Fortunato Madamba SA21 – X
Recently, I discovered a new and unconventional way to serve and praise the Lord. I have been a devout Roman catholic since birth because both my parents were roman catholics and wanted me to stay the same. I reverently practices my being a roman catholic through the various rites and rituals that bring us closer to God. I believe that I have explored every way possible for a roman catholic to enhance my relationship with the lord. I have gone on recollections, retreats, special silent retreats, almost all of the sacraments and of course up to this day i go to a roman catholic school. Recently I heard about Victory, a place where my friends who are born again christians go to worship and give praise to the Lord. For a couple of months now, they have been inviting me to go to their weekly Youth Service where “a lot of ateneans go!” This sparked my interest so one day I decided to finally go.
It was my first time to go up the fifth floor of regis, a building that I usually go to. I was suddenly in an unfamiliar place filled with unfamiliar faces. All of them were about the same age as me or younger which tells me that I am in fact in the right place. I immediately look for Jasmine Buen or Jam, my informant for today youth service. She greeted me with a warm smile and introduced me to her group of friends including Red our campus minister which is sort of the leader of the group as well. As we entered the hall, I was overwhelmed by the venue. It was very big and spacious, I didn’t even think there was something like this in regis. Music was playing and lights were flashing onto a stage ready for a concert. There were probably a couple hundred people eager to fill up the seats as a timer was counting down to 6pm, the official start of the youth service. Their faces filled with joy and excitement yet patiently waiting for the timer to finish counting down. Jam led me to the seats on the left side of the stage and we sat more of her friends on the second row (since the first row was already filled with people).
The countdown timer eventually reached zero and a fellow student from Ateneo went up on stage and started reciting spoken word poetry. I was confused ‘till he got to the part proclaiming his love for the Lord. At this point I started to conclude that they worshipped the Lord through various forms of art like spoken word poetry. To further support this observation, a band started to play as he finished reciting his poem. Five singers ran up onstage and started to sing what I’m guessing was their opening song asking everybody to stand and sing along. It was hard to resist since the lyrics were flashed on multiple screens and almost everybody was jumping, dancing and singing along to the songs that were being played. it was such a euphoric environment where everybody was having the time of their lives while worshipping the Lord.
At after a few songs, campus ministers like Red got up onstage to read a few passages from the Bible. As they explained these Bible passages they made it very relatable to the audience by inserting Snippets of the college experience. Examples include the hardships of hell week, the mountain of requirements, how to balance your allowances for the week, and finally studying for your subjects like theology. As they said these examples they would always wait for a response as to entice audience participation and to keep the attention of the young audience.
After another song of praise, a man named Joseph came up on stage to talk about moving forward in one’s relationship with Jesus. He started his presentation by sharing recent events in his life, his recent trip abroad, this funny experiences with his son, and finally his experience studying theology. At this point my friend Jam informed me that Joseph also graduated from the Ateneo. She also told me about Joseph being a campus Minister just like red but eventually moved up to be a pastor. Pastor Joseph then continue to talk about how one could move forward in a relationship with Jesus. He cited the verse 2 Peter 3:15 onwards and highlighted key phrases in order to further explain the topic at hand. And if that wasn’t enough, he related it to the everyday experiences of the youth like using social media and studying theology in college. First, he related it to the hardship of studying theology and how the wrong use of theology could lead to false beliefs that allow room for misinterpretations and misuse of the word of God. He even hinted instances of misuse by imitating a current senator that evoked a few laughs from the crowd. He mentioned how some people see the word of the Lord in fear instead of love taking the passages too literally word per word like some of his classmates. He then moved to his next example to expound on how the word of the lord should lead to love instead of fear. He likened it to stalking your crush on social media and how he himself stalked his wife which led to him loving her more. The more he learned about her by reading her blogs and her tweets, the more he fell in love with her. He talked for about an hour walking around the worship hall interacting with some of the members that he knew. Even though he talked for such a long time, it wasn’t boring and was even very interesting since it was catered to the youth.
As he said his concluding words, the band started to get up onstage and prepared for their final song. They repeated their first song of praise to end the youth service in a celebratory mood asking the people to come closer to stage and to join them in singing for the Lord. Jam told me to go with her and the dozens of people who went towards the stage jumping and dancing and clapping their hands in joy. But it wasn’t the end as Red gathered everyone for a debriefing to talk about the service and how we felt.
