WARS, SCARS, SARS!!!!!!!!! But our Almighty God is always there with us.
By Joel Ferraris
While the heat of the news about the military build-up for the invasion of Iraq in early 2003 dominated the headlines the world over, an unforgettable life-threatening experience during the equally dangerous and sensational outbreak of the SARS epidemic in here in Hong Kong proved to be another significant ordeal in my life’s journey.
Strong faith to our God the Father Almighty made possible a miracle that saved me and my family from fear and anxiety spawned by the above-mentioned threats. This in turn prompted me to write this piece. I hope that our story would also inspire others to recognize the existence of a loving and concerned Supreme Being who sees the hearts of men who placed their trust, hope and faith in Him.
AN EYE FOR AN EYE
My lifetime is just an insignificant page among the volumes upon volumes of history eons and eons thick. I’m the only human being to know the truths about myself. But however slim is that gape in life allowed for me it is enough to peek through history and have a picture of what has been happening all over the world all throughout the ages..
Technology has provided us the internet as a tool to see a big reservoir of information impossible to reach when I was a still young boy. Only books then and newspapers provide information, but the effort needed to browse a whole library is next to impossible.
As we read through recorded history, and as facts unfold slowly in front of our very own eyes, we feel a mixture of sadness, anger and disbelief about what man has done to his brother since the concept of hatred began.
In my lifetime the grim events of 9-11 is a big exclamation mark! Its aftermath has left a trail of distrust, fear and bloodbath in an age where technology and the e-scapes (as in electronic landscapes or the web) are supposed to ensure accurate and advanced information and intelligence.
With the failure to capture Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan and the stupidity of that dubious war in Iraq to snare Saddam Hussein more violence were spawned. Anywhere that people go there's that fear of “where the next bomb might explode?!”
Ancient wounds were reopened.
Some said that Bin Laden is the new Saladdin, that Muslim hero who fought King Richard. George W. Bush made a grave mistake by mouthing the word "crusade" in his speech. It was a careless act that seemed to rub a healed but deep wound open. Even worse was his policy of preemptive strike in which people like us with color are the most likely to be branded as possible terrorists.
How about if those preemptive strikes were turned into love for neighbor, forgiveness and turning the other cheek in order to preempt and avoid war and sufferings and death?
Am I lucky not to live in Iraq or Afghanistan?
With the dawning of the age of robots and robotic soldiers, simultaneously advancing with and challenged by computer viruses and hackers whose genius could cripple or maliciously tamper with computers programs, the chance of the struggle for human rights winning might become dimmer and dimmer. Robots have no conscience and soul…REMEMBER!!!
Many of us in this generation seem to be more concerned about surviving in the fast-paced world that we ignored the chance to study history and religion. Media has bombarded us with mountains of information some of which were sanitized to fill pockets and bank accounts.
Because of this lack of interest in the past we sometimes question why these despicable things happen. We ignored the hidden truths about the cycle of hatred and violence that helped shape or destroy tribes, nations and empires and their history. We only seem to see the present, react violently against violence and help spin the rotating wheel of hatred even more.
My question is, where is "turning the other cheek here"? Is Christianity nowadays obsolete?
In this age I now realize how the Palestinians and the Israelis feel each and every day. Now, as a Filipino living abroad, I have my share of fear each time me and my family board the plane. My country has its own taste of prolonged wars because of rebellion and secession. But nowadays violence seemed to be magnified by the turn of events.
My generation is, I would say, lucky not to have experienced a world war that my parents had in the prime of their lives. But it seems that war and its grim reality, highlighted by atrocities in full graphics, were well magnified and brought by TV right into the comforts of our homes.
TV and print media might have been raking in profits as people eagerly follow the developments of Bush's unholy war campaign by the time it started to escalate by the last quarter of 2002.
To some, the only means to escape this chaotic world magnified by these e-scapes is to jump out of the window and enter the next world without the benefits enjoyed by those Egyptian pharaohs.
I didn’t realize that one day I and my family will also be affected by an unseen and inevitable threat.
It was that dreaded epidemic in 2003, sensationalized by media but was initially denied by the authorities, that threatened my family. Starting from Southern Asia it spread like wildfire crossing the Pacific to Canada. It was so deadly that it left a number of deaths in its path. My country, the Philippines was spared with only some isolated case reported.
