By Jennifer P. Dayrit
Southern California District Correspondent
CARSON, California, January 11, 2014, – An estimated 11,000 people flocked at the StubHub Center in Carson, California to participate in the global outreach program of the Iglesia Ni Cristo which is called “My Countrymen, My Brethren” (Kabayan Ko, Kapatid Ko) through its charitable arm, the Felix Y. Manalo Foundation, Inc. This worthwhile project was launched by the Executive Minister of the Church, Brother EDUARDO V. MANALO last year in the City of Manila, Philippines.
The StubHub Center is a 125-acre multi-purpose sports complex located at 18400 South Avalon Boulevard in Carson (approximately 10 miles south of Downtown Los Angeles). It is also an official U.S. Olympic training site and home to Major League Soccer teams, the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA.
Weeks prior to the event, members of the Church in the district of Southern California held saturation drives and promoted the program by handing out thousands of flyers throughout the various communities in their respective regions. Minister Rolando Dizon, one of the coordinators of the outreach program, stated that the project is “to help our fellowmen particularly during these times of economic hardships, not only with their physical and basic needs in life but most importantly, their spiritual needs.” This project is inspired by what the Lord Jesus Christ commanded – to do good and to love your neighbor as yourself.
Minister Jojo Bayani, Assistant District Supervising Minister of Southern California, reported that members of the Church and their guests came not only from California, but also from Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and as far as Tijuana and Mexico City.
Carson’s Mayor Pro Tempore Elito M. Santarina, proudly stated that, “We’re so proud of the INC because you chose the StubHub Center as the venue for your outreach program. We truly appreciate the fact that you are reaching out to the community by providing help and support to our countrymen. On behalf of the 100,000 people of Carson, we will always be grateful for this very worthwhile and beneficial event that you are providing for the entire community.”
As the guests registered and walked into the stadium, a Christian concert and video presentation welcomed them. After the concert, a bilingual Evangelical Mission in English and Spanish was conducted by Minister Dyland Ramos, the Supervising District Minister of Southern California. It was translated into Spanish by Minister Andrew Paragas. The Southern California District Choir led the hymn-singing, followed by an opening prayer, then the preaching of the words of God. The homily is about the relevance and importance of the Church of Christ for man’s salvation.
After the evangelical mission, a certificate of recognition was presented to the Iglesia Ni Cristo by Mayor Jim Dear and Mayor Pro Tempore Elito M. Santarina. The special award recognizes the Iglesia Ni Cristo for its outstanding devotion in providing continually the important spiritual encouragement for various communities.
The Southern California INC Radio correspondents together with the hosts of DZEM 954 in Quezon, Philippines interviewed the Mayor and Vice Mayor live on air which was broadcasted worldwide. Mayor Jim Dear gave the following message during the live broadcast: “Carson is a city that welcomes the Iglesia Ni Cristo. We’re really happy with the Church choosing this venue. My message to the members of the Church of Christ is that I thank you for being involved, committed, and dedicated to the word of God and doing God’s work. If you chose the Iglesia ni Cristo, you chose very wisely.” The Mayor himself even said that he plans to attend the worship services of the Iglesia ni Cristo.
About 4,000 guests from all walks life, of various ethnicities and diverse backgrounds, benefitted from the event. Almost 600 hundred guests signed up for Bible Study at the various sign-up booths which are located all around the complex manned by LOS officers. These guests want to learn more about the teachings of the Iglesia Ni Cristo, and many had positive comments about the Church and its outreach program.
Blair Stanford, a guest invited by Angel and Anna Angeles who are members of the Church from Long Beach stated that, “the message delivered in the Bible Study was interesting. I have been studying religion for 30 years now, so it’s good to see other religions’ perceptions. I was surprised at all of the free services. Surprisingly, I did not know there were free flu shots. I definitely needed that and got one for myself. I think it’s very beneficial that these services were offered to everyone who attended. I think people really needed the medical screenings.”
Another guest, Elia Avellis, who was invited by Marlon and Melissa Viernes, members from Santa Clarita, believed that the words of God that were shared in the Evangelical Mission became “an awakening and also a call to save my place with God.” She said that many people don’t know God and this was a way to introduce God to those who don’t know Him.
Pheriba Lopez, a college student invited by Ray Geminiano of San Gabriel Valley, said that she “liked how the message presented salvation the way it should be.” As a student, she also benefitted from the free school supplies that were handed out at the event. Hector Hernandez, who was invited by Rennalyn Gamboa of Corona, said that he was stunned because he was not expecting the event to be so big. He said that “everyone was so welcoming and that so many services were offered. I find it interesting because I’m not used to hearing churches holding big events, especially something this big the size of a stadium. I was expecting something smaller. This was really unexpected. It’s something you don’t see every day. It’s not something you can describe. But, I have to say that the Church keeps in mind taking care of other people, and I truly believe that’s important.”
Carlos Avila, a guest invited by Grace Uneta who is a member from North Hollywood, said, “I think it is an incredible event that should be carried out more often because it brings people together in ways that normally doesn’t happen. I’m always touched by the word of God and jump at the opportunity to hear it and it just reiterated my own faith. That is an incredible thing for people to give their time like that and volunteering their donations. The Church of Christ is an incredible and large organization. I felt very educated today about the Church, learning about its origins and its future.”
