A Time of Testing

My father died at an early age of 34 just when the Second World War ended leaving behind his young wife and seven children of two sons and five daughters: Olympia, Fe, Gloria, Oscar, Lydia, Phoebe and Pedro, Jr. My father, who was the principal school teacher and he was the sole breadwinner of the family. Without him, we had no dependable means of meeting our felt needs: the need to obtain education. We had to struggle against formidable odds in the midst of hard times in order to survive. Life’s difficulties seemed unbearable. Through it all, my mother persevered not only by dint of hard work and honest living but also because of her unwavering faith in the providence of God.

My mother was converted to the Protestant Evangelical Christian Faith accepting Jesus Christ as her Lord, Master and Savior. And she paid a high price for it. An uncle, the youngest brother of my father persecuted her. A rabid Roman Catholic, he could not accept that his brother’s widow would give up her Roman Catholic Faith. On one occasion, motivated by intense hatred and anger, he inflicted severe blows on her that she almost lost her life. That would have been the basis for suing him in court for human rights abuses. Because of her strong belief in God’s encompassing love made manifest in His son Jesus, my mother readily forgave my uncle. Jesus Christ, who suffered and died for the sins He did not commit was her exemplary model. And as my mother modeled it for us, her children too learned to forgive my uncle with love and understanding. In turn, all our family dearly loved our uncle.

My mother firmly believed that good education would ensure a bright future for her children. But that was easier said than done. We faced unsurmountable financial problems. To the “doubting Thomases” among her children, she would say with a sparkle of hope in her eyes, “The good Lord will provide.”

I worked myself through college and, at the same time, helped most of my sisters and a brother earn their college education. It was quite a struggle for me. There were times when we tasted the bitterness of failure. But in ways quite difficult for us to comprehend, we found strength to struggle for survival and to achieve good education. In the midst of hardships, I realized that I had been imbued with my mother’s life of faith and trust in God. That sustained me in my darkest hours. For having worked hard to support myself, most of my sisters and a brother, I came to be known as a “self-made” man. It is more apt to say, however, that it was my mother’s Christian example and influence that enabled me to do the right thing without being told - believe in what I do and what I believe in, for it is the greatest feeling in the world to overcome adversity, to do something of special family value when no one else says I can do it.

Triumphs and Joy

My mother’s God-centered life was the key to our success in our long and difficult struggle to earn a decent livelihood. Time and time again we felt as if a mysterious power from beyond was taking hold of us - lifting us up when we stumbled and fell, equipping us with courage and hope for our journey through life’s darkest shadows of anxiety, doubts and despair. She taught us to lead a disciplined life of prayer. Our moments of communion with God were like a wells-spring of living water in the desert of our lives. They refreshed us at the depths of our being.

By the enabling grace of God, our labors were rewarded. Most of my sisters, brother and I earned our college education. Subsequently, we became relatively successful practitioners in our chosen fields of endeavor. I, myself was employed at a Surigao Rural Bank and, for a number of years, at the Philippine Bible Society in Manila, Philippines. During my stint as a Chief Accountant of the PBS, I had an opportunity to come to the United States. I decided to strike my roots in this country. Meanwhile, my mother could now afford leisurely lifestyle with more time for engagement in the manifold activities of the local congregation, representing the Dorcas Society of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines to which she belonged.

My mother first came to the United States as an immigrant in the 80’s. She flew alone from Surigao to Manila and San Francisco, California, thence to Dallas, Texas. I met her at the San Francisco International Airport. That was one of the most happiest moments of our life. Our hearts were filled with unbounded happiness. With tears freely flowing from her eyes, she exultantly said, “Dodo, my cup runneth over”. A little prosperity could drive an opportunist away from God. That was not the case of my mother. For her, our relative prosperity, contentment and happiness were underserved blessings that God has bestowed upon us.

Home at Last

My mother made three visits with us in the United States right after she became a US immigrant in the early 1980’s, along with the untiring efforts and financial help of my late younger sister, Lydia. Each visit was a significant event, a joyous celebration of our purposeful life-style made possible by the grace of God. My mother could not carry out her plan to visit us for the fourth time. She died peacefully in her sleep at the home of my oldest sister, Olympia “Pening” Bonotan Avila Atis, in Mangagoy, Surigao del Sur, Philippines, at a ripe golden age of 84. Today, as we have done through the years, we celebrate her life which demonstrates the depth of what it means to say that God always cares (1 Peter 5:7).

Her Legacy

My mother’s memorial and burial services took place on August 9, 1992 with the Rev.Temistocles Onde and the Rev. Olympio Bonotan officiating during the entire morning Sunday Worship Service at the Mangagoy United Church of Christ.  I was pleasantly surprised to know that many of those in attendance thanked God for my mother.  In their personal testimonies, they credited my mother for the transformation of their spiritually aimless lives.  Through her, they came to know the costs and joys of Christian discipleship.  For me that was the greatest crowning achievement of my mother’s living life journey of devoted and faithful service to the Lord God.

Written By: Oscar “Dodo” Bonotan Avila

Carrollton, Texas, United States of America


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