The distinct sound of wooden lutes, flutes and stringed bamboo tubes form an enchanting music in the air as B’laan men and women in their 60s dance in a circle. Bo Tiwari, a 62-year-old grandmother is one of them, and this is the day she has been waiting for. Few seconds later, a man in dark blue jeans and striped sweatshirt joins them in the dance. Po Bo Tiwari cannot help but run and throw herself at the man. “Afullo! Afullo!” she exclaimed. “You’re finally back!” The man accepts Bo in an embrace and a fascinated and happy look in his eye. He is Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, and what great joy it is to be reunited with the people he was with at the crossroad of his young life, alone in the mountains of South Cotabato more than 40 years ago.
The Bilaan or B`laan are a tribal community of Southern Mindanao. This indigenous group’s name comes from the words Bla and An, meaning Opponent People. The Bilaan who live in Lake Sebu and other municipalities of South Cotabato are one of the major non-Islamic tribal groups in the Southern Philippines.
In 1973, world-renowned preacher Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, then 23-year-old evangelist, found himself in the midst of the B’laans, in a notable place called Kitbog in Kalon Barak, Malungon, Saranggani Province (formerly Malalag Cogon, South Cotabato).
In Kitbog, they called him ‘Afullo’ and the pastor recounts the significance of this place in his spiritual journey. “This is where the Almighty Father isolated me for one year, away from the glorious life I used to have in the denomination where I was already a celebrated young evangelist. Here, He gave me dreams, visions and revelations convincing me that it was really He who was calling me. These all led to the moment when I had to choose whether I should throw my life away and serve Him completely, or continue with my plans to marry my American girlfriend and possibly go to America as promised by my elders in the church. I chose to remain in my calling, and here we are today.”
In 1974, after dwelling with the Bilaans for a year, Pastor Apollo went down from Kitbog. None of them thought that one day, he would come back and still remember them.
It is April 30, five days after a mammoth gathering of indigent children in a place called Sonshine Land where thousands upon thousands of children with their families enjoyed a day of free rides, free meals, and a real theme park experience. Pastor Quiboloy wanted to bring the same happiness to a place that is quite dear to his heart – Kitbog.
Together with his army of volunteers, administrative staff and missionary workers, Pastor Apollo flew to Kitbog to the heartwarming welcome of the Bilaans.
Little boys and girls who are the great grandchildren of the Bilaan youth he used to teach the Bible to more than 40 years ago get to enjoy an abundant feast of party foods, ice cream, cake and popcorn. There are mascots and robots to entertain them, and at the end of the day, plenty of gifts from Pastor Apollo.
Standing in the middle of the Bilaan elders who used to be teenagers when he was still with them, Pastor Apollo made a promise that apart from providing education, material blessings and regular food supply to the Bilaan community, he had something in his heart and mind.
“It is my desire and my vow from now on to provide livelihood for the Bilaans. As a way of giving back, I will do everything in my capacity to uplift their living conditions. I will help them in every way I can.” Bo Tiwari and the others broke into a thunderous applause.
Pastor Apollo Quiboloy’s life has always been intertwined with the lumads since the very day he was born. A Bagobo midwife delivered him and cut his umbilical cord with a bamboo knife. He was christened by a lumad. He grew up playing with the Bagobos when he was a little boy and he could still remember some of the big boys carrying him on their backs while treading the muddy trails of Upper Tamayong at the southern part of Davao City.
His spiritual sojourn in Kitbog all the more endeared him to the lumads.
More than four decades after, the Bilaans never thought even in their wildest dreams that ‘Afullo’ would still remember them. But he never forgets. The day finally came when he would reunite with the very people who had witnessed the palpable miracles that transpired in Kitbog, when a 24-year-old man relinquished everything that was dear to him – even his own life – in order to decide for eternity.
Here are the people, who, in the purity of their hearts, are in awe at what had become of the young man ‘Afullo’ since the day he left Kitbog. They thought he’d never return, but he did. He came back with an overflowing love and a promise to bless them and their children’s children.
More photos here: ACQ-ICD Kitbog