Worn Out Slippers

It was the time for celebration again. Our sisters who were working in Manila came home after a few years of work, brought presents for a family of 10 and shared about their experiences in the big city while we, kids, listened in wonder about stories of big supermalls, elevators, traffic, and the “glitter” of urban life. I was 11, we lived in the mountainous parts of Leyte, I’ve never seen a big bus, never been inside an air conditioned building, no idea what escalators were, and what it was like to speak Tagalog everyday.

My sisters’ vacation that time was different. They brought something new with them, something we never had in the house before: a big red Tagalog New Testament Bible with Psalms and Proverbs. It was the Good News version so there were stick drawings in the pages. Back then, it was easier for me to locate verses by just looking at the drawings.

Almost every day for one month, my sisters talked about God, heaven, forgiveness, discipleship, and lots of things about the Bible. The most fascinating thing about being a kid is that you easily believe things your family would tell you. I believed my sisters’ stories, got hooked with the Bible- being the nerd that I am- and took it upon myself to be the Bible expert in the house. I then became a Christian when I was in sixth grade.

After that long vacation, my sisters finally returned to Manila to get back to their jobs. My brothers and I, on different occasions without telling each other, prayed that God would send someone to teach us the Bible. On the day my sisters left, Louie (about 18 at that time) overheard a guy in the public market talking about Jesus. He listened for a while and later told the guy that we also believe the Bible. He invited the unknown guy to our house 10 kilometers away from the town.

That day before sunset, I saw the two of them walking down the hill toward our old house. I could still remember looking at the stranger clutching an old Bible in his right arm. He was later introduced to us as Rolly Batis. That night was the first time I heard someone preaching the Word of God in our kitchen. What didn’t occur to me that time was how strange it must have been for Rolly to risk hiking up a mountain for a Bible study and how trusting our parents were for allowing him to sleep in our house when we didn’t even know who he was.

The following morning, Rolly rose up early, took our guitar, went to the front yard, and started singing “Dakilang Katapatan.” I will never forget the chorus of that song: “Dakila ka O Dios tapat ka ngang tunay, magmula pa sa ugat ng aming lahi…” I cried when I heard it. We were just a poor family: all of us slept in one room sharing one big, frayed mosquito net and had sacks of wheat flour to keep us warm. When I heard that song about God’s faithfulness through all generations, I got a sense that God was about to change the course of our lives. For some reason, I believed God sent Rolly to show us how.

Rolly became a family friend. He would hike ten kilometers every Friday just to get to our house. Nobody asked him to do it. I guess I’ll never fully understand what was with our family that made him come back every week for years. We were just a bunch of kids who just happened to be interested in hearing the Word of God. My father and mother were never interested in his preaching. I think they just accommodated him because his presence kept us from staying up late in other people’s houses on weekends.

These things happened more than seventeen years ago.

This morning (Sunday, September 20, 2009) Pastor Jonathan Bocobo preached about missions in Victory Caloocan. He mentioned Romans 10:15 in passing but my heart skipped when he read it. “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things!” It was only today that I fully grasped what Isaiah was saying. I remember looking at the slippers outside our door when I was a kid. It always made me glad whenever I see an extra pair of worn out slippers because that would mean that Rolly was inside our house talking to my father, speaking words of life in a poverty stricken household.

From those very humble beginnings, with the Word of God planted in our hearts during our younger years, we, the Agot siblings moved out of our village to study, work, and find our place in this world. In a decade, God blessed us so much that we went on to become a family of businessmen in Manila.

Rolly never saw all of these. He later moved to a different part of the country and four years ago I learned that he died. He was 39. I don’t really remember if I had actually thanked him enough for all the sacrifices he did for us. I don’t think he knew what kind of people we have become here in Manila, how God is using my siblings in different volunteer ministries, and how much the Lord is using me in the church. Rolly took the time to hike ten kilometers every week just so he can disciple a bunch of unknown kids in a remote area in Leyte.

Today I honor Rolly, a missionary to the Agot family. I also honor the pioneers of Christianity in our little village in Kananga, Leyte, my sisters Lot and Bing. These are  the three people who had no idea that what they were doing is now sending ripples outside our little village. To you guys, thank you for the big red Tagalog Bible and the worn out slippers in my doorsteps.