Showing posts with label Christian Testimonies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christian Testimonies. Show all posts

When God Calls

We were cramped inside the Ipil Residence Hall study room one fellowship night when our speaker asked, “What may prevent you from going fulltime for the Lord?”

There was dead silence while each thought of the question. I also paused to think, but another question entered my mind, “Do I want to go fulltime in the ministry?”

I was second year then when I began considering ministry work. But during that time, I did not imagine myself actually spending a lifetime ministering to students and communities for Christ. Yes I started to enjoy the Bible Studies and the fellowships at DCF, but I wasn’t ready to give up my passion for journalism and the media industry.

Kuya Dave Griffiths, a missionary from Wales, started calling us one by one, eliciting answers. We were sitting in a circle so it was easy to predict who would be called next. When it was my turn, I said, “I want to go fulltime but I’m not sure if I’m ready and if my family is ready for it.”

I looked at Kuya Dave’s face and immediately I knew he was thinking, perhaps digesting what I said. I was waiting for a comment but it never came. Instead, with a heavy British accent, he blurted his usual, “Good! Alright lovely boy, good.”

Whatever that meant I never really found out. But I know for a fact that that night marked the beginning of my journey to the ministry.

In the next two years of my stay in Ipil, I got more involved with the dorms ministry. I took charge of its publication, The Dormwatch, during my junior year. Then on my last year in the University, I lent my service as chairperson of the fellowship.

It wasn’t easy juggling my time between academics and ministry. There were times when I really felt tired, but I could not give up what I was doing simply because I loved my work for the Lord. Undoubtedly, my senior year intensified my desire to go fulltime because I was very much involved in the lives of people.

I saw how the Holy Spirit worked in countless occasions—in Bible Studies, fellowships, fund raisings, camps and the Missions Trip. I particularly enjoyed the weekly BS I had with the DCF boys. I learned more when I started teaching the Bible, and it became a joy to watch the younger ones grow in faith.

By God’s grace, I finished my last year in UP and was blessed with the opportunity to address the graduates at the College of Mass Communication. That was a high point in my spiritual walk. The Spirit impressed in my heart not to waste the opportunity but to use it to advance the Gospel. So with much prayer, I included the Good News in my speech.

I will never forget when, coming down from the stage, I was greeted by a complete stranger—he looked like a pastor to me—who said, “God is pleased with your boldness! All praises to Him! Congratulations.”

UP life passed by quickly and I soon found myself serving in a non-government organization called GreenEarth Heritage Foundation. I was attracted to the ministry because of its Christian pillars and values. I was their Public Information Officer slash Executive Assistant all in one.

The adjustment was difficult because I felt that I wasn’t in the right place, that God wanted to use me somewhere else. Every evening after office, I would rush back to UP from Makati to join the fellowships and to lead Bible Studies.

There were times when I couldn’t wait for the end of office hours because I wanted so much to concentrate with my ministry to the dorms. I felt like my real work started the moment I finished my office work.

This went on for almost four months, until I prayerfully decided to resign, asking Kuya Caloy Novisteros to help me into the fulltime ministry.

During this time, I was meditating on Philippians and I heard God speak to me through His Word in my Quiet Times. When I was afraid with the uncertainty of my future, He said I lift it all in prayer and He will give me peace (Philippians 4:6-7). When I felt I wasn’t worthy to go fulltime, God said “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13).” I also thought of my provisions. Where will I get my daily living? Philippians 4:19 was God’s swift answer, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

He was really talking to me. To cap His call, God drew me to Philippians 3:7-8. Here He revealed to me my heart’s desire, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ...”

I will never regret the day I gave myself  up to God for fulltime ministry at DCF.

My Faith Story: How I came to know Christ

There are many stories of men and women who came to know Christ in their darkest and most desperate moments. Some were struggling with drugs, dire poverty, prostitution, gambling, sickness or tragedy among others.

A number of stories included supernatural and miraculous events. The Apostle Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus is one of the more famous examples. While travelling towards the city to continue his persecution of Christians, Jesus Himself met him with these powerful words, “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?”

