Anniversaries and back stories

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

Last Saturday evening, I was asked by my friend Sam Liuson of Wheel Gallery to conduct the opening prayers on their 20th anniversary celebration at the Manila Polo Club. I could have kept it short and sweet, as we all often hope on such occasions, but I was unexpectedly inspired by the Holy Spirit to tell a story that ended with a prayer:

Many years ago, Sam asked me to lead a Bible study for a bunch of young businessmen fondly called the “After Market Mafia” along with members of the motoring media. Sam was the “Alpha Male” in the group, the guy they looked up to and envied because of the perceived wealth that came with the company’s success. In order to bring everyone back to reality, I asked Sam to give an accounting of his business situation like it really is and he obliged.

It took less than five minutes for Sam to lay out the pressure that comes with having to purchase the latest up-market mag wheels in bulk from suppliers in the US and Japan. That in order to do so he and his partner, the late Johnny Tan, had to get lines of credit, bank loans or place personal funds. Then there was the work of promoting and selling the stock as quickly as possible. On top of that came the heavy burden of caring for your employees and ensuring that the business is sustainable enough to give them all job security and only then could you think of blessing your family. After that, the guys stopped aspiring to be “just like Sam.”

Success is undoubtedly enviable, but it can also be fleeting. Job, a biblical character, was similarly envied, respected in his community and blessed to have so much land, wealth and family. In spite of it all, these achievements did not go to his head and God actually bragged about him, so much so that the devil decided to pick on Job, wiped out his flocks, killed his children, torched his farm and afflicted Job with disfiguring boils and rashes. It got so bad that Job’s wife, out of pity and desperation, suggested; “Why don’t you just curse God and die” to which Job replied, “Shall we accept what is good but not what is bad?”

Before we celebrate a momentous occasion, we cannot and should not so easily forget the many friends and loved ones who cannot be with us; now or ever. We cannot ignore lost jobs, trashed careers and fortunes burned in hospital wards fighting a version of agony that Job went through. When Sam (Liuson) made a commitment to be right with God, the devil, I believe, decided to play the same number on him that he did to Job. Right before Sam’s eyes, the devil torched everything that he and Johnny Tan put up during a fire in 2013.

In the middle of that incomprehensible destruction, a plain looking young man walked by, stops and stares at the smoke rising, turns to Sam and asks; “Is that your building?” Bewildered, Sam could only say, “Oo, bakit?” The young man then tells Sam: “Papalitan yan ng diyos, nang mas malaki pa diyan” (God will replace all of that with something even bigger). It was in my mind God, using a total stranger, to reiterate his presence and his power in midst of the disaster. The attacks and trials did not stop there, some vital relationships were nearly torched and, as the business grew back, the COVID pandemic came like a thief in the night, taking valued friends while casting a dark cloud over the business community.

But in spite of the challenges, God made the business bigger and better, the building was reconstructed to suit the actual needs of operations as well as customers. The Wheels Gallery expanded to other markets that were not on the mind or the map before the fire. That in itself is a great testimony of rising from the ashes, with God’s help and blessings.

But beyond the material and physical recovery, Sam got back at the enemy by using his business and his transformational journey as his “soapbox” or his platform to help others, not just on roads and campsites but towards God’s highway. It was not different from what eventually happened to Job after all the pain and suffering that the devil did to him. “So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning.”

From there we all prayed: “We pray to you, Lord Jesus, to you our Almighty God the Father in thanksgiving, in recognition of how in spite of buildings burning and loved ones passing, you have been ever faithful, you have remained the foundation not only of Wheels Gallery, our respective businesses, but also of our lives. Please bless, heal and touch all those who have heard your word tonight.”

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If you were or are currently facing difficulties, loss, illness, I pray that this story will make you realize that in spite of the hardship, God sends messages and messengers to bring you his reassurance that “This too shall pass” and that your latter days will be better than your former. Sam and I never planned or coordinated but in his closing remarks, Sam quoted from the book of Joel:

“He will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain and the latter rain in the first month. And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm and the caterpillar, and the palmer worm, my great army which I sent among you. And you shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed.”

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E-mail: [email protected]


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