Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders which You have done, And Your thoughts toward us; There is none to compare with You. If I would declare and speak of them, they would be too numerous to count.
1I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart;
I will tell of all Your wonders.
2I will be glad and exult in You;
I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.
I started to doodle and draw because I was afraid of going crazy.
The effect of my father’s death when I was in high school was traumatic to me. Even now it is difficult for me to go into the details. Suffice it to say, my illusion of security was smashed to pieces. And I was obsessed by the thought that nothing in life was certain except the certainty of death which could happen anytime. Then what?
Meanwhile, life around me was spent mostly in boring works. And most of the things which people enjoyed didn’t interest me much. What was the point of living?
My family valued education, so from elementary to high school, I attended two schools simultaneously – Chinese school the whole morning; Filipino school the whole afternoon. I came home loaded with assignments from both schools for the whole evening until late. On top of that, the Chinese school gave extra homework for weekends, school breaks and summer vacations.
My mind was overworked, my emotions warped and my body sickly.
One time, our class in high school had a field trip to an asylum for mental patients and I was afraid that I might become like one of them.
Suicidal thoughts came to my mind. Many nights I could not sleep because of nightmares of running in scary dark graveyards, alone and unable to find my way out. Though I awoke with relief that it was only a bad dream, I could not shake off the fear of death.
Of course, now, I can say, “O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)
For by grace through faith in Christ Jesus as my Savior and Lord, death has no lasting effect on me. The same resurrection power that raised Christ from the dead will also raise His believers unto life with God in His kingdom of light and glory (Ephesians 2:8-9; 1Thessalonians 4:13-18).
But back then, I was in the valley of the shadow of death, reaping the hard consequences of a rebellious soul.
I recall loving Sunday school when I was a child but when I grew up, I became rebellious. When Jesus said, “Pick up the cross and follow me,” it really turned me off because life was already too hard for me to handle without picking up the cross.
The few church services which I attended made me think of Christians as people with great capacity for boredom. And the church people who visited our home sounded like unconvincing tape recordings. I was ignorant, judgmental, deaf and blind like a lost sheep fallen into a dark domain, trying to find its way out but actually going toward the cliff of eternal destruction, were it not for the Good Shepherd who, despite my turning away from Him, rescued me by providing a way out and guiding me through the vicissitude of life.
It started with doodling and drawing which relieved my mind from overwork and morbid thoughts, so I took private art lessons. Later, aside from going to the University of the Philippines for a Bachelor degree in Fine Arts, I also joined a Sunday painters’ group, doing landscape painting outdoors; still life and portrait indoors. These were like rays of light which I began to perceive as my eyes opened and behold the wonders of God’s creation.
So instead of picking up the cross, I picked up the brush and Art became the center of my life and books, my very special friends.
When I was an art student, there was a saying “Art for art’s sake” but to me it has always been Art for life’s sake.
After college, I pondered what to paint. Noticing that my thinking and feeling were often in conflict, I sought to replace the conflict with a complementary balance relationship between the two through painting. It was to pursue this idea and to start a new life that I went abroad.
Looking back, I see the sovereign hand of God leading me through a creative path back to Him, the Creator.
Along the way, He showed me glimpses of Truth (which much later on I found written in the Bible) as He prepared the soil of my heart for the planting of His Word – after thirty years of spiritual wanderings.
During the whole duration, though I was faithless, He has been faithful in His provisions, as well as in protecting me from falling off the edges.
Psalm 32:8 says, “I will instruct and teach you in the way which you should go, I will counsel you with My eye upon you.” (Isaiah 48:17)
Great is His faithfulness and greatly to be praised.
Right from the start it was the edge for me.
December 1963, when I got off the plane at the Chicago International Airport, my sister’s friend, A, was nowhere in sight to meet me. It was close to midnight, so I was in panic. There I was in a completely strange big city in the middle of the night alone. What to do?! When I was in the Philippines, I never travelled out of town alone.
Thank God, my seatmate in the plane had the time and heart to help me find a phone booth and showed me how to use the token. It was A’s sister who answered the phone and told me that A had moved out and that I could take a taxi to her place.
In Manila, I did not dare to take a taxi alone even in daylight. So, I thought of staying in the airport until daybreak if I could not reach A through the number in the telephone directory. There were three identical names with different middle initials which were of no help to me because I did not know A’s middle name. So, I just tried the first one who happened to know A and gave me A’s number. Once again, thank God, she was home and came to fetch me. She said she didn’t get my telegram.
