It is now common to hear stories of a drunken drug addict turned into a pastor. We have seen and heard such anecdotes on television and social media; however, the journey from being a junk to a worthy citizen is what makes this kind of story more interesting.
Ireneo Ayon Sr., 57, shares his experiences on how selling character-inspired balloons in the historical place of Rizal Park changed his life in the past 51 years.
At the age of seven, Ireneo was able to provide financial help for his family by selling balloons, which cost 25 centavos each back then. Now that he has his own family, selling ballons is still their source of income, along with a small sari-sari store managed by his wife in Luneta.
Rizal Park has witnessed the ups and downs of Ireneo’s life for 30 years. From being involved with life-destroying vices to saving other people’s lives through sharing the Word of God, Ireneo has indeed taken enough courage to face every challenge in store for him.
“Active pastor ako. Kagagaling lang namin sa simbahan. Dito [sa Luneta] na rin ako tinawag ng Diyos. 1991 nang ma-convert ako sa Born Again. Pero actually ang buhay ko rito ay madilim. Lasenggo ako, sugarol, nagma-marijuana. Pero ngayon hindi na dahil nagpa-pastor na ko.”
He finished third year high school only; however, he still found a way to answer the call. That’s why he studied theology in 1991.
“Bible school, sa Balete Drive. Balete Drive Theological Study. College ‘yon. Kailangan bago ka mag-pastor, kailangan mag-aral ka sa bible school. Nag-two years ako sa bible school.”
In 1995, he began serving as a pastor in United Pentecostal Church, where he is assigned in New Manila, Quezon City. His family lives in the vicinity, but he, together with his wife, stays in his own humble house in Luneta. It was granted to them through rights by Executive Director Penelope Diaz Belmonte, who Ireneo kept on acknowledging during the interview.
He and all other vendors in Luneta are so grateful for Belmonte for removing the charges for staying in the park. In return, they work hand in hand for free to keep the park clean and green.
Words by Jonnel Almestas
Photos by John Mervin Borja