It so happened that I was in the middle of the storm that was SARS together with my family. Living in Hong Kong for seven years after joining my wife two years later when she decided to work here in 1994 and having been blessed with two sons is like a privilege. Back home the regular news of rising crime rate, corruption, the worsening economic condition and the thorny political arena sent hundreds if not thousands of my countrymen abroad to migrate, work or both.
I feel that the rest of Asia plus other countries in some parts of the world envy Hong Kong because of its economic status. Many foreigners flock to this "World City" for lucrative jobs…prompting people to think and say, "you are here just for the beautiful money!"
I admit that among the many desires we have as human beings is to find greener pastures…just like those migratory birds that are constantly changing places to follow their feeding and breeding routes.
This is the sound of gunfire. When you hear this you tremble…asking yourself if you're the one hit, if you're still alive or if someone fell dead among the people around you.
This is what I heard during those fateful days of April 2003. The bang was just a cold, dreadfully deafening silence I heard inside my mind. Not only SARS sent shivers down my spine… but also the fact that we discovered a lump or two on my wife Sally's right breast.
It was a double-whammy!
As I have mentioned, we are living in Hong Kong…a place where "the glitter of gold is much brighter". But not all that live here enjoy these riches. And not all that are flooded with these material riches are blessed with moral, physical or spiritual wealth. Not all the time we hit gold. But most of the time we miss The Light.
There are those who find themselves instantly out of job. There are those who live in subhuman conditions…in cages built one on top of the other complete with padlocks. There are white foreigners who search the garbage bins for scraps. There are locals who just look at how these highly skilled foreigners enjoy the riches that their city could offer.
There are some who find themselves caught between the tight grip of the credit card quandary…just like what happened to the South Koreans…when the "savior becomes the executioner". Those several credit cards so easily available, intended to serve the consumer and to pump-in much needed money for the government, transformed into prison bars of bankruptcy.
The shiny and glossy neatness of all these proud skyscrapers only served as a disguise for the real rottenness of its countless problems inside. Those who can't stand it any longer jump and glide in the smog outside and enter hell as their skulls and bones smash on the concrete ground down below.
THEY RAN AWAY! THEY FLED!
What about us? What about me and my family? It so happened that when everyone's packing-up to flee and evade the terrible hard lash that was SARS, we were helplessly left thinking about our fate…counting those few dollars left.
In the first few days when we discovered my wife Sally's lumps in her breast I just ignored it. It did not sink into my thoughts right away. But one night, as we are watching the news of rising death toll, I suddenly felt the chilly hand of fear creeping in my being. "What if it is cancer? What if my wife dies and leaves me alone caring for our two sons? What will my sons feel? Where should we get the money to spend looking for her cure…for our trip back home to flee SARS? What if we die here in Hong Kong…helpless and isolated from our loved ones in the Philippines?"
Why now…why not during those times when we have much more to spend…when anytime we could pack-up and go?
These and many more are the rocks and boulders in that avalanche of questions that clouded my thoughts that moment.
But come to think of it…if it is our time to die, are we in control of everything?
Caught in the midst of this dilemma and standing with our backs against the wall I kept still and thought of facing the storm... come what may!!!"
My family's here with me. We have a place to go but we can't go! For a cornered man chased by a murderous mob the option is either to scale one of the three walls or to take his chances and go straight toward the mob, face the raining blows from guns, clubs and knives and try to escape alive.
The three walls in that dead end corner of our life are very high. The height is impossible to climb…because it infinitely reaches the sky above into nothingness. But the truth is these walls have an invisible door. That Door was there…installed 2004 years ago. Because of years of strife, whitewashing and the growing vines and thorn-bushes of ignorance, disbelief and unfaithfulness the doors were covered. A lot of people, their eye-sights blinded by the glitter of gold, didn't recognize it. Worse, they refuse to recognize it! Only those who heard the Master's Words are aware of that door.
I knocked…hoping that Someone might hear. I know He will open it. But on the contrary He was the one who knocked first, several times in the past, and asked me to allow Him in.
THE DOOR WAS OPENED
My wife and I didn't waste time. We prayed to our Almighty God the Father, in the name of His Son our Lord Jesus Christ for help. What ensued in the next days, weeks and months was a miracle in the making.
