I The Legend of Felix Ysagun Manalo
I heard about Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church of Christ) during the Japanese time. My father used to talk to our neighbor who is an Iglesia. Incidentally, I have already met Felix Manalo in Meycawayan where we lived in my grandfather’s house as a child. There was an Iglesia (House of Worship) in the other side of town from us. I met him again around 1950. By then I was already a believer and anxious to be baptized. “Why are you in a hurry to be baptized?”, he asked me. “I might die,” I said worried, but he’s so sure and confident to reply, “not yet, you’re so young!” Finally, on June 30, 1950, after six months of indoctrination by Kapatid na Liwanag, I was baptized by Minister Joaquin Balmoris in Tayuman, where the first “Bautisterio” (Baptismal Font) is found. I will never forget that most important milestone in my life, when I felt so relieved from the thoughts of the eternal fire, (dagat-dagatang apoy). I am one of the fortunate ones to have met Kapatid na (Brother) Felix and lived to this day to give testimony on this man who became the Messenger of God in the Far East. I can attest for my story and to the so many “Ka’s” who enjoyed God's Bounty because of Kapatid na Felix who mentored and advocated for entrepreneurship, a legacy that will always be in our hearts, mind, and spirit now and the generations to come. He gave me the idea that guided me, a young innocent novice dreamer, on how to become an entrepreneur in a pure-and-simple, generic, no-fail way. He told success stories that did not only inspire me but became my connections, partners, collaborators, and role models in business. There is nothing else to do but believe, trust, surrender and obey the wisdom of God. I met important influential people, like Gregorio Licaros, the Governor of Central Bank who happened to be a relative, too. I asked my sister Emerenciana to come with me and meet him; he did not give me the license to import, but he gave me a letter to the biggest textile wholesaler and distributor, Beatrice Silverio. She was an Iglesia, who used to be very poor, sleeping on a rotten mat. Through Kapatid na Felix, she was able to get the license from Central Bank and became a millionaire. I got my textile from her and after choosing what I like, I did retail in Divisoria where my first opening day was unbelievable as people lined up to buy fabrics like a hot pancake. After few days I was sold out, I went back to Beatrice and paid everything. I got so energized by the experience and did this business over and over for many years until I became a seasoned entrepreneur enjoying each day harvesting God’s blessings. ~Irene Moraga Lumbrera
Iglesia Ni Cristo: A Historic Philosophy
(This brief intellectual perspective on the historic philosophy of Felix Y. Manalo and prelude to the legacy of Irene Moraga Lumbrera is a special contribution by Lutgarda M. Resurreccion)
It was in the darkest of times when the first World War was looming ominously in the global horizon, that Ka Felix formally incorporated Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC), on July 27, 1914. After a journey of diligent study driven by unrelenting desire to seek truth, from Roman Catholicism to various Protestant sects then brewing in the country during the American regime, Ka Felix started a movement away from doctrine-based Christianity to a Bible-based Christianity in the Philippine Archipelago. It was as if a shaft of light had pierced through dark clouds of almost five hundred years of a colonial mind-set imposed by the Roman church over most of the people, the land, and its government. There was Divine Light of truth reflected in Ka Felix’s heart as he internalized the meaning of Jesus’ teachings. Simple, charismatic, educated, persistent and determined, he envisioned the Church of Christ and inspired many more souls to seek truth in Biblical teachings, prayer, study and reflection, hymns, and worship service, as well as to practice the faith by renewing their personal lives and serving others. The fierce resistance and outcry to the Iglesia’s new vision permeating the masses and spreading influence was not surprising. As the saying goes, “The truth hurts.” By the same token, the “Truth shall set you free,” as Jesus said in the Bible. This movement that has been growing beyond the home base to over one hundred fifty countries where the Iglesia’s inspired Messenger or “Sugo,” has resonated with different races and cultures of the world. For how else could one explain its rapid and peaceful spread and growth in the last 107 years? When other faith traditions were losing footholds, the Iglesia Ni Cristo continues to thrive and prosper. Today, there are 7,000 congregations around the world.
