By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
In between his sold-out appearances at the Christ’s Commission Fellowship in Pasig and at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Cubao, Nick Vujicic (pronounced Voo-yee-cheech) stopped by the SM Mall of Asia for a quick meet and greet.
The free-entrance event lasted only 20 minutes, but it was the opportunity of a lifetime for those with whom the limbless preacher’s life story and message would resonate the most: Filipino Persons With Disability (PWDs).
The mall managed to get the Serbian-Austalian inspirational speaker for the benefit of several local PWD organizations, whose members made up over a fourth of the 200-plus attendees at the mall’s Music Hall.
Persons in wheelchairs strolled to their places at the front fringes of the laid-out seats. Children and their parents walked in, wearing green shirts that said “Autism Angel”. Many who arrived approached and greeted old friends.
Among them were a dozen members of the Las Piñas City PWD Federation. Some carpooled to the mall in their barangay service vans. Others rode private cars. Family members or personal assistants accompanied them.
They, like many who first saw Nick live in Manila over the weekend, found him through the Internet. On Facebook or YouTube, they saw how he overcame his disability to personally inspire millions.
Surely capping it all would be a personal encounter with a man who, even without his extremities, has gone surfing, swimming, skydiving and has started a family.
“I heard they bring (Nick) near the exit so that people can talk to him or touch him as they leave, ” Al, a visually-impaired man in his thirties told fellow Las Piñas PWDs on the way to the mall. “I hope they also do that here.”
‘The worst disability’
A standing ovation met Nick Vujicic as he was carried onstage from a car parked outside. Perched on a wooden table, Nick wore a gray collared shirt, sleeves inserted back in their sockets, and denims cut into shorts.
An avalanche of people wielding cameras, tablets, and cell phones soon welled up to the foot of the stage.
After saying “Hi”, Nick told the crowd to return to their seats so they wouldn’t block the others’ view. Enthusiastic voices shouted “Yeah!” as they dispersed, leaving only a few like a lady in red sitting on a wheelchair.
A woman near her sat cross-legged, watching not Nick, but the female teacher onstage who was signing the entire talk.
Noticing those in wheelchairs, Nick began: “There are times in life when we have fear that disables us more than our physical limitations. We have ups and downs. You see my foot?” He waved his left appendage in a surfing motion as the audience laughed.
Amid those fears, Nick wanted his listeners to discover three truths to life: that they were beautiful the way they were, that they had a purpose, and that they had a future.
“Fear of being alone is the worst disability of all,” Nick said.
He recalled meeting Daniel, a two-year-old baby, at one of his speaking events seven years ago. Up until then, Nick had never met anyone else like him. Seeing himself in the boy, Nick promised the parents he would one day visit Daniel’s school and speak about bullying. That visit years later helped Daniel get accepted in his school.
“When you don’t have a miracle, you can still be a miracle for someone else. When you don’t have a true friend, you can still be a true friend for someone else,” he said.
Raising his belief in Jesus Christ, Nick said he’d rather help bring someone to heaven or work for peace than gain arms and legs.
“Having arms and legs doesn’t give you purpose, doesn’t give you strength, but the strength comes from your attitude and your faith to overcome,” he said.
Growing up in a developed country was not all privilege for Nick. He said the government could not assist him in his college education. Instead, a non-profit organization helped him finish a double degree in Accounting and Financial Planning. This opened many doors for him.
“(They) decided not to wait for the government to help. They decided not to wait for the rich people to help. But everyday Australians decided to help fellow Australians,” he said.
“It’s amazing when Filipinos help Filipinos and do simple acts of generosity. You do not know the impact you have on your country.”
On a wider scale, Nick’s message spoke volumes to the PWD community, who lost an attempt at representation in Congress during the just-concluded midterm polls. Even the electoral process posed many difficulties for PWDs who went out to vote.
“It’s a long journey,” said Nick of the path towards integration of Filipino PWDs.
“I am thankful for the Philippines because I’ve seen worse countries,” he said.“I’ve been in countries where they kill children because of their disability.”
“If you have a disability, don’t give up,” he said. “Until you give your broken pieces a chance, you’ll never know what beautiful things can come from your broken pieces. If I believed that I looked weird and I was worthless, then I wouldn’t be here today.”
“Keep going one day at a time, and together as a society, with the government, the business sector, and the education sector–with the media–we can continue to make a positive difference and progression for the people with disabilities here in the Philippines.”
Nick was not brought to the exit, but he remained onstage until he left, posing for photographs with mall officials and selected PWDs.
A long-haired woman in a wheelchair first came up through a ramp. Nick asked for a chair to move to so he could talk face-to-face with her. The woman wrapped her arms around him and came down smiling and teary-eyed.
A line of others on and off wheels waited beside the stage, but security men said they could no longer allow them up.
Ana Fe, a 46-year-old paraplegic with the Las Piñas PWDs, was among the last to have a pic with Nick. “He had a big smile and gave (a long) ‘Hi!’,” she said later.
Some spectators raised their copies of Nick’s books “Life Without Limits” and “Unstoppable”, asking for autographs. Nick’s assistant gathered the books, put a black marker on Nick’s mouth, and opened each copy for him to sign.
Saying this was not his last trip to the Philippines, Nick mouthed a goodbye and was carried back to his car. A number moved upstage for group shots against the blown-up images of Nick and his books’ covers. The stories were not over.
“He looks just like a mannequin,” said one.
Ana Fe said: “He speaks from the heart, that’s why it cuts deep.”
“You feel pity for him when you see him,” said Jay-R, a wheelchair-wielding bachelor from Las Piñas. “But he fights that.”
“His coming here to speak even in his condition makes you think that if he can do it, how much more could you? Your pity goes away. He becomes your idol.”
Nick earlier said: “If I had met someone like me, and they were happy, I’d know that I could be happy.”
For many of these Pinoy Persons With Disability, Nick Vujicic was someone like them who helped them say: “I will dream big, and I will never, ever, ever give up.”