July 3, 2011

Learning lessons on faith, justice and grace

One of the unforgettable experiences I have happened  in General Santos City, the birthplace of the world renowned Filipino boxer- congressman, Manny Pacquiao.  It was during my active years while still the national president of the Convention Baptist Ministers Association.  We were conducting continuing theological classes for pastors under the Institute for Advanced Theological Studies (IATS). The institute is an outreach arm of the College of Theology, Central Philippine University.

As one of the resource persons, I took the privilege to promote the newly designed Master of Socio Pastoral Ministries (MSPM) program for pastors. Two subjects in the seminar were assigned to me, namely: Community Organization and Strategies in Church and Community Mobilizations. These are credited to MSPM program, should participants decide to pursue the course.

Awed by the relevance of the community organizing process in their pastoral work, participants actively participated in the discussion. I was presenting the stages in community organization designed by the University of the Philippines, a premier state university in the country when interrupted by a simple looking old minister. He was so excited to share his experiences similar to the theories presented. With hesitation, he asked whether the process they did can be related to the stages discussed. When I gave the affirmation, in disbelief he blurted out: “Kon amo, maalam gali kami, Pastor?” Implying how wise/intelligent they are to rightly practice the stages even without setting their feet on the prestigious university, nor even having a formal education.

The more he was surprised when I candidly affirmed the correctness of his thoughts and their practice. Thereafter, I discussed with them the interrelatedness of theory and practice. How theories are developed through observation of experiences. Just as how these theories are put into practice. Even touching the beauty of God’s creation and design, the wisdom in nature, and learning through life’s experience including the commercialization of education.  I pointed out their God-given wisdom and natural talents, including common sense, emphasizing not to be overly dependent on theories and academic preparation or the lack of it. I believe that wonderful encounter has boasted their morale, enhanced their confidence, bridged the gap between education and practice, and inspired them to continue their respective ministries.

I recall the aforementioned experience as part of my on-going journey, as I continue to wrestle with my lingering illness vis-à-vis faith and prayer. Losing my seemingly invincible stature, either real or imagined,   my health condition has exposed my vulnerability. I have been undergoing hands- on experience on issues of faith, prayer, sufferings, care of God, and all those things which can be easily resolved theoretically/spiritually.  Now, in a situation wherein the acid test of faith is required, I have to resolve these issues:  Can my faith indeed move mountains? If not, where lies the difference? Within me, or the kind of faith that I have? The care of God is out of question, here. It has become obvious by my own survival. If not for God’s care, I don’t think I would ever survive the test.

In the process of recollection, I found myself no longer the teacher but a student that has learned a wonderful lesson on theory and practice. I am no longer concerned with the theory to support my practice, of reason and explanation for my action. I just want to relate what I believe, regardless of correctness or soundness.  I want to speak out my mind and express my belief. Later, I will just analyze it or leave to the readers that task. Hebrews 11:1 has become real to me. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

One  night, while having trouble with sleep, I spent the time talking to God. Unlike in past when bothered by such situation,  this time I started  thanking Him for letting me experience the painful process of recovery. The delay has caused me a lot of trouble  and mixture of  thoughts and  questions on  God’s care, and his ambivalent provision. It has also exposed my faith when it  felt  short of getting what I asked for. On the other hand, the delay has given me  lot of lessons. I have experienced  significant changes within and without.Wonderful  ideas and  concepts have been developed. I have valued  the importance of health and holistic development of self. Just as I have realized my negligence and abuse of health. Likewise,  my  view of mission and God’s purpose has dramatically changed, as well as my understanding of church, ministry vis-à-vis the Kingdom of God.

After  the  thanksgiving narrative, my thoughts  turn into the issue of  justice. I realized that the slow and  painful process, including the long wait I have experienced  are  worth  the abuses and negligence I have done to my body.  Admittedly, I have abused my health, my body, deliberately or in deliberately, consciously or not. Hence,  I could not demand  for immediate recovery. Guilty, I felt I deserve the pain,  the price to pay.

I have resolved  to undergo the process and wait for natural recovery, while learn  to value health. As I continue to pray for the full recovery  sooner or later,  the meaning of  grace is becoming clearer to me. Should God hear my prayer and grant me the full recovery soon,  it would mean grace.  God’s grace that shortens the  justice demands. I realized, this is no longer a question of my  faith, for faith is not an unreasonable demand. It is an expectation of  grace beyond justice.

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