Part 2 of 2: The rippling waters of giving and reaching beyond ourselves

Renovated Balingog United Methodist Church
Photos courtesy of Pastor Adiel de Pano of Santa Ana Methodist Church

Focus: Rev. Pastor Adiel DePano and Legay Square in Santa Ana

“The joy in loving is guaranteed by loving one another as  Jesus loves us. God’s love goes round and round! His circle of Love is humankind! Thank you for giving me that kind of love.  – With the love of the Lord, Fr. Camilo Pacanza, 2016.

Fr. Pacanza wrote that, in giving me Pope Francis’ book: ‘The Joy of Love.’ It meant a lot that he understood my life’s theme: leave a legacy of service to others, each place better than you found it. He made it simpler – to write love in people’s hearts.

Hearts Expanded with Indescribable Sweetness of Love

Two weeks after the wildfires and the crazy winds whipping them in Lahaina, as if aerosolized gasoline, frenzied fundraising was held in Chino Hills by small businesses, around Kokua Maui, the call of Chef Charles Akau, who shared that Kokua is unconditional support without expecting anything in return, on September 9, 2023.

His beautiful wife, Jamie Borromeo Akau, was days from defending her dissertation, “The Polysemy of Diversity in the State of ChaosMos: A Design Thinking Approach to Diversity Management.” towards a doctorate, which she obtained with high honors. Had we not responded to Chef Charles’ call, we would be weaker and more anxious.

Amy Besa, who lives in New York, graciously took the time to design a new post on Facebook and led her New Yorker friends to give, as she did.  We did, too. Jamie and Charles reported exceeding their goal of $10,000 reaching $12,000, selling plate lunches, orchid arrangements, and t-shirts. Days after, the monies got remitted and confirmed by texts, as received.

“That we may awaken,

To live to the full

The dream of the earth

who chose us to emerge

And incarnate its hidden might

In mind, spirit and light

-John Donohue’s ‘Bless The Space Between Us’, who was a poet, scholar, and had a Ph.D. in philosophical theology.

Pope Francis described the Benedictine Nuns, with “their hearts expanded with indescribable sweetness of love,” similar to what these folks did.

The goodness to Lahaina is also what Pastor Adiel DePano’s life as a Pastor of the United Methodist Church is all about. Having served in six churches, he ascends with unwavering faith, and in his abilities to collaborate and unify diverse cultures and languages, with his signature warmth and love for all.

DePano Embodies the Wesleyan Spirit: The World Is My Parish!

Bishop Dottie Escobedo-Frank, resident bishop of the California-Pacific Conference, is described as a catalyst for church transformation in the United Methodist Church. She describes herself as “I am Immigration,” embodying both cultures of American and Mexican. She has pioneered founding a church Farmer’s Market, including working with immigrants and opening a hospitable transition place, called “The Inn,” for gathering the community folks crossing the borders and looked upon as potential residents with diversity richness to offer. I requested her to describe DePano, who reports to her.

“Rev. Adiel DePano embodies the Wesleyan spirit of “The World is my parish!” He cares for his community and works tirelessly to bring hope and Christ’s love in all spaces and places. Grace y Paz, -Bishop Dottie Escobedo-Frank, 2023.

It is a beautiful statement of “I see you, I see your essence.”

DePano graduated in Ateneo in 1981, obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, where he learned to be “a man for others,” while Claremont broadened his scope to “The World is My Parish.”

DePano was hailed by Claremont School of Theology as one who lives the values of his alma mater, as seven others who embody Compassion, Justice and Belonging. He was a 2021 Distinguished Alumni. The School recognized their lives are in moral alignment, leaning more to altruism for others, as well as self-sacrifice.

I wondered how DePano’s family thought of him as head of the household? Katerina DePano, the eldest daughter of Pastor Adiel, wrote: “When I think of Dad, I think of his faith, leadership, and love for our family. Everything about his life and leadership is rooted in his faith, and he has blessed many people with his ministry and service. When I think of Dad and our family, I think of him in the kitchen! He enjoys cooking for us and I’m thankful for his spaghetti and sinigang (Filipino sour soup with meats and vegetables) – my faves! Dad has always been and continues to be an example of unwavering faith, service and love for our family and community.”