My early impression of the Iglesia came from my own mother who said that Ka Felix Manalo made it very easy for simple folks to understand and believe in Christ. Through His words from the Bible, primarily using the native language Tagalog as medium of expression, this plain-speaking manner found and dug deep roots in the Filipino psyche, unlike the ritualistic, doctrinal, even elitist approaches of other groups expressed in a foreign tongue. To my mother that was quite an accomplishment. In my own observation, empathetic responses like the sounds of emotional outpourings during worship are heart-felt answers that affirm divine instruction, making the teachings of Christ real and powerful to the believer. An Indigenous (“katutubo”) religious movement that has lifted a people’s consciousness to another level cannot be ignored. Abraham Lincoln said: “The ultimate measure of success is not what you have become, or who you have become, but what others have become because of you.” It was Ka Felix's impact on a simple woman returning a young Irene’s lost purse intact that spurred Irene's deep curiosity to learn more about this “new” faith. Similarly, the Iglesia has revolutionized the people’s culture making them one of the most respectful, disciplined and closely knit communities, bonded by a common language to express themselves and their aspirations in the pursuit of God and spirituality.
In an era of strict conformity to prevailing religious norms, the remarkable saga of Irene Moraga Lumbrera bears telling as part of Filipinos’ social history. It is Sakop, a Filipino cultural value of inclusion, even if religious practices are different. This basic family or ritual kinship is shown by the term “Ka” affixed to the individual’s name, who is referred to as kapatid (sibling, brother/sister), kaibigan (friend), kasama (ally, companion, partner), kamag-anak (kindred, relative), kababayan (country man) and kapwa (fellow human being). Ka is attached to everyone in the web of relationships that define a Filipino. This spirit of Sakop is the backdrop of our focus on Irene as a person exemplifying our Filipino essence and values. It also reflects our mission to revere our older generation’s life stories and lessons learned. Irene’s life story is a simple but shining milestone in our legacy for all future Filipino generations in the homeland and in the diaspora. May her Sakop increase!
~Lutgarda M. Resurreccion
He looked like an ordinary man, but there is something so striking in him in the way he talked and the wisdom that flowed in every word he spoke. He stood tall in the pulpit and spoke of God with intensity that you can feel and see in his eyes. He walked his talk and lived with his principles. No family, sons, daughters, friends, will be an exemption. How can I or anyone not believe as everything Ka Felix said was true. He never talked about him and for himself, indeed, a selfless man. People came from all over to listen to him whose understanding of God’s words were incomparable, when he talked about the doctrines that come directly from the source. Indeed, a true “Sugo”, the Messenger of God! This simple man, born of modest means, and baptized as Catholic, worked hard to find the truth. He has joined a lot of sects and religious groups, until he found himself deeply believing in the true teachings of God. This conversion gave him a vision on how he will build this Church of Christ. He incorporated the organization in Manila by 1914 and started an Iglesia in a small, private house in Punta, Santa Ana, Manila. When the war broke, he continued his ministry without fear, as it is God who is in command as written in the Book of Revelation. He went places by foot to spread the gospel. A lot of people from all over the Philippines became converted. Japanese soldiers got curious and came to listen. The rest of history flowed in up to this day when his scriptures spread its membership to over one hundred sixty countries around the world.
When the Holy Spirit touches him, like a good and faithful disciple, he will stop what he is doing and writes everything that is inspired and whispered to him. He thinks and writes a lot that he will spend days and weeks in his room unbothered even forgetting to eat and sleep. When he opens his room, papers and manuscripts are all over showing how much he has written behind his locked room. His wife, Honorata "Atang" de Guzman, was beautiful and so loving of him. She knew how hard it was to take care of him as he was always with God. There was nothing that can take him off and come in between his closeness with God. They had six children. Pilar, the eldest was born in 1914. She was so beautiful that they wanted to join her for Miss Philippines, but Ka Felix opposed as he considered it not good for the Iglesia. She was married to Dr. Danao, who was a Board Examiner for Dentistry and had one son, Virgilio. She studied at Women’s College Conservatory of Music. As a Composer, she was ordained by Ka Felix to hold a position as Music Director and wrote all the music and hymns that are still sung today. She gave me a role as a choir leader, and I had a chance to work with her as her assistant. Dominador, the eldest son, became a civil engineer and architect and ordained by his father, to design and build Iglesia’s churches according to the scriptures. Hence, as of this modern time, you will see tall churches in gothic architecture with tops pointing to the heavens. These churches mushroomed in the Philippines, particularly in Riverside, Cubao, Bago Bantay, Munoz, Washington, Sampaloc, Sta Ana, Paco and Baclaran. He worked so hard and efficiently, respecting the value of even the smallest nails that are used to build the church. He will pick up all the nails that fell on the ground and used them again. Salvador and Erano were ordained by their father in 1947, to become the head of the church's management from 1954. Erano studied two years of college in the University of Santo Tomas before his father brought him everywhere to be trained as his successor. Avelina married a doctor and did not have a significant role in the church. The youngest son, Bienvenido, became an architect after his elder brother, Dominador. He took over the church buildings later.
