Explore and Engage in Personal Mission

The Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara

Address delivered at the Grand Alumni Homecoming of Trinity University of Asia, celebrating its 45th anniversary, January 26, 2008. The Rev. Vergara, TUA graduate of A.B. Political Science in 1973 is currently the Program Officer for Asian American Ministries in The Episcopal Church, USA. He lives with his wife, Angela, in New York City.

I feel deeply honored and profoundly humbled to speak before you
today on the occasion of the 45th year anniversary of Trinity College of Quezon City and its one year anniversary as Trinity University of Asia. I am an alumnus of at least six schools but I would say that Trinity is my most beloved Alma Mater.

It is exactly forty years ago today, in 1968, when I first set foot on the soil of Trinity. My entrance was nothing short of miraculous because when I enrolled as a freshman, I had no high school diploma. I was on my second-year high school in Iloilo when I stowed away in a ship bound for Manila. For the Visayans in the ‘60’s, Manila was the New York of the Philippines, a city of dreams and opportunity---and I was one of those taga-baryo who dreamt of making it in Manila.

After wandering as a street urchin for weeks, I was fortunate to meet an Aglipayan priest who gave me a janitorial job and the chance to finish my high school. The differences in subjects, however, between Ajuy High School and Technological Institute in Manila made me unable to receive a diploma. But I was eager to go to Trinity and argued that I already spent four years in high school and was ready for college. So I was advised by the Registrar’s Office, at that time under Mr Colloquio, to see the Bureau of Private Schools. At the bureau, nobody was giving attention so in desperation, I barged into the office of Dr. Narciso Albarracin, who despite being rudely interrupted, listened to my urgent plea. After a brief interview, he asked his staff to give me a qualifying exam. Of 100 questions, I had only one mistake and so when he saw the results, he wrote these words:” This is to certify that as of this day, Wenifredo Vergara has completed academic secondary school.” I brought that letter to Mr. Colloquio who could hardly believe---he had to phone the BPS for confirmation---but that was how I got into Trinity College.

Forty years have passed and today, as a 58 year-old alumnus of Trinity, I would say that I have explored many avenues, traversed many seas, walked many dusty roads, driven many highways and byways. I have travelled the world and have made many small and yet significant achievements. My Bachelor in Arts, major in Political Science was only the beginning of the many academic degrees that by the grace of God, I was able to obtain. My vocation as priest in both the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and The Episcopal Church has given me many joys and challenges and my current ministry in America has given me tremendous opportunity to serve God and people.

The poet T. S. Elliot said that “we should not cease from exploring…and the end of our exploring is to arrive where we started and discover the place for the first time.” Today, I discover that it is in Trinity where the building blocks of my adult life and my ministry have really begun. Trinity to me was not only an academe but a campus of adventure, a haven of exploration that strengthened the development of my character and provided me with noble ideas and ideals for the rest of my life.

I remember the fire that gutted the old Trinity building across Ysmael Steel; I remember the activism of the early 1970’s, the imposition of martial law and the crackdown on student movements. I was editor-in-chief of The Trinity Observer, publisher of an activist newsletter Hudyat and member of Alpha Phi Omega Fraternity. I finished my A.B. Political Science degree in 1973 but due to the martial law situation and the turbulence of that era, I was not there to receive my diploma. As a matter of fact, I was given my diploma only yesterday---35 years after my graduation.

More than the memory of geography, scenery and events of Trinity that lights the corners of my mind are the memory of the people of Trinity---the faculty and fellow students---who have left a deep impression in my being. I remember the former TCQC President, Dr. Arturo Guerrero, who despite our first demonstration against his administration was really an inspiration to me. He was the first one who told me, “Fred, you are a thinker” and encouraged me to think more deeply. We were not really good friends while I was a student but when I became a priest, he stood as sponsor to my ordination and godfather at my wedding.

I remember Professor Florentino Timbreza and his Philosophy Class, Miss Agoncillo and her History Class, Attorney Miriam Defensor-Santiago in International Law and of course, our dear Dr. Josefina Sumaya in Humanities. Like many of you, I sat in their classrooms and like a sponge absorbed the waters of knowledge and information, hoping that I would gain wisdom and understanding.

I also remember the fun, the first love, the adventure, the passion and the foolishness of youth. Among my close friends were Cesar Oracion, Silvino Baradi, Jules Quintana, Cyril Salvador, Mac Narreto, Benjie Yngente and of course, my editorial staff at Trinity Observer, including Lapaz Ganaden, Linda Pedrosa and my predecessor as editor-in-chief Laura Bernice Somebang.

Someone said that when you get old there are three things that you lose: first, is your memory, the second and third…well, I could not remember. I must admit that there are times I experience the onset of “senior moments” but when it comes to Trinity, so many things remain vivid in my memory. I still remember the motto of our College in the 1970’s---“Towards Academic excellence and moral integrity.” This motto became primordial in my own pursuits. I have come to believe that education is a never-ending process and being educated is one of the great equalizers in society. Filipino parents are right in selling even their farms and carabao so they could send their children to school. Education is pre-requisite to success.