God’s Favor in Leading Six Churches and Leaving Them Better Than He Found Them

He served at the First Filipino-American United Methodist Church (7 years) in San Gabriel Valley, his greenhorn assignment. As luck would have it, this is where he met Brenda, the granddaughter of two parishioners, and got married after a year. He credits the congregation for hosting their wedding with 500 guests, from all over the country and Manila, “Both of us immersed in growing the Christian education ministry, youth group’s camps and retreats, adult ministry. He led the transfer of the church from Covina UMC to its present home, Hacienda Heights.”

He got transferred to National City (7 years) where he united the Filipino Ministry with the chartered Caucasian congregation and together, “addressed the deferred maintenance of the church campus, built up Christian education and family ministries, undertook the contemporary worship ministry, youth ministry and together with his wife, Brenda, introduced family camp program, and participation in ecumenical grouping of churches.”

“My family and I found ourselves totally at home in this multicultural congregation, St. Paul’s Oxnard (7 years) and we were deeply involved in leading the church in developing a discipleship system, renovating the campus with new roofs, upgraded church office and classrooms, “Turning Point’ coffee house, confirmation classes, Friday study and prayer groups, active membership in the Interfaith Clergy Association in town, membership in the choir.”

He was then promoted to become the New Pasadena District Superintendent. Little did he know that this promotion would present challenges for growth and mental fitness.

“Becoming part of Bishop Mary Ann Swenson’s cabinet for 5 years represents the pinnacle of my service as a United Methodist ordained elder. I never imagined nor did I seek to be part of the bishop’s cabinet. My ministry was focused on administration and conflict management. I am strong in administration. But, I loath managing conflict (my DNA at work). This deflated me, causing two stress-related episodes of anxiety attacks that landed me in the emergency room and soul-searching and self-doubts. Through Bishop Swenson’s encouragement and colleagues’ support, I recovered and fulfilled all my responsibilities. Before I could finish another year to a 6-year term, the Bishop appointed me to lead Pasadena UMC. Being a district superintendent opened up the world to me, taking me to travels like Lake Junaluska, in North Carolina; Kauai and Oahu in Hawaii, South Korea, Japan, Saipan, and Philippines.”

Fellow clergy whom I served, he continues, “express their continuing gratitude for my leadership, kindness, support, wisdom, guidance and spirituality, leading to a bishop nomination, which I gratefully declined.”

He was then presented with another challenge at FUMC, Pasadena (2 years), where the congregation was in transition from their predecessor’s departure and healing their collective wounds from a dysfunctional atmosphere under the prior pastor. He had to endure the suffering with them.

This prepared him for his next assignment at St. Andrew’s by the Sea (3 years) where “I learned to suspend my views, in favor of a higher calling of being a shepherd to God’s flock in the community.”

DePano now heads the Santa Ana United Methodist Church whose parishioners speak Cambodian, English, Filipino, French, Korean, Spanish, Peruvian, Puerto Rican and Tongan. Imagine how he immerses in their cultures, being particularly sensitive to each by balancing their needs with all others.

How do they become all grace-filled people, I asked? They agreed to love others, as they love God, being a positive force for goodness, towards gentle humanity.

Legacy Square: A Triumph of Humanity

Abraham Verghese described the Cochin heat as “The Cochin [Santa Ana] heat and humidity are so stultifying that houseflies lose altitude and tumble to the floor. Shop boys sit heavy-lidded after lunch, as unmoving as the cement barriers in the harbor. The city will come to life again only in the evening, when it is cooler.”

It is similar to the Santa Ana winds, dry, humid, and deaden folks. Picture downtown with encampments from the street – living folks inside their tents, drenched as they attempt to stay incognito, but cannot. They change into their clothes on the sidewalks; do their basic necessities, even brushing their teeth, while trash litter and stench permeating your nostrils for at least a thousand feet mark their daily existence.

Next to downtown Sta. Ana is a row of century old, well maintained French style houses in a row called French Street. The contrast is glaring, in your face, asking you to do something,

Santa Ana United Methodist Church (SAUMC) had to talk to these residents about building a complex of 93 apartment homes.

From 2017 – 2018, the congregation was persuaded to approve the idea of repurposing their downtown site into an affordable housing complex.

The following year was on vetting developers and the Renaissance Corporation was chosen, their first collaboration with a church. For 3 years, 2019 – 2021, community support, permits and funding have to be lined up and finally, two years to complete the construction.