However, I did not stay very long at A’s place because she thought it would be better for me to stay at the YWCA which was near the Chicago Art Institute, which didn’t interest me at all. Actually, I wanted to go to New York City – the international art center for Avant Garde. But I did not know anyone there. A was the only person I knew in the whole of USA. She was not only my sister’s friend but also a family friend. After she left me at the YWCA, I wept all night in bitter disappointment. But as I write and think about it now, I can see from another perspective.
God was showing me not to depend on human beings, not even a family friend but on the divine Friend; not even an earthly father but the heavenly Father; not the created but the Creator in Whom is everything and whose steadfast love endures forever. Time and again He helped me in the most unexpected ways through perfect strangers.
“Weeping may last for the night but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5
The next day, while waiting in line at the post office, a priest behind me noticed the Philippine address on my envelope and started talking to me about Manila, and in the course of conversation, he told me about a boarding house for Chinese students ran by a Chinese priest. So, I was able to stay in that very friendly place which also enabled me to make contact for a place to stay in New York City.
It was so difficult for me to get started in New York City that I thought of returning to the Philippines had it not been for my sister who encouraged me not to give up. As the breadwinner of our family after my father’s death, she also financed my going abroad. Later, my brother and younger sister have also helped out occasionally without my asking. I thank God for a caring family.
One day while looking at some paintings in a gallery, a girl standing next to me started a conversation and mentioned that Brooklyn Museum Art School gave scholarships to foreigners. That information enabled me to change my visa just in time from visitor to student. The scholarship meant a free space to paint and to discuss with fellow artists professional and non-professional, no grading system, what counted was seriousness. It was the right place for me to pursue my idea. That girl was like a God-sent messenger to give the much needed breakthrough in my despondent situation.
I worked part-time as a substitute teacher in different day care centers all over the city. But when they offered me a full-time position, I declined and worked part-time as a photo colorist. Later when they offered me full time I also declined because any full-time job would mean not enough time for pursuing my idea which was essential as a means by and through which I felt a particular presence of God despite my lack of Biblical knowledge.
And God enabled me to make do with part-time and odd jobs. Being able to live with very little money without any debt had been a very valuable experience which brings to mind the extending significance of not despising the small things in Zachariah 4:10.
During one summer art workshop, I accepted with much thankfulness a totally unexpected offer to obtain a Master’s degree in Fine Arts with a Graduate Teaching Assistantship grant from Ohio University. I thought it might help me to get a teaching job later. But my brief exposure to teaching there convinced me that teaching art is not for me. So once again, even with a Master degree, I was faced with uncertain future – no stable job, no permanent place and unable to paint plus a dissatisfaction with the American culture despite the very friendly and helpful people and all the other good things. I often felt like an uprooted plant longing for suitable soil.
At first, I thought it was because of the place or my living condition. But when finally, through the “Fine Arts Work Center Fellowship Grant” in Provincetown sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, I was provided with the best facility I ever had in my ten-year stay in the US, still my dissatisfaction persisted and even increased and I could not paint much toward the end.
Meanwhile, the beautiful Atlantic Ocean within a few minutes’ walk kept enticing me to cross over to Paris, another international art center with even much richer cultural and historical background than that of U.S.A and New York City. But I knew no one there and I could not even speak French. So how would I ever survive with very little money; with very slim chance of jobs because of my language barrier?
Once again, God provided a way.
A friend of a friend told me that the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam gave grants to foreign artists by providing studios to live in and paint for a certain period of time. It seemed like a good step to Paris. So, I applied and was accepted.
I taught myself French with a book. And two friends that I made in Amsterdam gave me two addresses for contacts in Paris. But I was so nervous that I had upset stomach for many weeks before leaving for Paris which continued during and even after the trip. It had weakened me so much that after getting off the train I could hardly carry my small suitcase of 20” x 13” x 5” and had to stop literally every few steps for rest. Finally, I made it to Alliance Française to enroll in a French class. While resting on the steps of the school’s staircase, a German student seated next to me spoke in fluent English about an affordable hotel nearby.
Perfect stranger, perfect help! She even helped me carry my suitcase as she accompanied me there. “Behold, God is my helper. The Lord is the sustainer of my soul.” Psalm 54:4
The Lord also gave me very good friends in Paris, whose help and friendship enabled me to live and paint there for twenty years with very little money and no debt. Briefly, my thanks to God for all the kindhearted strangers, acquaintances and friends for:
- The extension of my visa in several ways and finally through the intervention of Mr. Jack Lang, the Minister of Culture then.
- The generosity of a couple by letting me live and paint in a very pleasant place reserved for their daughter when she would be 18 years old. This was centrally located. La Bastille was also an active artists’ community. I lived there for 8 years rent free. It was the longest period I’d lived in one place. In my 30 years abroad, I had more than 20 addresses.
