On a sunny day in Brazil, some members of the Church of God International (MCGI) gathered on a little farm after the second day service of the International Thanksgiving to God from April 7 to 9, 2017.
Most travelled as far as 12,000 miles to give thanks at a convention center in Florianopolis with other delegates from different countries.
However, they were also there for two other special occasions: The commemoration of the Lord’s Supper and the 53rd sabbath day celebration of the Overall Servant to MCGI Bro. Eli Soriano.
Bro. Eli, as he is known to many in his home country the Philippines, is the host of the nation’s longest-running religious program: Ang Dating Daan (The Old Path).
The program’s appeal comes from no less than its question-and-answer format broadcasted live across radio, television and internet platforms, where guests can ask Bro. Eli any question of faith under and beyond the sun with the Bible as basis.
Hence, the show’s tagline: “Biblia ang Sasagot, Itanong Mo Kay Soriano” (The Bible Will Answer. Ask Bro. Eli).
Due to religious persecution that peaked in 2005, the preacher left his own country with a heavy heart. However, as fate would have it, he would find the work of Christ thousands of miles away, in a land whose language he did not even know.
After just a month of airing a 30-minute program late at night every day on a local TV station, letters from different parts of Brazil soon poured in, prompting Bro. Eli to host his very first Bible Exposition in the country.
Bro. Eli prepared everything from the venue to the food to hiring an interpreter that could translate from English to Portuguese and vice versa.
But upon seeing the responses of the people who have expressed their willingness to attend, Bro. Eli had to move the event to a bigger venue on short notice and had to double the preparation.
Finally, when the day of the exposition came, Bro. Eli, Ang Dating Daan Productions crew members, and MCGI members with him saw Brazilians form a line outside the venue, patiently waiting to get in. Some have even traveled for more than 10 hours by land just to be there and ask Bro. Soriano about the Bible.
The same went for the delegates gathered at the farm in Brazil, albeit, not to ask Bro. Eli, but to see him after many years of missing hearing the beloved preacher in person.
(During thanksgivings at MCGI in the Philippines back then, Bro. Eli would be seen not just behind the pulpit, but walking around where the brethren were seated. He would walk as far as he could down the ADD Convention Center to see the brethren.)
Some, actually, have not seen Bro. Eli in person, since they were baptized after 2005. They went there hoping that the beloved preacher would still have time during the day to visit them in the farm, and perhaps, get a chance to have a photo with him, see his smile up close, or give a warm hug. They were not failed.
Wearing his trademark non-preaching attire: shorts and a shirt (though it was under a jacket as he had the flu that time), and sunglasses to see better under the sun and hide his sleepless eyes, the then 70-year old was soon standing on a plastic chair and telling everyone how the photo sessions could go about.
While all cheered, a member of the kitchen staff approached Bro. Eli from his side saying something to him. Bro. Eli, whispering, then asked: “Has more food been prepared?*”
The number of brethren that gathered at the farm was more than what was expected, and Bro. Eli was still ready to be at their service — a trait that old members of the Church of God have always known Bro. Eli for.
“When Mt. Pinatubo erupted, Bro. Eli asked us to gather everyone we can bring to shelter. So we brought those whom we came across the road with to the Old Central (MCGI’s old convention center). They asked, ‘Who’s the one leading you?’ We pointed to Bro. Eli and said, ‘That one who’s cooking for you; he’s the one.’
They found it difficult to believe but we told them, ‘Yes! That one who asks if we’re all full, if everyone has already eaten, if we have the things we need. That’s him, that’s really him!’”
—Sis. Josie Sunga, Guagua, Pampanga, Church member for 49 years
“Despite being raised in the Tagalog region — while we are Kapampangan — Bro. Eli did not mind eating frogs, kamaro (crickets), and clams; he even waded the river of Betis to gather these. He also cooked for us. What I’m saying is, Bro. Eli is a true brother in Christ. And ever since, he was already exercising the essence of being the ‘Overall Servant’ to brethren in the Church.”
—Sis. Remedios “Raming” M. Valencia, San Matias, Sta. Rita, Pampanga, Church member for 44 years
After all those years that had passed and great distances away from his birthplace, Bro. Eliseo Fernando Soriano remains the same loving and caring person he has always been. And the same goes for him being a preacher of Christ.
Bro. Eli started broadcasting the words of God on a local radio station in 1980. (Even then, after delivering a biblical topic on air, he would entertain questions from callers live.)
To augment for the expenses of the broadcast, Bro. Eli made and sold lumpia or spring rolls and had about one or two jeepneys (a public transport vehicle in the Philippines) at the time. He was 33 years of age.
Now, at 71 years old, Bro. Eli holds Bible Expositions* in different languages regularly via the internet and satellite. That is, apart from the expositions and indoctrination sessions he conducts in person, after travelling miles and crossing Brazilian states.
This time around however, it isn’t only a local radio station with limited reach that has to continue on air for the sake of the Gospel being preached to many.
MCGI has been broadcasting via satellite and the internet 24/7 and on television stations from the Philippines to Mexico in different time slots.
Apart from it all, Bro. Eli as a preacher isn’t all talk.
He is the foremost public service media partner of UNTV, which is known for its various and consistent public service initiatives from medical missions to blood donations to charity basketball leagues, which it does together with MCGI.
The Church also has two campuses that give students everything they need to study for free. Recently, MCGI launched as well its diagnostic center complete with the latest equipment for blood testing, urine testing, etc. — the La Verdad Diagnostic Center in Apalit, province of Pampanga.
To support all these expenses and more, Bro. Eli does what he knows best how to earn: to cook for the restaurants he was lucky enough to have put up in Brazil. And then, there’s the farm.
Before the sunny day of April 8, 2017 ended, as some enjoyed the food prepared and others sang at a karaoke machine in a corner of the farm, Bro. Eli was still happily entertaining the long line of members he serves and loves.
“Thanks be to God for all of you brethren. You are all enough reasons for me to thank God. You were called by God to work with me and together with the Lord Jesus Christ, a great work of goodness for the salvation of souls. May God bless us all.”
—Bro. Eli Soriano, Overall Servant of MCGI, Thanksgiving of God’s People, April 7, 2018
*In MCGI’s gatherings such as Bible Expositions and indoctrination sessions, Bro. Eli makes it a point to have even a small of serving food prepared for the attendees. It is an act he observes following the example of the Lord Jesus Christ as written in Matthew 14:13-21 and in other accounts of the Apostles.
(Editor’s Note: The author was in Brazil last April 2017 to attend the Special Thanksgiving of God’s People.)
Written by: Rigor Arellano