This is the testimony of a young former student and a previous zealous member of the Ang Dating Daan religious group but now a believer in Christ and currently working as a professional in Australia. I had the privileged to reach out and discipled Jarrel to become a follower of Jesus Christ. May you be encouraged as you read his victory story below.
Hi, I’m Jarrel Rivera, Filipino, 30, male, single, and currently living in Perth, Western Australia. I am writing this not to look for chatmates or any new friends (though it would not hurt to find new friends through this though) rather, I write to share my story – a testimony of faith.
A Typical Religious Person
I grew up in a typical Filipino Catholic family where it is mostly the elderly who are very religious, and the young kids would not have any choice but to go along with them. At a very young age, my parents introduced the Bible to me, the necessity for prayer and devotions, and the fact that there is God. As with many other Catholic families, we had an altar at home with a cross, an image of Mary and Jesus, and two small red light bulb that sparks as if it is a candle – which for me were very cool! (astig!)- plus a big poster of Sto. Nino, the young Christ, posted at the back door. On a typical week, we prayed before each meal and before going to bed, went to church on Sundays, and even gave basket offerings on special occasions (nice, huh?). However, as I grew older, the frequency of going to church lessened to as much as going to church only when there is an occasion e.g. birthday, Christmas, New Year and/or Holy Week. More so, while praying is still being done, it was only as individual not communal, praying as a family was gone; the 3pm prayer habit and 6pm novena were no longer done – they were simply left out. It then dawned on me, is church only for the kids, the women, and the elderly? While I could stand right now and say NO – the church is for all ages, all gender, and all races, but sadly this is what had happened in our family. It is not the ideal setting however, it is what I perceive as the common situation among many (not all) households up until now, whether Catholic or non-Catholic.
First Brush of Soriano’s Teaching
Amidst the situation, I did not lose my faith in God, rather it even heightened my thirst for Him. I was a boy so hungry for His word, desperately seeking His truth. I went to read the bible but I can hardly understand it. I felt like I needed someone, like a teacher, who could help me understand; so I went to check on different churches until one day I found one. I saw Eli Soriano on TV and I was dumbfounded. I initially didn’t like the way he preach as he was speaking so badly and so bold against other churches, but he seemed to be very knowledgeable of the bible. As years went by, I grew more and more interest in watching him on TV and in listening to his radio programs because he is able to answer the questions being thrown at him – live and on the spot, which is something I do not normally see in other churches. I felt like he is the teacher who I was looking for and that the church he was preaching could be the true church all along. So I attended their indoctrination sessions in the locale of Area-G in Cavite, and on the 27th of June 2003, I got baptized. It was then on my 19th birthday that I joined Members Church of God International (MCGI), more popularly known by their television/radio program Ang Dating Daan (ADD) or The Old Path (TOP). (Note: ADD will be used in the succeeding paragraphs pertaining to the said church group) As an ADD member, I felt like I was on the right path. It felt like I was in the true church with the right doctrines and a God-sent preacher. Every doctrine and/or topic being taught during the services were just supported by lots of verses after many more verses – minimum of 5-10 in my estimate. There would even be some instances when one topic would be discussed in one or two whole days (morning, afternoon, including evenings! No kidding!) Just imagine how many Bible verses could be read during those times! There’s prayer meeting on Wednesday-Thursday night, Thanksgiving service on whole Saturday and Worship service on half of Sunday. If you failed to attend the Thanksgiving service on Saturday, there’s a recap on Tuesday (schedule normally differs per locale). There’s also kids church (KNC), youth group (KKTK), men’s/women’s group, and many other groups based on area, profession, or church activity being supported (e.g. music – choir, financial support for broadcasting – KAPI, etc). There’s so many activities, lots of groups, lots of services, and in all that, lots and lots of Bible verses! Everyone in ADD were so absorbed with all the knowledge that they are getting that they would just conclude that it is indeed the true church. On the other hand, ADD was also known for its unpopular doctrines like no haircuts (even trim) for women, no long hair for men, no jewelries (except wedding rings), no drinking of alcohol, no smoking, no watching in cinema (with some exception e.g. Daniel Razon’s movies on selected movie houses), no eating of blood stew (dinuguan) and balut (a filipino dish), and (more-like conservative) women’s clothing. They believe in the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ) and