TRUE NORTH:

Stories and Reflections





Riding on the Wings of Saints

 

By Lou Sitaca

In honor of Beth Melchor (October 20, 1956 – June 26, 2018)

 

God brought me to the exact place I would best be able to pursue my discipleship, which is Ligaya, and has given me people who would best be able to challenge me in doing so. Beth Melchor was one of those people.

 

Beth to me was the unreachable standard of discipleship. Imagine my consternation when I realized I had somehow caught her eye and that she had decided to take me under her wing.

 

When my husband, Kent, and I, moved to Singapore due to his work in May 2004, I asked him if we could delay joining the community there. I took it as an opportunity to take a break from community life. I thought I had gotten my way. However, shortly after, I got an email from Beth asking if I could assist her in the women's retreat she was leading there that August.

 

Beth and I did not have significant opportunities to work together in Manila so I wondered why she was asking me. I felt inadequate and I also said, “There goes my break!” I relented and replied to her, agreeing to help. That simple act of confidence by Beth and the reluctant, ill-motivated “Yes” I gave was the start of two (2) fruitful years in Singapore where Kent and I actively participated in community life, I helped start a women’s Bible study and, with Kent and a few other brothers and sisters, helped establish Lingkod Singapore.

 

In the first community gathering we attended after coming home to Manila in 2008, I was greeted by Beth and she immediately told me, “O, serve kayo sa singles district ha. We need pastoral leaders very soon.”  It was clearly the Lord setting the door before us.

 

Beth had this knack of knowing when to appear in my life exactly when I needed to be challenged. I don’t think it was because she had perfect timing as much as when she felt the Holy Spirit move her, she acted. Beth had a vision for my life – I saw dimly; she saw clearly. To achieve that, she was not afraid to demand, albeit gently, that I go out of my comfort zone and sacrifice my preferences so I could better serve the Lord.

 

Before I was installed as a Senior Woman Leader, she told me she needed to see one more thing – me taking initiative to greet people and get to know them. So, I had to start doing something very difficult for me. I knew it was the right thing to do as a disciple and as a member of community, and especially because I knew doing it would please the Lord.

 

At each turn, I realized that my motivation to say “Yes” was changing and it was becoming easier for me to respond in faith and to obey, despite my usual fears and apprehensions. A significant factor in this growth was seeing the person God used to challenge me herself also continuing to say “Yes” to Him in the changing circumstances of her life.

 

Early in 2017, Beth asked me if I could go with her to India to conduct the India Zone Echo Conference. By that time, she was already suffering with the recurrence of her illness and terrible pain in her right arm. If I were in her state, I would not have even attempted to travel. But she was not deterred.

 

I asked her, “Beth, what will we echo?” She answered, “The content of the International Women’s Conference (IWC) which will happen in May.” I just laughed. So very Beth. She really believed I could echo things I had not yet heard. She believed in me and, in her words, in the “uniqueness I would bring to the service of God.” And because of that I was encouraged and emboldened.

 

It turned out to be a very fruitful and Spirit-filled conference. Beth’s desire to continue to serve despite the debilitating pain she was suffering was a great inspiration to the Indian sisters and to me. Her mere presence in the conference was already a very powerful testimony.

 

Shortly after our India trip, she told she wanted me to share about the Asia Region in the IWC in Minnesota. The IWC happens every 4 years and is attended by women leaders from Sword of the Spirit communities around the world. In the conference, as I sat waiting for my name to be called to share, I could feel every part of my body aching. I was praying repeatedly, “Lord, have mercy.” And He did. The 10 minutes flew by and as I walked back to my seat, Jean Barbara approached me and said, “Excellent sharing, Lou.” Who would have thought? Well, Beth did.

 

If the Lord had left me to my own devices many years ago, I would not be where I am now in my discipleship journey – more faithful and more practiced in obedience and submission to His will – although still a work in a progress. He has brought me people like Beth to help me to grow and to press on in following Him, until I reach the finish line. Like Abraham, I find it harder now to doubt God than to trust Him because of all He has done in my life.

 

I am deeply grateful to God for having given me a spiritual giant in Beth whose example of radical discipleship, faith and obedience, continue to inspire me to run the race.

