This is my blog for Gospel Jam, but at the time of posting, I could not access the Multiply site.
Surprise!! I’m back!!
Blame Ondoy, who not simply threw everybody’s budget out of sync, but also drowned the internet and phone equipment of our service provider, in our town!! It’s been five months… L
Okay, I admit I stopped blogging even before Ondoy. I was getting shy, because I felt like I was monopolizing the whole thing. Then Sunday, Feb. 21, 2010, one of the closing credits line finally sank in:
Ditas Pangilinan, Official Blogger.
A lot has happened to Gospel Jam. Do you know we’ve started live streaming? To watch us live, just log on to http://www.livestream.com/gospeljamlive every Sunday, 6-10pm Manila (same as Hongkong) time (that’s GMT +8, if you know your time zone). There’s a chat room too so you can actually interact with us during the show. Mark Aranal also found these cool videos that he shows between guests. So while the audience is watching the video, we can help the guest set up without any “dead air” so the whole program is now tighter. It almost feels like a tv show! J We’ve got an official photographer and videographer now, Ian Ileto, and the shows are recorded and posted on our livestream channel, while the individual performances are uploaded on youtube.
We also have a facebook group: Gospel Jam at Conspiracy Cafe
But of course, the old favorites are still there, foremost of which would be the surprise and surprised guests. Although for tonight, I think everyone – guests, hosts, crew and audience both live and online – got a big surprise.
Mark has been announcing for several weeks now that Ama ng Papuri Romy Dinglas would be coming to the country (they’re based in the US now) for a series of performances, including a night in Gospel Jam. And because of who he is, Mark predicted that it would become a Papuri reunion.
He was right.
All the guests were Papuri artists: Pastors Jonaver Luklukan and Henry Santos, Cindy Lacanilao, and Cathy Amaca. There were more in the audience. In fact, so many came tonight that Irl and I moved to the bar side of Conspiracy Garden Café so that other people could use our table, our girls could internet away from the loudspeakers, and I could man the chat room. Even at 9pm people were still coming, and the chat room was rather full. We had the Dinglas family from the US (who was watching into the wee hours of their morning), a former Papuri singer now based in Australia, a Papuri Kid in Metro Manila, one of my dear friends now based in Indonesia, a ka-jam from San Pablo City in Laguna, and some more Manila-based friends, one of whom discovered us just tonight! How cool is that!
Almost everyone there either worked as or is related to one who was/is a Papuri artist, or who grew up with Papuri Music. Except probably Irl and me (don’t ask why, that’ll need another blog). So the story that I heard tonight had me wishing I could have recorded it verbatim.
Romy Dinglas is called Ama (father) ng Papuri because he has the distinction of being the first Filipino Gospel recording artist. He began his story in 1961. “I don’t think anyone here was even born yet at that time,” he quipped. He told of his search, how in spite of having joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the family had bought and would read a Christian bible. He was struck, he said, by Jesus’ words: “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Sometime later, he heard a preacher whose sermon (he’s forgotten what it was about) burned into his mind that “There is only one!!!” He surrendered his life to Christ, accepting the forgiveness this Savior offered, and began following Him as his Lord. The family didn’t accept his decision at first, but eventually they recognized Jesus as true God and Lord. “They’re in heaven with him now,” he said of his parents.
I love his first song, Cross for a Crown: “He took my cross, and gave me a crown. He lifted me up while He laid Himself down.” Such a perfect description of what Jesus did for us! The only song he sang that I really knew was When God Ran by Benny Hester. The others most of the audience recognized. Even in the chat room, the viewers were reacting excitedly to the song choices. Everyone was glued to the man on the stage.
He told us of his battle with prostate cancer, and a particular verse that comforted him during the time when the doctors feared that maybe even his bones were affected: He shall heal your bones. It made him cry with gratitude. He went through the scan, and when finally the results came, for some reason he and his lovely wife Nelly got a bit confused.
“Romy, you’re negative!!”
“Is that good? What does that mean?”
We all laughed as he related how his doctor patiently explained to them that “negative” means there was no cancer found in him. At one visit to his oncologist (cancer doctor), he was told: “This is the last time I will be seeing you.”
For some reason – again – he seemed to take that, pardon the pun, negatively. So the doctor told him, “You won’t need to see me anymore, you are 98% healed.” Then the doctor added something that impressed him: “Only God gives 100%.”
He has been cancer-free since 2002.
Because I was manning the chat room, I wasn’t able to take notes of Romy Dinglas’ story. As I tried speed-reading through Proverbs to find the verse he referred to, I encountered at least thrice the term “cancer to the bones.” And it didn’t talk about cancer cells. The writer was talking about people who deal badly with you. I realize now that this is how the Lord is leading me to write about Romy Dinglas. One who survived not just physical cancer, but relational cancer.
He had moved to the US with his wife and son Given (daughter Vanessa was already a citizen) because he had been hired to work in a church. On his papers, the statement was that he would be paid $2000 a month. To their surprise, only $1000 was being handed to them. This came to the ears of a godly man who confronted the pastor about his injustice. So he started giving Romy cheques for $2000.
With instructions to return $1000 to him personally.
“I don’t know if he gave it back to the church budget,” Romy told us. My critical self whispered to Ian the photographer: “If it was written out to the man and not the church, why should he give it to the church?” Grrrr….