- The very supportive encouragement of an Argentinian artist whose enduring friendship had been most helpful and beneficial in a personal way as well as professionally.
- The appreciative support of friends in buying my paintings and even helping me sell. Since my artworks did not deal with popular subjects, the occasional sales were special encouragement. They reminded me of a fellow classmate at Ohio University who bought my painting by installment which was especially touching. Writing this also brings to mind God’s grace in touching the heart of my landlady in New York City who (based on the photos) asked me to ship two of my paintings from the Philippines to her. Later, when I had to go to Ohio University and was thinking of throwing my paintings away because I had no place to store them, she took it upon herself to hire a vehicle and took them to her apartment and stored them in her bedroom. I remember also the time when my fellow painter friend took my dossier of photos along with her on her trip out of town which resulted in bringing me a buyer.
“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadows.” – James 1:17
When I tried to share to my friends the greatest gift that man can ever have – salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus – they have no interest and gradually, the exchange of letters slowed down and stopped. So even such memorable friendships came to pass like shifting shadows in this fallen world instead of bearing lasting fruits for God’s glory.
“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” – Matthew 16:26; Mark 8:36
“When you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you don’t forget the Lord.” – Deuteronomy 8:11-12
Thus, it is important to bring to remembrance by recounting His past deeds. Sometimes God bestows His goodness in such dramatic ways as if to help us remember.
At first, I thought the fatigue was due to my being in the process of moving and having to paint the new place myself. But one day while crossing the street, I had a strong unusual sensation. So, I went to see a doctor and found out from a lab test (July 1, 1988) that my hemoglobin count was only 5.4g/100ml (normal 12-18). The doctor prescribed iron pills and a special diet which I followed diligently for I was alarmed.
Then not even two months later, one late evening I was alone and shocked by a severe hemorrhage, as if a faucet was suddenly opened and out came the blood which would not stop completely even with medicine, so a hysterectomy was necessary as soon as possible. I was so amazed and thankful that even after the hemorrhage; my red blood cells were enough to undergo the surgery on August 23, 1988 with no need for any blood transfusion.
This happened when my friends were on summer vacation, so I went through it all alone with a distinct peace because the hospital manifested the excellent Christian quality of serving with kindness, care, competence, and efficiency. Everything went well with no complication whatsoever. I even greatly appreciated how my body was re-sensitized after the surgery even the slightest movement and I rejoiced over the visible, slow but steady progress my body was doing and getting cheerful encouragement from a stranger when I ventured into the corridor to walk.
Never in my life was I so aware of how wonderfully and fearfully made we are by God (Psalm 139:13-14). And this awareness continued to grow during my whole month of convalescence in the countryside where I experienced the mercies of God that are new every morning and throughout the days and weeks.
It was a time of total rest from all worldly cares. No need to do anything except eat, sleep and enjoy being looked after like a new born baby with regular weekly medical check-up. The sumptuous food was delicious and nutritious heightened by lively conversations with so much laughter that I was afraid my surgical scar might burst. The daily walk in the refreshing environment strengthened my body and renewed my senses to the glory of God in nature. The loving attentive service accentuated the preciousness of life and health that has a lasting beneficial effect on me regarding stewardship of our body which we often take for granted and sometimes abuse.
I would not have been able to afford such a wonderful vacation were it not for the SSS number which I got only two to three months before the surgery. And to think that during all the years abroad, that was the first and only time I had an SSS number which paid for everything, even the car service from the hospital to the convalescence place.
It was and still is marvelous to see how God arranged the sequence of events, including my being able to finish painting the apartment just in time before the surgery. Indeed, “Many, o Lord my God are the wonders which You’ve done. And Your thoughts toward us.” – Psalm 40:5
Recounting this humbles me in seeing the grace of God toward a wayward soul, turning to the left and to the right seeking other spiritual ways that seemed more interesting than the Biblical way. However, all the while I had no peace nor assurance regarding what would happen after death.
I also became increasingly dissatisfied as I noticed that despite its very impressive progress in many areas, the whole western culture was altogether too man-centered and materialistic.
It seems the people have benefited from their Christian heritage and have forgotten the Giver.
Then came the turning point: To leave the West and return to the East.
It was a long, hard struggle before coming finally to this decision. I did all I could to prevent it from becoming a reality.
But despite all my efforts, my interest in arts steadily decreased to near zero.
Now I can clearly see that God was in the process of removing my temporal center in the arts to be replaced by the eternal center in Him. But at that time, I did not know Him yet, so I was in great turmoil.
