I got a call early this year that will forever change my life.
It was Tita Ruth, mother of Dember. I cannot remember how she got my number but it does not matter anymore. Tita Ruth asked me if I could meet Dember. There was urgency of the call. I could sense a mother’s care and concern. She told me about Dember.
Dember is 30 years old. He is turning 31 this November. He was 14 when he started experiencing signs that are not normal. He was diagnosed to have a mental illness. He fought hard and did a great job in enduring it for 17 years.
A meet-up was arranged on a Sunday morning. I was not sure what to expect. I was not exactly sure what to say to Dember. I remember praying to God asking for wisdom and discernment.
We met. Tita Ruth introduced me to Dember. He nodded. I nodded. I offered my hand and he shook it. Tita Ruth then went to her victory group.
I ushered Dember to the office and grabbed a chair beside my work area. He probably woke up thinking about the meet-up also. He probably was not sure what to expect. He probably had no idea what to say either.
When we were both sitting down comfortably, I was thinking of a question to ask. Dember broke the silence first. In a tense voice he asked, “What is your name again?” So, I reintroduced myself.
Dember: Ah, you are Kuya Junver. Is this your office Kuya Junver?
I said yes and explained my job. Then he told me, “Pray for me Kuya Junver. I want to finish school also.”
Our conversation went on and on and on. Dember got comfortable and I was too. Dember shared to me his dreams. He told me about how he loves his family. He told me about God. He gave me a lot of things to think about life, goals, prayers and dreams.
I was just listening. Sometimes, he would stop and would think so deep and then he would ask me, “Kuya Junver, sometimes I get so lonely and I do not know why?”
I told him. I do get lonely too. Sometimes I do not know why also. But I will pray to God about it and then He will just remove the loneliness in my heart.
His eyes would widen as if learning something knew or recalling what he already knew.
He shared to me that he is scared of people. He is afraid of their questions that he might not be able to answer. He is shy. I reassured him that I am too. It is normal for some people. That is why we can really be friends. He would nod in agreement.
Whenever my friends would visit me in the office, I would introduce them to him. It was awkward and with so much tension the first time. He got used to it eventually. I would tell him that they are my friends and so they are his friends too. He enjoyed calling them Kuya and introducing himself to people.
Kids Church Experience
With the approval of his parents, I brought him to Kids Church*. I told them that my job involves traveling so that when I am not around, he can join my friends at Kids Church.
Our first time together at Kids Church was when I was the assigned preacher. When we went in, I could see that he was both excited and scared. The door was opened for us and I felt him stopping at the door and was not sure if he will go in. It was like his first time meeting me but this time with a lot of people and kids.
He went in. I introduced him with the volunteers one by one. I told him all of them are my friends and so they are his friends also. He was sweating a lot despite the cold room.
After three minutes, he told me he was not feeling well. He wanted to go outside and just stay outside.
We went outside. I told him that he does not have to worry because all of them are our friends. That he is the Kuya of the kids. That he will just observe and stay at the back. He was convinced, went back, finished everything and looked forward the next Sunday.
The next Sunday we both went again. This time with another team. He was not uneasy anymore. He was happy being introduced to everyone.
One Sunday, he asked if he could have a shirt. We bought a Kids Church shirt. It was pure joy watching him wore it the first time. He was so proud wearing it even if our shift has ended already and he was going home. In the picture, Dember is the one wearing the pink shirt on the left side of the picture.
While the two teams serve the Kids only twice a month, Dember would be there every Sunday. He would be at the back or at the chair, listening intently. He would join the huddle and answer the questions also with the kids.
When I am not around because of work, he will ask the volunteers about where I am. Though, I would inform him in advance. It was probably just his way to get a conversation with them.
I would learn from volunteers how he is progressing and that he was interested to be trained to do tech already. I asked him about it and he said because he likes to help the team.
His confidence was undeniable. His excitement to serve was contagious. I used to encourage him and yet it came to a point that I was the one who got encourage with his life.
August 29, 2017
I got the biggest surprise when I got a message from Tita Ruth. It was an unexpected and bitter surprise!
Dember went home to heaven. Cardiac arrest took his life.
I visited his wake at 4:30AM in the morning while everyone was sleeping in the funeral home. I had a flight to catch up but could not miss this chance to see my friend for the last time.
I saw him. He was sleeping. He was still wearing his poker face the first time we saw each other. I was telling myself that I would not cry. I was able to control it except now that I am writing about it.
It was so quiet and I felt God’s comfort and peace. In my head, I told Dember, “Hey Dember! We shall see each other again. It will not be tensed and awkward anymore. You and Jesus enjoy there. Show me around there eventually. We will catch up for eternity.”
I imagine Dember watching at me and smiling.
Sometimes God will put people in our lives not for them but for us. It may seem that we have a lot to give. In the end, we got a lot of takeaways from them.
Dember’s condition did not hinder him from inspiring us. He made impact not just to me but to all others who met him.
His showing up every Sunday to serve with excitement should be the attitude of volunteers. He was stretched at first to meet new people but he did it anyway. Whatever it takes!
Dember knew that it was a safe place for him to be. Thank you to the volunteers who made sure it will be an experience for him too. For taking him around, for answering his questions and for making him feel that he is family.
The goal of the ministry was for the kids but volunteers did an extra mile for him to feel welcomed and safe. It was a safe place for him because he feels valued and his presence was cherished. When his name was called to join the huddle for the kids and when he was asked for his thoughts, he would tell me how happy he was during those times.
Praying that volunteer organizations would allow the likes of Dember to serve. It will be with supervision at first but when you take them like all the other volunteers, you will see them grow. You too will be inspired.
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ – Acts 20:35
This verse made sense. I thought that I was giving time for Dember. It was me who received the love and the inspiration. It was really him who took time and tried his best to make me feel connected with him.
Dember, my friend, you are one of the best things that happened to me this year. You have opened our eyes that there will be others like you waiting to be tapped to serve and will inspire us to do whatever it takes.
We are ready for them to be part of our lives because of you! You showed it to us, my friend! You might have not known it when you were here, but now you do! Hi there!
* It was made possible because there was supervision from me and from friends that I assigned when I am not around.
PS. Found a picture with Dember! Wow!