Is Your Lamp Lighted?
Emy Serafica Preaches To Me One Last Time
When I was 14 years old, I led the first ever prayer meeting of the Light of Jesus Community. My family was there, and so were twenty other people. Looking back, it was pretty comic. Why would a bunch of grown-ups follow a kid in a crummy tee shirt, jogging pants, and sandals? Especially a kid who watched Voltes V and even memorized its theme song? But that was what happened.
A few weekly prayer meetings more, Emy Serafica walked through the door for the first time. A tall, lanky fellow with a strong chin and broad smile, he looked like a 70's actor. Not matinee idol material, but those guys with character roles. Like he could be the buddy of the main star or something like that.
We learned that Emy was a natural leader. A salesman by profession, he was also an eloquent speaker and read the Bible like crazy. Soon, Emy became one of our "Elders". I shared the pulpit with him and people enjoyed his preaching. If you're my age, and you caught Jimmy Swaggart preach on TV, that was Emy's preaching style. Fiery, dramatic, and powerful.
I remember something unique about his talks: They usually had three main points.
I personally enjoyed listening to him preach.
Though I was still his leader, Emy preached better than me. Naturally, my mother will object to that statement with the violence of a volcano erupting after 900 years of dormancy. But I really think he preached better than me at that stage because he was much older (he was 32 and I was 15) and more experienced.
When I turned 18 years old, I stopped studying and worked full-time for the community. And so did Emy. (Just as a side note, in case there are kids reading this who might get funny ideas, I eventually went back to college and finished my Philosophy degree and even took up Masters in Theology.)
The community rented an apartment as an office. To work more closely together, Emy and his wife Lydia moved next door and made it their home.
Yes, Emy and I were not only co-leaders, he was my dear friend.
I remember the many nights we swapped stories, we debated about the Bible, and we shared dreams together.
As the years went by, Light of Jesus grew in number, and I asked Emy to lead one of our 5 sub-groups.
One day, at the end of a leader's retreat, we had a commitment ceremony.
Before it began, Emy called me to a corner of the room and asked, "Bo, is this a commitment to the community or to God? What if God calls me elsewhere?" I told him that it was a commitment first of all to God, but it was also a commitment to community "as long as God tells you to stay here." He thanked me and joined the commitment ceremony.
But deep inside, I already knew he wasn't going to stay long.
True enough, a few months after, he asked me if we could chat.
He said he felt God was leading him to leave the community. He was also bringing with him twenty members of his sub-group to form a protestant church.
Leaving the community was one thing. But I was shocked that he was taking along my members—my friends! And I was doubly shocked that they were leaving the Catholic Church.
I felt numb. But I still wished him the best.
A few days after, I stood in front of our entire community of over 100 people and I had to break the agonizing news to them. I was 21 years old at that time and life didn't prepare me for announcements like this.
"One of our Elders, Emy Serafica, is leaving the community," I said, pausing amidst gasps of shock around me, "and twenty of our members are joining him. They're forming a new protestant church…"
People couldn't believe the news. And I understood what they were feeling. How could this happen to our little, cozy, tight, loving group? People began to sob right in front of me. Friendships were torn. Even some families were divided. Spasms of pain rippled through that crowd.
But I asked everyone to pray for blessings for them and to love them as our brothers and sisters in Christ. I asked them to greet them and to talk to them.
A week later, I decided to visit Emy in his new church.
His members were there—our former members. They were excited and happy, sweeping and cleaning their new rented hall that was to be their church.
I told them that even if we weren't anymore in one group or even in the Catholic Church, we'd always be friends. We ended by praying together, hugging each other.
I became busy and I lost contact with Emy for many years.
In the meantime, the Light of Jesus community went about their work for God. We grew by leaps and bounds, expanding to different ministries and territories.
Fourteen long years later, I met his wife Lydia. She came to see me to sell life insurance. After buying a plan from her, I asked her, "How's Emy doing?"
"Many years ago, our church disbanded. Emy is back as a salesman. He's no longer preaching, Bo."
Instantly, I felt as though a knife stabbed my chest. I'm a preacher and I knew what Emy was feeling. For a preacher not to preach anymore is like an old lamp left in a dark corner, unlighted, collecting dust and rust, never used. I felt sad for such a wasted gift. Emy was such a good preacher.
I told her it would be great to see Emy again.
And a few weeks later, Emy and I met finally. After so many years.
He had more white hair but his smile was as broad as ever.
We hugged each other for a long time.
And in expressions deeper than any words can ever say, we forgave each other for the pain of the past.
As we talked and laughed together, I couldn't help but think. I wondered what would have happened if he didn't leave. Would he still be my partner-in-ministry to this day, preaching God's Word? And would I still be personally enjoying and benefiting from his preaching? I brushed these thoughts aside.
But it was he who brought up a desire to serve again. "Bo, I have these things I've written—nothing doctrinal, I assure you. Do you think it can be published?"
"Let me have a look at it," I said.
But he never gave it to me.
As months went by, Lydia would attend our prayer meetings, and once or twice, Emy would join her. I would bump into him at different times. I'm not sure of this, but I felt that he was carrying a sense of regret or shame in him. Deep down, I felt he still wanted to go back and serve God through preaching again.
A few weeks ago, I heard the news.
Emy Serafica had a massive heart attack.
My friend was gone at the young age of 57.
I visited his wake and asked his wife the one burning question in my mind, "Lydia, did Emy ever preach again?"
"A few months ago, he was invited by a small prayer group. Yes, he preached again. He gave them four talks, one for each month."
I smiled. The lamp was taken out of the darkness, dusted, cleaned, polished, and lighted again.
I will miss that broad smile of Emy.
I will miss his preaching.
Too bad I wasn't there to listen to his last talks.
But then it struck me.
Emy did preach to me one last time.
And he did it through his death.
And like the Emy I used to know, he preached three major points to me…
The First Point: Life is very short.
The Second Point: Conflicts, divisions, fights—the deepest and most hurting—don't matter at death. They cease to exist. From the perspective of eternity, all conflicts and fights are petty. They're washed away by time. One step after death's door, we'll all be laughing with our enemies—laughing at how petty we were.
I'm thankful that before Emy stepped in death's door, we were able to have that laugh this side of earth.
The Third Point: I realized that I don't want to live a life of regret. Because life is very short, I will use my Lamp and light it until the last breath of my soul.
Friend, what is your lamp?
I believe God has given every human being a particular lamp.
It's the primary language of your soul. Some call it your Sacred Contract. Your core gift to the world.
For me it's preaching. And writing.
For others, it's cooking, technology, business, singing, counselling…
You may be one of those who know what their lamp is.
Then there's only one question left to ask.
Is your lamp lighted?