It was early in the year of 1963, when he died. We knew that the last day is coming. I went to visit him in the Veterans Hospital where he was confined. Accompanied by a couple close to him, we came gathered to his bedside, and the man asked Ka Felix, “Do you remember this woman”? He remembered me as the doctor’s wife who chose Iglesia over her husband’s offer to bring her to America. On that day, he walked through the stairs of the hospital, then he showed us numbers in the clock, four and twelve, saying “These numbers have meaning”. This later came up to be the date of his death on that night we were there, the twelfth day of April. He died from peptic ulcer disease at seventy-seven years old. He was survived by his wife and children and the entire Iglesia. He has envisioned his own mortality and succession by his son, Erano (Ka Erdy) who is older than me by five years. His death brought great sorrow to the church. We spent few weeks to bring his casket to several Iglesia churches, until we carried him from San Francisco, Quezon City to his final resting place in San Juan, Rizal, within the compound of his home. To bury him near his home and with guards all day long will prevent people from kneeling on his tomb. People came from all over the country, dignitaries, famous and influential people, including the president of the Philippines, Diosdado Macapagal. We walked following his body by foot, we caused a lot of traffic. I remember, I was dressed in my “sutana” because I was leading the choir, I directed the traffic to make way for the procession. People came to his gravesite every day for months and years, bringing flowers, so that the scent has been in the air. It became a job for the guards to clean after the flowers. His remains were ultimately transferred to the Central Office, Quezon City, where his son Erano was also interred when he died in 2009 at the age of 84.
We have lost the man sent by God to become the Messenger of His scriptures. Ka Felix preached and lived through the Words of God so that we will still believe time after time until His second coming. Those who follow His words as written in the scriptures will be saved to enjoy the paradise of heaven, where peace and happiness will be forever in eternity as God has promised. These manuscripts and doctrines are all those we are reading through and living by these years over a century later. If these words were not of God’s, how did it pass the wisdom of million people in every country of the world and believed? ~Irene M. Lumbrera
I used to come and greet him after “Samba” (worship service) and shook his hands as he usually stood by the tree outside the church to greet the church goers. On the other hand, after the singing, my worries will not leave me alone in peace, and leave me sleepless all nights and days. Then one day at around four o’clock in the morning, I found myself knocking at Ka Felix's house in Riverside. The guard let me in but warned me, “It’s too early in the morning.” Ka Felix heard my conversation with the guard through the intercom and he said, “Let her in.” He was still on his bathrobe, getting ready for his day. He looked at me and asked, “Why are you here to bother me at this time?” I told him, “I cannot sleep, I have so many problems!” He asked me to kneel before him and laid his hand upon me to bless me. Then he asked me to look at him straight in his eyes and I followed without a single blink. I felt lighter in my spirit and went home. Everything flowed in my life since.
