This story first appeared in the printed copy of Kerygma Magazine, July 2018, on their IT Happened segment.

By Adrian Pantonial as told to Marjorie Duterte

As my three-year old sister lay on the hospital bed helpless while undergoing blood transfusion at the charity ward of the National Children’s Hospital, I cried and sang at the same time, “God will make a way when there seems to be no way.”

We were orphans. Our father had just died and our mother had left us. I vowed to God that if He will just heal my sister, I would serve Him wherever He will call me.

Growing Up Poor

I’m the eldest of five siblings, with a younger brother and three sisters. When I was young, I made everyone happy though I felt lonely deep inside. I often sought security and belongingness from others, something I didn’t get from my parents who quarreled almost all throughout their married life.

My father and I argued a lot and I felt like he did not value my opinions. Growing up, I had a difficult relationship with him and I did not get the affirmation I needed. They were migrants to Manila from Samar and we lived along West Crame outside of Greenhills when I was growing up.

During Christmas time, my friends and I would ring the doorbell of big houses along Greenhills to ask for pamasko (Christmas gifts/food). My brother and I would assist in helping cars park along the streets to earn money.

Fortunately, because I was diligent in my studies, an organization called the Christian Children’s Foundation sponsored my education from elementary until high school. My sponsor from America would send money to assist in my studies. It started my passion for learning English because we would exchange letters every month.

Eldest Son-turned-Young Father

In December 1997, my father died while I took care of him in the hospital. I was eighteen years old then. Shortly after he died, my mother left us to be with another man who had another family and kids of his own. We tried everything to win her back but she just kept returning to them even though the man would physically abuse her. She felt it was normal because our father also abused her.

It was hard living on our own. We became orphans and lived an “instant life,” feeding on instant noodles and canned goods because we were all busy studying, working, and making ends meet. I pretended to be strong for my siblings though I felt helpless inside.

I had so many questions about life when my father died. I worried about how I would take care of my four siblings. I turned to books but the answers I got there weren’t enough. I worked to provide for my family and God was nowhere in my priority list.

Putting My Siblings First

My late father and aunt had an agreement that I, being the firstborn, would finish a two-year diploma course as quickly as I could so I can help my four other siblings finish their college degrees. So I took a course I was not passionate about in order to fulfill this duty. I had to stop studying and to work and provide for my family.

I became a clerk for Innodata, scanning books and photos to upload into CDs. In 2003, I worked in the call industry for twelve years while doing freelance event hosting, tutoring, and writing, to provide for my siblings.

In July 1999, because of our unhealthy eating habits, my youngest sister, Aniecar, who was then three years old got seriously ill with a disease that the doctor said would take over a month of hospital confinement for her to recover fully. She was confined at the charity ward of the National Children’s Hospital due to our financial limitations.

One night, while she lay on the hospital bed undergoing blood transfusion, I sang to God while crying, “God will make a way when there seems to be no way…” I promised Him that if He would just heal my sister, I would serve Him. After only a week, my sister got healed. It was a miracle. And I only had to pay the hospital fifty pesos.

From among my friends who I called for prayer assistance during that time, only my friend, Jesusa, and her mother voluntarily visited us in the hospital and gave us financial aid. Deeply moved by her Christian love, I agreed to visit the church she invited me to go to one Sunday morning in September 1999.

I eventually surrendered my life to Jesus and asked Him to forgive all my sins and take control of my life. Soon after, I began serving God as volunteer teacher for the Junior Kids Church at the Victory church in UP Diliman. It started my journey to healing and wholeness.

After a while, I decided to go back to school again realizing that a college degree would open better opportunities for me. My two sisters, Jack and April, who I helped to finish their college degrees were now helping me financially. While working as a part-time freelance tutor, I pursued another attempt at a college degree in Tourism at the University of Rizal System.

The Prodigal Mother

After eight years of living with her other family, our mother came back to us. Shortly after her return, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I learned to forgive my mother.

I decided to stop attending school again and returned to my former job in customer service so I could provide for her operation. My mom had never experienced being hospitalized before and it really terrified her. She underwent mastectomy and chemotherapy but after the fourth session, she asked us to stop her treatment because it was painful for her. Her condition became worse and after over a year, she got diagnosed with colon cancer. She died in May 2013. I was hurt by what happened to her, that I decided to work on a cruise ship overseas. When I returned, I decided to pursue studying again.

A College Degree After 17 Years

At 37 years old, I began to pursue studies again in the daytime, while having a full-time work at night, and doing hosting events on weekends. It’s been seventeen long years after I’ve finished my first diploma course and now all my four siblings have their own families, and both my parents have passed on.

After three years of hard work and the grace of God, I finally received my college diploma last May 19, 2018. I graduated with Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Major in Marketing Management at Informatics College, Eastwood Campus.

I do not want my future children to go through the same sufferings I did, so I’m doing my part right now to ensure a good future for them, no matter how difficult and no matter the cost.

I found Romans 8:28 so true in my life, “In all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.” He made a way for me during my darkest hours. After all the bad things that happened, God made me a stronger a person and He continues to change me to be the best that I could be—for His glory.

Adrian is a professional Events Host, Writer, Teacher, and Change Catalyst. He's a world-class emcee creating fun, memorable, and meaningful events. As a change catalyst, his mission is to inspire personal development so people could have better lives with brighter future, against all odds. An IELTS- and TESOL-certified English Trainer, he's also a prolific Tagalog Tutor.