After my graduation at Trinity, I served as editor of The Christian Register, went to St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary and became a priest. After serving the Philippines for two years, my wife and I moved to Singapore where I obtained a Master in Theology and served as priest at St. Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral. In 1986, we moved to the United States to complete a Doctorate in Ministry at San Francisco Theological Seminary and worked in California for 16 years as diocesan missioner. In 2004, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold appointed me the national Asian missioner and director of Ethnic Congregational Development. I also received a second doctorate, an honorary degree from CDSP, the Episcopal seminary in the West.

Our Missions
I have narrated these things not to boast but to express my gratitude to God who guides and provides and to Trinity University which has become my intellectual mother, from whose breast I was fed the milk of knowledge.

Life is a journey, a pilgrimage and each one of us is given by the Almighty with a mission to fulfill. Stephen Covey, author of “Seven Habits of Successful People,” said that in our transitory life, we should try to develop a personal mission statement to give meaning to our life and give direction to our journey. He suggested that our personal mission is fourfold: to live, to love, to learn and to leave a legacy.”

First mission is to live. Whether short or long, we must live life to the full. What matters most is not the quantity of life but the quality of life. Life is a gift and that we must learn to number our days so we may gain wisdom. Methuselah lived to be 365 years old but has practically done nothing of significance while Jesus lived for 33 years and yet his deeds were mighty and so many that “no book could ever be written that would have recorded all that he has done.”

The lawgiver, Moses lived to be 120 years. Moses’ biography can be divided into three chapters: the first 40 years, “Moses thought he was somebody”; the second 40 years, “Moses found out he was a nobody;” and the final 40 years, “Moses realized what God can do to a nobody.”

To live in God and with God is the essence of life. Those who walk with God always reach their destination. I am saying this not only because I am a priest; I am saying this because I experienced it myself. I counsel you to walk with God in every area of your life.

Second mission is to love. This begins with loving God with all our heart, mind and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Trinity is a mission school, a Christian school, an Episcopal school. The love ethic is an integral part of its values. Love is indeed a “many splendored thing” I am not talking only about romantic love, which is also important to life. I am also talking about loving your family and friends, loving your career or work and loving your country. At Trinity, I learned that loving our country is to stand for social justice and to be vigilant against unjust structures. It is the duty of every citizen and of every Christian to bear witness to the truth. We must stand against graft and corruption that has infected the social structures. We must work for a free, just and prosperous society. Loving your neighbor involves standing up for human rights and speaking against oppression and dehumanization.

Third mission is to learn. God has given us this vast and mysterious universe. We should have the thirst for knowledge, the childlike curiosity and awe of God’s creation.

Learning involves active listening. It involves immersing ourselves to the reality of life. When we were student activists at Trinity College, we learned to “smell the city” and to analyze the structure of society. We endeavor to “know thyself” and listen to the hopes and longings of the people in light of God’s grace. Sometimes I wonder why so many Filipinos are so crazy about Basketball when we are short and small compared with other races and could hardly dunk the ball. We should instead spend more time on intellectual pursuits where our talents and brains can excel without limits. Indeed, we should never cease from exploring knowledge and wisdom for God has given us the mind

Fourth and final mission is to leave a legacy. One wise person said, “We pass in this world only once and so whatever good we can do, we do it now for we may not have a chance to do it again.” While visiting a public park I saw this sign, “leave nothing but footprints, and take nothing but photographs.” Indeed, when our time is up, when the bell tolls for our departure from this world, what legacy do we leave behind? Are we able to leave this world so much better, so much wonderful, so much peaceful than when we first found it?

Yesterday, I was with other alumni in touring the Trinity campus. I have seen so many physical improvements in Trinity. Many of these new and beautiful buildings were made possible by the generosity of friends and philanthropists from the United States and from the generous donations from local supporters. The visions and goals of Dr. Sumaya, our current University president, are being accomplished through persistent prayer, labor and effective management. It would indeed be great if our alumni who have achieved some measure of success and prosperity would remember to support Trinity today and to include this university in their wills.

But I am not talking only about material legacy, important and necessary they maybe. I’m also talking about legacy of honesty, of noble virtues, of exemplary life. When you die, what would you like people to remember you? Indeed, what kind of legacy would you leave behind?

When I was visiting China two years ago, I learned this story of a farmer who, by some stroke of luck, became an emperor of China during the Ming Dynasty. The story goes that the regime of the Emperor had become too corrupt and so oppressive that the people longed for a change. Because he was a good horse rider, the farmer Cheng Lo was chosen to lead the revolution. As he rode towards the palace gates, he was followed by the masses and they were able to subdue the guards and dethrone the emperor. And now as Cheng Lo was sitting on the throne and crowned as the new emperor, he was asked by his followers: How would you govern? How would you ensure that we have food to eat? What is your plan to defend the palace? How do you bring prosperity and peace? Chen Lo, replied, “I don’t know, I just came to eat a dumpling.” (The story ended with Chen Lo being beheaded by his own followers.)

I believe that you and I, alumni of Trinity have been given by God and by own strivings, the gifts, the skills, the education, the knowledge and the wisdom to be what we can be and to serve God and God’s people. We are not in this world simply to eat a dumpling. We are here for a higher purpose---and that is to bring glory to God in the life we lead---by living, loving, learning and leaving a good legacy. Hail beloved Trinity!

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