When my husband left me for the United States, as he already had a contract and plane ticket for both of us, I chose to stay though I have nowhere to go. I went to the Central every day and volunteered. We used to eat in a long table all together, when he gets a “calling,” (as if the Holy Spirit is speaking to him), he will stand up even if he just started eating. He will stay in his room for so many days without eating. When he comes out, all the manuscripts are on the floor, needing to be picked up. He had chosen me carefully among others and said “Ayusin mo” (Fix it), pointing to the pile of papers on the floor. I have eagerly read the manuscript in its entirety and have carefully sorted through the pages and arranged them accordingly to flow into a book that we have been using until today, inspired by God through the Holy Spirit, based on the Bible, as written by Kapatid na Felix as the last “Messenger” of God. It was a task that was so natural for me and was not difficult to do. I felt so light, peaceful, and full of divine wisdom, believing that I myself was touched by the Holy Spirit. When Ka Erdy, who I have met first before his father, was commissioned to become his successor, I continued this task. I am the only young person who can talk to Ka Erdy, as he would allow me in his office, sometimes discretely unknown to the others to avoid favoritism. If he sees me entering his father’s office, he will ask me what we have spoken of, as I said to him: “He wants you to be always careful!” Ka Erdy addresses me as Kapatid (Sister). I have lived through the three generations of the Iglesia.
On the other hand, my story had touched Kapatid na Felix. He remembered me more as the "doctor's wife". My husband and I was with him and Ka Erdy when I chose to stay with Iglesia as I said to Juaning, “If God wills and takes your life, I will have no husband, too. What does it matter now if we separate?” Heartbroken and embarrassed, he left with heavy heart and did not come home for a long time, while I always believed God is with me and I with Him. Meanwhile, Kapatid na Felix told my story anytime there was an occasion for it to be told for its lessons learned. When he went to San Francisco, as he met with the Philippine Consulate, he remembered to mention about my husband who was already in New York but left me because I chose to sing and praise God and listen to the bible in Samba over the idea and lures living in the United States, an American dream. One day, as I was sitting by the steps of the church, there was a Berlina who stopped by the gate, and looking for “Nene,” the President of the Choir. I was initially confused, and after a minute, remembered, that was me! I told them that I am, then the deputy consul, came out of the car and hugged me and said, “Bata pa pala” (Still young), as she thought of meeting somebody older being a national president of the choir. She gave me five hundred pesos and said to call her if there is anything I should need. We became friends and she attended Samba in this same church where I sung. By the way, at that time, a bus fare is three cents. With the five hundred pesos, I could have gone so many trips, probably enough to go around the country! ~Irene M. Lumbrera
The Church of Christ: Walking Through its Ladder
At twenty-one years old, I was young and full of dreams. To become homeless in Manila was blind and bold for me. Since my family disowned me, I took shelter in this church and embraced it as my own. I practically grew up with Iglesia as I reached my legal age and full independence. My curiosity brought me to the doors of the Choir of Iglesia headed by Ka Pilar Manalo. When she saw me looking, she asked me “Why?” I told her that I love to sing, and I want to join the choir. She asked the organist to give me a pitch and I did higher, she said “Tenor!” She explained to me that it is not easy because it is a special calling from God, that I needed to pray, and God will show me the way. She made me understand that it is a very big responsibility, almost a burden, because aside from the usual days of Samba, I must be in on practice days, in addition. My motivation finally led me to sing with the group. There were around one hundred people in the choir, mostly students. The president then, is a teacher by profession. There were so many problems at that time as the students were always thirty minutes late coming in from school, then the childish excitement of talking a lot when they see their friends that makes the room noisy. This went on for a while as I got accustomed to the group. My dedication went unnoticed, I thought. One day, my big surprise came when I landed my first role in the Church unexpectedly. Ka Pilar fired the president of the choir. Everybody was speechless and quiet when Ka Pilar said that she is naming a person in the group as the new president. She was looking for the "doctor's wife". As I heard that, I slouched myself and hid behind the chair. Soon after, I was given a role or position (katungkulan) as directed by her father, Ka Felix. I became a choir leader and national president, “Pangulo ng Mang-Aawit". I oversaw the entire choir nationally. She gave me the responsibility to make decisions which she explained that I should do with the best of my ability and that God will guide me for the rest. Like a good leader and follower, I read through the whole procedure, protocol and rules and read to all. They have all the questions on schedule and timeliness, "What about if the professor won't let us go early?" To each question they have, I have only one answer, "If you have God with you, you will make all the ways and means to sing for Him". I abode by the rules, and soon only thirteen of us were left to sing. It was alarming, but I believe that God is with us. We prayed and made promise (panata) for four days. We believed that parents have big roles and influence on their children, so we went to each parent and told them that they should "offer" their children to sing in the church. With all the encouragement and prayers, there were two hundred youth who came and sang! That is when we had to divide them into groups for the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday Samba, from the Central extending to other locales, and the voices and hymns of praise filled every corner of the Kapilya.