I write these in contrast with my own story—where I was before I came to Christ and the manner by which He drew me to Himself.

I lived a good life, went to a good school and grew up in a loving family. We were sheltered, fed, clothed and taken cared of by our parents and by our grandparents, uncles and aunts on both sides. Such is the blessing of an extended family.

From the world’s standard, we were religious and devout but tolerant to other faiths. When I was a child, we went to mass early every Sunday. I experienced serving as a sacristan, a passage reader and a commentator for our school mass. I often wrote and delivered the introduction of the religious program being among the top writers and orators of our school.

We were steeped with church traditions like the rosary, “padasal" (prayer vigils), “libot” (religious processions), “atang” (offerings), icons and the like. But interspersed with these was a mixture of superstitious and eastern beliefs in luck, astrology, and feng shui among others.

In the eyes of my teachers and classmates, I was a good student, responsible and trustworthy. My mother is a college instructor and she instilled in me the love for learning early on.

My passion for writing began when an English teacher noticed my potential. I actually owe it to my sister who, during that time, was already being trained as writer for our campus paper. I was also recruited and trained. I ended up becoming the editor-in-chief in my final years in elementary and high school.

Campus politics was also my turf. I actively joined the student government and experienced many leadership roles in the classroom and the school as a whole. During my senior year in high school, I ran and won as the Student Body president while serving as EIC for our official organ. I was also recruited in our school’s debate club and became a frontline debater, graduating with a perfect record of wins. I had to muster all my time management skills in order to juggle these extra-curricular activities with my academic load.

But I was never left behind in class as well. I took my studies seriously, always competing to be on top. All the hard work paid off when I graduated valedictorian in elementary and in high school.

My life, then, revolved around my studies, contests, achievements, grades, fame and image. Even now as I remember all these, I pray to God to make me humble because all these years of praise, admiration and commendation from my friends, teachers and family made me puff with pride, conceit and selfishness. I looked highly on my self and looked down on others.

Though I was popular in school, I never noticed how my academics eroded my relationship with my parents and family. I was always busy with requirements. I studied even on weekends and rarely went out to play or hang out with friends. I would miss family reunions and gatherings to finish an essay or to review for an exam. Even if I’m physically present, I would be consumed by a book I’m reading and be very irritable.

I never realized this because I thought the honor I’m giving my father and mother was enough. In my heart I felt that by doing my best in school, I would be repaying them for their love and sacrifices to give me good education. Though I was a writer, I wasn’t expressive with my family. Statements like “I love you,” “Thank you,” “I miss you,” and “Take care” were rarely heard in our home.

With a proud heart drowned by all my achievements, I felt that I never really needed God except when I prayed to Him to help me get a perfect score in the exam or to win in a contest. I never doubted His existence, but I treated Him only like a genie or a talisman. Though I went to mass, prayed and even taught catechism, I never really had a genuine relationship with Him. I had faith, yes, but only intellectual assent. Why did I believe in God? Because I was taught to believe in Him. What else was there to do? I did not dare question His existence for fear that my religion teacher would flunk me in her subject.

But even during this time, I had some doubts on what we were being taught, especially on the worship of images and statues. This was compounded by my discovery that the 10 Commandments I knew actually lacked one when compared to what is written the Bible (Exodus 20:1-17). Incidentally, the missing commandment had to do with worshipping idols and statues.

I kept this doubt to my self and never really gave it a thought.

Though I was immersed in my academic pursuit, I could remember how God allowed a girl to break my heart to get me interested in the Catholic group, “Youth for Christ.” I was looking for activities to divert my attention when a long-time friend invited me to one of their camps. Though I never heard the Good News during the camp, I still praise God because looking back, it was during this camp that I was introduced to contemporary Christian songs. It was my first time to hear the music of Hillsong and I grew fond of them. This became a bridge for my future involvement with Christian groups in college.

I took the UPCAT and passed. I entered the University of the Philippines Diliman where I took up BA Journalism. It was during college when I heard the Good News of Salvation, but it took time before I accepted Jesus as personal Lord and Savior.