 

 

Lou Sitaca is a Senior Woman Leader of Ang Ligaya ng Panginoon Central Sector.

 

 

 

Community is Family

 

 

Brought into Community

By Don Escarro


I was born in Camp Phillips, Bukidnon in Northern Mindanao. It’s a small community comprised of workers running the pineapple plantation of Del Monte.

 

My world growing up revolved around the camp; School, sports, celebrations. Family ties extended to beyond the normal family ties. Values of respect, obedience and honor were instilled in us not only from my parents, but also from the adults around us.

 

Liturgical cycle of the catholic church was very much a part of our life. Somehow in my case, it pointed me towards God, how big He is and how small I was, experiencing Him through the beauty of nature.

 

Moving to Cagayan de Oro city for High School was a major shock to me, a 12-year-old. Cagayan de Oro was a small city but gone were the familiar faces.The values I grew up with and my sense of the infinite guided me in putting into perspective the sights and sounds of the city. The Jesuit influence especially the exercises in meditation and reflection, started me on meditative prayer.

 

In 1977, I moved to Manila for college. An even bigger culture shock. Good thing, I was invited to this prayer meeting run by engineering faculty members and seniors. I was not as enthusiastic because of the noisy way they prayed, but deep down I sensed this was the people who I can trust. They were genuinely happy and I wanted in. After going through the Life in the Spirit Seminar, I was invited in 1979 to join Ligaya. I wanted to be part of Ligaya because I saw and experienced the loving relationship of brothers and sisters as well as experiencing a profound transforming presence of God.

 

The teaching and talks, the modeling and living examples of older brothers and sisters, the prayer meetings and retreats, the food and the fellowship and celebrations, the friendships, and most especially and to a greater extent, it was the Pastoral Care that I experienced that guided & protected me, educated me, helped me move forward in my state of life, pushed me to live a life of a disciple of Christ in the context of a covenanted member of Ligaya.

 

Community is God’s gift to me. Similar to the community I grew up in Bukidnon, Ligaya gave me the space to grow, the relationships that want the best for me, peace and order that allows me to be drawn closer to God. Yet, better than Camp Phillips, the relationships in Ligaya are based on committed individual relationship with Christ and a life living out a covenant relationship between brothers and sisters and God.

 

Inside Ligaya, I will have all the opportunities to not only to grow into the man God has called me to become but also to do His will.

 

His will for me was to establish a family in community. Inside a covenant community, a bulwark. Inside committed Christian relationships.

 

Together with my wife Lisa,we wanted our children to grow up establishing personal relationships with brothers and sisters, learning our way of life – of honor and respect, experiencing the peace, order, and care of God through brothers and sisters.

 

With Lisa’s help, we established order and discipline in our household. Implemented strict guidelines with consequences on obedience, honor and respect.

 

We thank God that our eldest son, John Michael, has made that decision to live his life as a covenanted member of Ligaya and the Sword of the Spirit.

 

Born into Community

By John Escarro

 

Growing up and seeing how my parents live out the daily commitments of this way of life, it was clear that community is something important to them. From their many different meetings to weekly Lord’s Day celebrations, I grew up seeing how our family schedule adjusted to the community schedule. I don’t remember asking my parents why community was that important, but it was clear that community is family and it has a specific place in our family life.

 

One of my favorite confusing lines that I hear, not only from my parents but also from titos and titas while growing up is this: “Dito kami dinala ni Lord”, or “We heard the Lord…and so in response…”

 

I always wondered how God spoke and how sure my parents were that it was really God. But I trusted them, and I wanted to experience for myself how God can work in my life. And so in my pursuit to experience God the way my parents have, I followed the footsteps of my father: I joined CYA, and became a staffer; I joined Servants of the Word, and I became an underway member of Ligaya. And in all of those decisions, I didn’t feel the pressure from my parents. Maybe because at the back of my mind, I thought I can always choose to stop pursuing community. They gave me freedom to experience for myself what community had to offer- and let God lead me where He wants me to be. And in my years as an underway member, I also experienced some struggles living a life of a disciple.