But in filing their taxes, this came out. To avoid charges of fraud, the pastor decided to just let him go.
This was during the time he still had prostate cancer. And something unfortunate happened to him then.
While waiting to pick up his son from school, he felt the need to go to the bathroom. He went to a nearby park with a public restroom, a park that was dealing with a particular problem: a flasher was on the loose.
From outside the bathroom, a plainclothes officer heard him moaning (in pain because of the cancer), came in and saw him, as Romy described literally, “with his pants down.” When he left the bathroom, he was arrested as a sexual offender. No investigation or questioning, it seems, happened.
This gave the cheating employer the idea to save himself: “I let Romy Dinglas go because he is a sexual offender.” I kid you not when I say the hall became quiet with angry tension.
Without a job, they would soon be deported. This was when daughter Vanessa came to the rescue, stepping in as petitioner. Although this would possibly separate them from their son, the family accepted this option. While they waited for his interview, they were praying hard, and for one thing in particular:
“Lord, please give me a kind immigration officer to interview me.”
It was hilarious when he described how terrorizing US Immigration Officers can be. With good reason, of course, because this was after 9-11. “They look like monsters!” had us all laughing (we even had a “guess the laugher” moment in the chat room. I finally owned up when I realized the mike for the live webstream was literally in my face: Ian’s laptop).
Then a young, handsome, well-dressed immigration officer came out. “Romeo Dinglas?” he called out. Kuya Romy knew for sure this was God’s answer to his prayer. As he rose to meet the officer, the young man asked: “Where is Vanessa? Where is the petitioner?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, she’s not with me, we didn’t know.”
“Hmm…she should be here. Never mind, come in, I’ll interview you.”
The family knew that his arrest would be an issue, and they had been praying for consideration about it. The immigration officer didn’t beat around the bush. He addressed the arrest immediately. Romy didn’t deny it. Then to his surprise, the young man asked:
“Can you tell me what happened?”
Romy told him everything. At the end of his story, the officer asked another question:
“How are you now? How is the cancer?”
To which Romy humbly replied: “I’m cancer-free. The Lord has healed me.”
The officer then told him that he couldn’t be approved that day because, due to his arrest, his name would have to go through the FBI for clearance.
“Maybe three days. Maybe a week. Maybe a month.” Longer and longer! “Maybe a year.”
Then to his surprise, the young man escorted him to the entrance. This emboldened him to admit another concern.
“My son is turning 21 in three months. We don’t want to leave him behind.”
“Here’s what to do: As soon as you get your green card, immediately petition your son.”
So they waited. Three days. No call. One week. No call. As the one month approached, he spent the night crying out to the Lord. The concern, again, was not for himself, but for his son to be able to come to the US before his 21st birthday. Every day of delay of the green card was torture.
“One month” morning came. Doorbell. Nelly answers the door and receives a packet. It is from Immigration. Fearfully, she opens it. What she reads shocks her into speechlessness, that all she can manage is to call her husband over and over.
Romy, for his part, could not read the letter because he had left his glasses in the garage where he had spent his night praying. He has the packet with him as he puts on his glasses. Then he sees the first line:
“Welcome to the United States of America.”
And Romy tells us his reaction after his initial “Hallelujah!!!”:
“Tagal ko na rito, ngayon ‘nyo lang ako na-welcome…” (I’ve been here so long, you’re only welcoming me now?)
But this, sadly, was not the end of the external cancer that plagued him. The news of his arrest had spread to the Philippines, and for some reason, as all rumors do, escalated to “pedophile.”
He publicly thanked Cindy de la Paz – Lacanilao, who, when the word got to her, immediately called him and asked about it. He was able to tell her the truth, but the damage had been done. Many, it seemed, were content to believe the evil rumor. And even when news came that he finally got his green card, the detractors were saying it was probably fake.
Several times Romy would say: “I won’t name names, some of you know who they are.”
That was painful to hear, because it could only mean one thing: the wagging tongues were in the mouths of Christians. But to this, Romy said:
“I pray a blessing over them. I release them to the Lord.”
I looked at the faces of the audience, especially those whom I knew were close to Romy Dinglas and loved him as their brother. Their faces were set, not angry, but not happy, definitely. And considering how I, a first-time audience of Romy Dinglas, was affected by the story and was struggling against “third-party offense” (being offended in behalf of someone else), I understood the stony silence.
After sharing his story, Mark called on Philip Tarroja, Gospel Jam spiritual adviser and the Pastor ng Papuri (the Papuri artists say that he was the first of the artists to become a pastor), to pray for Romy Dinglas. We all stood with them, grateful for how God has been working in the life of this amazing man and his family. I know I’m grateful for the immense blessing of having heard his story, and being permitted to write about it for Gospel Jam.
We ended the night with a rousing Papuri Medley, where all the Papuri artists in the audience were pulled up on stage to sing. I wonder why Mark thought he needed Irl and me, the most clueless about Papuri songs in the room, for that song…
Daniel Mallari, the Papuri artist in the chat room, wrote in: “I still know that medley!!”
It was history unfolding all right. Another Papuri reunion in Gospel Jam, great songs, a story of vindication.
And the story of God’s power to heal cancer, from within and without. Kuya Romy’s first hit, I always hear from Mark, is Dios ng Himala. God of Miracles. And after hearing his story so far, I can hear this song not just with the voice of Romy Dinglas, but more loudly, with his life.