A Bible and a Challenge: Armin’s encounter with the Word

He was wearing his signature loose polo, a smile painted across his face while waiting for the shy freshmen to take their seats. Wrinkles lined his forehead and cheeks as he observed the chattering youth in that evening’s Bible study.

They were in a small circle, squatting on the cold floor infront of a church in the University of the Philippines. Behind them towered a giant wooden cross.

It was a cold Thursday evening. As it was the start of the month, the attendees were anticipating a testimony fellowship. “Tonight’s speaker is Kuya Armin Alforque. He is an elder at the Diliman Campus Bible Church (DCBC),” a student began. The first years were as silent as ever. But some also looked curious, their ears twitching to hear Armin's life story.

When he was in college in UP Diliman, attending a fellowship or a Bible Study would be deep down in Armin's list. Engrossed in different “-isms” as a philosophy major, he spent much time reading and studying the literature, claims and principles of different worldviews and religions. He would pore over voluminous works on Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Marxism among others.

For him, the claims of Jesus Christ, like those of other founders of different faith-systems, were but intellectual discourses, no different from the claims of Stalin, Lenin, Buddha or Mohammad.

Armin opened his talk the way he did on countless occasions. Picking an old and worn-out book from a heap of notes and handouts, he began by introducing his Bible.

“This is my very first Bible,” he said. “It has been with me for almost a decade now.”
Armin held the blue pocket New Testament Bible for everyone to see. The gold letterings that once bore the words “New Testament,” “Psalms” and “Proverbs” had faded. Even the small jar at the lower right corner had lost its luster.

His was a Gideon’s Bible, distributed by Gideons International, an evangelical Christian organization focused on bringing copies of the Bible to over 190 countries. During the organization’s centennial celebration in 2008, it reported giving out close to 1.5 billion Scriptures since its inception in 1908.

Armin is a proud recipient of their Bible. It took many years, however, before their paths crossed.

It was the year 1971 and the Philippines was in the brink of anarchy. Militant groups hounded the government for dissatisfaction with then Pres. Ferdinand Marcos. Prices of commodities and oil were skyrocketing. People were losing jobs daily. The inflation rate was soaring. Rallies were held in the metropolis. Violent dispersals left hundreds dead and injured.

Then, there was silence. President Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972.

Even before this, however, Armin had flown to the United States to join anti-Marcos organizations there. He was active in campaigning for the ouster of the late strongman and spent much time with the Left. He was a vocal critique of Martial Law and a firm believer in communism.

But things did not turn out as he expected.

“With the collapse of the socialist world in the 1980s and also with the splits within the communist movements in the Philippines, I was adrift. The things that I believed in before no longer seemed able to explain the world,” he paused.

“So I was looking for answers.”

He went back to the Philippines for good in 1990. Though Marcos was toppled from power by a popular uprising, he felt that his life was left in the limbo. He was so preoccupied trying to fight a dictator that a sudden rush of victory left him dumbfounded and unprepared for what’s next.

“I also went into depression. I didn’t know what to do. My life had no meaning anymore so I sought professional psychological help,” he said.

After the restoration of democracy, he worked for Joseph Estrada from his vice-presidency until his ouster in 2001. Armin was director of the Management Information System of the Department of Agrarian Reform.

After Estrada's fall from power, Armin resigned from his post and decided to enter Law School in UP. On a faithful freshmen orientation day, a Christian organization went around the audience giving out free pocket New Testament Bibles. It was here that Armin received the Bible which would eventually introduce him to Jesus Christ.

Upon receiving his free copy, he thought to himself, “Okay in between breaks in reading cases and doing my law studies I can probably go and read the Bible as a diversion.”
He never did. “I kept the Bible but never really opened it,” he said.

Like many Bibles, Armin’s also spent more than a year gathering dust in one of the bookshelves at his home. He never finished Law and after a year, got disillusioned and dropped out. This was the time he and his wife from a second marriage, Maquette, got invited to the Discovery Meetings, a series of discussions on critical issues of Christianity.

Organized by DCBC, the event ran from April through May in its first year in 2002.
“During the first meeting, the speaker, Pastor Minho Song, challenged us to read the Bible. He recommended that we start reading the Book of Mark,” Armin said.

He added, “When I went home, I looked and looked but all I could find was the small Gideons Bible I received from Law School.”

He took the Bible and decided to read from the start.

"Right away, I could not put it down. I read and read,” he said.

Explaining his experience with the first three Gospels, Armin said, they appealed to his intellect. They gave him what he had long been searching for—a worldview and a philosophy alternative to Marxism and Leninism.

“Wow! This is what I’ve been looking for… Matthew, Mark and Luke blew my mind! They appealed to me intellectually and I felt they were reasonable. Everything was logical,” Armin’s voice cannot hide his excitement. Even his hands moved in tune with his words.

Then, like a father approaching his sleeping daughter, his voice went mellow. “Then I read the book of John.”

“John appealed to my heart. So it was not just an intellectual acceptance or intellectual satisfaction, I also experienced emotional satisfaction,” he added.

“In essence it was reading the Bible that converted me. This is what’s called ‘self affirming.’ The Bible affirmed itself in my life testimony,” he said.

By the end of the two-month Discovery Meetings, Armin was comfortable enough to join the Sunday service at DCBC. He was baptized on June that same year and ever since had been walking closely with the Lord.

He said it wasn’t automatic. When he accepted Jesus as personal Lord and Savior, there were still teachings which took time before he could fully accept by faith.

“I’m not saying that my study of the Bible is now complete. It’s a process and it’s continuing until today,” he said.

Little by little, he learned more and more in his own study of the Word and in group Bible studies and Sunday teachings. Now, the things that once ran contrary to his own belief system are treasured in his heart.

“The greatest change for me is more of the inside than the outside. I wasn’t a drunkard or a smoker or anything. What changed was my thinking. From essentially an atheist and an agnostic, I came to Christ through His Word,” he said.
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