As in high school, I was consumed by academics in college. I even promised myself that I would graduate Summa cum Laude, enter GMA7 or the Philippine Daily Inquirer, be a famous journalist and finally win a Pulitzer Award or a Nobel Prize for my works. It seemed that I had planned my life perfectly. I had a great goal. But I did not expect that God had prepared something greater for His glory.

My older sister also passed UPCAT, and unknown to me, she heard the Gospel and placed her faith in Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior. Long before I entered UP, she had asked her friends and church-mates to pray for my salvation. She was very persistent and invited me often to join a fellowship while I was still in the Kalayaan Residence Hall.

At first I was reluctant to join any event because I thought my sister got involved in some weird, “cultic” religion in UP. In fact, the first time she shared the Good News of Jesus to me, we ended up debating. I could not accept that the salvation of my soul was by grace through faith in Jesus alone and not by the good things I have done. At the same time I didn’t want to be involved in any of their activities for fear of expulsion from YFC.

My sister did not give up on me. During the first meeting of the Kalayaan Christian Fellowship, she invited me to join. She told me that if I felt like leaving anytime during the fellowship, I could approach her and she would accompany me back to the dorm. I was really reluctant to join but because I could not come up with a fool-proof alibi, I decided to just give it a try.

I attended the fellowship and the first thing that struck me was the praise and worship. I was attracted to the songs and the manner of worship. I thought to myself, “It wasn’t too bad after all. At least I get to enjoy the songs.”

I also listened to the message and even took down notes. For the first few meetings, however, I felt like nothing was different with the teachings. They prayed to the same God, preached the same Jesus and did not attack the teachings of the Catholic Church. Slowly I felt comfortable with the group and kept coming back to join in the singing and to listen to the preaching.

However, I was absent on the night when the fellowship discussed how one can become a Christian, so I once more failed to understand the meaning of Jesus' death on the cross.  I could no longer recall why I did not attend that night, but chances were I was finishing a requirement or reviewing for an exam. So I wasn’t able to hear the message of salvation, but I continued to attend, to learn new songs, gain new friends and listen to wonderful teachings.

Though I wasn’t able to hear the Gospel in the fellowship, I praise God because He used a fellow KalCFer to share it to me. One afternoon, just being curious about the difference of a Christian and a Catholic, I blurted out to a Baptist friend, “What exactly differentiates you from us, Catholics?”

Right there and then, he pulled a booklet entitled “Four Spiritual Laws” and shared the the Good News of Jesus Christ to me. He emphasized that one major difference was on the teaching on salvation. He contended that the Bible taught that salvation is wholly by the grace of God that enables us to put our faith in Jesus and to turn from a life of sin through repentance. That good works are not a prerequisite but a product of salvation.

He said that Jesus died on the cross as our substitute. I am the one supposed to be punished with death, not just physical but also spiritual, because I am guilty of sin. This meant that I must be cast out from the Lord's presence because of the sin and the sin nature in me. This is God's justice because being holy and sinless, He cannot tolerate sin or leave it unpunished.

But in His love, God gave Jesus to take up our punishment on the cross. Jesus was the only perfect and sufficient substitute because He is the only sinless person who lived on earth. This is true because He is God in human flesh. When He shouted on the cross, "It is finished!" He meant that all the sins of God's people are forgiven-- past, present and future.

What is left for us to do is to believe and trust in what Jesus did as Savior, surrender to Him as Lord and turn from a life of sin through repentance for us to receive eternal life and forgiveness of sins. And we can do these things only by God's grace, nothing more.

Though I had heard it before from my sister, I got more interested with the message because I understood that a Christian still does good works. By explaining that they were products, it dawned on me that having faith in Jesus didn’t mean being passive and doing nothing but believing. Instead, Christians are saved by grace through faith in Jesus alone for a life of good works for the glory of God (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Having heard about this, I reconsidered my stand and became more interested with the topic. I prayed the prayer of acceptance after our conversation, but I felt that it was still a hollow prayer because I wasn’t willing to submit to the Lordship of Christ. My acads, my pride, lust and my self were still the gods of my life.