Holy Spirit – but not in Trinity. They also believed that faith is necessary for salvation but should be accompanied by works, and that salvation can also be lost hence, there’s also suspension and excommunication in ADD. While it is their doctrine that one needs to join the church to be saved however, it does not necessarily mean that you are not saved if you are not a member of their church, as they also believe that it is God who judges those who are outside the church, especially if you have not yet heard the doctrine. In line with this, I myself have also made some unpopular decisions while I was an ADD member. A few were somehow easy to deal with like not eating the food served during Christmas, or not attending religion-related occasions or church ceremonies (e.g. wedding, baptism, feast, etc), but there had also been very challenging ones. It is manageable to get away from occasions with friends and workmates, but it is a lot different when it deals with family. In my very own brother’s wedding, I was just outside the church, waiting in the parking lot. I did not even enter the church even during pictorial. Sad but true. I know that it would hurt my brother, our family and every one else, but as much as it hurts me too I just had to do it because of faith, because that’s the doctrine that I was believing in during that time; and I am just thankful that they were very understanding of me. Further, also brought by leap of faith, I separated myself to a friend during college whom I considered as the woman of my dreams. We were so close but I did not continue pursuing her simply because she is a Christian and I was an ADD. While now I understand that these were all follies, back then those were what I know as the right thing to do, for I was all but deciding by faith, based on the doctrine that I was believing in.
God’s Divine Set-Up
I was so fired up and absorbed on ADD’s doctrines during that time that I was just so eager to talk to anyone and discuss matters of faith. I even joined different religious forums (online chat boards, pseudonym: Leroy) and there I had discussions, to the extent of having debates, with members of other religions. In the courses of discussions, I have attacked other religions and defended ADD’s doctrine. I was in the belief that I was holding on to the right doctrine hence, I was confident to discuss with anyone in the online forums; and there I met Justyn M. of TheBereans.Net. He is among the defenders of the Christian faith, and I’d say a knowledgeable one. We talked about salvation, the trinity, nature of God, and lots of other things that it even extended outside the online forums where we talked face-to-face. No debate, just table talk, as he would say. In our discussions, he would carefully explain to me the Christian faith and how it differed from ADD’s doctrines, whereas I would then defend ADD’s doctrine and ask him questions which sometimes is left unanswered. I felt like I was winning, that I am able to prove that ADD’s doctrine is correct and that the Christian faith is questionable. The online discussions went on and the face-to-face meetings repeated one after the other however, unlike other people whom I have talked with who would fold and turn to ADD, Justyn M. was firm to his faith. In July 2011, Justyn M. and I met again in Alabang where we talked on the topic of salvation. He just read the book of Romans, and amidst having no interpretations nor any explanations what so ever, there I have just understood what salvation by grace really means – that it is only by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, that we will be saved. That none of our good works are sufficient to save us, but only the blood of Christ. It has been 8 long years that we have been discussing the topic of salvation over and over, but it was only then that I realized how foolish I was to think that aside from the blood of Christ, I still needed to do good works to attain salvation. I felt that all the knowledge about the Bible and all the doctrines that I have learned in ADD are nothing if the very essence of salvation is not with me. What would be the worth of attaining all the wisdom if in the end I will not be saved? None. Right then, I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and my Savior. And I was just humbled. A double-degree holder. A Cum Laude and a Magna Cum Laude. Amidst these accolades of men, I failed to understand salvation by His grace for I was preoccupied in knowing the “mysteries” of the Bible. But thank God for He has not forsaken me. Thank God for He had opened my eyes to see and my mind to understand. Thank God for using Justyn M. as an instrument so I would hear and know the gospel. Thank God for the salvation. Since then, I became part of Victory Dasmarinas and actively served in the music ministry. I am currently residing in Australia, attending in Sound City Church. I am Jarrel Rivera. An ADD member who turned to Jesus Christ. And this is #myVictoryStory.
There are still many “Jarrels” out there who need to know Jesus Christ. We need to be patient and pray for them, that one day they will find salvation and know God’s purpose in their life.
but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect… – 1 Peter 3:15, ESV