Ricardo Candelaria Jr., nicknamed Ding, was an activist. He was a member of the New People’s Army (NPA), a rebel militia group taking a stand against the injustices of the Philippine government. One of the predominant reasons he joined the NPA was the injustice that followed his father’s murder.
There was a group of young men fooling around the way young men do – only this group’s idea of fun went too far along dangerous grounds. You see they had a bet. The first man they saw, they will kill. Right then, Ricardo Candelaria Sr., Ding’s father, went out to have a smoke after a family meal. Because of some foolish bet, where life was literally turned into a gamble, a family lost a father in the span of time that it took to light a cigarette. Justice was never met for this gruesome murder.
So Ding grew up a rebel against the government that failed to give his father justice. Thus, when his cousin, Rose – my mom – came to know the LORD and started to tell him things like, “There is a new revolution – A Jesus revolution. It is His love that can truly bring about change. We can’t do it by force,” Ding just scoffed at her. He laughed at her naive delusions, or so he thought they were.
One day, when he came to Manila after having come from some NPA stint in Davao, he saw a poster talking about a “Life in the Spirit” seminar. It was as if some invisible force was drawing him to go. He encountered that wonderful, Invisible Force during that seminar. He came to know the LORD and was baptized in the Holy Spirit right there and then.
Coming fresh out of the seminar, he went to my mom and thanked her for praying for him.
I remember the first time I heard about him. I was in high school. We were in church and someone whispered something to my mom and she stepped out of the service. She didn’t return and when I saw her after the service, she was in tears.
She had just received news that Ding was murdered. That’s when she told me fondly about her cousin.
When she moved to Benguet as a missionary back in 1982, he joined her soon after. He easily empathized with people and would often be moved to tears. He had a burden for the sick and for the poor. Even after he had left my mom and dad in the mission field, he was one of their constant supporters. He would earn some extra income from operating a pedicab just so he could send my parents money. At that time, my parents had no income to live on other than their faith in a providing God, so Ding was one whom the LORD really used to support them in the early stages of the ministry. As time went by, they lost touch and that’s probably why I don’t remember ever meeting him.
But his story really stuck with me when my mom told me about him. Looking back, I’m just amazed at how God can change someone the way he changed my uncle, Ding.
The way he died is really poetic in its tragedy.
A bunch of drunk men saw him passing by and for no reason other than the wickedness of a human’s sinful nature, they stabbed him to death. There were eyewitnesses who watched but did not dare help, because the men who did it to him came from powerful, affluent families, but one thing about the story that gives me chills even as I write it down was what they testified his last words were.
Only God can turn a bitter activist to someone, who faced with the same injustice that turned him into a rebel, could love God enough that even as he was being brutally murdered, he was able to muster the strength and the conviction to shout, “Praise the Lord!”
I guess his story will always be a part of me, tucked away in my subconscious, inspiring me, reminding me that God can turn a rebel into a true lover of the Lover of souls.
I pray that when (or if) I die, I will be like he was, praising my Maker with my very last breath.
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