Throughout my first year in college, I got really involved with KalCF. It even reached a point where I had three Bible Studies in a week, apart from my fellowship every Thursday. Of course, I tried hard to evade because my priorities were different and God wasn’t really the center of my life yet. But still, I praise the Lord because He used many Ates and Kuyas to minister to me. I had BS leaders who satisfied my intellectual curiosity and friends who stayed beside me and comforted me in lonely times.

This set up continued on for many months. I would attend the fellowship, go to my Bible Studies and then get consumed by the world all over again. It was becoming monotonous and boring. But what ultimately changed my attitude? It’s difficult to explain, I believe it could not even be explained because this is my personal experience of God's grace.

During one camp in my second year, God convicted me to finally face the issues and questions raging inside me. I woke up very early one morning with an unexplained heaviness in my heart. I felt like a hypocrite because I knew that I had no relationship with Jesus but kept on joining fellowships as if I were a Christian.

I still tried to shrug off the feeling by going to sleep again, but when I woke up, God did not remove the heaviness in my heart. He even made it greater. With this, I had to finally confront myself saying, “If you truly want to follow Jesus, you have to give up all the other gods in your life. It can’t go on like this. Your faith in Christ is not just a lip service; it must become a reality in your life.”

With much difficulty, I submitted everything to Jesus. I asked Him to forgive me for being stubborn and for continuously cherishing sin despite hearing the demand of the Gospel several times. I was listening to Hillsong’s “Lead me to the Cross” while I prayed to God. With tears in my eyes, I submitted to Jesus as my personal Savior and Lord. I fully placed my faith and trust to Him.

All these happened early one morning. There was no bright light nor a miraculous voice nor thunder nor earthquake. There was just me and God’s Word. But now I know that the Holy Spirit was present too, convicting me of sin and giving me the grace to believe and accept Jesus as personal Lord and Savior.

From that day on, I could honestly say that Jesus occupied the throne of my life. This did not mean, however, that I neglected my studies. Instead, Christ changed my perspective in many things. I continued to take my acads seriously but no longer for my glory. Instead, I offered all my achievements to God. I gave Him all the praises and the glory.

I worked hard in college and once more, God proved His grace when He allowed me to graduate Magna cum Laude and valedictorian of my batch. If I had not known Christ, I would have been beaming with self pride. But my greatest joy was in the opportunity He gave me to address my fellow graduates. I  did not hesitate but used the  occasion to share about Jesus and the free gift of salvation received by grace through faith alone.

As to my relationship with my family, God convicted me to be more loving to them. It was really a big shift but I committed to express my affection more in words and deeds. I praise God because He gave me the strength to change. Now I continue to include them in my prayers that they may also come to know Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.

Looking back, I want to quote Philippians 3:7-11 to summarize my faith walk:

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

God bless you all!

I pray that my story ministered to you. I testify to the saving power of the cross of Jesus. My life is my proof and God is my witness. Maybe you also want to believe in Jesus, to turn from a life of sin, to be His son or daughter? I urge you to understand that Jesus died on the cross to pay the punishment of sin. There is no other way for you to be saved and forgiven apart from Him. If you believe this message and you know that Jesus alone can rescue you from a life of sin, know that God is working in you! He is giving you the grace to respond. Do not harden your heart, instead, surrender yourself to the one, true Savior-- Jesus Christ!

If you have placed your faith in Jesus or if you have any questions about the Good News of Christ, please let me know through a comment or a personal message in my email: It is an honor for me to help you more in your faith journey. To God be all the glory and praise!

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.

Dok Z: The Educator and the Engineer

He was an early-bloomer. As young as four years old he already knew that one day he would become a civil engineer. Though at first he thought of becoming an architect, he reconsidered because he wanted something more than art. He loved science.

As a young boy, he only had a handful of friends. Very often his parents forbade him and his siblings from playing with other children their age. They were even expected to be home at 5 p.m. He said this happens when you have a sociologist for a father, especially if he specializes on deviant behavior among adolescents.