My friend’s daughter whose apartment I’ve been living in all those years was already over eighteen years old. Though they had been very nice and never showed any sign of wanting me to move out, I felt I should leave before outstaying my welcome.
My sister suggested living outside of Paris where the rent was cheaper, but somehow the idea did not appeal to me.
My brother suggested China, where we still have our ancestral house in our home village; it might be interesting to know more of my roots.
I thought of Baguio City with its cool climate and pleasant environment. And if none of the above worked out, then maybe some spiritual community in India.
When I was wrapping my paintings in plastic sheets to be put into the crates for shipping them home, I felt like I was wrapping them for burial because who in the Philippines would be interested in them. At the most, curious maybe.
I asked someone to make three crates. And guess what? He happened to have a crate exactly the size of what I needed. Such marvelous “coincidence” greatly encouraged and buoyed my spirit. Could it be that God had a purpose for my art work?
Picking up my crates upon their arrival in the Philippines was not easy at all. I would not know what to do had it not been for my nephew who was able to do it during his Christmas vacation.
The perfect timing for the crates to arrive when my nephew was available and the “coincidental” crate made me ponder again – were they signs that God had a purpose in all these? But I had no idea what purpose would that be?
I lived in my home village where I was born in southern China for about eight months.
Our ancestral house needed much repair. It had no running water or toilet facility. The electrical wiring was of the simplest way. During the winter nights, I was so bundled up in bed I could hardly move. My relatives (a couple) used the house in daytime but at night, I was all alone, scared and couldn’t sleep. Their reserved coffin which stood in a corner by the front door played an active role in my imagination fueled by the darkness of the night and my fear.
Somebody said, “Fear is the dark room in which people develop their negatives.” So, you can just imagine all the negatives that I was developing.
I visited a Buddhist temple and was very disappointed. I tried to get acquainted with my relatives, and the village people. They all seemed very nice but I felt like a foreigner. I visited the small village school and thought maybe I could teach English there and explore other parts of China and hopefully maybe my interest in painting would be revived. I often went for very long walks thinking about what to do with my life.
Then out of the blue came a most wonderful blessing given in such an ordinary way and was so unexpected that I could have easily missed taking the first step leading to the greatest gift.
One day while walking in the nearest little commercial town about fifteen minutes by tricycle from my home village, I noticed a cross above and behind some low buildings. Out of curiosity I followed the path leading to it and found a simple pleasant church with a large tree at the right front side. As I stood there under the shade, I felt very peaceful despite my uncertain future. So, the following Sunday, I attended the church service and from then on, I was attending both the morning and the afternoon services, always looking forward to them, never missing one. I even joined their visitation team, going to faraway places in tricycle on bumpy roads.
God revealed two important things to me:
- The righteousness of Christ, and
- To know God, I must read the Bible.
In response to the Righteousness of Christ, all I remember is that I started to pray in His name instead of approaching God directly as I’d been doing before. This was my spiritual turning point toward the right direction, because Jesus said He is the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to God, the Father, except through Him (John 14:6).
Christ entered this world so quietly and inconspicuously that we do not really know the day of His birth. Likewise, He entered my life almost imperceptibly that I did not take note of any other details of His entry.
But the circumstances seem meaningful, e.g. –
When Christ came to dwell among men, Joseph and Mary were far away from friends and relatives, deprived also of their familiar physical comforts, strangers in their ancestral town. Likewise, when Christ came to dwell in me, I was also far away from my family and friends, living in stark contrast to my former life in the West, a stranger in my home village.
In the hometown of David, Joseph and Mary, Christ was born physically that we might be born spiritually.
I believe it was in the home village where I was born physically that more than fifty years later, I was also born spiritually, when I started to pray in His Name.
Whereas my physical birth was accompanied by pain and crying, my spiritual birth was given in quiet peace, accompanied by the Good Shepherd. And I, a lost sheep found, am forever grateful.
The above observation is meaningful in the sense that it guarded me from taking the very ordinary way of Christ’s entry into my life casually. In other words, God often works in very ordinary ways. And we might tend to think in the midst of our external busyness that He is absent whereas in fact, we might be absent when He is present. This also brings to mind once again Zechariah 4:10: “Do not despise the days of small things.”
God works all things together, often times through small things than big things for His good purposes.
When I returned to Manila, I tried to look for a church that emphasized biblical knowledge. I found one but Manila was too hot, too polluted and too noisy. My mind was never clear and my body inactive and unhealthy. So, though I knew no one in Baguio City, I decided to give it a try because of its cool climate and my pleasant memory of it.
