Core Evolution: Journey of an undaunted core


The JFCM Youth Camp core and staff, 2012-2016

As part of the tag of the revived JFCM general youth camps, the phrase “our camp” holds a more personal meaning for those of us who have lived and breathed it way beyond the three days and two nights.

From thinking about what theme to pursue and what name to call it, up to which portions of the program need to be bumped off or will wake-up call be moved, we’ve seen it all, zoomed in and zoomed out.

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To Saudi with ‘Love’

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Andy and Mabel in Polaroid

In Polaroid.

It was a crazy idea. She was already an up-and-coming manager in a Makati-based firm. Her husband was an architect abroad. They already had a house, a car, and two rowdy toddlers. And now he wanted them to live with him in a country she’d never been to?

Her hubby–they called each other ‘Love’–wasn’t away for too long anyways. He regularly flew home–but not for long. Like many wives in similar situations, she also earned her share in the family budget, took care of the kids, and eagerly waited for each letter, photo, or cassette tape that came in the mail.

She was already used to the state of things. Leaving that and practically starting a new leaf just didn’t seem right.

And yet in 1994, barely six years after getting married to Andy Bagaoisan, Mabel and her sons Anjo, 5, and Nico, 3, boarded a direct flight to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Alone in Las Pinas: Mabel, Nico, Anjo

Alone in Las Pinas: Mabel, Nico, Anjo

At the back of her mind, Mabel could not yet shake off her uneasiness. It was summed up in one question: What would she do there? Her parents had asked her the same. Her boss did too, as he tried everything just so a company asset wouldn’t leave. In Saudi, she knew, she would go from career woman to housewife. Was she ready for it?

Then again, this was her chance to live out married life with Andy full-time. He had flown to Saudi just months after they became an item, and came home 2 years later to get married. Since then, he only visited Manila a handful of times. It paid off: he was now in a stable post designing for a major developer in the capital, Riyadh.

Mabel was unsure where this new chapter would bring her family, but she trusted Andy and his plans.

Life in Riyadh was hot, boring, and restrictive, especially for women. Mabel had to get used to not being able to go out just any time, and whenever she could, going out wearing the black abaya, not getting to drive, and more so, not having maids around.

At least there, families enjoyed more benefits and preferential treatment than single expats. Mabel grew at home with her new routine. She and Andy learned to split and alternate housework with kid-caring duties. And she soon became pregnant with their first daughter.

First family pic in Riyadh.

1995: First family pic in Riyadh.

But in religiously conservative Saudi, Mabel and Andy found the biggest, most unlikely change–a deeper, renewed faith.

It came to Andy first–through other Filipinos who invited him to gatherings held clandestinely under the radar of the mutawa or religious police. These meetings in houses or in the desert focused on studying and living out the Bible and stressed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. With it he found a new direction and a new community of brothers and sisters.

At first, Mabel resisted Andy’s efforts to share with her what he had found. Again, it seemed crazy, and went against all she was long used to.

But love won out. He was faithful and patient despite their momentary differences. She gradually saw the bigger Love behind his actions for her. Soon, she decided that as she went where her husband went, she would love God as he had come to love Him. Their family became part of a spiritual family–a church.

What once were four now grew to six. Two more A’s added to the mix: Andrebelle and Andric Mark. As the older boys entered grade school, Mabel gradually got to work again–first as a pre-school teacher and later as an accountant. Between engaging their school’s PTA and a few Filipino community groups, the family’s life revolved around that of their church.

2000: From four to six.

2000: From four to six.

The 12 years that followed my dad and mom’s decision to live together in the land of sand and camels were not perfect or smooth, but they were surely the most memorable.

For my siblings and me, it was a coming of age, a steady growth in our awareness of life. It was also a chance to witness how our parents loved and respected each other and their decisions. If they had disagreements, they spared us from seeing that. We saw how faith led them in guiding how they managed our family.

My mother would look back on her uneasiness in going to Saudi with a smile. She’d long realized that she had followed a plan greater than my father’s. They learned to love each other more, and to bring one important person into their relationship–God.