But at 41, Dr. Mark Zarco maintains a wide and healthy sphere of friends—both young and old, online and offline. And of course, he is now a full-fledged civil engineer with a PhD attached to his name.

It was a typical Tuesday afternoon in the College of Engineering. Several students were waiting for Dr. Zarco inside a medium-sized lecture room. They could hear him coming because of his distinct accent and his powerful voice. He would greet several people as he navigated the corridors of Melchor Hall.

“Hello, how are you?” his Indian-like accent boomed at a lady who was obviously his former student. The clinking of keys followed him as he beamed to almost everyone he met. From afar he looked like a schoolboy because of a giant lunchbox he was carrying around.

“Aha! I have a pasalubong for all of you,” Dok Z, as he is commonly known, announced to his class. He just arrived over the weekend from a seminar in Thailand. “But I’ll bring it out later. It’s a surprise.”

The landslide engineer

A true-blue Iskolar ng Bayan, Dok Z took up his preschool to doctorate all in the University of the Philippines. Both his parents also taught in UP, and he himself is now a faculty of the Department of Civil Engineering.

He specializes in Geotechnical Engineering. This is a branch that studies different materials from the earth like soil and rocks, including their mechanical properties. He also thinks of ways of using them to build structures.

“What specifically do I study? Landslides,” he said. “There are very few people in the Philippines who study landslides... It is a field that is not yet explored,” he added.

Dok Z said this baffles him because next to flooding, landslides kill more people in the country—even more than earthquakes. In fact some of the worst disasters in recent history were the landslides in St. Bernard and the Cherry Hills Subdivision.

As a civil engineer, he develops not only structures to prevent landslides but complete systems and action plans. In Sorsogon, for example, he and his team employed a system that dealt with three aspects of the disaster.

First, they assessed and quantified the likelihood of landslides near a geothermal plant in the area. Then, they installed early-warning systems that notified residents of impending landslides, giving them enough time to evacuate. Lastly, they introduced mitigation schemes like the greening of mountain slopes with specific plants to decrease the possibility of disaster.

“Very often when you have volcanic areas, the volcanic ash that is deposited becomes very prone to landsliding because of rain and weathering…The problem is that's also the place where you have all the sources of geothermal energy,” he explained.

Besides the geothermal plant, they are also concerned with the residents living in danger zones. Most often they choose to stay even if they know they could get buried alive under loose soil and rocks.
“We also have to understand that volcanic soil is also fertile soil. It is their livelihood that’s at stake,” Dok Z added.

Just last year, he became a panelist of a collaborative effort to create landslide sensors. The project started as a thesis and it is now used by geologists and even the government in their disaster-mitigation programs in the Bicol region.

“We develop systems that are low cost and easy to do and do not require a lot of technical expertise so that even non-scientists can use them,” he said.

Lessons from a teacher

This is Dok Z’s life on the field, but inside the classroom he goes back to the basics, teaching even general education courses to undergraduates.

That afternoon, he was in his Engineering Science 12 class, a core subject of engineering students that dealt with the mechanics of rigid bodies. He had quite a reputation in his college. Every enrollment period he is among the top picks of students. He is also among the most recommended.

“We are going to solve three problems today,” the professor said as he moved around the room giving out sheets of paper. “But there are several similar problems in your handouts. I expect you to answer them on your own.”

One by one he gave his students the questions, calling most of them with their nicknames. Then, he carried the lunchbox to the center table, opening it for the first time since he entered the room.

“I promised to give you pasalubong. I couldn’t think of any so I just bought you chocolates,” he beamed. He handed everyone at least two pieces of Hersey’s Nuggets, jokingly scolding those who hoarded the treat.

Dok Z employed the Socratic Method of teaching. Moving around, he threw questions at students—some were easy and others tricky. At one point he sat opposite three sophomores and grilled them one after the other.

“Is the bowling ball moving clockwise or counter-clockwise?”

“Is the force against the ball?”

“Is there friction involved?”