Legacy Square is situated near a Metro station, a bus stop and a stone’s throw away from downtown. Its courtyard is inviting with a children’s playground and some picnic tables. SFUMC inaugurated the complex June 21, 2023 and residents were just moving in. Each unit is spacious and the rent is based on their income, 30 to 60% of $15,000 a year. They had 6,000 applicants for 93 units, an indicator of a huge need for affordable housing.

I found it to be well designed which allows tradewinds into the open hallways and to move warm air, and other improvements to make it eco-friendly. It included improvements to the streets, to the sidewalks, and turnabouts for controlled traffic. It has a community center as well as flexible space that could be used for piano lessons, computer lessons and other workshops needed by the residents.

In Oakland, then led by Mayor Jerry Brown, who was behind the construction of a multistory apartment building where students are co-residents of low-income working mothers and those on welfare.

Much like the First AME Church that is now managing over 300 rental units for working families while offering training on HVAC, air conditioning and electrical to prepare the residents for living wages – jobs. Its membership has grown to 19,000 and several ministries within 13 corporations. It is a church that is prayer-empowered, Christ-centered in spreading love to the community and Holy Spirit-led Church, socially active, a church of growth that is a result of God’s faithfulness and care for others.

In Los Angeles, Mayor Karen Bass has succeeded in cutting the construction period of affordable housing from the usual 2 years to 47 days. Imagine what city permitting expedited process has changed to.

“That interior law of charity and love begins with vision. Long before love is a corporate virtue that improves team performance, it is a personal leadership stance. The love-driven leader possesses the vision to see and engage others, as they are, not through the cultural filters, prejudices, or narrow-mindedness that diminishes them. Jesuits view [AmerIndians] with the same divine energy that gave them “existence, life, sensation, intelligence” and made them God’s temple. If the interior law of charity and love begins with a vision, it is completed in action…to achieve what Voltaire called “a triumph of humanity.” – Chris Lowney on Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-year-old Company that Changed the World.

Adiel means an ornament, a treasured jewel of God. True to his name, “I want people to know me as somebody who tried to follow Jesus – sa aking pagkatao si Cristo. It is a daily battle. As I learned in Ateneo to be “a man for others,” I also know that we are inherently good and we are inherently flawed. I have my demons to fight.”

For example, St. Photini who said to Jesus: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and whom it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,” you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

DePano also heads the Fil-Am United Methodist Foundation, now in its 50th year. He is nearing the end of his 2nd year two-year term, which ends December 2024. Recently, the foundation raised funds to support [ a church whose membership ] is 95% farmworkers in rebuilding their chapel of worship. Nearly 800 came to the concert featuring Dodjie Simon and Odette Quesada, exceeding the goal of $15,000 to $25,861, about 172%.

Pastor Adiel DePano and Dodjie Simon
Photos courtesy of Pastor Adiel de Pano of Santa Ana Methodist Church

Dodjie Simon is a composer and songwriter of over 100 songs, some popularized in commercials, film and television, and a friend of Pastor Adiel DePano for 45 years, wrote: ”Reverend Adiel DePano is a humble, kind, and committed servant of God. His leadership is founded on the principles of teamwork, democracy, dedication and alignment with God’s will. My brother and I have a long history of friendship with the DePano family since our teenage years at Kamuning First United Methodist Church in Quezon City.”

Telly Encarnacion recalls growing up as a Methodist in Quezon City, where she credits the Methodists for her fond childhood memories: “attending daily vacation church school every summer, becoming a teacher in the kindergarten level one summer, a member of the Methodist Youth Fellowship and annual 5-day Christmas Institute (sleep away camp for 5years). I was shy and this structure was very helpful for me to have regular fellowship with youth from other churches.”

Adiel DePano might have been named God’s ornament, but each day, he lives as God’s humble servant, where community service is a component of worship. “There is no personal piety without social impact. Social holiness rests on personal holiness – they feed into each other. We are meant to be in community. We are poorer by our inability to come together in person.”

* * *

Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 12 years. She also contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Japan, Costa Rica, Mexico and over 22 national parks in the U.S., in her pursuit of love for nature and the arts.

 

Prosy Abarquez Dela Cruz, J.D.

Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 13 years. She also contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Costa Rica, Mexico and over 22 national parks in the US, in her pursuit of love for nature and the arts.

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