Our All-Time Normal
By AUDEE VILLARAZA
I’VE been blessed to be named Builder of the 8:00 A.M. session of The Feast at the Philippine International Convention Center (Feast PICC A.M.) every Sunday.
And doubly blessed that amid the Coronavirus Disease Pandemic, Feast PICC A.M. is thriving through The Feast at Home.
Yes, our New Normal is online live-streaming of The Feast on our Feast PICC Facebook page.
This September, we celebrate our Light of Jesus Family 40th Founding Anniversary also online, starting on the first Sunday of the month, September 6, 2020, where we started a new talk series titled Miracles and More.
Reaching the LOJ 40 milestone is no less than a miracle for me.
In college, I took up Integrated Marketing Communications, at the University of Asia and the Pacific, knowhow that now comes handy for my task as Feast Builder.
My wife Kristel and I have been blessed with a miracle baby, Ethan Elijah, already turned three years old September 18!
And one more amazing miracle is how I found the Light of Jesus Family, or how Jesus actually found me.
This is my journey…
My life before LOJ was ordinary. On Sundays, with my family, I attended Mass in the morning, then visited our grandparents and relatives. And then Sunday afternoons I spent at home playing video games or basketball with our neighbors. Weekdays would be for school and Saturday nights I spent in a house or a bar with close friends.
I had very little time for God. But deep within, I was always seeking. Even as a young boy, I tried to read the Bible on my own. My mom taught Catechism for the poor living beside our village every Saturday so I was in touch with my spirituality at an early age.
Also, as a family, we prayed the Rosary every night—although I would be asleep before the Third Mystery.
My spiritual awakening started after college when my best friend Manny, who’s not Catholic, invited me to a Bible session in his church in Pasig.
The service was way different from the regular Masses that I attended. A pastor simply opened the Bible and preached. It was very interactive and I loved it. I spent almost six months attending this church, becoming closer and closer with the members.
Eventually, my friend invited me to be part of a Bible study group for young adults at the Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in Taguig, organized by a young couple, Edric and Joy Mendoza. They opened their doors to me. I became very close to the members. I attended their discipleship group for a year.
Back then, I had a girlfriend who didn’t like the idea of me attending a non-Catholic group. So, she looked for a Catholic community and she found the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals (BCBP). We both joined. It was a beautiful experience. I joined a cell group that met weekly and the members accepted and loved me as their own.
The only issue I had was that the members were not my age bracket. At the time, I was only 25 years old, and the youngest in the group already aged 40+. So I could not relate with the group. My concern was so much different from theirs.
After a year, I eventually left the group and didn’t join a faith community for five years until the day I walked into The Feast…
This is how it happened…
My girlfriend’s sister, Angeli Lacson, happened to be the sister of Joey Lacson, husband of Caysa Relova-Lacson who belongs to the Relovah family, longtime, faithful LOJ members. Yes, Angeli is sister of Toh Relova, who is one of the ardent servant-leaders at The Feast.
As fate would have it, my girlfriend broke up with me and I became depressed. A few months later, Angeli — out of pity of me, I think, he-he— suggested that I attend The Feast, the first one Bro. Bo Sanchez established in Valle Verde Country Club in Pasig City.
That was in 2008.
I didn’t know Bo Sanchez. But I kept hearing about him from Joey and Caysa and their then three-year-old son, Julio, who kept on mimicking Bro. Bo doing the Feast song, “Thy word…”. He would sing it to us while lifting up a book.
Was that prophetic! Because I am now doing Thy word every Sunday, don’t I?
Back during my difficult days, I needed direction in my life. Up until that time, I had no clear direction and purpose. And when I got depressed, I so needed relief. When Angeli told me about LOJ and The Feast, it sounded like something I needed badly. I checked out Feast Valle Verde. Right on my first year as a member in 2008, I joined a Light Group (LG)— a small group of 15 members called Light because it’s like a mini Light of Jesus Family.
Being a member of the Light Group is my most cherished LOJ experience. We meet weekly to discuss reflections on The Feast talks and help each other with our problems and concerns. The LG is not simply my support group, but actually a real loving family which has accepted me unconditionally.
LOJ, especially The Feast, gave me purpose, direction in Life. I joyfully volunteered to serve in the Mercy ministries— He Cares Mission for street children and the Anawim Home for Abandoned Elderly.
At The Feast, I began as a member of the Worship, Events, and Production teams, serving as a member of the chorus, frontline singer, then Worship leader, Administration head, Ministry head, and Feast Cluster head.
On July 1, 2017, Bro. Bo named me as Feast PICC A.M. Builder— a tall order for me, considering that The Feast PICC A.M. is where Bro. Bo preaches. And humbly, I preach with him— a blessing I never ever saw even in my wildest dreams.
And Then, COVID
Neither did I foresee I’d be at the helm of this Feast amid the COVID Crisis.
By God’s Grace, Feast PICC, which counts 6,500 members, has taken measures to cope withthe crisis— now our ‘New Normal’. We don’t see when this ordeal is going to end.
But we’ve survived for six months now, haven’t we?
We are getting the hang of holding our Feast at Home. Through the generous support of our members, we are able to sustain our Mercy ministries, especially our Feast Acts of Love, our relief operations for those afflicted by the pandemic as well as the front-liners.
As the crisis wears on, more need our help, and we have more needs— financial resources, volunteer staff— to be able to reach out to those who need us most.
But I am particularly unperturbed. Ours is not simply a New Normal. It’s been an All-Time Normal for us in God’s Kingdom. The apostle Paul said it well as he declared in Philippians 4:19: And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.