“Will it continue to move indefinitely?”

His students are used to his style. In fact, they engaged their professor, and also asked him questions.
After about an hour, they finished answering all three problems. Before letting his students go, Dok Z reminded them to study in advance for their fourth long exam.

“When I began teaching I thought it’s just a matter of teaching well and your students will learn. But now I know that there are so many things that happen outside the classroom that affect the ability of students to learn,” he said.

Dok Z had had several students who frequently absented themselves not because they were dull but because one of their loved ones was terminally ill. Having witnessed his own mother suffer from cancer, the professor knew exactly how they felt.

“You also have to understand that this student doesn’t do well because he's worried about a loved one who’s sick…we have to figure out how to motivate them, inspire them to study,” he said.

Living away from home

When he took up his PhD in Virginia Tech, he experienced how it felt to be unmotivated first-hand. It was his first time to be away from home so the adjustment was difficult.

He said there were times he would go to the shower at three in the morning and cry for two hours until the hot water ran out. Of course he only laughs about it now, but the experience taught him to look beyond students’ scores and attendance, and actually get to know them as individuals.

“What happened was that I found a [Christian] church and people there were very very supportive… they were also very caring. If you did not show up in a meeting, they would immediately call you and automatically assume that you were sick. And if you were sick, they’d cook for you,” he said.

At Virginia Tech, Dok Z’s once limited social sphere exploded. He gained many friends and most of them he still gets in touch with even today. Some already passed away, especially those who were much older than him.

He learned to stand on his own and to cope with the difficult curriculum. He said his classmates were brilliant and admitted that sometimes he learned more from them than his professors. But he also had equally inspiring teachers there.

Dok Z also learned to cook and bake well while in America. Whenever there were potlucks in school or in their church, he would bake bread as contribution. There was even a time when he volunteered to cook for a friend’s wedding. From the bridal shower down to the reception, Dok Z was the chief chef of the whole event.

Then, he had to come back to the Philippines largely because of the prodding of his parents. They did not want him to stay in the United States forever.

“It’s not the opportunity. I believe you can always engineer opportunities. But the people are difficult to leave behind, especially if they’ve become a family to you, ” he said.

Dok Z packed his things after his afternoon lecture. When he stepped outside the room some students greeted him. He beamed back at them. As the professor walked back to the faculty room, the clinking of keys followed him again. He was still carrying his lunchbox.

From the way he walked, his smile and countenance, it was obvious that Dok Z is at home as an educator and an engineer.

Design and Evolution

The year 1859 is significant in the story of life. It was the year the British scientist Charles Darwin published a book, answering one of the greatest questions of all time—Where did life come from?

Entitled, “On the Origin of Species,” his book proposed that all living creatures may have descended from a single cell or organism that evolved through time. By means of natural selection, the organism acquired new traits and lost others to be better suited for its environment. In the end, the fittest of the lot survived.

Today, as the world celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Origin’s publication, its critics are more vocal than ever. More significantly, however, they are coming not simply from religious institutions but from within the academe, even from biologists themselves.

“Evolution per se needs a lot of evidence to convince me,” Dr. Anacleto Argayosa Jr. said, his voice in a crescendo as he explained.

“In terms of life coming from inanimate objects, the odds are basically zero. That everything came from chance and given enough time became plants and animals… does not make sense to me,” the 42-year-old biology professor from the University of the Philippines (UP) said bluntly.

The Biology Teacher

Dr. Argayosa has been teaching in UP-Diliman for the past 16 years, handling, among others General Education (GE) and Higher Biology subjects.

Though his institute did not give him the specific course on evolution, the light-mannered professor shares his views to an auditorium packed with students taking up Math-Science and Technology (MST) GE subjects.

In class, he teaches both evolution and an alternative view which, in recent years, has been called many names including the Intelligent Design Theory and Creation Science. Different from other professors, Dr. Argayosa presents the arguments of the alternative view not simply from a religious perspective. Instead, he includes recent scientific breakthroughs that support the theory.

