On January 3, 2016, our church, New Life The Fort celebrated its 10th anniversary. We first started visiting in March 2012, intermittently, because at that time we were still members of another local church in Metro Manila. Although at that time, we had begun to sense a disquiet in our hearts that was confusing for me. I now see that the stirring was God’s call to “leave your family and go to the place I will show you.”
On our first visit to NLTF, a woman was preaching. She was quite stylish, and I loved how she was wearing PANTS!! She was all over the stage, her deep husky voice delivering and acting out lessons and punchlines as easily as if she was chatting with old friends, shifting effortlessly between English and Tagalog. We were laughing as much as we were learning.
Then, as I burst out laughing at a Tagalog punchline, I felt a sudden urgent tug on my sleeve. I turned to see my two daughters laughing, just before Roni whispered hurriedly:
“Mommy, what did she say?”
“You heard what she said in English?” I asked back.
“She just said the same thing, but she said it in Tagalog.”
That happened several times during that sermon. Yes, it’s odd that a Filipino family based in the Philippines would have kids who can’t speak the local language well. I’ll explain another time, okay?
But that was a pleasant shock for me: my daughters, who for the greater part of their then 11 years had sat quietly under English preaching in our former local church, were suddenly eager to grasp everything this new pastor they were hearing was saying. I was also grateful that my love for both languages made it easy for me to translate for them.
At the end of the service, they invited first-time visitors to receive gifts. I let Irl go, while I stayed outside, determined to remain anonymous. The lady I met via a Facebook group saw me, and as we started chatting, the pastors stepped out of the theater where NLTF held Sunday services.
“C’mon, I’ll introduce you to Pastora!”
So much for staying anonymous.
I followed her meekly, and was introduced to Pastor Mylene Evangelista. I found out that both her husband, Pastor Jocel Evangelista, and she were the senior pastors.
Kinda like Aquila and Priscilla in the bible!
The next Sunday, our girls stepped out of their bedroom at 1pm, all dressed up. Irl and I were lazing about, online.
“Mommy, aren’t we going to church?” Jodie asked me.
We were stunned, but I managed to reply:
“Sweetheart, remember we said we’d go to the 7pm service? We’ll leave at 4.”
For me, my daughters’ eagerness to go back to New Life was enough of a sign. Although our visits back then were irregular, one theme kept coming up and tugging at me whenever we were there.
But it was Pastor Mylene’s presentation of it that stayed with me the most:
“Those who are planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God. Where is God planting you? Stay in that house.”
Then her illustration, with matching dramatization: “Nakakita na ba kayo ng puno nagsabi, ‘ayoko na rito, lilipat ako!’ tapos tumayo, at naglakad?!” (Have you seen a tree say ‘I don’t like it here anymore, I’m moving!’ then it gets up and walks off?!)
I wanted to say, “Ents!!” But even as I chuckled, my heart was heavy. I prayed quietly:
“Lord, I’d love to stay here, but if You say go back to our home church, I will go. Please make it clear where You are planting us.”
Many assuring answers came to me, until I became certain about His direction. But Irl was asking for more.
“I just need one clear word. I also want to stay in New Life, but I want proof that this is God’s will, not just ours.”
That was June 24, 2012. God answered his question so distinctly, it was undeniable. I know the date, because I recorded it here. And it was Pastor Mylene whom the Lord used to seal the knowledge in our hearts.
And so we found our home. The Lord also gave me a chance to talk to our small group leaders in our former church and tell them what we believe He was leading us to do, and they released us with a blessing.
Beginning this year, though, Pastors Jocel and Mylene are moving to New Life Alabang in obedience to God’s call, and have charged us to continue in the grace of the Lord, and to continue to support the “man” of God in the church: Pastors Alvin and Michelle de la Peña.
We are blessed to release them as well, and blessed to be entrusted to our “new” pastors.
But I am forever grateful for my two princesses and my pastor. Because of them, I found the house God wants to plant me in, the courts where He will flourish me.
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day here in New Life — and we’re feelin’…