We were not even supposed to be here.
Last July seven, my home church, Horizon Ministries, celebrated her 20th anniversary.
I used to scoff at church anniversaries. I would smirk, ‘’why bother celebrating if a church simply gets another year older?’’
I had to remember, that like people, not everyone woke up alive today.
Statistics say around 4,000 evangelical churches in America alone close their doors every year (or 77 per week).
Sometimes, to simply survive is enough cause for celebration.
Of course, there are some churches who simply grow old and greyer and that’s all they do. But that’s another story for another time.
Horizon’s past 20 years were not a series of ups and downs. Rather it’s a story of up and down… and down…. and down.
We started with a bang!
In 1988, A student from UST named Charlie Liao started a Bible Study that would mushroom into hundreds of members, from one campus to others-PUP, FEU, and CEU to name a few.
The church started in 1993 with only a ‘’few’’ members, 35 if I’m not mistaken, but we weren’t perturbed.
The fact is, between 89 and 93, we have ‘’given away’’ hundreds of students/members to other churches, many of them serving in those same ministries up to this day, others even in full-time capacity as pastors and leaders.
When we weren’t ‘’ready’’, God blessed us tremendously. ‘’How much more now that we’re ready?’’, or so we thought.
From 93 to 97, the church averaged 60 people. Building a church was much harder than we thought.
Only it would get even harder and tougher…and more painful.
I took over as Senior Pastor in 1997. That’s where the downfall began.
I introduced some changes aimed at making us stronger internally and bigger externally.
I instituted a Church Board to hold me accountable and help me make crucial decisions on behalf of the church.
Outwardly, we changed our name to a more seeker-friendly Horizon-a place where heaven and earth meet.
Then the train crashed.
Two warring factions of leaders fought and left the church. From 60, our numbers dwindled to 35.
We lost 15 leaders inside a week, including the entire music team.
That Sunday, one of our courageous members led the dazed and confused congregation in worship. He strapped on a guitar and led the PAW with energy and passion.
Behind him was a keyboard without a keyboardist; a drum set without a drummer; a bass guitar without a bassist. A literal one man band.
As game as our sole PAW leader was, that for me was the lowest of the low.
Remaining members would quiz me as to the whereabouts of the 15 leaders who left. I answered as honestly as I could, which was ‘’I DON’T KNOW.’’
1997 to 1999 were what I term the barren years.
It was so bad I wanted to resign the pastorate. Every week, I begged, cried, and tried to manipulate God into letting me go.
‘’Lord,’’ I begged, ‘’just release me from my calling and I will still serve you as a businessman or employee or macho dancer (just kidding).’’
His answer was always a No.
One Sunday, I prepared a resignation speech which I would deliver to the congregation. When I got up onstage, a ‘’voice’’ inside my heart threatened me, ‘’Subukan mo lang’’ (Go ahead and try).
That was the first but not last time I literally felt the fear of the Lord.
Every week I would simply go through the motions-preaching, praying, and pretending to lead. Naah, I wasn’t even pretending. I gave up in front of everybody and as a result, I think the congregation simply went through the motions of church with me.
My ‘’resurrection’’ begun late November in 1999 when I was invited to preach at another’s church retreat in Baguio City. I went and didn’t even bother to pray nor prepare my messages.
On the first night of the retreat, I preached from stock knowledge. I spoke on the familiar story of ‘’The Parable of the Prodigal Son’’.
I wasn’t even through with my message when people began to weep.
God showed up. Nobody was more surprised than me.
Later, in my room, alone with God, the Lord spoke to my heart, ‘’I’m not through with you yet.’’
I did my own repenting and weeping. That night, a prodigal pastor returned home to God.
In 2001, we came under the wing of Philadelphia Christ Centered Fellowship led by my spiritual father, Dr. Don Cua, a more established, mature, and stable church. Healing has begun.
In 2009, dear pastors – friends whom I call ‘’Super Friends’’, were meeting at our house for our monthly mentoring when I asked them about the G12 vision which they were implementing in their respective churches.
One question led to another until near the end, my wife and I knelt before them and humbly asked them to lay hands and pray for us. Ptr. Loi Gatchalian, Ptr. Sandy San Diego, Ptr. Benjie Chico, and Ptra. Marivic Paras all played a part in the Horizon journey which many of our members don’t know about.
In 2010, I was introduced to then Ptr. Dong Cucio who headed Operation Compassion, during the aftermath of the devastating typhoon Ondoy.
Together we partnered to plant our daughter church now known as Horizon Binan in Laguna.
The circle was completed in 2011 when I was privileged to meet Ptr Rafy Panlilio. At first, what attracted me to him was his gift of preaching, something I really covet in my own life. Later, I loved the man for his righteous life and genuine humility. He would become my second father after Manong Don.
20 years of failure, brokenness, and preparation. All those to prepare us for Now. For Today.
I often wondered what Jesus Christ was doing during the 30 years prior to his 3 year ministry. Same with John the Baptist, and Paul’s three year Arabian experience (Gal. 1:15-18).
Now I know. It’s called preparation.
A church that took God 20 years to prepare must be a hard headed bunch right? But I also think , a church that took 20 years in the making must have a very special purpose for existing.
That is what excites me the most.
That is what I wake up to every morning.
That is what keeps me up late at night.
The next 20 years of God’s amazing grace and plans for Horizon Ministries.
‘’Greater things have yet to come, greater things are still to be done in this church, city, and country.’’