“Sorry, God, if it took me so long to get your message. The signal must have been very bad.”
This one I wrote in the opening description of my Facebook album which contains photos on my birthday celebration last July…not actually birthday, but birth month celebration. So obviously, it’s some sort of a #latepost blog content. Sorry for that, but I cannot not post it here on my official blog because I’d like all of you to still be part of it, even though the activities were all over…because the truth is, I guess the Lord’s not yet done with me. The celebration, and the works are not yet over.
So this is the FB Event and album cover photo: Wheat fields.
Wheat fields reflect harvest. It shows us a glimpse of abundance, of peace, and security. It also reminds us of how God brings forth life from the earth, to and for the earth.
While some of us experience a life in abundance (financial, emotional, spiritual), peace, and security, many still live in hunger, distress, and vulnerability. They are the people who hardly taste an abundant harvest from God’s own creation. They are the people who scarcely feel the abundant love of our Father in heaven, simply because men on earth have built prerequisites in experiencing His affection.
I have always believed that in the verse “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few,” (Matthew 9:37), ‘harvest’ simply refers to people who have not yet been evangelized or who have not yet ‘heard’ of Jesus. But as I became more aware of the reality of humanity, I began to doubt my interpretation, or rather, the interpretation handed down to us in traditional Sunday schools and sermons.
Beggars, homeless elderly, tambays, and street children form part of the ensemble cast in our daily lives, but never have they been more visible to me than in the past two or three years.
I wrestled with God on this. I asked, “If the harvest would only mean verbal evangelism of salvation from hell and getting a ticket to heaven through Christ, what do we do with these people who pray to be saved from daily hunger and oppression?” I thought, the least thing these people would need is to hear another Bible story about God’s love while enduring the day without a single bread on their table, or without someone whom they can share their fears and struggles with, receiving no condemnation or a solid one-verse-is-all-you-need answer.
I struggled, and I thank some of my friends who struggled with me and bore patience with me as I kept on asking the hard questions. And slowly, it dawned on me that, maybe Jesus was referring to a harvest of good works and compassion, and in a way, a harvest of laborers for such purposes, a harvest of people who are so ripe and so eagerly yearning to taste and see God’s kingdom here on earth. The passage paints this scenario:
“And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
I may be wrong, or right, or somewhere in between, given my shy knowledge and experience on exegesis (or whatever you call that in the seminary). But it has stuck to me, like an LSS.
For some time, I prayed to God to reveal more of His heart to me. I remember myself earnestly praying that bridge line from the song “Hosanna”—break my heart for what breaks Yours; everything I am for Your kingdom’s cause…
I should’ve been more careful with what I have prayed for. Now, I guess I’m beginning to experience just that.
It’s overwhelming, frustrating, depressing, inspiring, and challenging, all at the same time. And this year, I guess my heart just wanted to burst out open, pour out my all and make up for all the years I’ve been waiting for the Lord to send me out to His harvest—no, I guess I myself was causing the delay. I can picture God standing from afar (or beside me, or elsewhere), waiting for me to utter Isaiah’s words “Here I am. Send me.”
Birth month for a cause
I decided to celebrate by giving back to the community through various activities:
- Burgers on wheels – give away free burgers to street children and homeless families (a sort of corporate social responsibility of our burger business, GEEX Burger House, which is now closed, but we’re planning to reopen)
- Outreach program for kids in my community
- Road to Damascus – I learned about the Damascus Foundation in Bulacan, and I included it in my line-up of activities. It’s a rehabilitation center which is now more focused on shaping character/values of out-of-school youth, and has a Day Care center.
I created an FB Event for this, and invited some of my closest friends and contacts to celebrate with me, either by physically joining the activities, or by extending monetary support, or giving donations in kind. I was really surprised on how it all turned out! God is so amazing, He let us all realize that we can create chains of goodness, because He is good, because we are created in His image. If someone would just provide a venue or an opportunity for others to extend love and kindness, they would be willing to do so.
Here’s a rough photo essay of what happened in my month-long celebration. 🙂 (Photos by Jim Bryan Ducusin)
July 7 – So this is the GEEX Burger team. 🙂 Sorry, I got no photos of us giving food to street children, I didn’t want to spoil the real moments. The above photos were captured after the activity. We biked around Almar, Zabarte, and Novaliches Bayan and gave away free burgers to street children/homeless families. It was dead tiring, yet fulfilling! The recipients of the free burgers are more human than me. They taught me lessons I could treasure in my heart for a lifetime.