Call it a crazy idea, but it was a trip worth taking the risk.

08092014406 copy

Shot in 2000.


This is the long-overdue follow-up to the love story of my parents, which I first wrote for their 25th wedding anniversary last year. Read about how they first met here.

Special thanks go to Sushmita Chim, Anna Marie Pagtabunan, Aljan Quilates, and Hiyas Villanueva, communication graduates of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM) who found my blog and thought my parents’ story a fitting profile for their thesis on lives touched by the Light Rail Transit. I used a part of their interview with my parents as a source for this post.

A patch of buried dreams

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Life after Yolanda, Log 4

The mass grave in Barangay San Joaquin, Palo, Leyte, with the barangay chapel in the background.

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

PALO, LEYTE—Walk through this lot of makeshift graves and read the stories written on each mound and marker.

They are rolls of names etched by felt-tip pens on boards fastened to sticks. The lists number from two to ten to twenty, some too long to fit. Their surnames, often the same: spouses, children, and in-laws bound together in their last hours and in their final rest.

Beside the names, just dates of birth. Everyone here knows when all these people died. Many of the birth years are only past 2000.

Lit candles litter the mounds. Among them are keepsakes of the departed and offerings to the missed. Flowers—some real, some plastic. Rosaries. Stuffed animals. Watches. Bracelets. Portraits. Canned sardines. Biscuits. Containers of coffee and chocolate milk. Soda in half-empty bottles. Rice and pansit in aluminum foil.

Memorial markers in Palo, Leyte of people killed  during Typhoon Yolanda. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

A statue of Jesus Christ of the Sacred Heart towers over the graves—one arm outstretched, the other broken off. An eerie fit to this sudden cemetery along the highway of Palo, Leyte.

But the kids here say this was once a grass yard, the de facto plaza of the church of Barangay San Joaquin. Youth groups would practice hip-hop dances here.

Then came Yolanda.

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Of memorials and moving forward

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Life after Yolanda, Log 3

Banner in Tacloban City says "Arise and Shine Tacloban -- God is with us." (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

One of many statement banners in downtown. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

TACLOBAN CITY—The longer our news team has been here, the daily grind of stories we’ve been telling in post-Yolanda Leyte and Samar has looked back less on the tragedy we’ve seen and has turned instead to the mechanics of moving on.

We see more people walking the streets during the day, especially in downtown. Sidewalk stalls selling everything from fruit to fashion are flocked with buyers. And except for the torn roofs and the tenantless ruins left as scars of the storm, it seems it’s business as usual.

We’ve reported on how businesses have begun opening again and on how clean water and electricity need to be restored fast. At our news team’s impromptu story conferences over breakfast, we’ve called these updates “normalization” stories.

But what here is normal? It’s a word that Tacloban vice mayor Jerry Yaokasin hears often (usually from reporters) yet questions.

“We cannot say the city is now normal, because we will never be normal again,” he told them.

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It all started on a train

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Mom Dad Wedding day kiss compressed

I did not ride the country’s first Light Rail Transit line in Manila until I reached college, but the LRT fascinated me growing up.

Not just because I haven’t ridden, much less seen, a train before, but more so because I frequently heard about it each August. In a way, it was the reason why I and my siblings are alive.

The story is hardly heard in detail, but we all know the gist—that my parents first met on this train in 1987.

It wasn’t one of those romance plots where at one look, love struck. In fact, as my mom tells it, she was scared that some stalker had taken a fancy on her.

It turned out they both left the Redemptorist Church in Baclaran one Wednesday and boarded the train at the adjacent LRT station.

Ma. Bella Saquido noticed a man eyeing her from an opposite seat. The guy had a companion, so she ignored the gaze. When she got off the train, she found herself being followed by him.

Her walking became brisk before she broke off into a run, but the man caught up with her. Catching his breath, he told her that he just wanted to introduce himself.

He gave her his calling card and left. She was startled when she read it: “Andy P. Bagaoisan, Architect.” It was one of the qualities she had been praying for in a suitor.

