Friday, July 18, 2008

Interview: Francis "TJ" Serrano reflects on life in the Philippines

Francis "TJ" Serrano, longtime resident of California and a stalwart in the Filipino-American Christian community there, recently left the confines of America to enter a new phase of life, lifestyle and ministry in the Philippines. It was a move that caught many family and friends by surprise, with some mixed initial reactions.

TJ recently sat down for an exclusive interview with to share his thoughts on the big move and how things have been for him in the Philippines so far.

David Wu: When did you start considering ministry in the PI?

Francis "TJ" Serrano: Right after my conversation with current Southern California CI [Christmas Institute, a Christian retreat] dean, Pastor Neal Platon. I talked to him about my options, and he said, "What about the Philippines?" It's not only more economically friendly, but they have a shortage of English-speaking ministers.

DW: When was that conversation?

TJ: I think it was August of '07. I was with Michelle Quizon and Jun Navarro. And of course, Pastor Neal.

DW: Was it hard to break the news to all your loved ones?

TJ: My mom had been praying that I will go back to the Philippines, and although she never said anything, she wanted me to go back to my roots. So she was on board right away.

DW: And the rest of your family was cool with it as well?

TJ: Well, my nephew Kiko and niece Joy were supportive, but sad. But they have known for a while now that I've been called, so it was time. The other nephews were indifferent, which they usually are, but my oldest niece was sad and didn't want me to go.

DW: Why were the other nephews indifferent?

TJ: They are not the openly feeling type of boys, which I understand. But I know they support me. My friends were a different story. Although very supportive, I got a mixture of: "Are you sure?" "Why the Philippines?" "You know they kidnap people there."

DW: What was your response to the "kidnap people" comment?

TJ: To be honest, I thought of that Filipino comedian, Rex Navarette - how his mom was afraid he might get kidnapped also.

DW: So where are you now?

TJ: I live in Manila on Taft Avenue. I moved into this boarding house called PJ Mansion. It's convenient - it's across the street from school, five-minute walk to the mall, and a short train ride to church.

DW: Which church are you associated with there?

TJ: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Just kidding! Central UMC [United Methodist Church].

DW: What is your main ministerial role at the moment?

TJ: At the moment I'm just a student, currently waiting for God to tell me what's next.

DW: Do you currently have a rough vision for the types of avenues of ministry you want to try out over there?

TJ: I also teach Filipino Martial Arts so I want to incorporate that to my ministry, and hopefully be able to help with the CI group out here. But other than that, nothing really. I am letting GOD be the driver here so I don't know where I'm heading.

DW: The CI group - how's it similar to what we do in the States?

TJ: I don't know. In fact, thanks for reminding me. Sophie introduced me to someone and never heard from them - dang, she's not online - but as far as I hear, the CI here has a lot of Filipinos!

DW: How have you grown spiritually?

TJ: I am starting to really understand the whole "being in the wilderness" part, and stepping out of your comfort zone. I mean, I literally took myself out of all the comforts I was used to, and placed myself here.

DW: What is the most challenging situation you've dealt with over there so far?

TJ: Well, to be honest, it's the apathetic island mentality (without naming names). I was supposed to attend another school for seminary. I had been corresponding with the school since February, and all I was told was to bring my college transcripts. So I emailed them a copy as well as mailed them an official one. And ever since then, I was told that is all I need. The moment I got here, the school then tells me I need my high school transcripts, my high school diploma, a letter from not only my senior pastor, but my DS [district superintendent] and bishop as well! The hard thing is, as you know, with the Privacy Act they can't just release my information to anyone in the U.S., and school was starting in two weeks. And he waited till I got here to tell me that I was needing more.

DW: How were you able to expedite the process?

TJ: I couldn't. Thank God that He had other plans for me. Now the program I am in is better, and it's my own pace.

DW: Well, that's all I have at this time. Anything you'd like to add?

TJ: Yes... Manny Pacquio [boxer from the Philippines] is awesome.

DW: Actually, is he really a political force there?

TJ: Yes. But it's a double-edged sword. People were upset that most of the politicians here were in the U.S. taking photo ops with Manny after the fight, instead of being here taking care of their constituents after the big storm.

DW: Sounds like typical "Manny-pulation."

TJ: [laughs] Yeah, they were living it up in Las Vegas while their people were dying! Anything else?

DW: Nothing... other than - I think you're in a great spot in life... It's a miracle, really.

TJ: Thanks, man.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Just setting this up

I just set up this blog for my website. 'Nuff said.