sanctified by them.

So we all had a great time catching up with one another, listening to stories from work, or sharing online links to download this or that preaching. I feel weird saying this because we see each other every week. But food makes all the difference, I guess.

I'm sharing some pictures from A Veneto, a neat restaurant in Trinoma, where we ate.

From my side.
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The other side.
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Just as we were about to go home.
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And oh, here's Banjo's wonderful t-shirt, wonderfully demonstrating that figure of speech called irony.
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(Photos: Ate Meann)

Doing sports ministry

I had the privilege of attending a seminar on sports and recreational ministry as a way of spreading the gospel of Christ and strengthening the local churches. The three-day conference, called Winning for Christ, was held at the Higher Rock Christian Church in Timog Avenue, and it was attended both by Higher Rock members as well as brethren from other churches in the city.

Now I'm not really bestfriends with sports—basketball, least of all—but Pastor Bob Amigo was right when he told the congregation that one doesn't need to be into sports to appreciate the lessons that would be taught there. I thank the Lord for this opportunity to grow in my Christian walk.

The speaker, Pastor Rodger Oswald, is the executive director of Church Sports International, a "ministry designed to serve the local church, mission agencies, and sports parachurch ministries as they would seek to use sports and recreation as church planting or church growth tools." Pastor Rodger developed the curriculum for the Sports Ministry Department of The Master's College (run by Dr. John MacArthur's church). By God's sovereignty, Pastor Bob got in touch with Pastor Rodger, and the latter desired to speak in the Philippines.

The conference began by defining and stressing the importance of a sports ministry. By definition, sports ministry is "the careful use of any recreational or sporting activity that allows the participant to worship God, serve the church in building up the believer, and serve the lost by creating an environment to manifest Christ in actions and proclamation."

Sports is a common language among people. They won't go to church, but they'd go see a basketball match. They won't understand salvation, but they'd know what a foul means. So, the idea was, why not use sports to evangelize, to share Christ, and to show His love to the community?

Pastor Rodger spent a substantial amount of time in defense of this ministry. From what I gather, a number of pastors are opposed to this, citing that sports is sinful, idolatrous, and may pose as a stumbling block to believers. His argument was that no where in the Bible are these arguments found. Sports is inherently neutral; it is the people who do sports who are sinful. Sports and recreation ministry is biblical and culturally/historically consistent, strategic, and practically expedient.

Kito, a friend from church, told me, "This is by far the most practical church conference I've attended." I agree. After dealing with the theological, scriptural, and philosophical foundations, the conference shifted to how-to-do-its. With his wealth of experience, Pastor Rodger carefully outlined how to start a sports ministry, recruit and train leaders, do camps and training sessions evangelistically, disciple, and use competition to witness for Christ.

All these Pastor Rodger discussed despite his back ache. It was so encouraging to see how a man in his old age could be filled with so much love for the Savior, having devoted his life in bringing people to a saving knowledge of the Lord.

If you're interested in having this ministry in your local church, you can access the following websites: Crosstraining Publishing, Winning Run, Sports Outreach International, and CSI.

And if you need someone to play with, I'll be here. I'm supposed to be good in Scrabble.

Be useful during the break

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Sembreak has treated me kindly. In a week, I've finished one book, started reading two more, watched three movies in cinema, registered and volunteered for a church conference, had dinner with different sets of friends from church and school, toured a cousin around the Metro, and recovered some sleep I may have lost the past sem.

It has taken me five years to learn this valuable lesson: idleness isn't the best way to enjoy the break. It's by keeping yourself on the go, perhaps at more tolerable levels, by doing things that matter. Don't oversleep; often, that gets stressful as not sleeping at all. Go outdoors; volunteer in church; read something; pray for friends you haven't seen in a long time; be useful.

I'm counting the days until the start of classes, but I thank the Lord for His graciousness in giving me a chance to take time and smell the flowers. After a sem in the cockroach-infested, pollution-stricken Manila where I now live, I sure did miss 'em.

How did you spend your break?