I was eight or nine years old if my memory serves me right, when group of woman – unfamiliar ones – started coming to our school. Their faces I could still remember. They dressed like nuns. They are wearing something of navy color. Some long pencil cut skirt and a matching blouse with baby collar and mid-sleeve. Their smiles are one of those that when I try to remember gives joy to my heart. I don’t exactly remember what they were talking about. Maybe because my mind is glued on their faces and their smiles that anything else is blur. Not to mention that it is not very often that our school gets visitors like that many. So my child mind is probably wondering why they were there in the first place.
You see our school is located in one of the remote areas of a remote coastal province in the Philippines. From the country’s capital city, one would travel 6 hours to get to our town. From the town proper, one would travel 20 minutes to get into our baranggay (a small unit within town).
That day was special. The visitors distributed some kind of a tiny book with a blue cover on it. It looks shiny and interesting. Inside it were thin paper that has tiny words written on it. In the front, title reads “The New Testament” in a gold lettering. I went home with it tuck in my bag and some kind of excitement that comes with it. In my memory, that is the very first time I have seen a Bible. In fact, I didn’t know it was a Bible. Or maybe I have seen one before from my grandmother’s house or inside the Catholic church that I go into. Huge ones. It is big enough, I probably would not bother to touch.
But this tiny book that I have in my bag is something my tiny hands could grasp into. I started reading. I’ve read stories that looks familiar but doesn’t make sense. I kept the book.
In that summer, I would come with my aunt who works in the town church. I would see more Bibles. More of those tiny books scattered around. I would meet priest that are looking different from us. We call them SVD. I’m not exactly sure what it meant but one thing is sure. They came from Germany. They came to the Philippines to help Catholic church propagate.
That summer is special. I would spend days inside the church, or inside the church office. I would witness the ringing of the church bell at 12 NN. I would have friends that are priest who would unselfishly give me snack money to buy banana que (banana with sugar coating). I would help sort our relief goods on each plastic bags. Some cups of rice, a match, some cans of sardines, some pack of noodles, etc. In the afternoon, we ride a jeepney (a kind of transportation that could fit in several people and goods), and distribute these to the mid-remote areas of our town.
I would spent hours having a quiet time inside the church just staring at the pulpit or the altar. I spent long enough quiet time that I could remember whispering prayers. Then, some kind of imagination that a light shines on me. Like an annointed one. At some point in my life (I don’t remember when), I almost thought I have a calling to be a nun. But my innocent mind at that time doesn’t even know what calling means. All I remember is the quietness and the sincerity of the moment.
My Christian faith was built on those quiet moments spent inside the church.
Looking back, I’m claiming that to be my “Paul moment.” Only I had several moments than Paul. That moment when Jesus Christ appeared to Paul (who was still called Saul of Tarsus at that time, and a non-believer) in bright shining light while Paul was travelling to Damascus to arrest Christians (Acts 9).
That moment is when I claimed that the Spirit of God shone his grace and love to me. Unknowingly after that I started praying more. I started my own quiet time at the church’s holy prayer room. It is a tiny room considered holy that one needs to remove shoes before entering.
In that room, I sit in one of the corners for hours. Talking to God in my mind. My whole day being told to him. My dreams being told to Him. It was special. Very intimate that even when I have move to a Pentecostal Church, I still go back to that tiny room when I go home to my hometown. Even when I no longer practice the “rituals” of traditional Catholic Church, my respect on the church remains.
A child’s faith is built during childhood. I have experienced it myself without the memory of my mom or dad discussing it to me. It is through God’s grace. Our entire family go to church every Sunday. My brothers served as altar boys (young boys assisting the priest during mass). I went to a Catholic school beside the same church. I helped at the church office and get a free snack in return. In that atmosphere, I discovered what a Bible is about, and the truth that it holds. I discovered what it means to talk to God. I discovered how peaceful it was to have a quiet prayer time. God was my Father who provides what my family needs. God is my friend who listens to me.
That was just the start….
It was only after high school when I started to learn more about Jesus Christ as my savior, and the Holy Spirit. This is when my aunt started introducing me about my salvation, fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit. That would be another story.