An encounter with St. Andrew

As the church welcomes the season of Advent, I am reminded of my own encounter with Saint Andrew. Here’s a story.

I grew up in a small town called San Andres, the Tagalog name for Saint Andrew. The town only had one parish and a church, which was home to a wooden figure of San Andres Apostol. Story was, during the unrest between the military and the NPA (New People’s Army), our town was a hiding place for civilians and one of the fighting forces (I don’t remember which one, though if my memory serves me right, it was the military). One day, one of the citizens discovered a piece of wood from a small sailboat’s wreckage, grounded ashore to the town’s pier. The wooden figure was that of Saint Andrew, to which the town was named after. Ever since the discovery, there seemed to be less frequent attacks, the town and its people found peace and safety. The elderly would often make kwento about those days under siege, kwentos on how San Andres Apostol protected the town upon its arrival on the shore.

Here’s one particular story which I remember clearly to this day.

It was when our bayan was under the attack of the guerillas. Our town is situated at the southernmost tip of the peninsula. It is bounded to the waters of Ragay Gulf on the east and Sibuyan Sea on the south. The rest of the surrounding areas on the north and west were covered by large fields of tall grasses called cogon, to which the town – Sugbong Cogon – was previously named after. Prior to the discovery of Saint Andrew’s statue, our town was in constant danger due to the unceasing attacks from the military. After all, the town was the ideal hiding place for rebels and the NPA due to its strategic location. However, one day the town was peaceful and quiet, far from the fear of gera and red alert. Lolos and lolas would say it was because of San Andres Apostol, that the saint made a maze out of the tall grasses, so outsiders would never find their way into the town. And though the town faced the wide sea, no intruders ever wandered into the town from the waters. They said San Andres Apostol found a home in our town.

I loved hearing this story. It was my first encounter with Saint Andrew.

It was only years later when I learned of the infamous story of the calling of Saint Andrew. Even upon reading the passage in Matthew 4, reading more of the stories of the Apostles and their journey of faith, reading more about the other saints, never did the life or story of Saint Andrew ever struck me again.

Fast forward to several years later. By the grace of God, I have been blessed with the opportunity to serve one of our community’s ministry. The youth ministry has always been my home; it planted on me a mustard seed which grew to be my service and faith, and it was more than a blessing to serve in the same ministry to make others know Christ. Just as how much this ministry introduced Jesus to me, I desired for others to know Him and the life I found in Him.

Together with few others, we formed a team to prepare for a project. It was by no means an easy task. It was not the matter of preparation for the said event, rather the situation of the ministry we were preparing it for. Those were the times when the number of youth attending community activities were dwindling. The youth ministry itself did not have a concrete structure, let alone plans and activities for its members. We were in a dire situation and the idea of this project was to enkindle the youth’s commitment to the ministry – to participate, to commit, to serve. It was, as you can say, a desperate move.

As much as I wanted to serve with all my heart, there came my uncertainties. Am I good enough? The irony is that Fearless, the workshop we were working on, was aiming to affirm us of our abilities. God does not call the equipped, He equips the called. I could go on listing down all the verses and quotes which inspired us for this workshop – but those did not erase my fears. The team I was in was composed of people not only older than me; they were much more well-versed, knowledgeable, experienced and most of all, their faith was far beyond mine. I had just finished my teachings and I was only beginning to be active in the community. Furthermore, I did not know anyone beyond my youth encounter class, and I could not bring myself to be the nice, friendly, approachable person they all are. Simply put, I should not be there with them, not out of my incapability, but of respect to people who deserves all the praise for their service. A newbie like me has no right to be taking credits for working with people like them. I was filled with doubts, but that did not stop me from serving with all I have. I know I am lacking, I am a weak human being after all. God never failed to provide for me, His Spirit strong in all the times I was weary and lost (Matthew 11:28-30), His grace overwhelmed me, His strength made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

I thank Him everyday for giving me a ministry to serve. From Fearless to few other activities, serving the youth ministry was all I could ever ask for. I found a home and a family, I found the Lord. My faith grew as I continued to say yes to all He asked of me. Few years later (this is the last time skip for this post), He called me once again to serve, this time in another ministry. As close as I was to the youth, I knew it was time for me to step aside and have faith in the Lord’s work through others. I’ve made a decision to withdraw from the youth when I was asked to lead another project for the youth ministry. My immediate answer to the offer was no, thinking that I definitely would not be able to lead that project. In the first place, I was only able to do it because I had the team with me. The uncertainty regarding my ability to lead resurfaced, and I opened up about my insecurities.

In the years of serving with Team Fearless, I never believed I was deserving of the position alongside the other members of the team, for reasons I have mentioned previously. Furthermore, the response from the community did not help with my already growing insecurity. It was as if no one saw me as a part of the team; not exactly sure if it was because it was already expected only they did all the work, or because I was not really public about my involvement in the project, or both. It felt like my efforts and service were ignored and left unrecognised.

The person I opened up to responded to me with the story of Saint Andrew’s calling. He was the first one who found the Messiah, and the first evangelist of faith when he brought his brother Simon Peter to Jesus (John 1:41). Though as big as this was, Andrew did not have further spotlights in the Bible. He was not one of the three – Peter, James and John – closest apostles to Jesus. Andrew assumed the background role compare to the works of his brother Peter and his name was never mentioned again in the New Testament after the Ascension. However, this did not mean he never did anything after he was called by Jesus. Taking up the lesser appearance which pales in comparison to his brother Peter, who he himself called to serve Jesus, did not make him less of an apostle.

Andrew’s humility is an inspiration on another level. How can someone who has contributed so much be seen so less? As human beings, we are vulnerable to our need for acknowledgement, yet Saint Andrew sets an inspiring example for us. At times, we want recognition for the things we do/are doing. It affirms us that we are on the right track; encourages us when it’s all seemingly futile and useless, it motivates us to do better. Most of all, recognition is a validation that we did something. The life of Saint Andrew hits differently to me at this point in my faith. His story is a reminder of who I serve and what is my service for. All reasons for recognition I have mentioned are all valid, but we ought to remember and put the Lord in the midst of everything we do. It is not self-destructive to abandon the need for recognition. We ought to see recognition as the recognition of the grace of the Lord and his works that was done through us. All compliments and praises are only present because it was the Lord who has provided for us. My need for recognition is my desire to bring praise and glory to the Lord I serve. In every job well done, it’s a recognition of how amazing the Lord’s works are; in all you’ve blessed me with your prayer and you’ve blessed the community with your service, it’s a testament to how great the Lord is – and how blessed I am to be an instrument of His greatness.

I pray for a heart like yours, Saint Andrew. A heart ready to cast down my net and follow Jesus without questions of when, where or how. I pray to be like you, who served wholeheartedly to spread the good news in the ways that you can, and calling others just as how you called your brother Peter to serve the Lord.