The most important insight that I learned from participating in Victory Youth Service was that it wasn’t that different from the kind of worship I grew up on. It strengthened my pre-conceived notion and belief that we all have ways, albeit different from each other, to praise and worship the Lord. This difference does not necessarily mean one is wrong while the other is right; it just means that we all have our unique way of expressing our faith. As I was listening to Joe talk about his relationship with Jesus, it wasn’t as far as I expected from what I already believe in (except of course for the part where he talked about being a born again Christian which was a new concept to me as a Roman Catholic). I further understood how every religion may worship a different god and may worship in a different way but their intentions remain pure. At the end of the day, their main objective continues to be to teach values and ways of life that will encourage the members of their faith to grow positively, to grow more as a community, while believing in something that is bigger than themselves. To promote camaraderie as they help each other and teach each other, as Joe has done and has been doing for the past 20 years.
I would like to thank my key informant Jam Buen for guiding me through this experience and even encouraging me to participate during the Youth service itself as well as the sharing after. She was so welcoming and kind to a newcomer like me which gave me a clearer picture as to what someone who goes to victory is like. I realize how entering into unfamiliar territory could be overwhelming to an outsider like myself. Having an informant who was immersed and well-versed in that culture guiding me through helped alleviate that pressure. From the moment I entered the fifth floor of Regis I was immediately lost in the sea of people, but thankfully Jam was there. I wouldn’t have sat in the front row if it wasn’t for her and I wouldn’t have been able to focus on what was happening if I was as lost as I was at the start without her help. In order to make the experience more genuine, she made me feel like someone who was invited to try youth service for the first time (as I really was) instead of someone on a fieldwork. Overall, Jam was a big help in making the experience more meaningful and worthwhile.
Speaking of the experience, it was just as my friends described while at the same time exceeding my expectations, all in a positive way. The sense of community that I felt was so overwhelming and so inviting. There’s no wonder my friends go back there every friday night to participate in youth service. The enthusiasm of the people, along with the presence of an actual band that plays great music and a light show to top it all off was really something I didn’t expect. Words cannot really express how I felt about the experience of Victory. All of the testimonies of friends that have asked me to come is nothing compared to the actual youth service.
But the downside is that all the lights and loud music can be a distraction to a participant observer such as myself. I was so amazed and even overwhelmed by the theatrics that I almost forgot that I was doing it for a field work. I was so immersed in the sense of community, the songs of praise and the passionate sharing of interpretations that was so relatable I missed a few points for observation. Good thing I had my informant Jam to help me out whenever I didn’t get or understand anything during the program. The briefing after the service also helped me process how I felt and look back on the events that happened to make them more meaningful thus more memorable.
Just like our cafeteria experiment I learned to be more observant in the events that i participated in. By being observant, one gets to see things clearer, to take into account details, although small, that speak volumes about the subject. Just like the cafeteria experiment I consider this event as a regular practice in society that is very important but is commonly overlooked in order to better understand a specific culture. By observing it closely I get to see how it affects society and members of society. Recognizing the dynamic relationship between common practices and society is important if we want to understand the internal workings of society. Just like language and food, religion has the ability to reflect the values and norms of the society it originates from while simultaneously molding them. Thus, those who control these basic needs have the power to influence society. Going back to the cafeteria experiment, we as people give our trust to those who serve our food as we eat them without hesitation. Just like these food servers, we also trust pastors and priests, those who lead us through our spiritual life, as if what they’re speaking are infallible truths when there are other religions or beliefs that may otherwise contradict their statements. I realized that as much as we believe and value the things we hold as truth, there are people who may not necessarily agree with us, but we shouldn’t be quick to judge them as blasphemous or misinformed. I believe we all hold our own truths and invalidating others’ truths and imposing our own without first hearing them out reflects arrogance and assumes that we are on a level higher than everyone else. I noticed this as I was listening to Joe talk about being born again and I watched as people left and right nodded in unison to agree with what he was saying. Being a devout Roman Catholic I did not wholeheartedly agree with what he was saying, but I remained to keep an open mind, thus the insight I learned about society.
While observing and participating in this activity, i tried my best to keep my biases at bay. But I realized that one must not empty the cup fully but use the content as a tool to gain further insight on the situation.
Images from Victory Katipunan Facebook