This year’s ACQ-International Children’s Day is going to be incredible. It is going to be more wonderful than last year and the year before that. This amazing event gets only bigger and better each time.
For the past 14 years, on the day of his birthday, Pastor Apollo C. Quiboloy has been doing a rare and phenomenal thing for poor children all over the world.
Where many wealthy and influential men would host a lavish party, Pastor Apollo has reinvented and redefined what a birthday celebration can mean, not just for himself, but for others as well.
When you mention April 25 to the people in his world-wide congregation called the Kingdom, you get the same reaction everywhere — great big smiles, big bright eyes, and genuine pleasure. It’s a red-letter day for them all.
And well it should be. This man has made it meaningful beyond what is ordinary. It is a day that all the world should observe and commend.
Instead of frittering away the day on himself, pleasing and gratifying friends and colleagues like any important man would do, Pastor Apollo spends millions on making this day a day that a poor, marginalized and deprived child may never, ever forget in his entire life – a birthday celebration of his own to top all birthday celebrations!
When you are a child who has only ever seen other kids celebrate their birthday, maybe in school, or in the big house next door, or through a window in McDonald’s, there is that ache of curiosity and yearning inside you that says, “What must it be like?” And the pain of that unanswered question never really goes away, even when the child is grown.
Pastor Apollo knows all about that. He grew up in a big family of nine brothers and sisters. The youngest and always the least privileged of the lot.
The family subsisted on the seasonal coffee crops in the poor mountain village where he grew up, a small barangay called Tamayong, under the shadow of the hulking Davao mountain, Mt. Apo.
Though his parents were loving people, hunger and scarcity were not strangers in their home. Even coffee, their own crop, was sparse. They were so poor that when their coffee ran out, they would take the leaves of the coffee tree and boil it to drink. Failing that, they boiled the roots next just to heat their stomachs.
He describes his childhood experiences because of poverty as traumatic. But instead of being cowed and cowered by it, this man has taken strength and inspiration from his life and crafted something that no other man in the whole world has ever done before. He created Sonshine Land.
ACQ-International Children’s Day happens in a place Pastor Apollo christened as Sonshine Land, a theme park. This is where children from the poorest sectors of society are able to get a full-on, no-holds-barred amusement-park experience.
Beneficiaries who are chosen by the Children’s Joy Foundation, Inc. enter the park absolutely free of charge and enjoy a whole day of free food, free rides, free cake, free toys, free games, and free entertainment, plus an impressive parade of characters in the grand tradition of Disneyland. Everything that a poor child can never have on his own. Everything that Pastor Apollo did not have growing up.
“This is where I get my therapy for the trauma that I experienced because of poverty,” said Pastor Apollo in a recent TV program. “When I see a child filled with good things like food and clothing, when I see him happy, it gives eternal joy in my heart.”
Anyone would feel the same. When you hear the children giggling as they ride the Space Shuttle for the first time; when you hear them shrieking with excitement as the ferries wheel brings them up and down again, and when you see the thunderstruck awe on their faces when they come face to face with Superman. It is truly a sight, not just for sore eyes, but a sore heart if you are suffering from one.
Even the children who cling to parents and guardians, too overwhelmed with their first theme park experience, will go home with memories of beautiful princesses and a cake so huge it must be pulled by a four-wheel drive.
It is an incredible endeavor. The whole event likely takes months to prepare and needing manpower of close to a thousand all in all. And this is just in Davao City I am talking about. It’s incredible and mind-boggling that this event happens in many places at the same time on the same day, every year!
Many people criticize Pastor Apollo for doing this. Like Judas of Iscariot who criticized Mary Magdalene for washing the feet of Jesus Christ with costly perfume, these people say the same thing. Why spend so lavishly on a one-day event when the money can go further to buy these children their more immediate physical needs.
This is where Pastor Apollo diverges from everyone else. He sees beyond the material things of the world and into the soul and the spirit. He sees how a single act of goodness, how a single act of selflessness and love, how a single act can embed itself deep in the heart and mind of a child to change his life.
As a traumatic event can shape the mind of an individual for the worse, especially when experienced as a child, a joyful and unforgettable day in a child’s life can change it for the better. It can stand out as a bright, shining and precious memory that can inspire him, even compel him to pass on that goodness to others when he is grown.
“It is a seed planted inside a child’s heart, that may grow and later become an instrument of goodness to others,” says Pastor Apollo.
Pastor Apollo has his own experience to draw from.
When he was a poor child, his mother would often send him on foot to the next sitio three kilometers away to the richest Chinese store in the area, to borrow rice and food for the family. He has memories of walking alone on that long road. He remembers how, being painfully shy, it would take him hours to get up the courage to step up to the store window to ask what he needed.
It was always an agonizing and humiliating experience for Pastor, young as he was then. And no matter how many times he had to do it, and he had to do it many, many times because hunger was a constant threat to the family, it was never, ever easy.
But one memory surfaces brightly in all that trauma.
One day, one of the Chinese store owners saw him standing across the street, head bowed and half hidden behind the corner post. This man began taking rice, canned goods, odong noodles, and sliding them into a bag. He remembers being summoned to the window and the man saying gently, “Here, take it. Go home.”
He has never forgotten that one act of kindness to him, that one act of consideration to a poor child. It has shaped his thinking to this very day.
“Show a child love and he will never forget it,” says Pastor.
And this is what he is doing for the children every ACQ-International Children’s Day. Giving them something they would remember with fondness forever in their heart and mind.
Pastor Apollo does not care what others have to say. His own foundation, the Children’s Joy Foundation, Inc. (CJFI) has many humanitarian projects around the Philippines and the world.
CJFI has eight Residential Care Services or homes. It has feeding programs and daycare centers. It has built schools, not just in the Philippines, but even as far as Kenya and Rwanda in Africa. It has sent children to school, clothed them, and fed them. Pastor Apollo has done all these things.
But ACQ-International Children’s Day stands out as one very special day. It is a day where a child can forget the poverty, the suffering, the deprivation, and all the terrible conditions in his life. It is a day where a child can be a child – carefree, happy and loved.
This is Pastor Apollo C. Quiboloy’s legacy to the world – a gift to himself and to all poor children across the globe. And we can only thank God for giving us a man like this in our modern day, a true hero such as the world has never seen before.