“It is mandated in the curriculum that we teach the origin of life so I teach both. And I think it’s good for students to also hear what they can’t find in ordinary literatures…I consider them as models, and because we can’t replicate them in the lab why not present both as possible explanations?,” he argued.

Natural Science 2 (Earth Science and Biology) is among the GE subjects Dr. Argayosa handles, usually with a teaching fellow from the UP Institute of Geology. At least a hundred students from different colleges and year levels take the GE every semester.

At the College of Science auditorium, he would open the course with the controversial debate on the origin of life, and immediately gets mixed reactions from his students. Not once did he get negative feedbacks from atheists enrolled in his class. He said some would argue with him while others just walk out of the room.

But there are also students who appreciate the two-pronged approach the professor uses in teaching the origin of life.

“Because he presented both [creation and evolution] and was neutral in handling them, I felt balance in the way he taught the subject,” Arnold Sanchez, a graduating Broadcast Communication student said.

Sanchez added that he liked how the professor attempted to reconcile faith and science by using the latter to explain a number of Biblical passages presented in class.

Another student, Carl Cedric Celera from the College of Home Economics, said he was impressed with the new ideas from Dr. Argayosa’s class. He added that the lecture on the origin of life was a fresh take from the conventional Darwinian perspective.

A Christian and a Biologist

Earning his undergraduate degree in Biology from a Catholic university, the University of Sto. Tomas, Dr. Argayosa does not deny that he is a Protestant Christian. But unlike Fundamentalists who threatened evolutionists with condemnation and hellfire, the professor said Biology itself showed him the flaws of Darwin’s theory.

“If you crack a cell,” Dr. Argayosa said, his hands trying to visually represent a cell, “and you extract its DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) or its protein , isolate the protein, purify it and check its function, you will soon realize a pattern that makes things work.”

He added, “Honestly, when you crack a cell, you know that by chance it will not become another cell. When you crack a cell and leave it behind it’s going to decompose. So I don’t believe in chance.”

Dr. Argayosa drives his point further through his research on infectious diseases and genetic disorders. He said his study shows that changes and abnormalities in genes confuse the body, causing genetic diseases, even cancer.

This runs against the idea that organisms change in order to adapt to their environment. He said the genetic mutations or changes do not make “better humans,” instead, they cause diseases.

“Genes that control cell growth, repair DNA damage, those that allow the cell to multiply, and stop cells from growing—if there’s a mutation in these genes, it can lead to cancer. So that observation gives you some glimpse that there might be a right order and this damage is causing these diseases,” he said.

When the professor talked about the “right order” he said the “deeper mechanism” which Physicists, Chemists and Biologists have so long sought to understand but failed keeps the world’s “living systems” alive.

“if you study Biology and you study it seriously—how it works—it would be no surprise that you begin to ascribe to a Creator because of how complex life is,” he paused with a smile in his face before nodding and saying, “Truly.”

Dr. Argayosa added that his consideration of creation and suspicion of evolution allowed him to advance his research on a fish protein as a possible immunity booster. Evolutionary thought would have ruled out the fish protein because it belonged to a supposedly “less complex” organism.

Complexity, however, is appreciated in Creation as a “stamp of design,” thus giving scientists who ascribe to it better insight on complex natural processes, functions and structures, he said.

This idea is shared by proponents of the Intelligent Design Theory and even elevates it into the concept of “irreducible complexity.” That is, certain biological structures are too complex to have evolved from a less complicated predecessor. The eye is the most cited example. Scientists of Intelligent Design say the biochemical reactions that allow the eye to function cannot be traced to simpler antecedents.

Keep on telling your story

In the end, Dr. Argayosa concedes that in the academe, the way you tell your story makes a difference. When a professor chooses to present the origin of life through evolution, he brings with it all the implications of the theory. The heaviest, perhaps, is the denial of God.

On the other hand, when professors choose to present the story through Creation, they may have to stand up against accusations of promoting pseudo-science, which is also a legitimate argument. But, at the same time, they also promote underlying claims of the theory like the “purpose of existence.”