 

Having been an underway member for several years, I tended to see everything as a checklist. It’s easy to see it as an end to a long initiations process of community. But I know the covenant is more than that. The covenant answers why and how my father, a wandering Bisaya, chose to settle in Manila, and have a family in Ligaya. And because my father has remained faithful to God’s calling, he was able to set an example for me to follow. Through the years, I have also come to believe that there must be a higher reason why I was not just brought in community, I was born into community! It is God himself, inviting me to this way of life.  And accepting the covenant is my response to the Lord’s invitation to be His disciple on mission, with you my brothers and sisters.

 

I am confident, that in the same way that He who began the good work in my father’s life, will also bring His work with me to completion, as I live my life as a covenanted member of Ang Ligaya ng Panginoon.

 

Don and John Escarro are covenanted members of Ang Ligaya ng Panginoon North Sector.

 

 

 

 

The Hope of Enduring Love

 

 

I am a community kid. My family has been in Ligaya for as long as I can remember. As a family, we were sent to be part of the mission teams sent to Mindanao and Thailand. Life wasn’t easy, but I always felt that we did not lack anything. We were always being taken care of and being provided for by God.

 

 

Through these mission trips, our family got closer. When we grew older, there was a time when my siblings and I were separated to pursue our studies in various places. We were living apart for 12 years. It was such a joy when my two siblings and I were finally all together in the Philippines and living under the same roof again. The three of us were in various stages in our lives, but at least we were all together again as a family.

 

BROTHERLY LOVE

Since my sister got married, it was only my brother Hanzel and I living together in our house because our parents were also away that time living in Mindanao. So most nights would involve take out food and movie marathons. If Kuya cooked, I would wash the dishes. If we both didn’t want to cook, he’d treat me out for dinner. On holidays, we’d go out to the cinemas and eat our hearts out. We both love books and would read well into the wee hours of the morning. We’d share the music we listen to and the movies or series we both like. When he found out my job wasn’t paying much, he offered to help me with my finances. Whenever we went out, he’d always tell me not to pay for anything so I can just focus on saving up. We didn’t always agree, because we have almost the same personality, but that’s normal for siblings anyway. There was one time when I got robbed and I was in shock and crying, he kept laughing cause I looked so ugly daw and even took a picture, before comforting me and promising to keep me safe - just how brothers are!

 

 

AN UNEXPECTED DETOUR

On January 18, 2014 – Kuya passed away.

 

I felt so vulnerable, helpless, and weak because there was nothing that I could do. I had so many questions to God that I know were ultimately pointless in the end. I only wanted my brother back alive.

 

I kept on putting off praying because I felt so empty. I felt that God had abandoned me. I used my grief as an excuse not to pray. I threw tantrums at God because I felt that I had a good reason to. I irrationally thought “Doesn’t my family get immunity from this? My family has been serving God in missions for as long as I can remember, why didn’t God spare us from this kind of pain?”

 

I withdrew myself from community because everything reminded me of Kuya and since community is a manifestation of God – I had no desire to be a part of it.

 

 

THE JOURNEY TO HEALING

Someone shared that when one dies, either God allows it or wills it. It was a journey to healing in finding out which one it was. Either God allowed Kuya to die and did not intervene, or that He willed him to die. I did not comprehend which one was more painful because if it is the former then God is weak, and if it was the latter, then He is a cruel God. It didn’t at all matter to me because ultimately the point was that Kuya was gone. There was no one I wanted to be angry with but with God.

 

It reached the point where I just wanted to be numb because I got tired feeling angry. But who else will I turn to but to God?

 

ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS LOOK

There was a community gathering that I was desperately trying to get out of. I heard God speak to me at that gathering, saying “Look around you, your brother is alive in every person he had a relationship with. All you have to do is look”. I knew this was true. It didn’t change the fact that Kuya was gone but it made me more aware of Kuya’s presence in his absence.

 

 

Through that short encounter with him, God didn’t just reassure me that Kuya was with Him but that I was with them both, as long as I chose to be.

 

It didn't change the fact I was grieving and far from being at peace, but God had given me hope. And what more can I ask for, when it is all I need: hope of His enduring love.

 

 

 

The Child of Promise

Sa una pa lang, clear na sa amin ni Lala na gusto namin ng anak at ‘pag hindi pa kami nagkakaroon ng anak, mag-aadopt na kami. So, we focused ourselves on saving money for the future of our kid and prayed to have a baby.

