Despite Me

God moves in you. God moves through you. God moves despite you.

Yesterday was my wife’s tenth anniversary since she put her faith in Jesus and her life was transformed. She blogged about it here. Make sure you check out Part 2 as well! But this one is from my perspective because that night was also the first time I saw her in person.

May 12, 2006 was a Friday. We had our weekly youth service in Victory Ortigas. Our youth pastor, Patrick Mercado, had invited Piolo Pascual, the actor, to share his testimony to our young people. Piolo brought some of his friends from the industry including Sam Milby and Rica Peralejo to listen. But I didn’t know this at the time.

As the testimony ended, Patrick nudged me to go up and ask the congregation if anyone there wanted to put their faith in Jesus. As I watched hands go up around the room, I noticed one woman on the front row to my left raise her hand calmly.

“That’s Rica Peralejo!” was my first thought. Immediately followed by, “Here we go again, another celebrity doing ‘the Christian thing’ at church. I don’t think this will last.”

I’m ashamed to say that it wasn’t love at first sight between us, but judgment at first sight.

I finished the altar call and closed the service. Several of our leaders gathered to thank Piolo, greet Sam, and congratulate Rica on her decision. I didn’t bother since I had another meeting to go to anyway. So we never got to speak to each other.

God rebuked me for my arrogance months later. I was reading the newspaper after my morning devotions, when I saw an article in the entertainment section talking about how Rica Peralejo’s life had been transformed. The writer, not a believer as far as I know, wondered if perhaps she had really found Jesus because her lifestyle had changed so dramatically.

Reading that article brought me back to that youth service altar call. The Holy Spirit seemed to be saying to me, “This entertainment writer has more faith in what I did in her than you. Who are you to judge my work in someone else’s life? What makes you think you’re any better?” It was clear that while I was being the judgmental pastor, God was happily receiving anyone who would repent and believe.

The conviction was so painful as I realized that in my pride, my mouth was saying there was salvation by grace through faith, but my eyes were looking down on her and my heart was judging her. How could I be honoring God publicly, but be so far from Him in my heart?

Tears dropped on the newspaper as I repented of my terrible attitude. I asked God to change me. I could only thank Him that He moved anyway despite me.

A few weeks later, I literally ran into Rica at church. She was on her way to her baptism. We had never officially met, so I awkwardly greeted her and said, “Congratulations on your baptism!“Thank you,” she said. And those were our first words to one another. No one knew that this would eventually grow into an unusual friendship, an unlikely romance, and an unstoppable marriage.

Today I cannot help but celebrate God’s changing power in her. Like every believer, she isn’t perfect. But she continues to grow from glory to glory as more and more of Jesus’ character shines through. Her love for God is evident in her passion to spend time with Him. The best thing you can do for her is give her an uninterrupted morning reading the Bible and praying. Her love for others grows stronger every day as she serves, apologizes, forgives, and encourages many.

Like I said to her while we were dating, she’s my living version of 2 Corinthians 5:17,

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

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3 Comments

  • Reply Ikka May 13, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    Wonderful! Thank you for being open to share of your honest story pastor.

  • Reply Jane Ismael May 13, 2016 at 7:28 pm

    This is so nakakakilig! One of the many reasons why I’m such a fan of your family! This isn’t the first time I heard about your love story, pero everytime I hear it, God is really melting my heart. Grabe lang how God works! Talagang grace changes everything! God bless you Ptr. Joe and Ms. Rica! #TeamBonifacio

  • Reply Gemwil Clarin Mendoza May 18, 2016 at 7:01 pm

    Amazing.. truly we cannot judge God’s ways.. praise God.

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