“My Damascus Road” – A Personal Conversion Story of Dan T. Jarapa

Before I became a pastor, I was just an ordinary member of our church in Siquijor. My parents had embraced the Seventh-day Adventist faith when I was a young child. Out of my six siblings, five of us converted to Adventism, while one remained Catholic. Since I was the youngest, I was the last to get baptized at the age of twelve. Despite being Christians, our family faced numerous challenges, including poverty and broken relationships. My childhood memories were marked by despair and self-pity.

Sadly, my parents’ relationship was strained, and they frequently engaged in heated arguments. One fateful evening, I awoke to witness a devastating fight between them. It wasn’t just a regular disagreement; I saw my father physically harm my mother, striking her in the face. Frightened, my mother tried to reach for a “sanggot” (a sharp, curved tool used to extract coconut wine) to defend herself, but my father quickly grabbed it from her, striking her face again. That heartbreaking evening turned into a nightmare. The following day, they decided to separate, and our family faced the painful reality of this situation. Later that year, my father moved to Davao City with my eldest brother, while my other siblings sought refuge in different provinces to survive. This left me and my mother alone in our house. To support my education in primary school, my mother found a job as a helper in a wealthy household. Consequently, I found myself living alone, becoming self-reliant at a young age. I lost my love for my parents and my family, as the negative experiences I had endured left deep scars. I moved from one relative’s or friend’s house to another, living in different homes. Desperation led me astray, and I became involved in petty theft within our barangay, stealing bananas, chickens, fruits, and more. I joined various childhood gangs that influenced me to go down the wrong path. I stopped attending school and church, only managing to finish sixth grade. At the age of fourteen, I began experimenting with smoking and alcohol, which eventually turned into habits and addictions. I even started using marijuana and became dependent on it. I associated with different teenage groups, such as a BMX bikers club, and spent my nights hanging out with them. Despite all my downward spirals, God’s love continued to embrace me, reaching out to rescue me from my miserable existence.

One day, my bicycle, which had been borrowed by a friend, was stolen outside a grocery store. Losing my bike was a painful experience because I had invested a significant amount of money and resources in acquiring it. However, I believed that God allowed that incident to occur to shift my focus onto something more important: completing my education. It was then that I realized I needed to return to school to pursue my secondary education. I was hesitant at first because I felt embarrassed being older than my classmates, who were only thirteen years old.

One particular day, a senior high student approached me and said, “I’ve heard that you are an Adventist. If you don’t mind, I’d like to invite you to worship at our church this Saturday.” Although I didn’t make any promises, I decided to attend church on that Saturday morning, despite my initial reservations. I was captivated by the warmth and acceptance of the youth who welcomed me at the church entrance. They recorded my name in the guest book and guided me to the front pews. The songs felt familiar, and one of the short responses deeply touched my heart: “Holy, Holy, Holy.” It felt as though Jesus had descended before me, and I was overcome with intense emotions, unable to hold back my tears. It was the first time I experienced such profound feelings—tears of joy and happiness that surpassed any worldly pleasures I had previously known.

That became a turning point in my life—a return to the church where I truly belonged and a dedication to serving God, who had saved me from the clutches of sin. After that Saturday, I was convinced with all my heart to commit myself to the church once again. But before that Saturday arrived, I decided to indulge in the town fiesta celebration, savoring it for the last time. I ate, danced at a disco party, and spent time with friends. Even though it may have seemed like a forbidden move, I did it one last time, knowing I wouldn’t turn back to those worldly pleasures. The church embraced and nurtured me in every aspect of my life. They recognized my talents and encouraged me to use them for God’s glory. My high school days were filled with unforgettable experiences, as everything I did brought me happiness and joy. The fire burning within me couldn’t be contained, and as a result, I gave up everything for the sake of Christ, who called me from darkness into His marvelous light.

I finally graduated from high school at the age of twenty-two and made the decision to pursue theology at Central Philippine Adventist College (CPAC). Throughout my college years, I worked various jobs to support myself, serving as an electrician, gardener, garbage collector, and security guard, among others. Although the road was arduous, I devoted my life to God, determined to complete my studies and fulfill my calling to become a pastor in His vineyard. After seven years of hard work, I finally graduated from college at the age of twenty-nine. Following my graduation, I received a calling to work as a school chaplain, values teacher, and MAPEH (Music, Arts, Physical Education, and Health) teacher in D.C. Nicolas Sr. School in San Miguel, Bulacan.

Despite my theological education, I still harbored deep-seated resentment towards my father. However, my brother informed me that our father’s health was rapidly deteriorating and that all of his children were expected to come home. I immediately bought a plane ticket and flew to Negros to visit my father.

Ironically, our father was actually doing quite well, despite his illness. Although he required assistance with bathing and using the restroom, he could manage himself for the most part. Instead of returning to Bulacan, I made the decision to care for him. I became his constant companion, helping him with daily tasks such as bathing and eating. During those ten days of assisting him, I rediscovered my love for my father. All the hatred in my heart vanished, replaced by love and forgiveness. It was the second time I experienced such profound peace within myself as I chose to forgive my father. I realized that the key to loving the unlovable is not to keep our distance from them, but rather, despite the difficulties and awkwardness, to initiate contact for the sake of Christ. Pride must be broken, and painful memories must be cast aside in honor of the One whose body was first broken on the cross of Calvary so that sinners like you and me could experience the same healing.

After the school year, I decided to leave my teaching position and applied to the Central Luzon Conference as a student literature evangelist leader in San Ildefonso, Bulacan. Following four months of leadership, I approached the ministerial office and inquired about vacant pastoral positions. Miraculously, they accepted me and assigned me to Carranglan, Nueva Ecija. That’s when I officially became a church pastor, and it was there that I met the woman who would become my one and only wife, Shiella Marie. We eventually got married. After two years as a church pastor, Pastor Freddie Matira hired me as a regular publishing leader in Pampanga, where I served in a leadership role for one year. However, I felt a lingering sense of having missed my true calling to be a pastor. Once again, I decided to reapply as a church planter. By the grace of God, I was accepted by Pastor Noel Galang, who assigned me to Lupao, Nueva Ecija. I served as a pastor there for four years, from 2018 to 2022. Then, on February 6, 2022, Pastor Reylourd Reyes called me and informed me that I had been promoted to intern at the Central Luzon Conference.

Today, I proudly serve as a district pastor in South Nueva Ecija 2. Overseeing a district of 584 members, which includes three organized churches, three companies, two groups of believers, and a church school, I am humbled by the responsibility entrusted to me. I am blessed with two wonderful children: our eldest daughter, Danah, who is now five years old, and our youngest, Dan Jr., who is ten months old.

As you read about my personal journey, I hope you find a reflection of God’s mercy and love in your own life. Remember, “God calls us where we are, and no matter how far we’ve gone, the return trip is only one step away.” May you also experience the transformative power of God’s love and find your own purpose in serving Him.