TESTIMONY OF FR. FRED VERGARA
(At a gathering of church and community leaders in Elmhurst, New York, Aug. 3, 2013 )
“Always be ready to give an account of the hope that is in you…”1 Peter 3:15
In 1982, the Straits Times, the national newspaper of Singapore published an article about me with the title, “The Priest who Ran Away from Home.” In that article, they introduced me as the missionary priest who had a vision of a multicultural ministry.
In that article, I shared about my birth and childhood in a small village in Philippines. I was born in one of those 7,107 Philippine islands. Growing up in that village was tough. Except for a few families who owned lands, almost every family was poor. We could hardly afford to go to school. But I was a pensive child, always thinking about my future. Our barrio was in-between a mountain and the Pacific Ocean. When I look up, I ask:” What’s on the other side of the mountain?” When I look to the horizon, I ask: ”What’s beyond the sea?”
So at age 14, I left my barrio and went to Manila as a “stow away” in a ship. There in the big city, I suffered hardship as a homeless boy until I was adopted by a priest of the Philippine Independent Church, who sent me to school. I finished High School and became a university scholar.
I completed Journalism and Political Science and worked as an activist journalist until martial law was declared. To keep me from being taken as a political prisoner, the Church took me as their Newspaper editor and sent me to seminary. There I learned that a meaningful change in society can happen when people are changed by God. I also learned that “where God guides, God provides.” I received Christ into my heart and promised to serve Him as Lord and Savior.
So I became a priest and served in Manila, Dagupan and Pasay Cities. In 1981, my wife Angela and I moved to Singapore and served the Anglican Church. Singapore is a small country, the size of Manhattan with only 3 million people. But it is a multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious society. I came to interact with Chinese Buddhists, Indian Hindus, Malay Muslims, Amerasian Christians and Singaporean free thinkers. It was as if the Lord was preparing me to come to the much bigger world.
So we came to the U.S. in 1986. I completed a doctorate in San Francisco and served as priest and church planter in Silicon Valley, San Jose, California and in Las Vegas, Nevada. In 2004, we moved to New York to serve as program officer for Asian Americans in the Episcopal Church and director of its Ethnic Congregational Development. I learned to serve alongside whites and peoples of color, engaging Asians, Blacks, Latino and Native American leaders.
In 2009, my job was modified to being a Missioner for Asiamerica Ministries providing leadership to over 150 Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, South Asian and Southeast Asian churches throughout the country. In addition, I am given this part-time task of reviving St. James Episcopal Church in Elmhurst, Queens, New York. SJEC is a historic church established in 1704. Its earliest rectors included Rev. Dr. Samuel Seabury who became the first bishop and Presiding Bishop and Rev. Dr. Benjamin Moore, first president of Columbia University. Elmhurst used to be a Dutch neighborhood; now it is a bustling multicultural city.
In my first month of being the priest-in-charge, I was invited by the Chinese Community to attend their reception of State Senator Jose Peralta .In his speech, Senator Peralta said that “Elmhurst is the little United Nations of the world.” I believe he is right. We are a very diverse community: a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multiracial city. That is why I hope St. James will be a House of Prayer for all peoples. My vision is to see St. James as a healing, welcoming and serving Church in this “little United Nations of the world.” Thank you for being here and becoming part of this vision.
(Email Fr. Fred at firstname.lastname@example.org)