The Legend of Felix Ysagun Manalo

I heard about Iglesia during the Japanese time. My father used to talk to our neighbor who is an Iglesia. Incidentally, I have already met Manalo in Meycawayan where we lived in my grandfather’s house as a child. There is an Iglesia in the other side of town from us. I met Felix Manalo 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 6 months of indoctrination by Minister Joaquin Balmoris, I was baptized in Tayuman. I will never forget that most important milestone in my life, when I felt so relieved from the thoughts of the eternal fire.

 

I am one of the fortunate ones to have met Ka Felix and lived to this day to give testimony on this man who became the Messenger of God in the Far East. 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 walked his talk and lived with his principles. No family, sons, daughters, friends, will be an exemption. I remember a young man, son of Ka Pilar, who was given the role of young minister, teaching the youth. He overslept one day and was late, Ka Felix punished him and was expelled. Nobody can talk to him to forgive and give the boy a chance, me, too, I tried but failed, but eventually the boy was reinstated, giving him the greatest lesson to be learned throughout the generations. When there was a misunderstanding among the family of Ka Erdie, the elders and Ka Eduardo decided that his mother and siblings were all expelled from the Church. Bitter, they felt but the principle and tradition must go on. Everything Ka Felix said was true. How can I or anyone not believe? He never talked about him and for himself, indeed, a selfless man. People came from all over to listen to him whose mastery 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!    

 

As I received positions in the church, I took my responsibilities and became a good follower. I went everywhere to join Ka Felix, from Manila to Baguio. I remember, I wanted to follow him in 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 trip to go and let me join with them. My loyalty was rewarded. I became a Deaconess in the early 60's, I must have been the youngest at that time, I was in my late 20's. 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 by 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 Iglesia and listen. I have recruited around five hundred, all men, laborers, carpenters, from the streets of QC. As they came, the church was filled, too many can’t 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 gate. As we saw it slightly open, guarded by several German Shepherds. By the gate is a big sign saying, “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 my hand. 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 Iglesia. He was a protestant. That made the Central management build a bigger church.  

 

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. 

Engineering God’s Plan

He stood tall in the pulpit, like Moses, he spoke of God with intensity that you can feel and see in his eyes. When he speaks, it is not Ka Felix, but a “Special 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 it is written in the Book of Revelation. 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 in 156 countries, around the world.

 

Ka Felix was chosen by Christ as “Sugo”, a messenger to spread the words of God about the coming of calamities at the end of the world which will be called Dark Ages, when all the people will die and come the last judgement of God. When the Holy Spirit comes to him, like a good and faithful servant, he will stop what he is doing and write everything that is whispered to him. He thinks and writes a lot. He will spend days and weeks in his room unbothered even forgetting to eat and sleep that made him frail over time. When he opens his room, papers and manuscripts are all over showing how much he has written behind his locked room. His wife Honorata, "Atangwas 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 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 sung until today. She gave me a role as a choir leader, 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 fall on the ground and use them again. Salvador and Erano were ordained by their father in 1952, to become the head of the church from 1954. 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. Then he showed us numbers in the clock, 4 and 12, saying “These numbers have meaning”. This later came up to be the date of his death on that night we were there, April 12. He died from peptic ulcer disease at 77 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, who is older than me by 5 years. His death brought great sorrow to his 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 have to direct the traffic to make way for the procession. People came to his gravesite every day for months and years, bringing flowers, 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 in the Central Office, Quezon City, where his son Erano was also interred, up to this day.

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 and 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?  

The Meeting: Ka Felix and Me *

When my husband left me for the US, as he already has a contract and plane ticket for both of us, I chose to stay though I have nowhere to go. I was taken in by Ka Felix and lived in the Central in Riverside with his staff. We used to eat in a long table, when he gets a thought, 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 and months 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”, pointing to the 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 Ka Felix as the last “Messenger” of God. It was a task that is so natural for me that it is not difficult to do. When Ka Erdie, was commissioned to become his successor, I continued this task. I have lived through three generations.

 

I used to come and greet him after “Sambaand shake his hands as he usually stands by the tree outside the church to greet the church goers. On the other hand, after the singing, my worries won’t 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. On the hand, my story has touched Ka Felix. He knew me more as the "doctor's wife". He told my story anytime there is an occasion for it to be told for its lessons learned. When he went to San Francisco, as he met with the Philippine Consulate, remembered to mention about my husband (already in NY) who 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 US. 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”. She was thinking 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 sing as the leader of the choir. By the way, at that time, a bus fare is three cents. With the five hundred pesos, I have gone so many trips probably enough to go around the country!   

 

I can attest for my story and to the so many “Ka’s” who enjoyed God's Bounty because of Ka 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. MDS

Irene Moraga Lumbrera, INC Deaconess

The Church of Christ and Me: 

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 by Pilar Manalo. When she saw me looking, she asked me why. I told her that I love to sing, and I want to join. She explained to me that it’s not easy because it is a special calling from God, that I need 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 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 are always 30 minutes late coming from the 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 get acculturated with the group. My dedication went unnoticed, I thought. One day, my big surprise came when I landed my first role in the Church unexpectedly. Pilar fired the president of the choir. Everybody was speechless and quiet. When 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). I became a choir leader and national president, “Pangulo ng Mang-Aawit". I oversaw the entire choir nationally. He gave me the responsibility to make decisions 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, 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 to sing for Him". I abode with the rules, and soon only 13 of us were left to sing. It was alarming, but I believe that God is with us. We prayed and made panata for 4 days. We believed that parents have a big role in 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 sing, that's when we had to divide them into groups for the morning, afternoon, and evening samba. 

Iglesia ni Cristo: A Historic Philosophy

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, on July 24, 1914. After a journey of diligent study driven by a 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 500 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 151 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 106 years? Where other faith traditions were losing footholds, the Iglesia ni Cristo continues to thrive and prosper.

 

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 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.

 

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!

 

(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.)