“If you subscribe to creation, it’s very sensible for me to walk around the earth viewing myself as its steward. That I should take care of it and not abuse it for I am commanded by my Designer,” he said.

150 years after Darwin’s book, the debate rages on. For Dr. Argayosa, however, the more he teaches both perspectives, the more he becomes true to science. He says, science, after all, is in pursuit of truth.

From a Small church: How I Came to Know Christ

I was around five or six when I first entered a Christian church—too young to even care about the service or the kind faces of the people inside. I don’t remember the Church’s name anymore, but I can still picture how it looks like. The small church faced the vast South China Sea with wide windows welcoming strong westerly winds. The walls were bare, the floor rough and the roof exposed—evidences of an unfinished structure.

Long wooden benches lined the church’s sides, and white monoblocks filled the middle of the room. There was a drum set infront beside a karaoke machine. Embedded on the front wall, facing the people, was a cross made up of several translucent glass cubes. I remember that cross as clearly as the day I first saw it. It glows everytime sunlight passes through it.

It will take more than 13 years before I enter another Christian church. Those silent years in between are years of searching, failing and learning.

My Catholic background taught me that the road to salvation is faith plus good works. “Good works” was easy enough to understand. I just needed to obey my parents, donate to the poor, help the needy and do all the good stuff I read in religion textbooks. “Faith”, on the other hand, was something I didn’t really grasp. How could I, when I was taught that “faith is believing something you can’t explain?”

I used to say that I have faith because I believe in God. I can enter heaven easily because I am an obedient boy, always top of my class, never smoked or drank, and joined outreach programs for the poor. I never really regarded myself a lost sheep because I went to mass every Sunday, I know my prayers, I pray the rosary, and celebrate feast days of saints.

Deep down, however, in the darkest labyrinths of my soul, lay my real view of faith and God. I was consumed by worldly success, lust and pride. I trusted myself so much that I placed God second only to my school requirements, achievements, contests and daily chores. My prayers were empty, memorized essays I uttered only to impress my teachers. I virtually lived a life apart from my Creator, but what was startling was I didn’t seem to care.

I brushed through elementary and high school occupied by my ambitions. I never paused to think about God or my relationship with Him. I thought that as long as everything was okay, God was with me, so there was nothing to worry. Little did I know that my entry to the University of the Philippines would be my passport to finally meeting the God who has always known me but whom I never knew.

My sister invited me to join Kalayaan Christian Fellowship or KalCF the moment I entered UP. I was reluctant at first because her initial invitation made me think of propaganda. “She just wanted to convert me to her religion,” I thought. But my sister was persistent and patient. She asked me to try even just the first fellowship. If I didn’t like it, I could leave anytime I wanted, she said.

I tried the first fellowship. I was there before it started and stayed on until it was over. I liked it. I went back for the next fellowships after that and learned a lot about God and the Bible. It even came to a point when I was attending three Bible studies a week!

These outward activities, however, did not make me a Christian. I was attending fellowships, BS and church, yes, but I knew deep in me that I was still reluctant to submit to God. My self was still my God. I even prayed the sinner's prayer written on a booklet entitled, "Four Spiritual Laws," but I knew that that was a hollow prayer.

But God was faithful. Almost a year after that, I joined a camp at the Dormitories Christian Fellowship. The camp had nothing to do with salvation or anything, but God was truly moving. The most powerful message He impressed on my heart was on hypocrisy. On the first evening, I was lying on my bed, just thinking about many things. I asked myself, "Why are you even here in this camp? Why do you even join these people when you know that you are not God's son?"

I tried to sleep to drown the emotion. But everytime I awoke, it was still there, more intense than before. Finally, I could no longer contain what I was feeling. I went out of the room, sat on one of the tables and talked to God. I listened to the song, "Lead me to the cross," while I committed my life to Jesus as my Lord and Savior by His grace and through faith alone.

That was how I came to know Jesus. A lot of things changed from that day on. It wasn’t easy to totally turn from the world and embrace a life of perfect obedience to God. Until now, I’m struggling, but He gives me endurance and molds me better everyday.