Andy, an associate at a retailer of locally-made furniture, was simply struck by the fair-skinned 27-year-old office manager.

But they would not meet again until Mabel’s brother Art arrived from abroad. They were furnishing a house and he was looking for narra fittings. Her store recommendation came instantly.

Aside from finding that he and Art came from the same university, Andy soon learned that courting Mabel also meant courting her conservative Albay-based family.

The son of Ilocano parents from Isabela, he began studying Bicol to gain an edge. It backfired though when it turned out that he learned a slightly different dialect of the tongue.

Nevertheless, his courting gained fruit. Mom says what got to her was seeing dad’s faith. When he visited them, he did not shirk when mom’s father Blas had him lead the rosary.

Soon, the two were engaged, but Andy went abroad to work. So his father Benjamin went down from Isabela for the “pamamanhikan” and met Mabel’s parents for him.

Andy returned for a short period just for the wedding. The place: Ermita Church. The well-chosen date: August 8, 1988. They were both clad in white, both their parents bringing them to the altar, and both of them vowing a promise of love through thick and thin.

My parents’ love story is a journey that flew them half way across the world and back, took them to a deeper faith in God, and brought out their devotion to their vows and to each other.

Their spirituality would define that journey. After all, before they took that train, they were offering separate prayers at a church nearby. Little did they know there was a bigger plan for them.

This August marks my parents’ 25th year as husband and wife, and this story begins my own Agosto series about them (after a friend who pens condensed short stories in Filipino dubbed as such for his blog). A personal way of honoring them in their silver anniversary.

Mom Dad Wedding day doves compressed

The Bookshelf: ‘Calculating God’

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

"Calculating God" by Robert J. SawyerWould we treat the truth differently depending on who tells it?

In “Calculating God”, authored by science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer (of “FlashForward” fame), a Canadian paleontologist is surprised to find he is the first human being asked for by the first extraterrestrial who visits Earth.

When Dr. Thomas Jericho meets Hollus, a Forhilnor from a planet in the constellation Hydrus, he is surprised to learn that the alien is also a scientist here for research. What startles him more is the alien’s research goal: to find God.

He is used to hearing it from other humans. Now the atheistic Jericho is forced to confront arguments for an intelligent designer of the universe from not just one, but two other species more scientifically advanced than humans.

He soon learns from the Forhilnors and the Wreeds (of a planet in the constellation Pavo) that all their races had developed—evolved—simultaneously, and that crucial cataclysmic events intervened in their history at the same times. What they don’t know is why.

Jericho faces his own beliefs about God as his interactions with Hollus deepen and he comes to terms with his own mortality.

The question of God’s existence is hardly a given in science. Often it is a personal matter and one supposedly confined to the realm of religion and opinion. In one of Hollus’ and Jericho’s early conversations, it is the alien’s turn to be surprised that a creator is not considered scientific fact here.

“There is no indisputable proof for the big bang,” Hollus told Jericho. “And there is none for evolution. And yet you accept those. Why hold the question of  whether there is a creator to a higher standard?” Jericho knows no good answer.

Robert J. Sawyer navigates this search for God well—acknowledging it as a single person’s journey, yet never forgetting the global repercussions. He probes thought-provoking questions and puts in a backgrounder of the creation-evolution debate.

Artist James Beveridge's impression of the extraterrestrial Hollus and human Dr. Thomas Jericho from Robert J. Sawyer's novel "Calculating God"

Hollus and Dr. Jericho as drawn by artist James Beveridge.

More admirable are the well-thought-of details: how the aliens look like and how their minds work as a result of their biological makeup. Hollus even pokes fun at popular culture’s images of extraterrestrials and how they are hardly different from humans.

As Sawyer presents what seems to be the majority view of the scientific community against divinity, he also goes the other way. Jericho’s wife is a churchgoer whose belief in God is a source of comfort but is not overtly deep.

Sawyer devotes more space to the other end of the spectrum: “Christian” extremists who resort to bombing abortion clinics and even natural museums. To them, fossils are “tests”, deceptions created by the Devil.