From upper left (clockwise): (1) Kids listen to others’ self-introductions; (2 and 3) sharing a modified version of the ‘Good Samaritan’ lesson, in the context of school bullying; (4) Our lesson, from Luke 10:27 and Matthew 7:12; (5) Kids flash their smiles after the outreach program
July 22 – We originally planned to conduct this in a half-court area near these kids’ community in Palmera Springs Subdivision, Camarin, Caloocan City. Yung tipong mararamdaman nila na tayo yung umaabot sa kanila, kaysa sa maramdaman nila na we are just inviting them to the church. However, due to the construction of a tower (National Power Corporation) on that same spot, we held the event in our church instead. I let them introduce themselves first, and share their dreams. Then I shared with them Jesus’ dream for all of us: that we’ll be able to love one another, through the modified story of the Good Samaritan. We ate our snacks (pizza and hotdog), then enjoyed the games. We distributed to each kid a pack of school supplies containing a pencil, notebook, drawing pad, crayons, school snacks, and a storybook from Adarna House and Hiyas by OMF Literature. In the following Sundays, some of these kids returned and attended Sunday school. I hope and pray that they learn more about Jesus here, and elsewhere.
Aug. 5 – Ang Damascus Foundation ay naitayo ni Sir Robert Tiangco para magsilbing isang rehabilitation center para sa mga kabataan na biktima ng ipinagbabawal na gamot. Pero ngayon, naka-focus sila sa character building ng mga kabataang lalaki na wala ng pamilyang inuuwian, yung iba naman kakalaya lang sa kulungan pero walang kumpanyang tumatanggap sa kanila. Bukod dito, may Day Care Center din ang Damascus.
I met Sir Robert in a radio program episode of our organization in DZRB, featuring some of the country’s outstanding volunteers. He was one of our guests. He shared his story–a life that reflects God’s mercy and love. He was a former substance user and pusher, but God saved him from his then miserable life. When he became a President of a Rotary Club chapter, he began to live a double-life: active in outreach programs in the morning, and taking illegal substance in the evening. He wanted to change. He underwent rehabilitation and spiritual development with the help of a Catholic priest, until he was cleansed (physically and spiritually). His experience urged him to put up a foundation that would cater to those who were like him. He put up the Damascus Foundation Inc. in Angat, Bulacan.
It was an ecstatic day for me. My closest friends in high school, Jan, Rara, and Garet, joined the activity (aside from donating some goods). Mama, who also celebrated her 60th birthday last July 28, enjoyed the experience. My cousin, Ate Jing, and her husband were the ones who supplied the food for us. My partner, Jikjik, and Bryan (one of the GEEX Burger dude, and pro photographer) listened to the stories of the Damascus boys. We had fun watching the performances prepared by the Damascus community. Kids handed me thoughtful letters. One of the Day Care teachers gave me a handcrafted bag, one of the products in their livelihood programs for mothers.
These people are authentic. I am grateful to God that once in my life, I met them, and was loved by them. The experience was indeed overwhelming.
After our outreach program in Damascus, Sir Robert gave some words of wisdom and encouragement. He said (non-verbatim), “Masarap magbigay lalo na sa mga taong alam mong hindi ka masusuklian. Ang pagbibigay ay tanda ng pagmamahal sa atin ng Panginoon, at tulad ng pagmamahal niya, alam naman nating hindi natin iyon masusuklian. Gayunpaman, hinihimok tayo na ibalik ang ating pasasalamat sa pagbibigay o paglilingkod din sa iba sa anumang kaparaanan na kaya natin. The chains of goodness must never stop.”
In a debriefing session, Jikjik told me that while he was reflecting on “giving back”, he realized that we can look at it this way: that we can’t really give back directly to God, but only through and to our fellow humans (with whom Jesus dwelt, and became God-incarnate himself).
And so I guess my birth month celebration won’t be the last. Jesus was right when he said that “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few”. There’s so much work to be done in God’s kingdom. No, I won’t do this alone, because I believe that there are many people out there, like me, who want to give back, to respond to God’s calling. Therefore, let us pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.