Thursday, June 28, 2012

Edwin Catana's Story

Edwin Catana gets ready to give  a wall at the Visions of Hope Christian School in Laguna
 at smooth cement finish.   

Covered with Tattoos. “Getting these was extremely painful,”  Edwin Catana says, pulling up his sleeves to reveal arms fully covered with tattooed-on symbols. “But there was almost nothing else left to do in prison,” he explains with a shrug.  In fact about 75% percent of his body is covered with images ranging from the romantic to the religious to the grotesque --  permanent reminders of a turbulent past.   

Edwin’s past could have been vastly different though. He could have left for the United States to live with an adoptive family when he was 13.  He had been a ward at a Christian orphanage in Quezon City and his adoption papers were nearing completion.  That’s when he confessed to the orphanage management that he was not actually an orphan as he claimed a few years earlier. The truth was that he had run away from home to escape being abused by an alcoholic father.   

A visit to Edwin’s home dashed all hopes of his ever being given up for adoption.  “Kaya kong palamunin ang sarili kong anak!” (“I’m capable of feeding my own son!”)  his father bellowed. Since the man was just as abusive as ever, and because Edwin would just be an added burden to his mother, a laundrywoman, he chose to drift from  one boys’ home to another, until he became too old to be accepted at these institutions. After that he became involved with drugs, women, and crime.

Imprisonment. He was caught carrying a gun on the way to a planned hold-up one day, and was thrown into prison for illegal possession of a firearm. Released on parole four years later,  he joined a community of homeless people living on an abandoned piece of land called Sarimanok near the Manila Bay waterfront development area. 

These homeless people were being ministered to by the Kaibigan Ministry of the Center for Community Transformation (CCT) through feeding and Bible study sessions. During one of those Bible studies, Edwin renewed his relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ whom he had first encountered back at the Christian orphanage that was his refuge as an abused child.

A few months later, along with several other men from Sarimanok, Edwin was recruited to do construction work at the Tagaytay Retreat and Training Center, also managed by CCT.  The spiritual development program observed at the Tagaytay construction site – including morning and evening devotions, Saturday corporate worship along with the retreat center staff, and Sunday worship services –  helped him grow in his relationship with God.

Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Catana on their wedding day.
He learned construction skills on-the-job as well, and recently earned certification of competence as a mason from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

Responsible Father. Today Edwin still reports regularly to his parole officer who has noted the definite change in his behaviour.

Back in his wild days, Edwin fathered three children who are now in their teens. He had no role whatsoever in their upbringing. In a mass wedding of former street dwellers organized by the Kaibigan Ministry in November 2011, he married the mother of his youngest child, a two-year old girl. He prays he will be a good husband and father, and hopes his daughter will never have reason to run away from home and follow his once-errant footsteps.   

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Freddie Venzon: A Changed Man

Freddie Venzon’s father died when he was just 12. His mother tried to support him and his sister with odd jobs such as car washing, and Freddie often helped her. Then just two years after her husband passed away, Mrs. Venzon died  too.  

Friends brought Freddie home to live with them for a few weeks at a time, but because he was just another mouth to feed in those homes – which were just as poor as the family he came from -- Freddie felt unwelcome and took to the streets. Meanwhile, his sister had gone to live with an aunt and they soon lost touch.

From Tondo where he spent his early years, Freddie drifted to the tourist areas of Luneta and Intramuros in Manila, to the heavily populated Pasay City with its many dark alleys and sleazy night spots, to the busy Cubao shopping center in Quezon City.  At night he would fall asleep on sidewalks unmindful of the feet just inches away, hurrying home from malls, schools, and offices. Having grown accustomed to the noise of honking horns,  loud music blaring from jeepneys,  and the revving of motorcycles, he slept soundly with nothing but a piece of cardboard between his body and the cold pavement.

Freddie Venzon paints a classroom at the Visions of Hope Christian School
 in Puypuy, Bay, Laguna.
Like many other street dwellers he fell into crime, mainly for sustenance reasons. He learned how to snatch earrings right from the ears of passengers on jeepneys stalled in traffic. He would stand behind a target, reach out with both hands and with one swift motion would grab the earrings. If the earrings were screwed on too tight the victim would have to rush to a doctor's clinic to have her bleeding earlobes sewn.

Years passed and Freddie joined a community of homeless persons living on Sarimanok, a neglected piece of land along Roxas Boulevard in Manila. Because he was addicted to drugs, an older woman who was like a mother to many of the street dwellers committed him to a drug rehabilitation center for several months of treatment.  However, the most significant happening in his life occurred during a feeding and Bible study session led by the Kaibigan Ministry of the Center for Community Transformation (CCT). He heard the Gospel for the first time.  After attending several more Bible studies Freddie responded to an invitation to turn his life over to Jesus Christ.  (Kaibigan is the Filipino word for friend. At CCT, kaibigan also refers to a street dweller.)  

Changes and blessings he never imagined possible began coming his way. Freddie was among several Kaibigans invited to help construct a small building on the grounds of the Rose of Sharon House of Friendship in Puypuy, Laguna. Here he began to learn to use his hands to earn an honest living and also began to grow in his relationship with the Lord. (Morning devotions, discipleship classes, and weekend worship services are part of the routine of the Kaibigan Ministry.)   Next, he helped build  classrooms and dormitory buildings at the Training and Development Institute in Magdalena, Laguna. Because the campus was finished on time and because of significant savings on labor costs, he was among 35 Kaibigans rewarded with an all-expenses-paid, three-day trip to Boracay. Freddie says, “Hindi po ako makapaniwalang yung isang lugar na nakikita ko lang sa picture ay mapupuntahan ko! At nakasakay din ako sa eroplano!” (“I can’t believe I got to visit  a place I only used to see in pictures! And I even got to ride an airplane!”)

Equally rewarding work followed when he helped build dormitory buildings at the Tagaytay Retreat and Training Center.

Recently, Freddie earned certification of competence in painting from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority under the SIPAG project run by CCT in cooperation with the Department of Trade and Industry. (For more information on the SIPAG project please click  here and  here).
Even more exciting is what happened around Christmastime 2011. He returned to Tondo and found someone who knew his sister’s whereabouts.  A short time later, the siblings were reunited.

Today at 42, Freddie  cares about the dozens of homeless people still living at Sarimanok and prays they will respond to Christ’s call the way he did. Kaibigan workers still regularly hold feeding sessions and Bible studies there; Freddie hopes to be able to minister to the Kaibigans there himself someday.   “Kung tapos na po ang mga construction project ng CCT, gusto ko sanang makatulong sa feeding program ng Kaibigan Ministry.  Kahit ako lang po yung tagabuhat ng pagkain,.” he says.  (“When all the CCT construction projects are over, I would like to help with the Kaibigan feeding ministry.  I won’t mind having to carry the food.”)   

If the Lord indeed leads Freddie back to Sarimanok soon, his changed life will certainly be a blessing and an inspiration. 

For more information on the ministry of the Center for Communication Group of Ministries, please visit its website at