It was hard work. It was dirty, sometimes even smelly- smelly in a bad way but by the end of the night, it was smelly in a good way. Usually the scent of pine, lemon and a rotating variety of air fresheners filled the air when we were done. To this day, those particular smells still bring me back to those times as a kid. My dad was the caretaker of our congregation in Houston, Texas from 1985-2002; so naturally, my mom and I were always there with him doing our part. The duty was really our family’s duty. We didn’t live on the actual chapel grounds like some caretakers do, but we were there practically everyday after my parents got out of work to make sure that things were clean and in order. We’d usually clean after the evening bible studies or meetings. At the time, I didn’t quite understand how significant of a responsibility that was. I had never even heard the term “caretaker” before. I just knew that we had this responsibility and we had to make sure the entire house of worship – sanctuary, dressing rooms, offices, restrooms and all – was always clean and in proper order, especially on worship service days. Rain or shine, we were there to make sure it was.
I can still see it like it was yesterday, my dad carrying those commercial size trash bags, filled to capacity, one on each arm, tossing them into the dumpster like it was nothing. The rumble of the large metal dumpster as he pushed it outside the gate sounded like rolling thunder. He wasn’t a large man, but he was strong – still is to this day. I always admired his strength and his work ethic. He would always tell me “Konting tiis.”, which means “a little patience” in Filipino. This was his reminder if I couldn’t get started on cleaning a certain part of the house of worship because it was still being used or if a part of the house of worship got dirty right after we just cleaned it. It was in those moments, where impatience could have gotten the best of me, that my dad taught me the value of patience in performing our duties.
I learned another valuable lesson, and in this instance, from my mom. It was one time when she was cleaning a restroom in one of the offices and I noticed that it didn’t look dirty at all. It looked the same as the last time she cleaned it earlier in the week. So I thought to myself “Why is she cleaning it if it’s still clean?” I noticed this as the weeks went by and I finally asked her why. So she explained to me that it was our duty to care for every aspect of the house of worship. Ignoring any part, even if it seemed clean, wouldn’t be fulfilling our duty fully. It makes complete sense now and I have my mom to thank for that realization. My mom is one of, if not, the most caring people I know. So naturally, she set a great example of showing great care in performing those duties; and she still does in the duties she has today.
As with anything worth fighting for, this duty wasn’t without its challenges. But with challenges come lessons and one of the most important ones came at a time when both my parents needed to work late at their regular day jobs. Because of their later schedules, we had to clean the house of worship later at night. I knew they were tired from their long days at work but that never ever stopped them. Even if they were feeling a bit sick, they somehow got a boost of energy once we got to the house of worship. I saw my parents’ dedication and this motivated me to follow their example. It’s a lesson that has truly stuck to me and, in an effort to keep it stuck, I try to apply it to every aspect of my life every day.
It was hard work but I am so thankful that I was able to grow up and witness, first hand, the kind of patience, care and dedication that my parents had in caring for the house of worship. And as the 50th anniversary of the Iglesia Ni Cristo being in the west approaches, I find myself reflecting and realizing that my parents shared the same spirit that the pioneering members in the west possessed in those early days. It’s the spirit that moved these pioneering members to take care in more ways than one – to care for their faith, to care for each other, and even the house of worship. Without a doubt the growth will continue. It will be hard work, but through patience, care, dedication and, above all, God’s help, this growth will reach new heights with the future generations.
Nan Zapanta is the host of the INC Media show, Blueprint. He travels around the country to follow the progress of houses of worship that are under construction. He currently lives in Southern California with his wife.