With no money to spend for the medical tests we approached our brother and sister in Couples for Christ to ask for help. They lent us money, several thousands, to pay for that series of tests. Here in this foreign land and away from our relatives the only consolation you have is to have a community to support you materially, morally and spiritually. Bank accounts, no matter how big in several thousands or even millions, are not a guarantee to cure physical, moral and spiritual diseases!!! It cannot cure. It is not the cure!!!
I didn't realize that those lumps in my wife's breast were just a blessing in disguise. On the first day we went to see a doctor for her medical examinations something strange happened.
The British doctor's clinic in Wanchai is a just few minutes away from my wife's office. After the check-up we decided to have lunch. Sally suggested we go to the Convention Center because the food is good and the price is reasonable too. But I prefer Jollibee, that famous Filipino fast-food chain because, aside from good food, I prefer to eat in a more relaxed atmosphere. But as we were walking I changed my mind and instead we changed our direction and headed for Mang Ambo where we could have a lot of choices of Filipino dishes. This small "carinderia" or eatery is the favorite of Filipino professionals because of the price, the taste and the variety of food they offer.
We entered the small restaurant and ordered our meal. We picked one empty table and started to eat. As we enjoy the meal while discussing our next moves, the lingering fear and anxiety often interferes with our senses of taste and sight. As we eat our food our eyeballs roll, panning the street outside full of people with masks. Oh yes…here comes the threat of SARS again. That visit to the clinic and the thought of cancer stole our mind's attention from SARS. One might either fume with anger for this unfortunate predicament ready to pounce on anyone or be weakened with fear. I will be tested this very moment.
That shoots my mind back to the Old Testament when Job was tested several times by the devil. I feared this might happen to me too. But a wise person will go for the best defense and the best defense will only come from the Almighty God. Job was wise and faithful and his sacrifices were rewarded tenfold.
One look at the other table next to ours made me question my being a Christian and renewed fratman. The events of February 2002, with the news about our five fraternity brothers' trial for murder sensationalized by media, are still fresh in my mind. My being a fanatic fratman was suddenly transformed into a fanatic Christian to finally a renewed believer with an open mind. The absence of Wisdom in my youthful years put me in trouble of various kinds. Now my patience and quest for Truth and Love will be put to the test.
The muscular man on the other table looked at me. His build could make you tremble. His piercing eyes and confident look could land him in trouble during our campus years or if we happen to be in the streets of Manila or Iloilo. Even here in Hong Kong, where the policemen's dignified and respectable appearance make you feel temporarily at peace, that look is challenging the man out of me. But making trouble is not my cup of tea anymore.
He finally broke his silence and asked me, "Isn't it that you're an artist?" Wow! That was not the sound of grrrrrrrr…threat!!!! Instead, that was a compliment, like music to my ears! Anybody in the streets of Hong Kong recognizing me might have read the newspapers about my art exhibitions. The more than 50 public murals that our group, the Hong Kong Mural Society, painted all around Hong Kong exposed me not only to the heat of the sun and the cold winter but also to all kinds of people. Sometimes they smile at me in the subways, in the streets, anywhere…and I feel embarrassed for not recognizing them.
Edgar asked me if I am ready to take his offer. Their design company has a huge project and they are looking for someone to do large murals and art pieces and paintings for them. Sally and I were surprised when, right there and then, he asked me to go with him to their office to discuss the project.
What? He's going to give the project to me? He trusted me the first time we met? He claimed to meet me years ago in the baptism of the son of our common friend…but that was years ago!!! And to give his trust to me is scary!!! Does he know my attitude towards work, money, art? It was a test on my credibility.
Right after I and Sally finished our lunch I went with Edgar to discuss the project. We left my wife at the small restaurant. It's unbelievable for me to leave my wife alone and go with a stranger.
Edgar took me to one company owned by a Chinese art consultant just to have me familiarized with the job. His boss, an architect/interior designer thought of giving me the whole job. I felt uneasy simply because I know that it will be at the expense of their former supplier. I don't want to steal the opportunity meant for other people because we are both having our own families to support.
