I am third in a brood of three. My father was a policeman and my mother was a housewife. We lived a simple life, tried to make both ends meet with the meager salary of my father. When I was 10 years old, my parents discovered my singing talent. I started joining singing contests at that age and I won many of them. My cash winnings helped sustain my family and I started to appreciate the value of money for my family. I went on to sing in bars and clubs. I utilized my talent to earn a living for my family. Because of the nature of my work, I stayed up late in the evenings and started to skip school. My parents initially insisted that I continue with my studies. But since I became the family’s breadwinner, my words became the law. I prevailed upon my parents’ wishes. I quit school and there was nothing my parents could do about it. I became proud, thinking that I had everything and I could do anything I wanted.

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Becoming a singer

When I was 14, I was given the opportunity to go abroad to sing in a Club, to earn a lot of money and was able to support my family here. At 15, I earned enough to live comfortably. At a young age, I was exposed to the world’s promise that money is everything – the more you have, the happier you are. I had already begun smoking, drinking, and doing drugs in order to be in. I told myself there was nothing wrong with what I was doing because I was able to help my parents support our family financially, so I just kept going. But I reached a point in my life when I said, “I don’t like this anymore! I want my life to go back to normal; I wanted to be just like other people my age.” But at this point, I was a hopeless case. It was painful to realize, but there was no going back for me. I could no longer change my situation. I resolved that I would only put up with it so that my siblings could finish their schooling. But all my hard work became meaningless when they both stopped going to school.

Becoming a drop-out

Then, for reasons I could not control, I had to go back to the Philippines. It was in this time that I met Bobot, who later became my husband. We fell in love and decided to live together. After a year, I gave birth to our firstborn, Michael. I was 16 and Bobot was 19. Bobot made me quit my job, and stopped going to school to work in his family’s business. After 2 months, I was pregnant again. For fear that I might not be able to handle another pregnancy in such a short time, we talked to a friend about my situation and we were advised that we abort the baby. So that’s what we did. This left me conscience-stricken. I had many sleepless nights. How could I kill my own child? A few months later, I was pregnant again. This time I resolved to keep my child. We also decided to get married, for the sake of our children. In the following years, three more pregnancies and three more children followed.

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My parents-in-law helped us build a means for making our own livelihood. I soon fell back to drugs though, and even got my husband to try it for himself. Soon, we both became addicted to Shabu. Our business failed and we were in deep debt. But my husband and I carried on with our addiction to drugs, grossly neglected our children, for 14 years. Because of this, our family was often at the verge of falling apart. Our marriage was threatened many times because our trust and respect for each other was waning. We sold whatever item we could sell in the house and we told people, including our loved ones, many lies just so we could borrow money from them. We made attempts to change and stay away from our addiction, but to no avail. Every time we had money, the temptation to spend it on drugs was so strong that we could not resist it.

Encountering God

It was during these troublesome years when my brother-in-law introduced us to CCF. He brought our entire family to St. Francis to attend a worship service there. Hearing God’s Word gave us so much relief and made us feel good, but only for a little while. Whenever we got home, we were back in our old ways. One night, my husband and I had such a serious fight that I wanted to end my life and put an end to all my problems, my addiction and my pain. I will never forget that night when I talked to God for the first time and told Him – “Lord, please forgive me for what I will do. I want to put an end to my life now so that I don’t have to keep sinning against You. Please take care of my children.” I felt then that God met with me for the first time. I cried so hard I could hardly breathe. Then I lay on the bed and a sudden peace came over me. I woke up the following day feeling light, with gladness and peace in my heart that I never felt before. And I thought the Lord made me sleep to frustrate my attempt at putting an end to my life.

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In spite of this, we went on living in sin in the next few years. We reached a point when we even pushed and sold drugs, but this didn’t last long. One day, one of our daughters admitted to us that she was pregnant. She was 17 at that time. I did not feel any resentment for my daughter then; I only had myself to blame for what happened. I was a negligent mother, this was just a result of our many wrongdoings, so I accepted her situation even if it was painful. This was an eye-opener to my husband and me. For the second time, I earnestly prayed to God to take us out of our sinful ways and miserable situation for the sake of our children and my forthcoming grandchild. But it took a while before God could answer.

What shall we do?

A few months after my daughter gave birth, our situation worsened. Our electricity and water supplies were cut because we’ve failed paying them. We did not know what to do. This cannot go on for so long because our tenants would be greatly affected. We had apartment units for rent, a livelihood that we inherited from my parents-in-law. We could not go out of the house so we could avoid the shame of our situation and the complaints of our tenants – why got their utilities supply cut even if they were regularly paying in full and on time. To solve the problem, I once again approached my brother-in-law to borrow us money. He obliged to help us with our problem, lent us money even if he was wondering why we were having money troubles in spite of our regular source of income from the rentals.

God's solution

After a week, God’s solution to our problems came. My in-laws invited my children for a Bible Study at their place. Our children saw it as an opportunity to seek help from my in-laws about our condition. Because my husband and I had been so absorbed by our own addiction, I even failed to notice that my children have grown old enough to know that something wrong was going on in our family and they were able to relate the problems in detail to my in-laws. But God is really so good that even if our children saw the wrong things we were doing, they still showed love and respect for us. Our eldest child had to work to support his studies. By God’s grace, he was able to get a college degree without much help from us. It is a great blessing from God to have children who love and understand us in spite of our shortcomings.

