A paddle cuts into the calm Pasig River, inching the row boat closer to land. On board: a 28-year-old man who has seen a great deal of life, his young pregnant wife, and another person rowing them closer to their future. Behind them, in their pursuit of the truth, a long winding trail. Just ahead of them on the horizon, is a promise – to never be left alone in their endeavor to carry out a prophecy. As the boat slows to land, there aren’t crowds waiting or people in motion. There is only faith.
After 104 years since that fateful day, the horizon that Brother Felix Y. Manalo had envisioned would become clearer year after year. The destination wasn’t simply Punta, Santa Ana, where the boat docked, it was over the ocean to tomorrow, to the next 100 years, to 50 Years in the West, to the Holy City. He saw the big picture. Today, thousands of members of the Church Of Christ from all over North America gather at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Church’s establishment in the West, and to look back at the trail blazed on our behalf.
The Executive Minister, Brother Eduardo V. Manalo led the special worship service reminding us to keep our gaze forward on our journey and to remember the plans that God has laid in store for us, leading up to our salvation.
Following the special worship service was the musical Promises Fulfilled, performed by five ecclesiastical districts from up and down the west coast. The story is of a young man, Luke, on a journey to find his personal connection to God through the stories passed down by his grandpa. At one point during the musical, dancers are pivoting and motioning abruptly; an interpretation of the events at the sugarcane plantation, Hacienda Luisita, in 1964, that would lead to the exodus to the 600 hectare settlement, Barrio Maligaya, in 1965.
“Brethren were being hindered [access] to the entire community. They were removed from their jobs, working at the factory, they were not allowed to buy things in the stores, they were not allowed to use public transportation, they were being hindered in attending worship service,”
Recalls John Aratan, from Northern California.
As the dancers flow into the next scene and the mood shifts, the rolling spotlights illuminate intent expressions from the audience. The labor disputes that caused the intense persecution in 1964 were one of the building blocks that strengthened the foundation and bond of the Church as a whole, so that the next generation of members may worship in peace. Today, that strength is remembered and honored.
“Even though the events happened long ago and I wasn’t personally there to witness them, we’re all connected to them because they’re a part of our Church’s history. Understanding the significance of what happened 50 years ago as a fulfillment of prophecy – and not merely happenstance – is one of the foundations of our faith,” states Warren Zapanta, a head deacon from the newly established local extension, San Ramon. “We should do our best to build on the foundation that was laid for us by Brother Felix Y. Manalo and the early pioneers of our Church. The best investment we can make is to teach the next generation to take care of the Church just like those who came before them.”
Marco Maranao, another head deacon from Calgary, Alberta, shares Warren’s sentiment, “Being a third generation member of the Church, I feel I am greatly investing in the future of the Church through mentorship as a Children’s Worship Service (CWS) Teacher. I involve myself and dedicate time to the many activities in the CFO to help develop the skills children need growing up inside the Church. The great feeling and satisfaction I receive is to see the children I taught when they were four years old, become CWS Teachers or even Ministers. I know for sure, then, that the future of the Church is secure.”
No matter how tumultuous the path ahead, God has taken us by the hand throughout the journey we are taking together, firmly securing our future. This is evident with the plight of our pioneering members that set out West to look for more members of the Church Of Christ.
“All I did was find more souls to come back to God. This is very exciting because there’s a lot of brethren, it’s really God’s work. At the beginning there was only about 10 of us who started the committee prayer, and it became three families, then later on we found more. This is really God’s work.” Commented Marina Labson who hosted Brother Eraño G. Manalo and the brothers and sisters in attendance at a worship service 50 years ago in Mountain View, California.
From then, we’ve pushed full force on our trail, hitting milestones left and right: Almost 3000 chapels offered since 2010; about 164 sustainable communities; 36 districts outside the Philippines; and 489 ministers ordained – just this year alone.
“The Church is truly growing and God’s promises are being fulfilled. Despite not being there 50 years ago, just looking back at the years, there has been so many victories for the Church and it continues. God continues fulfilling His promises for His fold.” Commented Angela Cayabyab, from Southern California who is part of the more than 600 person musical ensemble.
We are what the Last Messenger saw just beyond the horizon. Though many of us haven’t met him, we carry his mission in our hearts through the leadership of our Executive Minister Brother Eduardo V. Manalo. As the generation before us built the foundation and paved the way for the next, our destination is clear and within sight. The distance left may be unknown, but we see and know the Lord Jesus Christ is waiting at the end. We are almost there.