Renato Austria

Renato AustriaI only knew Renato Austria as a face and a name on Facebook when brother Sonny Catalan introduced him to us. That was more than a week ago. Chito Cusi wrote about him. Gigie Carranza wrote about him. But I never knew him much. These last few days, however, tidbits and short notes kept adding to the scarce and limited information that I have of him, giving me in a way an almost complete profile of the man.

Atong (as he was fondly called by close friends and fellow disciples) was an active member of Midtown church in Baguio, a teammate in the church action group called MARCH for Christ, and had for many years been involved in the work of the Lord in many lands of Asia. At one time I and some brethren in Cebu did some follow-up of the mission MARCH had begun in Kalibo City, Aklan, but our paths –Atong’s and mine—never crossed.

But Atong, like the rest of those MARCH people, had done a great job in places perhaps too many to mention. If the church had wings to fly and feet to walk, Atong and the rest of them were those wings and those feet, flying to the heartlands of the heathens, walking on paths rough and muddy, on raging rivers, under heavy rains, from daybreak to daybreak, in a bid to turn these heathen hearts into heartlands of God. If the church had hands and lips, Atong was one of those, reaching out their hands to these men without God, with offers of food for the body, and proclaiming with their lips the food that could nourish the soul.

While Atong and the rest had been waging a war to win the hearts of men and women for Christ, he had also been waging a silent war in his own body. It is a terrible war. For the war in the cancer wards is a war we could lose, since science has not yet found a potent cure for it, like it did for TB. Cancer is our modern blight and our only way out of it is an early prognosis that can be done in labs by doctors skilled in the job. For brother Atong, it was too late to know he had caught it.

Death and cancer however must be understood in the light of God’s plan for man in general. For man, the creature whom God had molded from the dust of the ground and breathed into with the breath of life, is not meant to dwell in this domain of dusts forever, in this habitation corrupted and defiled by so much sins, by so many wrongs man did against his fellow man. Atong knew so well the face of unbrotherliness because he too had gone to Myanmar and China. This world has gone a long way since the day God created an Eden in the heart of it. We have forgotten that we all came from one womb, and that every man is in fact a brother to everyone. Eden, the former home of the first human family is too close to the Arab and Jewish lands where the hateful war of brother against brother has been waged since time immemorial.  Atong with the rest of our brethren had tried to change what outlook everyone had had with others of their kind, by taking to them just that message of brotherliness that God has wanted them to see.

The only cure for death and the blight of death is hope in Jesus. In His great mercy, God allows us to weep and view the death of a loved one as a loss for us. But God also wants us to understand that death is a gain. Death is the closing of one door and the opening of another–the door to glory. Atong had served God well and enough already. God wanted him to come to his glorious home, with a life there that is a lot better than the life here.

Our prayers are for those whom this dear brother has left behind—his dear wife and two kids. God always loves His own. And so while we remain in this land of tears and sorrows, we still feel secure and well. Why? Hear God speak:

“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained strangers unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them; and those who are ill-treated since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for God will judge the immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never fail you nor forsake you.’ Hence we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid; what can man do to me?”’ (Hebrews 13:1-6).


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