Skye Molina, invited by Edgar Banzuelo of Long Beach, said it was her first time attending an event sponsored by the Church and thought that it “was pretty amazing and spectacular and gives the opportunity to meet new people!” Laarni Tejero of Anaheim invited a current Bible Student named Bill Hoban who thought the event was “just wonderful“ and feels blessed because he has now found the Church of Christ. Pat Blanchard from Compton, CA also attended the event and said, “This is a wonderful occasion. I have met a lot of people and everyone is warm and welcoming. The first thing I did was to sign up for Bible Study lessons! I saw the video clips of your chapels in the Philippines and they are beautiful.”
A family and youth advocate, Liliana Uribe, who partners with faith-based organizations, said that she was invited by her neighbors, Nancy and Luis Gonzales of San Gabriel Valley. Liliana believed that, “this kind of program helps a lot because some are on a fixed income and it also helps in building social skills especially for the special needs families.” She said that what the Church is doing today to help reach out to these families is very important because it shows that “someone does care.” She also said that with the current economy, people don’t know where to go and this event was another resource that welcomed everyone with open arms. Liliana also said that more events like these are needed because there are still so many families that have no jobs, are experiencing hunger and homelessness.
Among the guests at the StubHub Center were the Hispanic migrant families initially invited at the Oxnard’s Aid for Humanity (Mis Compatriotas, Mis Hermanos) and Evangelical Mission which held last December 7, 2013. They were grateful to be back because they were in need of various social services. The families were thankful for being invited and being provided transportation to the event. The parents expressed in Spanish that they have never experienced anything like this before and that the items their children received, such as school supplies and toys, were considered “luxuries” for them.
About 50 various services and entertainment booths were available that included medical, dental, optometrical (eye exams), flu vaccinations, health education, fitness, nutrition, and health insurance coverage resources. The following items were given to the guests for free at the various booths: tote bags, blankets, t-shirts, sweatshirts, slippers, socks, toothbrushes, toothpaste, food (groceries and pantry items), reading glasses, toys, and various school supplies.
Games and activity booths were also provided for the children, such as face-painting, balloon-making, basketball throw, and bean bag, ball, and ring toss. Other services included: voice and keyboard lessons, first aid response, job interview skills, photo booth, and any more.
Lana Garitt, a guest invited by Ben and Milita Shavagun of San Gabriel Valley, said that it was all very “exciting and fantastic” and that the “love of Christ brings us together.” She was thrilled that they offered arts and crafts and other activities for all ages. Also invited was the Carson Police Department who provided a booth on Child Identification cards. The police staff fingerprinted and made ID cards for the children which are effective tools to help parents and families maintain current descriptive information about their children in case they get lost or go missing. A Lost and Found booth was placed appropriately next to the police department’s booth because lost children at the event were being brought to the booth by SCAN members.
Cindy Viduya, the Medical Coordinator of the event, stated that she was not prepared for the magnitude of the medical outreach. The medical and dental mission became the most popular booth at the event, with hundreds of guests and members lining up for free medical and dental services. Prior to the event, Cindy was in charge of recruiting medical and dental staff volunteers from the various local congregations in Southern and Northern California. At total of 229 health care professionals volunteered at the event that included medical doctors, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, dentists, pharmacists, and optometrists. About 243 registered for the various health screenings, such as blood pressure, blood sugar, and Body-Mass-Index (BMI), and almost 200 flu vaccinations were administered.
One of the guests named David Demarest, invited by member David Pangan from National City, signed up as a Bible Student at the event and stated that he “was really impressed by the medical mission booth” and benefitted from the food pantry booth because he was running low on food.
According to the California Healthcare Foundation, California has the greatest number of uninsured residents of any state. In fact, 1 in 5 Californians overall is uninsured, and nearly 60 percent are Hispanics. Dr. Ruth Arceo, a Family Practitioner from Los Angeles County, said that the recipients of the medical mission were very thankful that they were able to get free health screenings. She said that many have pre-diabetes, diabetes, and high blood pressure and are not aware of it, and for many of them, it was their first time being screened for health problems. She stressed the importance of these screenings that they are not only for health maintenance, but for preventing further health complications in the future.
Another physician from Los Angeles, Dr. Nory Cabanilla, said that this was the first time he has helped in a medical mission of the Church, and he was glad to see that the event not only helped the guests with their physical health, but their spiritual health as well. He said that a panel of physicians and dentists were available to answer any general questions that the guests had.
The outreach program was the first event of its kind in Carson. Mayor Dear had long suggested for this type of outreach to take place in his city and he said that it has finally become a reality with the help of the Iglesia Ni Cristo, that all of the people in the community greatly appreciate and respect what the Iglesia Ni Cristo has done in Carson. Even Mayor Pro Tempore Santarina believed that “this is happening, not by accident, but this is God’s design.”
Minister Jojo Bayani explained that the Iglesia ni Cristo was not only able to provide material things to thousands of their fellowmen at this event, but most importantly, their souls were fed with the words of God during the Evangelical Mission. This will help them know how they will be saved on the Day of Judgment. The members of the Church here in Southern California were able to fulfill during this historic day the command of Christ to love their countrymen and their brethren.
With the spiritual guidance from the Executive Minister of the Church, Brother Eduardo V. Manalo, and most of all, with the abiding help of the Almighty God and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Iglesia Ni Cristo’s Outreach Program and Evangelical Mission in this part of the world indeed turned out as a historical, timely, and a very successful event. As Minister Rolando Dizon said, “nothing like this has ever been done by any other religious group here in Southern California, just us.” Praise the Lord!
Ministers Dyland Ramos, Jojo Bayani, Rolando Dizon, and the Southern California District Chroniclers and ACTIV teams contributed to this report.