My family has a relative who owns a vacation house in Monterrazzas. My sister and nephew accompanied me there and after a week, they went back to Manila. So, I was all alone in that house. During the day, it was fine. But at night, the whole surrounding was so dark and deserted and houses were far apart. And there were noises up in the attic of the house, most probably from the rats, but no matter how much I tried to reason, I couldn’t sleep. I could only pray with much difficulty as I waited impatiently for daybreak. Had it not been for God who sustained me, I doubted I could stay there long enough to wait for God’s next step for me.
I’d no idea what else to do except to find a church that would help me to read the Bible because it was very difficult for me to do it alone.
But before finding such a church, I think it was God who arranged for me to teach Mandarin (though teaching was the last thing I wanted to do) at a learning center to show my rebellious soul the importance of obedience through my disobedient students. What a headache and pain in the neck they were.
My first guiding verse was and has been, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.” – Matthew 6:33
By God’s grace, among these things was one which I never planned or expected to have and so was totally unprepared having no previous experience, not knowledge whatsoever, not even serious interest. Nonetheless, God gave me the chance to build a house with my share of inheritance.
After attending a couple of churches and visiting another one and asking around some more, I finally found a church with a committed passion for God’s Word.
Through the many Bible study opportunities given by this church, my Biblical knowledge of God gradually increases. The scriptural application in daily life reveals lots of my wrong thoughts, feelings, habits, attitudes, motives, etc. which involve constant unending internal cleansing and emptying and replacing them with the new light of truth and life. So, though the physical body is deteriorating, the mind is being regenerated day by day.
The church also provides lots of opportunities to participate in God’s kingdom work which I do as much as possible.
The biography of pioneer missionaries has been a tremendous inspiration and help in expanding and deepening my faith walk.
As a subscriber to an international Christian organization committed to helping the persecuted Christian globally, I receive prayer concerns, information and also attended seminars.
Over the years with prayer and much waiting, God seemed to be answering my question regarding the purpose for my art work which is to raise funds for the persecuted Christians. The answer came one step at a time which I’d followed and was blessed beyond my expectation.
From the East to the West, and back again, I kept moving from one place to place, having more than twenty (20) recorded addresses in my thirty (30) years of spiritual wandering abroad, often feeling like an uprooted plant looking for suitable soil, not realizing that God has been alongside me preparing another kind of soil.
Whereas I sought the physical, external soil for a perishable plant, God has been doing the spiritual internal soil for the imperishable seed to be planted.
Was it not St. Augustine who said, “The heart knows no rest, until it rests in God?”
It is a divine rest leading to the marvelous light and responding accordingly to the newness and richness of eternal life in Christ Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith for the infinite glory of God now and forever more.
If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them “go in peace be warmed and be filled” and yet do not give them what is necessary for their body what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works is dead, being by itself. – James 2:15-17
The purpose of this presentation is to raise funds for the persecuted Christians.
Over the years, I’ve pondered and prayed regarding the purpose of my art work. And my attention was drawn more and more toward the persecuted Christians in places where there’s no religious freedom. This led me to the desire of wanting to help in a practical way aside from having been praying regularly over the years.
In the parable where Jesus separated the sheep from the goats, He said, “What you did to the least, you did unto Me.”
The persecuted Christians are denied jobs, water supply, education, marriage, child custody, burial in cemetery, citizenship, legal aid, and the right to gather together.
Their house and property are in constant danger of being destroyed.
Their church might also be damaged, closed down or destroyed or their worship service disrupted, victims injured or killed.
Christians are often arrested under false charges, imprisoned without trials and even tortured.
Persecution often starts in the family in various ways which might culminate in being forced to flee from home, community or even resulting in death.
The women, especially young girls are in daily danger of being kidnapped even in group at school, for sexual abuse and forced marriage. In some places, kidnappings are done repeatedly.
And just for being Christian, you might be thrown with acid on your face.
Are they not among the least, if not the least?
Parallel to the purpose mentioned above is the thought that the creative aspect of God is much neglected in our life in general. And we hope that this presentation, among other things will activate and promote the God-given creativeness in us to grow and bear fruits that’ll glorify God.
“The computer makes us fantastically more able to calculate and analyse; it does not help us to meditate. We have instruments to enable us to see everything from the nebulae to the neutron – everything except ourselves. We have immeasurably extended our gift of sight, but not insight. For that we have the same equipment as the 8th century prophets. Potentially the same, but actually far poorer, for while we have been so busy attending one aspect of the knowing and telling, we have allowed other aspects to atrophy. We have built ourselves up with powerful transmitting stations, but as receiving sets we are feeble.” – John V. Taylor – “The Go-Between God”