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The following day, our siblings talked to us and told us that they will help and support us, even help us settle all our debts if we will undergo rehabilitation from our addiction. We agreed to it. They searched through the internet on different rehab centers. Unfortunately, they couldn’t find one that would accommodate couples, not to mention that the monthly fees were a bit pricey. At the back of my mind, I was wishing they wouldn’t find any affordable rehab center for couples. I did not want to go on rehab and be away from my children for two years. I even suggested to my husband for him to just go ahead and I would follow after him. Or better yet, I will just do self-rehab. Of course, he did not agree. He said either we both go or no one will go. Indeed, there is no escaping God’s wonderful plan. After two months of searching, we found HELP International Set Free Center in Antipolo, a Christian ministry focused on ministering to substance dependents. God seemed to have all areas covered, we couldn’t find any excuse not to proceed. Monthly fees were not required, though donations were encouraged. And at the time of our inquiry, a small room was vacant so they were willing to assign it for my husband and me. So, the inevitable came to me – we left our children under the care of our siblings and went to undergo rehab.

Set Free Center

There were rules I resisted in my heart – such as the no call, no visitation rule for the first two months. I rebelled against that rule, but for my children’s sake, I told myself I will do this. In our 6th week, however, I was convincing my husband that we might as well go home already. I told him that reading the Bible every day and doing devotions every morning won’t help us at all. That all of that was a big joke!!! My husband did not listen to me.

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Every Friday night, we had big family night where all the Filipino and German workers and volunteers of HELP got together for a night of worship and Bible study. That night, many were singing, crying, and earnestly praying. They were all thanking Jesus for His Presence in their lives. As I was watching them, I was thinking that these people were all phony! I found it unbelievable that the Holy Spirit was touching them. I resolved then that I will really convince my husband that we should leave that place already. I was so bent on it, he can either go with me or stay. But even as that was going on in my heart, I also told God, »Lord, if You are really here and if You are really alive, then let me feel it, let me know it.« Then suddenly, a foreigner volunteer approached me and said, »Jesus wants you to know that He loves you very much.« I felt stunned, like everything stopped for a while. Then I started crying, I couldn’t help it. I just cried and cried. I can say that was the second time the Lord met me.

Before that night was over, I was endlessly thanking God for the second chance He gave me to experience Him. I repented of all my sins and received Jesus in my heart as my Lord and Savior. That evening, my husband and I decided to finish the one-year program. Five months later, we were baptized. Ephesians 2:4 + 5 says, “But God is so rich in mercy, and He loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead.” I knew then that it is only by God’s grace that I have been saved! That was the beginning of our adventure with Jesus, experiencing His power to change us and seeing Him work in our lives. And since we surrendered our lives to Jesus, the love and respect for each other was restored in my relationship with my husband. In fact, it is far better now than when we started and it’s all because God is now at the center of our relationship.

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Home again

In summer of 2012, after only 10 months of undergoing rehab, the Center gave us permission to go home. They thought we needed the rest of the summer to re-establish our family and get our kids ready when the schools open in June. Being out in the world again was not easy, we got exposed once more to the challenges and temptations of the world. Because of my desire to earn fast and in the way I know how, I planned on working abroad again and use my gift in singing. But the Lord quickly reminded me that this was not His plan for me through His words in Proverbs 3:5-6 where it says, »Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.« I surrendered all this to God and trusted Him. He wanted me to use my gift in singing for His glory. That’s why He led me to CCF Makati A-venue and placed me in the Music Ministry. Only God is able to give us assurance that everything will be fine. All we have to do is trust and believe in Him alone.

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By God's grace

By God’s grace and with the help of our siblings, we were able to settle and pay all our financial obligations over the years. The Lord also taught us to humble ourselves and ask forgiveness from those we have wronged, foremost of whom are our children, then our siblings, friends and loved ones whom we have hurt because of the wrong choices we’ve made. The Lord also enabled us to forgive those who hurt us. As time went on, God healed our broken relationships and restored the trust that our loved ones once had for us. We are very thankful to God for my in-laws who never gave up on us. They helped us and labored in prayer for our family, and they stood as parents to our children when we were on rehab.

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By God’s grace, our four children have all finished college. If it were not for God, we wouldn’t have been able to endure the trials and challenges that came our way. And we will continue to fight our battles and persevere to the end, believing and trusting that our all-powerful and great God is always with us!

Jesus provided the way for us to break free from the bondage of sin. He opened our eyes and ears for us to see the light and hear the truth that He is the only true and living God Who is mighty above all and with Whom nothing is impossible! It is my joy to declare to one and all that we were formerly in bondage to sin, but have now been set free, cleansed and are now a new creation, saved and redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior! And the One true King!

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I am STELLA MARIS MAGSOMBOL, who once was lost but now found by Jesus!
To God be all the glory!
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