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Christian Life Sharings – Part 1

I Was A Prisoner

July 4, 1992. Two paths were laid before me by the Lord to choose from. I was already serving as a Barangay Kagawad when my parents invited me to become a Household Head in CFC (Couples For Christ). When I was about to go to the CFC Household Heads Training, I was ordered by my Barangay Captain to take charge that very night of the peace and order of the barangay benefit dance. I didn't personally want to become a Household Head, so instead of following my parents advice, I went to the dance to obey my barangay superior. Though I came at the service of peace, I realized only too late that I would end up in jail that very night. Military men arrested me on the charge of “illegal possession of firearms” and put me behind bars at the military camp in the municipality.

July 26, 1994. I was convicted and sentenced “from 12 years, 5 months and 11 days to 13 years, 8 months and 1 day” imprisonment. This was a big blow not only to me but more so to my loving wife and kids whose future from then on became uncertain. I succumbed to guilt. I started to really pray like I never did before - I asked forgiveness from the Lord day in and day out in my cell at the Biliran Provincial Jail. I earnestly desired my now-lost freedom.

August 12, 1995. CFC Biliran celebrated its anniversary. I was given leave to join the celebration. I took that opportunity to seek moral support from my CFC brethren by way of affixing their signatures to a formal petition I had written, vouching for my personal integrity. Together with resolutions from four barangay councils supporting my claim, constant prayers from my mother and friends, and my own Holy Rosary “Crusade” every 6:00 pm, I submitted my petition with firm hope for my release - this time from the Prison Camp in Muntinlupa.

October 18, 1995. My claim for the Lord's mercy was realized. It was also a birthday gift to my beloved mother. I was given clemency and released the day following my mother's birthday.

April 28, 1996. With my newfound freedom I returned 6 months later to the Biliran Provincial Jail, not anymore as a prisoner, but as a free man with a mission from the Lord. With the help of a few CFC brethren from Naval, Biliran, I worked for the opening of a CLP for the inmates of the jail, most of whom used to be my comrades-in-prison. I wanted to tell them of the goodness of God, of His saving grace. This being the work of the Lord, the CLP transformed not only persons but also the whole atmosphere of the Biliran Provincial Jail.

October 2, 1997. A second CLP one and a half years later at the Biliran Provincial Jail gave back to the Lord new committed servants in the CFC. Further improvements in the living conditions and relationships inside the barracks were realized through their concerted efforts. Personal and common prayers have become a stronghold in this once-forsaken place.

Now I fully realize that, through those years of disgrace and pain, God has prepared me to be His bearer of Christ's light to the captives. And I deeply feel like being an instrument of the Lord: a humble lamp hidden inside a container now uncovered to shed light on others. By: Nestor Callao.

The Path Of Peace

We joined the Couples for Christ movement in Tanzania at its cradle stage as if by chance in November 1995. One day, as I was about to leave for a 5-day Charismatic Leaders Retreat in Dar-es-Salaam, I met Esther Chilambo who told me that she had come across some people at St. Peter's Parish who were conducting a seminar for married couples. She informed me that she had been to the opening session of that particular seminar and that she was impressed by the renewal aspect which was communicated to her by the seminar team.

“By the way, who are the people conducting the seminar?” I asked.

“They are from the Far East. The Philippines, I think,” she replied.

This was enough to arouse my interest. I wanted to join the seminar which was taking place consecutively on Saturdays. But I was in a dilemma as I was due to go to Mabagala Spiritual Centre to attend a crucial seminar for leaders of the Charismatic Renewal. The seminar would take the whole week starting from that very weekend. Thus I doubted if I would ever get a chance to attend the married couples programme which Esther had just informed me about.

When I went back home, I shared this with my wife Hedwig. I was surprised that she jumped at the idea without the slightest hesitation. As far as she was concerned, my going to Mabagala would not hinder our participation in the Couples for Christ program. Hedwig decided that she would go alone to St. Peter's that weekend and I could join the seminar once I finished the Charismatic Retreat.

That is how we were trapped to join Couples for Christ. I use the word “trapped” because it was inconceivable for me to join another Church movement at that time as I was already heavily involved with other movements. I doubled both as prayer group leader in my parish and also as Chairman of the Diocese Evangelization Committee. These obligations were enough to keep me busy for the whole week as they ate a good chunk of my family time. I must say that this provided some rather serious difficulties between the two of us as I was committed to serve the Lord single-handedly. I had tried to interest my wife to join me in weekly meetings without success.

I was back home from the Mabagala meeting the following Friday. I was surprised to see Hedwig very excited about the Christian Life Program she had attended the other day at St. Peter's in my absence. Hedwig told me about her experience at the CLP - “Bernard, you should see these people. They are so much full of love. In fad some of them will come here this evening to give you some teachings so that you can cope with the remaining parts of the seminar.”

A few minutes later, Xavier Pejuan and his wife Marie arrived to give me the Orientation session. The following day I joined Hedwig for the CLP at St. Peter's.

On arrival at St. Peter's, I saw at once that Hedwig was right about Couples for Christ hospitality. This was my first time to meet Ponet and Kit Ladrido, Lito and Cely Pangan, and Fred and Connie Dimatera among others. What really touched me was the way Kit, Cely and Connie handled our son Damien, then a few months old. They petted and fondled him very affectionately. For me that was the visual evidence of total elimination of the color bar in the power of Jesus Christ.

Little by little we became familiar with Couples for Christ. On finishing the seminar, we made our commitment though Couples for Christ. My wife and I had both attended the Charismatic School of Evangelization in Uganda for 6 months in 1992. In fact, that was where we met for the first time. Hedwig was from Zimbabwe and I was from Tanzania. We remained for a further year of pastoral work in Uganda before getting married in Harare in August 1994. Even with that degree of involvement in the Renewal, I was in some sort of dilemma about the laissez-faire attitudes which went hand in hand with evangelization. Very much committed to evangelization as I was, as were my zealous brothers too, but here and there I was really disturbed about matters of authenticity which were caused by the vacuum of authority. So what really came to touch me with Couples for Christ was the clear authority executed in a very brotherly manner and yet effectively. The Couples for Christ is indeed Catholic in creed as well as in action.

There are 2 things which I need to share about before I finish this article. A few months after I joined Couples for Christ, I started experiencing serious back problems. This went on for about a year or so, until I was completely bedridden, Finally, it was diagnosed that I had spine and milliary tuberculosis. I was admitted at Muhimbili Hospital in Dar-es-Salaam. This was the time when I realized my joining Couples for Christ was actually providential. Members of Couples for Christ took care of me more than a blood brother would do. I remember my fellow patients whenever Filipino brothers and sisters came to visit me. Actually one couple made sure that they brought me lunch at 6 o'clock every day. The other patients would say, “These people really love you. Where are they from? How did you meet them?” Again, brotherly love is manifested through these brothers and sisters.

My other very tangible testimony is the harmonization of our family life and the growth of daily family prayer. This is all due to God through the Couples for Christ. I must say that our infant marriage was in crisis before we joined Couples for Christ. The change in our marriage relationship came gradually through executing the commitments we made for Couples for Christ, our attendance of the formation programs especially the Marriage Enrichment Retreat, and especially attending the weekly prayer meetings and the daily family prayer. Not to forget the daily personal prayer. God has already blessed us with 2 wonderful children, Damien (2-1/2 years) and Paul (6 months). Even with the trials and sufferings of life, I dare say that we have discovered the path of peace. By Bernard Mapalala

Continue to Part 2

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