SHANNON SANTAMARIA: Welcome back to INC News World as we look back at the eventful year of 2021.
RICHIE FERRERA: The problems and uncertainties in the world have left people feeling hopeless about the future. But we’ve also seen individuals that have shown courage in reaching their life’s goals.
NAOMI DE LA CRUZ: And here on INC News World, we’ve featured members of the Church Of Christ who have inspired us in the year 2021. Let’s take a look now at some of those individuals and how they motivated us to be determined and to prioritize our faith.
NAOMI DE LA CRUZ: Each with their own personal success, coming from different backgrounds around the world, these individuals have a common thread—their faith inside the Church Of Christ. As a Detroit, Michigan native, putting boxing gloves on as early as 15, Kevin’s journey to professional boxing has been tough.
KEVIN “THUNDERSTORM” JOHNSON (PROFESSIONAL BOXER – LAS VEGAS, NEVADA): I’ve been fighting a different kind of fight, you know, with poverty, and just with difficulty, you know, I mean, different friends, gang violence in Detroit, Michigan. So it’s been, it’s been a tough fight.
ANNOUNCER: And it’s over folks. Kevin “Thunderstorm” Johnson
KEVIN “THUNDERSTORM” JOHNSON (INC MEMBER – LAS VEGAS, NEVADA): And to be here now where, top 16 in the world, in the U.S., It’s phenomenal. To get the love also from my fans, my family and their support and to be here now, and to inspire so many people. And I’m so blessed to be here.
NAOMI DE LA CRUZ: With a recent victory against Rock Dodler Myrthil in the super lightweight class making him one of the top pro boxers in the U.S., Kevin “Thunderstorm” Johnson has become an influencer in the boxing world. Shining a light on his membership inside the Church Of Christ, inside and out of the ring.
KEVIN “THUNDERSTORM” JOHNSON (INC MEMBER – LAS VEGAS, NEVADA): When I get out the ring. I’m always propagating, sharing the words of God. Making sure that God is always fully known in my life.
NAOMI DE LA CRUZ: Since joining the Church Of Christ in 2013, Kevin makes sharing his faith and the true words of God a top priority in his life.
KEVIN “THUNDERSTORM” JOHNSON (INC MEMBER – LAS VEGAS, NEVADA): You’re going to have tests in life. You’re going to have those people that look at you crazy, because you’re picking Church over your career. My priority is my Church duties. Even in my career I share my faith. I have time and I fulfill time to fulfill my duties. You have 24 hours in a day.
NAOMI DE LA CRUZ: Being physically and mentally tough as a boxer is important, but Kevin has learned that spiritual toughness through the true faith is even more vital.
KEVIN “THUNDERSTORM” JOHNSON (INC MEMBER – LAS VEGAS, NEVADA): I found the Church Of Christ, Iglesia Ni Cristo. I dedicated myself to attend Bible studies, to get baptized, to take up offices–a deacon, to overseer, the SCAN [Society of Communicators and Networkers], the LOS [Light of Salvation], the two LOS presidents. I take up all these duties because I want to be spiritually strong. If you are spiritually strong, you are mentally strong. If you are mentally stronger you are physically strong. All of these connect together, but you have to get your spirit first strong.
IZRAEL BAUTISTA (PROJECT MANAGER – QUEZON CITY, PHILIPPINES): This is Diwata-1, our first microsatellite made by Filipinos. It is currently in orbit since the March 2016 launch.
NAOMI DE LA CRUZ: On a different career path with two degrees, one in electronics and communication engineering, and a masters in energy engineering, Izrael Bautista was selected to be part of the team that built DIWATA-1, the first ever satellite built by the Philippines, which was launched to the International Space Station aboard the Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral, Florida in 2016.
IZRAEL BAUTISTA (PROJECT MANAGER – QUEZON CITY, PHILIPPINES): So having a satellite enables us to have a higher vantage point on how we could monitor our country, our resources for security and defense. That’s really big for our country to have the sustainability and capitalize or leverage on this satellite technology.