One question undeniably comes up when reading—on which side does Sawyer lean? He ends up portraying a different image of God, which accompanies Dr. Jericho’s “see it to believe it” mindset.

Then again, Jericho’s thoughts also answer that by pointing to “Contact,” a novel by U.S. astronomer Carl Sagan. There the known atheist writes that an intelligence “antedates the universe”.

“Carl was no more obliged to believe what he wrote in his sole work of fiction than George Lucas was required to believe in the Force,” mused Jericho.

The God they find might not meet the expectations of those with a firm belief of the divine. For others, it may be as real as they expect it to get. The book is fiction, yet the question of what to do about God is the query of the ages.

It does seem that to the believer, no evidence will be necessary, and to the unbeliever, no evidence will be enough. But like the climax of “Calculating God”, the day will come that this question will be answered beyond any doubt.

Previous “Bookshelf” picks:

Pinoy PWDs say ‘Never give up’ with Nick Vujicic

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Inspirational speaker Nick Vujicic speaking to an audience at the SM Mall of Asia in Manila (Shot courtesy of Nick Vujicic, May 20, 2013)

(Shot courtesy of Nick Vujicic)

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.

Mixed audience of abled and disabled persons at limbless preacher Nick Vujicic's meet and greet in Manila. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan, May 20, 2013)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

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.”

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The core behind ‘Breakthrough’

(Shot by c/o Jeruel Pingol & Jace Carag)

Presenting the BREAKTHROUGH Camp Core Staff.

They’re from varying places–Cavite, Mandaluyong, Pasay, Caloocan, Rizal. The youngest hasn’t had a debut yet and the oldest are way past youth camp attendance.

But God brought them together for a purpose–to see Him work mightily in youths brought together to know Him and each other more.

It wasn’t easy. For a number of us, it was our first time attending a large-scale camp and we were already thrust into staff roles.

The discussions during the year-long planning sometimes brimmed with heat. Things sometimes didn’t go as planned. In the three days at camp, we had to improvise or fast-track events with a jumbled schedule.

Yet we had fun. We prayed together. We laughed at teases and unintended blunders. We appreciated the home-cooked lunches and the pa-libre of take-out food during meets.

And we are thankful for the guidance of those who had gone through what we were only now going through.

More so, our belief and purpose was one. This is our generation, our camp (the first for our church after 10 years), but the God who moved in camps of years past is still full of surprises.

And He delivered.

All for God, and all to God. I thank Him for letting me be part of this league of extraordinary men and women.

And as much as we hope the Breakthrough campers found new lifelong friends in the camp, I know we ourselves have found a barkada of brothers and sisters.

May this be only the beginning of greater things in store for the JFCM youth!


Top row (L-R): Ezekiel Brizuela, Anjo Bagaoisan, Jeruel Pingol, Alvin Funa, Lee Hansiel Lim, Nico Bagaoisan, Paul Gacusan
Bottom row (L-R): Pia Soliman, Abigail Valenzuela, Mitch , Arlien Sion, Ronabelle “Lee” Usman, Anna Pingol-Bartolome, Anne Rose Bobis, Meg Gallo, Estef Vergara, Paula Pacleb, Lucky Azul, Jovy Llaneta

War and grace

Live from Maguindanao, Day 13
2 days before Halalan 2010

KORONADAL, SOUTH COTABATO–“More so, let us ask God to give us leaders we do NOT deserve.”

Pastor Jorem was leading the congregation in prayer. The singing had already ended and he was laying out the church’s petitions. Number one on their list: the May 10 elections.

This still is Mindanao–Koronadal or Marbel, to be exact. And this is Marbel Evangelical Fellowship, a church of 50 plus that I had the privilege of joining last Sunday.

And this is probably the farthest church I’ve attended since my years in Saudi Arabia. UP schoolmate Lance Catedral, here on vacation, brought me along.

Where I come from, in-depth prayer sessions spring up only in prayer meetings. At MEF, every Sunday involves members sharing their requests and thanks, then offering them up as one.

Welcome to one aspect of the elections forgotten in the revelry, the excitement, and the mudslinging.

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