Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Matt. 6:33.
I was then in my first year high school when a certain Pastor Ciriaco Lagunzad in Tagum City, now Davao del Norte, one afternoon gathered some students in our school and held a Bible study. I have forgotten the whole lesson of that first meeting, but Matthew 6:33 was the verse he used in teaching our class. He related his personal experience looking for money when he was a young Pastor. He said he prayed, “Lord lead me to a man who will buy from me a Bible”. Indeed, accordingly, he was led to a man who bought from him a Bible worth P5.00. During the time of President Manuel L. Quezon, this was a lot of money! I thought then that to look for money, it was only a matter of praying for it. Anyway, this verse which he required us to memorize by heart stuck to my mind and heart, especially because everytime he comes to teach our group once a week, he would first of all call one of us to recite this verse, until everyone in our class memorized the verse. Since then and up to this day, this has become my favorite verse in my life.
One other verse that he caused us to memorize by heart was John 3:16 which says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life”. These are the only two verses I can remember on all of those once-a-week Bible study classes that Pastor Lagunzad so devotedly and religiously conducted.
In seeking the kingdom of God first, I was led to the UCCP Church in Tagum City during my high school days where the cousin of my father, Petronilo S. Cariaga, who was then a Lieutenant in the Davao City Police Department and later a retired Police Colonel, was a pulpit minister every Sunday. To me then, he was the best preacher I ever heard, inasmuch as I have not known or heard of Billy Graham as there were no television sets then, and there was no radio where I was boarding. I would then look forward to every Sunday to hear him preach and be with him who would put his hands upon my shoulders. Oh, how I relish and enjoyed those younger days of mine!
One day, when I was in Davao City already practicing my profession as a young lawyer and already married with four children, the wife of my Uncle came to our apartment crying. She was crying because the lessee of her former low-cost Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) house which she was able to construct out of a P3,000.00 DBP housing loan, scolded and berated her youngest son who picked a mango fruit from the mango tree she planted beside her DBP financed apartment. She wanted to repurchase the apartment from Atty. Jesus V. Occeña to whom she gave as payment of the latter’s attorney’s fee for his legal services rendered to my auntie. The price in 1969 was P30,000.00 which was then a lot of money. Since I did not have that much cash, I requested her to negotiate payment by installment. She succeeded to negotiate a P10,000.00 downpayment and P5,000.00 yearly installment. I was able to pay this out of my retainer and notarial fee then from the Rural Bank of Tagum City.
I renovated the house completely using modern building materials then in use and using well selected molave and narra 3 x 8 wood for door and window jambs, alternate molave, tindalo and magachopoy for flooring, and narra for paneling. Except for the narra which abounds in our farm, all the hardwood I used came as donations from my clients. I have to ask my farmer- clients and they willingly gave. “Ask and it shall be given” is indeed true to life (Matt. 7:7). Of course, the mango tree had to be cut down to avoid a similar conflict as what happened in the past, and to give way to the renovation I introduced. Like the City of Rome, I built our residence in seven years because I did not borrow a single cent from the bank. Now, at present day cost and due to the passing of time, the lot and the renovated two-storey house is worth multi-millions. Praise God for his manifold blessings.
And because of the proximity of my new residence to the Davao City Foursquare Gospel Church, before the Church was fully airconditioned, I would hear the Pastor preach every Wednesday and Friday evenings and during Sunday mornings and evenings. I was first attracted to the golden voice of the Pastor, Rev. Thelmo Bringas, which was similar to that of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos, my idol as a lawyer and an astute politician. I requested my Policeman Pastor-Uncle, Col. Cariaga who has then become a minister of the denomination, to accompany me so I could listen to and personally see the Pastor with a golden voice. The subject of the preaching happened to be the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). I then thought that I was just like the rich man, not that I was rich and wear purple attire, or that I ate sumptuous food everyday, but because like the rich man in the parable, I was not concerned of spiritual things in life; that if I die then, like the rich man I would surely land in hell. Having been extremely blessed spiritually with the preaching, I returned to hear more on the preaching of the Pastor four times a week, until I became “addicted” that my week was not complete unless I go to church and hear the Word of God preached. Indeed, it is true that “Faith cometh by hearing the Word of God” (Romans 10:17).
Besides attending the services in Church, the Director of the Halls of Life Bible College then, Dr. Felipe S. Ferrez, Jr., who was the Sunday School teacher in the English class, wrote me a short enticing and persuasive note inviting me to his class. It was an honor and a privilege for me to be specially invited, so I attended the class. Again, I was so much blessed with the lesson that like one who has tasted a sumptuous food or menu from a restaurant, I always attended his class thereafter Sunday after Sunday which was held before the Sunday morning service.