NAOMI DE LA CRUZ: While completing his doctorate degree in space engineering in Japan he joined the team tasked with building the Philippines’ second cube satellite, Maya-2. Along with this Izrael was selected to be the project manager of the “4th Joint Global Multi-Nation Birds Satellite Project ” or BIRDS-4. To help countries like the Philippines reach self-sufficiency with their own satellites. With the pressures of launching the satellite, the pandemic, and completing his doctorate degree, Izrael was under a tremendous amount of stress.
IZRAEL BAUTISTA (INC MEMBER – QUEZON CITY, PHILIPPINES): Looking back at the project, being the project manager, it’s the anxiety of thinking about what should happen next, what should be done in the next few days, you’re lagging behind schedule. So all those stress build up.
NAOMI DE LA CRUZ: But what kept him going through all the stress?
IZRAEL BAUTISTA (INC MEMBER – QUEZON CITY, PHILIPPINES): Through the worship services, and through doing the duties that I’ve been given, I find sanctuary I find solace.
NAOMI DE LA CRUZ: Staying focused on God as a Children’s Worship Service teacher, a finance officer and a technical support for videostream officer, Izrael gains the strength to keep pushing through.
IZRAEL BAUTISTA (INC MEMBER – QUEZON CITY, PHILIPPINES): After these activities have been done, the worship services have been done, I feel renewed strength, my mind is clearer and I can continue working with a much better or a more efficient base. These activities by the Church Administration, especially the worship services, has become my way to connect with God; ask for His help. And I can immediately feel how He strengthens me. How He gives me the strength, the intellect, the knowledge that I need.
ANNOUNCER: Interesting to see how his stamina holds up in this long program. That was stellar.
NAOMI DE LA CRUZ: The first Olympian Filipino figure skater, Michael Martinez, found the true faith in the Church Of Christ while overcoming the challenges of the pandemic and preparing for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
MICHAEL CHRISTIAN MARTINEZ (FIRST FILIPINO OLYMPIC FIGURE SKATER – MADRID, SPAIN): I’ve been wanting to learn more since 2010 and I mean, of course there are challenges here and there. But manager and I met him three years ago. We were in this group, a big group and I just found out he goes to the Church. I was like, wait, what’s going on? You go too? And that’s like how it happened. And it all continued. With him, he always pushes me to like, you know, attend the Bible study. You should go, you should do it and the worship service. And that’s like how it happened and it all continued.
NAOMI DE LA CRUZ: Even though Michael has had success in figure skating at an Olympic level, he was even more determined to complete his journey in becoming a member of the Church Of Christ.
MICHAEL CHRISTIAN MARTINEZ (INC MEMBER – MADRID, SPAIN): So my mom didn’t want me to do it. And then the second one was, you know, I’ve been traveling a lot. Moving to, place to place and then pandemic happened. So it was like, oh, my baptism, it keeps getting delayed. But I’m really thankful and happy because it happened this year. And it is honestly speaking, like training and stuff and it’s really exhausting and mentally, physically, emotionally draining. I can lose everything and you know, if I lose everything I have, I have no family to go back to—my own family. But the worship service, it really helps me a lot. It gives me strength and it just gives me a reason and meaning to what I want to do and what I’m doing. You know there are times I would cry, but I will, all I can say is it just really gives me strength and understanding to the situation where I am and it just shows that you know, I’m in the right place. I made a good decision. I made the right decision.
NAOMI DE LA CRUZ: What started out as a step towards better health soon turned into a deep love for the sport for long-distance runner, Stephen Belen.
STEPHEN BELEN (INC MEMBER – CALGARY, ALBERTA, CANADA): For my 40th birthday, I decided to run a marathon. Right after that as soon as I finished, I was already thinking, what can I do for the 107th anniversary. I ran a plan to run 107 kilometers within 24 hours and the motivation behind that is to celebrate the anniversary. Something that’s, that I can do personally, which is also a personal challenge for me because I’ve never run a marathon.
NAOMI DE LA CRUZ: Though faced with a seemingly insurmountable goal, to share knowledge of the Church’s 107th anniversary, through this unique challenge of running 107 kilometers.
STEPHEN BELEN (INC MEMBER – CALGARY, ALBERTA, CANADA): It’s the training that I did for years prior to the run. I knew that the pain was going to come, I knew I was going to get tired. I can’t state it enough that the doubts will creep in—then they did creep in.
