Losing a Son, Gaining a Family

Losing a Son, Gaining a Family

As a wife who had lost her husband early on, it was not easy for Emerlita to face yet another loss in the family. But God, through the church community, made His love felt amid all the pain and grief.

 

I came to know Christ in 1986 through a small community church in San Juan. Having Jesus in my life changed a lot in me. It made me strong in Him amid trials. And it made me find a community that stood with me as I faced some of life’s most painful hardships.

I have been a widow for more than 20 years now. When my husband, Danilo, passed away, I was left with my two sons—Ephraim and Jeremiah. They were only six and four years old then. The thought of raising them alone was painful, but the idea of explaining Danilo’s death to my innocent young boys was far more difficult. I was at a loss for words.

In the midst of all the grief, our family would get visits from the church community, offering comfort in whatever way possible. They made their presence felt every single day just by being there. It didn’t take long for the heaviness I was feeling to dissipate. A big chunk of the pain gnawing at my heart was replaced with peace.

Years passed, and by God’s grace, I was able to raise my sons single-handedly. Both of them grew up with so much faith in the Lord. Ephraim, my eldest, took on the responsibility left by his dad and became the man of the house. He became his younger brother’s source of strength and encouragement. He became an inspiration not just to Jeremiah but even to me.

Ephraim on top of Mount Pulag (January 2016)

Though it never showed, Ephraim was actually diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) when he was 19 years old. Despite that, he lived a life without a trace of cancer. He finished college, worked full-time, climbed up mountains, and actively served in the ministry. Most people who knew him had no clue that he was sick. They were all surprised when—like my husband—Ephraim, who was only 25 years old at that time, bid goodbye to our family, too.

Ephraim’s friends mourning his loss while celebrating his life during his funeral (July 2016)

On the day he passed away, God filled my heart with overflowing love from His people. Ephraim’s friends from Victory Alabang all came to give me and my family the emotional support we needed. His closest friends, without being asked, took the initiative of fixing all the necessary documents related to his death so I wouldn’t be burdened anymore. They raised funds, came every day, and made me feel as if Ephraim was still alive. In every one of them, I saw my son. Being with them was like receiving a big, reassuring hug from Ephraim.

God made His love felt through the church community that comforted me when my husband died, and He did the exact same thing when Ephraim passed away. He filled my heart with so much love through Ephraim’s friends who treated me like family.

Even after Ephraim was buried, his friends continued to check up on me and send me messages from time to time. They would cook up surprises, especially during Mother’s Day, and do everything they could to fulfill Ephraim’s promises to me when he was still alive. It was just overwhelming.

I may have lost a son, but I gained a family.

Every time I see them at church, or even at home when they visit me, I can’t help but thank the Lord. I feel His overwhelming love through them. Instead of being sad about being left behind once again, I feel a sense of joy knowing that I am never alone and there’s a church community that will always draw me closer to God.

Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant. Psalm 119:76

Being part of a church community means being part of a family. Painful trials may come and break our hearts at times, but through the encouragement of people around us, our faith in God can remain strong. We can be steadfast in our faith because there are people who are tirelessly making us feel loved and welcomed in God’s big family.

 

Emerlita is part of Victory Muntinlupa and continuously grows in her faith through the help and encouragement of her church community. Her younger son, Jeremiah, just graduated from college this month, fulfilling a long-ago promise he had made to his older brother, Ephraim.

Freed from the Past

Freed from the Past

Struggles in his past made it hard for Pao to believe that God could rewrite his story and free him from all the pain, guilt, and shame. But God proved to him that He can make all things new. Here is his story.

 

I grew up having a deep void in my heart.

All my life, I have never seen my dad. He was already married to another woman when he met my mom. It was not easy to grow up without a father and even harder to know that I was a product of a wrong relationship. It was difficult to carry the guilt and shame that went along with that knowledge.

In high school, I battled with identity issues. But instead of opening up to someone about what I had been feeling, I tried to cover it up by performing well in school. Seeing people getting ridiculed for acting differently made me feel afraid. I did everything I could and even entered a relationship prematurely just to dispel any possible doubts or suspicions about my gender identity.

When I went to college, however, I started to embrace the identity I thought I was running away from. I entered relationships that were not pleasing to the Lord and did things that pulled me away from Him. I thought I had freedom in doing things that only pleased myself. But I was wrong.

In 2009, my classmates invited me to attend a youth service at Victory Fort. I started attending regularly without really taking things seriously nor having the heart to honor God with the way I lived my life. But things changed after a while. I started feeling empty while doing the things that gave me temporary joy. I grew tired of jumping from one relationship to another. I felt empty. I felt a deep longing in my heart.

On July 9, 2011—while struggling to deal with so many things in school and in my personal life—I cried out to God. I emptied my heart to Him and poured out all my thoughts and doubts. I texted my classmates and asked them to join me in attending the youth service. I did not know that God had already planted seeds of His Word in my heart. That same day, I received Christ in my life and resolved to follow Him—no matter how hard. No turning back.

After I made a decision to follow Christ, He gave me the grace to withdraw from my old ways and led me to people who helped me grow in my faith. I attended discipleship classes and felt that He was preparing me to serve full-time in the ministry. I didn’t know that He was actually preparing me for something else.

Before I went on a short-term mission trip abroad, I met Jill. She was my schoolmate and she knew my past. Jill went through a lot in her family so I started praying for her. At that time, I was just asking God to help her grow in her faith and overcome her family’s plight. I did not know that eventually, I would ask God for more.

During my mission trip, God dealt with my growing feelings for Jill. I prayed and tried to run away from the idea of actually pursuing someone. I knew it would be difficult for her and for me. Jill knew everything about me, so I feared that she would reject me because of my past. But God gave me the courage to overcome all my doubts. After my mission trip, I admitted my feelings for Jill and told her about my intentions to pursue her.

Jill did not say “yes” right away, but after three months of praying about it, she allowed me to pursue her—regardless of what she knew about my past—and eventually agreed to enter a relationship with me. God gave her the grace to love and accept me for who I had been and who I am now.

Last year, after another short-term mission trip, I proposed to Jill. It was amazing how God prepared our hearts for it and allowed us to have a new beginning with Him. Now, we are married and believing God for greater things next year as He takes us on a new journey together.

 

We can live a life free from guilt and shame because we have a God who loves us no matter who we were and what we have done. Only He can take us from a place of pain and loneliness to a place full of His love and grace. We can start anew and move forward—no turning back.