Not so much busy then as a young lawyer, and having been invited to enroll in the Halls of Life Bible College by my other Sunday School Mentor, Rev. Elvie Carbajosa, I enrolled to take up the Standard Ministerial course for three years. There, I met a younger lawyer, Atty. Leonides T. Tan, who became my classmate and sparring partner. We graduated together in 1974. After graduation, I became a Sunday School teacher myself which paved the way for me to go to U.S.A. “the land of the brave and the free” at God’s sponsorship. I strongly believe this is God’s way in preparing me for this ministry of writing a column in our Saturday bulletin, which again is a special privilege extended to me by God through our fellowship’s well organized programming and administration.
In the middle 70’s, Rev. Veronico T. Suan who was then the spiritual adviser of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International, Davao City Chapter (FGBMFI this Chapter) invited me to attend the Saturday morning fellowship as the representative of our denomination. Of course, I obliged because again I considered it an honor and privilege to represent our denomination in such an “exclusive” organization of men in our city, and lo and behold! I met again my sparring partner and classmate Atty. Tan who was then the President of this chapter. Also, I found out that another lawyer, Atty. Raul O. Nengasca, was also a member of this fellowship, and a former President, succeeded by Atty. Tan. When Atty. Tan was promoted and appointed Field Representative for Mindanao, by God’s providence, I was elected in his stead, and I held the position for many years - - 17 years in all. I was able to invite Atty. Dick Togonon, but after establishing his own church and school, he stopped attending our fellowship. Among many others, I was able to bring in to our fellowship, such significant personalities as Engr. Abundio T. Merced, my client, who later became President of our Chapter. He, in turn, invited his best friend, Rey de Leon who was to assume the Presidency of a Rotary Club of Davao City but chose to give up his position and instead joined our fellowship. He was elected later as the Executive Vice President of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCCII). Rey de Leon sponsored me to become a member of the DCCCII, in which prestigious organization of businessmen and professionals in Davao City, I later became a President for two terms and Chairman of the Board (the highest position attained by any member) for one term. Rey de Leon was appointed by me as the Chairman of the most successful attendance-wise national convention in 1985 of FGBMFI in the Philippines up to this day, at the Central Bank Building at Davao City. He became one of the incorporators of FGBMFI, Philippine Chapter, together with Narciso Padilla, Rey Katigbak, Dr. Tony Yumang of Cebu, Atty. Leonides Tan and myself, among others.
I praise God that while some of those personalities I mentioned above are no longer active in our fellowship for having passed away to join the Lord God Almighty, and some for other reasons only God knows, I have remained with this fellowship and am lately christened “The Moses” of our fellowship. To God be the glory!
If there is anyone who enjoys happiness even in this life, it is the faithful followers of Jesus Christ. Their names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev. 20:12; 21:27; 22:19) elevated and greatly exalted to be partakers of salvation – heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ to an imperishable inheritance (Romans 8:17).
Seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness will result to happiness beyond measure because it is finding “wisdom and understanding” and the “merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies; and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. Length of days is in her right hand (I have reached beyond three score and ten like some of our faithful members such as Capt. Remy Celeste, Dr. Jake Cruzado, Engr. Rudy Junsay to mention some [Praise God]; and in her left hand riches and honor” (Prov. 3:13-16 KJV). By God’s grace, not to boast but only to prove the truth of the Word of God and the subject of this article, from literal rags to material riches generously bestowed by God to me which are the banana farm in Kapalong, Davao del Norte; the lots in Davao City; the Mitsubishi cars and Korean SUV and cars (I know of and have to love Mitsubishi and Korean cars only) and, of course, to God be the glory, a lucrative practice of the law profession, which is eloquently proved by God’s provision of a modest law office building in the heart of our City which I built in four years because again, I did not borrow a single cent from the bank.
The honors are my having been the longest serving President of our Chapter, my most treasured spiritual crown on earth; my having been elected the President of the largest Chamber of Commerce in Mindanao for two terms and Chairman of the Board for one term. I was appointed by President Fidel V. Ramos as management/employers representative in the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board-XI in 1994 which position of honor and prestige among business people, I hold to this day and which gives me an opportunity to appear on TV once in a while in connection with wage issues. This adds to my exposure to the business community and to the general public as a professional. My clients in the barrios would tell me, “Atty. I saw you on TV”! I asked them, “what did I say? They would invariably answer, “I can’t remember, I was so excited and proud to see my lawyer on TV”.
All of these I attribute to my having sought first the kingdom of God and his righteousness before my secular interests, and hopefully the crowning glory will be everlasting life and abode in a mansion in heaven (John 3:16). (FGBMFI Davao City Chapter Bulletin May 19, 2012)