NAOMI DE LA CRUZ: Turning to God provided Stephen the courage to push through.
STEPHEN BELEN (INC MEMBER – CALGARY, ALBERTA, CANADA): God helped me through those times by remembering, just remembering what I’m doing it for.
NAOMI DE LA CRUZ: Stopping along the route at certain markers, he shared significant historical milestones of the Church through social media.
STEPHEN BELEN (INC MEMBER – CALGARY, ALBERTA, CANADA): I’m exhausted, but I’m happy that I was able to, well I’m able to finish it. Something bigger than just me or the random knowing which is, I’m celebrating the 107th anniversary of the Church. No words. No words to explain how I feel right now.
NAOMI DE LA CRUZ: From different walks of life these individuals faced different challenges throughout this past year, but each approached their problems in the same manner, by placing their trust in God. And looking back on 2021, they each recall how they felt the love, care, and concern of the Church Administration.
KEVIN “THUNDERSTORM” JOHNSON (INC MEMBER – LAS VEGAS, NEVADA): I wrote to Brother Eduardo Manalo, telling him about my TKO; my very first fight. And a letter came back from him congratulating me and telling me to stay strong in the faith and in motivating other brothers to stay strong.
MICHAEL CHRISTIAN MARTINEZ (INC MEMBER – MADRID, SPAIN): Since 2010, when I started trying to go to Church [activities] even when I was not a member yet. They’ve been, the minister would like, you know, to pray for me for my competitions or travel which is super, super awesome. It just really shows that the Church, you know how much the Church cares, cares for everybody.
STEPHEN BELEN (INC MEMBER – CALGARY, ALBERTA, CANADA): If you’re prepared for the pain, you prepare, be prepared for exhaustion and all that training prepares you for that. Same thing for when you race with our race for our salvation.
IZRAEL BAUTISTA (INC MEMBER – QUEZON CITY, PHILIPPINES): These activities by the Church Administration, especially the worship services, has become my way to connect with God, ask for His help and I can immediately feel how He strengthens me.
NAOMI DE LA CRUZ: As a new year approaches, looking back on the past year, what are these members most thankful for?
STEPHEN BELEN (INC MEMBER – CALGARY, ALBERTA, CANADA): There are so many things that I’m so thankful for: for my family, their health, my health, but really, most especially, our duties in the Church—we are still able to perform it. So I’m so thankful to our Almighty God that He has helped us to keep on—strong, motivated, passionate about our duty, and I’m looking forward to another year.
IZRAEL BAUTISTA (INC MEMBER – QUEZON CITY, PHILIPPINES): All of those things that I have been praying for, in my personal devotional prayers to our Lord God, have been answered, this given me all this success in my career, and everything I’ve been very thankful for, despite the hard times, the pandemic being away from their loved ones, He continued to strengthen me and all of this, I’ve been very thankful to our Lord God.
KEVIN “THUNDERSTORM” JOHNSON (INC MEMBER – LAS VEGAS, NEVADA): Receiving a letter of Brother Eduardo was inspiring. He mentioned to me, “inspire the brethren to be healthy and strong in their faith.” And I’m going to continue to fulfill that. I’m content to fulfill that. It’s emotional because faith is strong, but there’s a clarification that you want us to be saved. You want all members to be saved and not only that, but he wants to touch those non members. And we have to do our part. We have to spread the truth. We have to shine as lights of this world.
NAOMI DE LA CRUZ: These inspiring individuals are just a few examples of Church Of Christ members who have achieved great accomplishments this past year. Despite various struggles, members of the Church continue to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges, by holding on to their faith and placing their complete trust in the Almighty God.
RICHIE FERRERA: That was amazing. Though they come from different backgrounds faced with different challenges. One thing was the same with all of them, which is that they approach God with all their trust.
NAOMI DE LA CRUZ: All while looking towards the future with such strength and hope remaining faithful to their calling.
RICHIE FERRERA: Coming up next on INC News World. Members of the Christian family organizations took advantage of gatherings virtual and in person to inspire, uplift, and strengthen one another. Leaving no family member behind. More reflections on 2021 when INC News World returns.
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