As I received positions in the church, I took my responsibilities seriously and became a good follower. I went everywhere to join Kapatid na Felix, from Manila to Baguio. As I was young and small, he addressed me as “Bata” (Child). I was able to squeeze myself easy through the big guys in ‘black suits’ belonging to the administration, just to be close to him. I became like an assistant, an errand girl readily available for small tasks. Seeing me like a shadow to him, he made me president of the choir, and two of the Christian Family Organizations, Buklod (for married couples) and Kadiwa (for young men and women), knowing and believing I can handle difficult issues and situations. These positions made me a subject of wagging tongues among his circle, but known and familiar to the small guys and security guards. If they saw me offering my seat to anybody in the circle, they would remind me and say aloud, “That is your seat. Don’t give it away!” I remember, I wanted to follow him to a function in Tarlac. I borrowed a car from my friend, Ka Vic Naluz, who owns Luzon Brokerage, and he lent me a Mercedes with his driver, to join Ka Pilar in the caravan. I was by myself in the car. Later, they will invite me to sleep in the Central whenever we have a function to come and let me join them. My loyalty was rewarded. I became a Deaconess in the early sixties, I must have been the youngest at that time as I was in my late twenties. It was very enriching spiritually; I was in the best company to be as close to God.
I did my mission seriously for the service of God. I led my group and walked on foot through the mountains and hills of Quezon City. We talked to everyone, we entered every house, skipping none on the way and invited them to go to the Kapilya and listen. I have recruited around five hundred, all men, laborers, carpenters, from the streets of Quezon City. As they came, the church was filled, too many could not even enter! No dogs, no rain, no pain, nothing can hinder me to bring people to God. I remember, we passed by a certain General’s house with a big, tall gate. And we saw it slightly open, guarded by several big dogs. By the gate is a big warning sign, “No Trespassing.” Without fear I entered; my group warned me as the dogs will kill. I said, "We have God with us. Do not be afraid". As the dogs came to me, I gave my hands, they smelled and kissed them. As we knocked and saw the general, he asked how we entered without the dogs barking and biting any of us. I exclaimed, “Your dogs let us in”! As he heard us, he, too, came to the Iglesia. He was a protestant. With all the people I have brought, the administration got curious who brought these people in. As they said “Iyong bata” (The young woman), they were telling the story of the young woman Samaritan mentioned in the bible similar to what I have done as the messenger of God. One day, they were calling me before the Tribune, because they would give me an award. It was held in the stage of the Quiapo Chapel. I was scared as I was surprised and hesitant because it was the first time that recognitions were given by the Central Office. They proclaimed me “exemplary” for having the “most fruit”, (pinaka- maraming akay) making the Central management, Ka Erdy to build a bigger church in Cubao to accommodate us all.
I did my responsibilities with all my best from the first day I was converted until these days in my sick bed, to the end when I will be called to return home and meet God in the Holy Land (Banal na Lupa), the eternal paradise. As my final days are nearing, although, I am not feeling it coming yet, I am feeling a heavy burden for my family who remain faithful to the false gods of the Romans. They live to be the “Sarado Catolico” as they were from the days of our Impong Polin and Inkong Igmidio, to carry the tradition, without the faith. Yet, my hopes and prayers are alive that I will still bear the Fruit of Salvation on the very person of my caregivers, whom I have shared the words of God so many times, with unending perseverance. Their conversion and willingness to embrace Iglesia and be baptized will be my final hurray as the Angels blow their trumpets and sing praises as souls are delivered and saved from Satan, to be with God in heaven in the last judgement. For all of these, I received so many awards, but nothing is sweeter than knowing that God was pleased with me as I did it all for Him.
~Irene M. Lumbrera