 

 

Every Day of Dedication, when parents dedicate or introduce their baby, I would say to myself, “Someday meron din ako i-dedicate na baby.” Pero year 1 wala, year 2 wala pa rin, year 3 wala pa rin and so on and so forth, wala pa rin.

 

It came to the point that I questioned God. “Lord nagseserve naman ako para sa iyo, bakit parang hindi mo naririnig ang lagi ko dasal”. I wanted to cry and I felt God had abandoned me.

 

ADOPTION TO SONSHIP

In one of my prayer times in 2015, His words assured me that He is faithful to me. We did our usual visit to OB for check-up, and she advised us to go thru IVF, but hindi kami pabor sa artificial means. So we kept on praying and trying, but Lala still would not get pregnant. At this time, nagtatampo na ako kay Lord because we waited to have a baby and we felt that He was not listening to our prayer.

 

In my 2016 Day of Prayer, God led me to this verse from Galatians 4:4-5 “But when the set time has fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” I was struck and reflected on the word “Adoption.” I talked to Lala and shared what I was thinking. She was hesitant at first but I encouraged her to pray about it. During our discernment process, Tita Mercy Bermundo invited us together with the other couple to CRIBS. The goal was to observe if I’m willing to adopt a baby.

 

THERE IS NO FEAR IN LOVE

Honestly, nung nandun ako natakot ako. But God reminded me that “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” So what I did was list down all my fears and feelings of pride about adoption. Like, “Ka lalaki kong tao pero hindi pa ako nagkakaanak”, “Saan galing itong batang ito”, “Ano ang background ng family niya”, “Mamahalin ko ba ito ng husto”,”Paano ko sasabihin sa kanya” etc. etc. While I listed all these, I prayed and lifted all these to HIM to have peace of mind.

 

In 2017, God assured me of His love for me through this verse from 1 John 4:19 “We love because He first loved us.” This verse gave me a conviction to pursue what God told me last 2016. Lala and I agreed and we became excited with our decision to adopt a baby. We told our family and their response was positive.

 

GOD’S ANSWER

We started to process it and we prayed about what gender, age and background etc. Nakakatuwa nga nung nagusap nga kami na gusto ko na lalaki yung gusto kong i-adopt, Lala said na isa yan sa nasulat niya sa journal. We agreed that he should not be more than 1 year and 6 months. Deep inside ang lagi kong dasal lang ay sana chubby yung baby. Last November, nung nagpunta kami sa KBF para i-check na yung baby, we read his profile and his biological parents’ profile. Nung nabasa namin na malakas kumain at chubby, natuwa ako, and when we saw his picture, I had no words to describe my joy. I just thanked God for this blessing.  I took pictures and sent them to my family, friends and community.

 

While going to the orphanage, Lala asked me “Are you excited?”; sabi ko kinakabahan ako and I was so quiet. Nung Nakita ko na si Isaac, takot siya sa akin, pero lumapit sya kaagad kay Lala. And the rest is now history.

 

 

OUR SON, ISAAC

Last January 2018, during the Day of Dedication, we proudly introduced our son Isaac to Ligaya.

Even if I felt abandoned, God never abandoned us. He was faithful and all we needed to do was to trust in Him because He has a greater plan for us. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

Personal testimony of Jeff Tanael, a member of Central Sector of Ang Ligaya ng Panginoon at the Good Friday Recollection at SMX Convention Center, Pasay City.

 

 

 

Personal testimony of Monica Sarceda, Member of NS1-A Ang Ligaya ng Panginoon, at the Good Friday Recollection at SMX Convention Center, Pasay City.

 

 

 

 

 

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Ligaya ng Panginoon  2018

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Beth and I did not have significant opportunities to work together in Manila so I wondered why she was asking me. I felt inadequate and I also said, “There goes my break!” I relented and replied to her, agreeing to help. That simple act of confidence by Beth and the reluctant, ill-motivated “Yes” I gave was the start of two (2) fruitful years in Singapore where Kent and I actively participated in community life, I helped start a women’s Bible study and, with Kent and a few other brothers and sisters, helped establish Lingkod Singapore.