It's funny because the usual practice in corrupt countries is to offer bribes to grab the whole pie. Here in Hong Kong integrity and honesty in business is being policed by an anti-corruption body, so bribery is a no-no. Besides, I just want to have one wall in the first place because my aim is to paint a beautiful mural and earn just a modest sum. In this way I would be able to contribute to our family budget and enjoy my favorite profession and passion - ART.
But the final decision is not mine. I finally got the whole project - several pieces of large, framed artworks plus several large walls to be filled with murals. This is the first time I feel I will be fed-up and exhausted with painting by just thinking about the volume of the job I will be facing.
I felt relieved when at a later date Edgar told me that the Chinese art consultant felt relieved too by not getting the job. It was his big headache for the past months. Satisfying the client is just like a guessing-game wherein a lot of studies had to be submitted before you see the green light.
The usual thing that someone offered this huge job would do I guess is to fantasize about the huge amount involved. The worst is to be tempted to plunge into the pit of greed. Of course I can't handle the job all by myself. The fact that it is my first time to set-up business on my own here in Hong Kong is already scary. After consulting an elder from CFC I decided to go on and take the offer, set-up and register my company and rented a studio space.
Now comes the signing of the contract. As I stood in front of their building, a several story high landmark in Central, Hong Kong, I thought of the Old Testament. David faced the giant Goliath. Here I stand in front of my client, bearing my fledgling company's name, not to do battle but to do a job and prove my worth. But on top of it I have yet witness a promise from Almighty God unfold after He sent me a message that He's going to give me a big blessing. Unbelievable…but God the Father Almighty still communicates to people nowadays.
Yes…indeed it is a blessing. In the midst of the chaos that was SARS, the terrorists’ bombs plus the possible threat of cancer I received this big project. It was not just through a message I personally received that I know it is coming but also from a dream that my wife had during those days when we discovered her breast lumps.
One day, a regular day when Sally has to prepare for work and I was busy in front of the pc she complained that she’s not feeling well and decided to go back to bed. After a short nap she woke up to tell me about a clear dream. She dreamt about a friend who arrived in our flat offering us to buy a piece of real estate. Soon after another visitor arrived and that time it was an old man who wanted to see me to deliver a check for me. The check, a HK$ 51,000.00 paper made of gold, was a large piece like those shown on TV being awarded to winners of lotteries. This delicate piece made of sort of gold leaf was from another old man, a wealthy one, who plans to bequeath to me an unimaginable amount of fortune. The delivery man told me something like “if you only knew who gave this to you and the immensity of fortune you are about to inherit. But first you have to prove that you are a man of integrity.”
At first I thought, being a material human being that I am, that this is money, clear money. I was tempted to fantasize that huge bank account waiting for me to put my hands on. Maybe because my last name adds an “s” to that of the world famous expensive race car I could be an heir to the car company’s fortune!!!
On second thought I understood that it is all about spiritual wealth. Divine wealth of Wisdom and Love is infinite. To be firm in faith is already an infinite blessing and a taste of heaven here on earth. Lord Jesus Christ has demonstrated that by example.
At this point on I felt happy to realize that my attachment to material wealth is the same as before – weak!!! I often thought that if only I could continue doing my art, continue living without being burdened by money matters I love to dedicate my lifetime to it. But reality requires me to go on working for a living to support my family. It is a responsibility and art has to be sacrificed many times. I also understand that too much indulgence in art and the fortune and fame that goes with it will only lead artists to their doom. It’s like working hard for nothing!!! Pollock’s life is one example.
I still am not sure if I will really inherit material wealth but to be guided by our Almighty God in my lifetime is a gift that cannot be surpassed by what this world could offer.
Years ago I have enjoyed the free gift called daydreaming. I fantasized about being asked by a wealthy man to do a large-scale painting, a mural, for him. He said that I can do whatever design I have in mind and he is willing to pay me handsomely.
That was just a daydream. Who in the world will ask me to do that? Where will he get the money to pay me? What’s his job or business to afford such luxury? In a world full of dishonesty and greed only crooks with dubious businesses could throw away money at the expense of the majority wallowing in poverty.
That daydream seems to have a nasty habit of recurring. But this time it’s true. This time it’s not a single person but a big company who asked me to do not only one but a lot of murals for them plus several pieces of framed paintings. And this time my friends and brothers are involved. The bulk of the project is too much for one artist to do and to share these blessings to others is an accomplishment too.
