Ever since I learned that nearly a month ago, I have been awaiting such an opportunity, especially as their churches were basic, totally unpretentious buildings that blended into a neighborhood, the most unchurchly buildings imaginable. That alone was enough to make me want to learn about this religion. It wasn't trying to capture attention or win converts with grandiosity, such as its chief Philippine-born rival, the Church of Christ, that erects strikingly magnificent, but generic, edifices with fences around them and nice watered lawns. It was such a church that turned me away one evening.
My wish was finally granted last night on my last night on the road twenty-five miles south of Manila just outside of Calamba, the birthplace of Jose Rizal, the great national hero of the Philippines, who was executed in 1896 by the Spaniards and who is memorialized in nearly every Philippine town with a statue. After seeing him at least once a day in a variety of poses I didn't mind at all going a bit out of my way to see the home where he grew up. A few blocks away there was a statue unlike any I had seen. He was holding a cane and a jacket, a different version of the quiet dignity each has portrayed.
A plaque on his house said that it had been restored with money donated by school children all over the Philippines.
The urban mayhem of Manila with the streets clogged with jeepneys and tricycles spewing noxious fumes extended all the way to Calamba. It was on a bay where there were some hot springs. I was hoping I would find a resort where I could pitch my tent. I was told I would have to go south away from Manila towards Banos to find such a thing. That was too far in the time before it would be dark. As I headed north to Manila in search of a hotel I passed a couple advertising rooms for ten hours for 490 pesos. Twelve hours was barely enough to accommodate me. This was the first time I had seen ten hour rates. Before I started asking where I might find a budget hotel I saw an Ang Dating Daan sign without even thinking that I should be hoping for one. It was down a side street near a bus station. There was a bustle of people out front. Wednesday night happened to be one of three days a week when they hold a service and people were streaming in. The others are Saturday and Sunday.
I immediately attracted attention and was welcomed. I told those drawn to me that their church had been recommended to me by one of their members and I had been looking for an opportunity to make its acquaintance and was hoping I might be able to spend the night there. They all responded favorably but was told I would need the permission of the brother in charge. He was a little more inquisitive and suspicious and not so warmly welcoming, but after several minutes said he would find a place for me, though they had no bare ground or grass for my tent, just concrete.
He introduced me to John, a fine young man with a most sunny disposition, and my latest Facebook friend, who works for a television station and was quite computer savvy. He looked after me when the head man had to tend to other responsibilities. He explained to me that Ang Dating Daan meant The Old Path in Tagalog and that like many Tagalog words "dating" was derived from a related English word, "past." During a lull he took the time to search out my blog without me even mentioning it and was full of questions. But they had to wait until after the service held under a large open air pavilion, similar to some of the basketball courts I'd seen in villages. I sat in the back and ate my dinner of noodles and hard-boiled eggs.
There were television monitors broadcasting a sermon by the church's charismatic leader and founder, Eli Soriana, that was being beamed to its churches in 73 countries. It was mostly in Tagalog, but there was some English interspersed and some English subtitles. The ceremony lasted from 5:30 until seven. There was an hour break and then an hour more, which not everyone stuck around for. The weekend services run four and five hours.
The head brother could tell I was exhausted and let me put my bedding down on a wooden examination table in the church's medical center at eight. I was extra tired as I hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, victim of the only stomach upset I've had here. I struggled for hours to vomit up whatever it was that had my stomach in turmoil. I was too exhausted to depart at six a.m. when my twelve hours were up at the hotel I was at and slept for an extra three hours and could have slept for more if I hadn't been aroused by the hotel owner concerned whether I'd pay for all the overtime.
I had been hoping to get to Manila that night, but instead my delay and weakness allowed me the privilege of being introduced to Ang Dating Daan. They have two branches in Chicago, one less than two miles from where I live. I'll have to give it a look. The religion was founded in 1977 and has grown into a substantial religion. YouTube has a wide range of Soriana commentaries. The head brother was quite conversant with the Bible and read me passage after passage as we sat in his office between services. He didn't approve of Christain Science, the religion I was raised in, as it was founded by a woman. He didn't think it right either that a religion would renounce medicine, and he produced Biblical passages supporting his case.
My fatigue was also compounded by a hard day that culminated with my illness that had a final twelve-mile, two-hour climb to a ridge 2,000 feet high overlooking the Taal volcano, one of the Philippine's most notorious and scenic in the middle of a lake, one last spectacular sight that the Philippines had for me. Less than fifty miles south of Manila, it is a big draw, not only for its beauty but also for the cool temperatures of its highlands. Hotel after hotel lined the ridge advertising its view.
One of the best views is at a place called the Picnic Grove that I was hoping to get to that night, as it offered camping. But I was too weakened by my stomach disorder and fell eight miles short. The view had to wait until the next morning. There was a fifty peso entry fee and an extra charge to use one of the covered picnic sights. I actually took a nap at the Grove before continuing along the ridge for a few more miles and then descending to the flatlands and Calamba.
Before Picnic Grove was a huge construction project of high rise condos for the haves of the country.
Down off the ridge I came to the first golf course I have seen. It was surrounded by a thin forest that I might have camped in if I had more water. I was down to two bottles and didn't think that was enough to get me through the rest of the afternoon and the night. It would have just been my second night of wild-camping in the Philippines, something I really longed to do, but it wouldn't have been as worthwhile as my evening getting to know Ang Dating Daan.