We were given 75 days to complete the whole set artworks for the clubhouse in one newly built high end residential tower in a prime spot in Kowloon MTR, Hong Kong. The Chinese interior designer who hired my company’s services told me that the place where our art pieces hang has a million-dollar view of the Hong Kong harbor. I could see the skyline of the Hong Kong Island from noon till the night lights start to twinkle from the faraway skyscrapers as I continue to complete the murals on site.
75 days is not enough to complete a superb mural. It may sound odd but I prayed for the deadline to be extended. And extend it did. From its commencement in July 2003 the project dragged on till December 2003. I was nervous as my brothers and friends experienced hard times and squeezed schedules to finish their assigned parts while here I spent my time completing the 10 pieces of framed paintings.
Going into the world of business in a place like Hong Kong is like walking into a dense forest where, despite the lure and promise of robust trees teeming with fruits, everything is uncertain. For a first-timer like me with nothing to bet but my God-given talent starting a business empty handed is a big challenge and looks impossible.
Hong Kong, like any country in the world, has its own underworld. A gweilo friend of mine, an art gallery owner who represents me here in Hong Kong, told me about the threats of the Triad gang. This mafia-style group victimizes Chinese businesses and sucks them with protection money. My friend, being a westerner, seems to be immune from their threats perhaps because he is a white man and also because the westerners’ business areas are vital to Hong Kong’s economy. How about me?
The bulk of the project and the fact that this is my first time to handle such immense task had put a lot of pressure on me. 75 days to complete it is next to impossible.
A lot of businesses here I guess have capital to make their business machinery going before the contract is signed. Mine is the complete opposite. Therefore it was just like a kamikaze move.
Whoever thinks of staying in Hong Kong for good might have a very firm reason to do so. Economically maybe yes. But there are a lot of things that we want to consider why we need to move a better place. Space, environment and language are just a few of these concerns. Although Hong Kong has a low crime rate but the threat of its openness to the mainland caused many foreigners to think twice.
Any place on earth could be or couldn’t be the right place to stay for the rest of our lives. Even in remote and secluded Aspen where crime is unlikely to occur was not spared from the threats. Years ago there was this serious crime that gripped this rich man’s haven in fear.
So where on earth is a safe place to live? The only answer I guess is within the caring hands of our Almighty God.
How good it is to experience freedom. How sweet it is to smell those flowers in the morning mist. How relaxing it is to be relieved by one’s burden!
My project at the Union Square-The Harbourside, the first since I formed FERRARIS ART STUDIO, was finally completed after months of sacrifice and uncertainties. I was tested and tempted at the same time. If I’m given the choice to decide I would have quitted from the very beginning but it was Faith and determination that kept me going.
I mean Faith…because talent alone and qualifications wouldn’t land us to the right connections all the time. There are people who have these but without Faith and service to God and fellowmen one’s efforts will not be complete.
I learned from Edgar that the penthouse of that building is now owned by Jean Claude van Damme, the Hollywood action star. It’s now hard to enter that site because it is exclusive only to the few and selected moneyed-elite.
This place will yet be another landmark of Hong Kong, for here will rise another magnificent skyscraper – the twin of IFC Tower in Central, Hong Kong.
At least I had experienced what it feels to be in a million-dollar clubhouse viewing the Hong Kong harbor when I was there doing the finishing touches on the murals together with construction workers and other personnel.
Jacky Chan, the Hong Kong international action star, once said in a TV interview: “if there is a God then he has blessed me so much!” Jacky Chan is famous but humble. This is one trait that we need to emulate.
I don’t know what God Almighty has in store for me in the future. Only my faith in Him coupled with actions will allow things to unfold one day at a time.
My success is not without those many helping hands ready to come into my aid. As a member of Couples for Christ and surrounded by a community of believers with genuine concern for their brother or sister, those turbulent times were a lot easier to bear. With a business starting from scratch, those encouraging words from our chapter head and constant prayers from my community made me decide to step on a path that seem uncertain.
And if these graces and blessings happened to me, it could happen to anybody.
WARS!!!... SCARS!!!... SARS!!!... But
OUR ALMIGHTY GOD IS ALWAYS THERE WITH US!!!!