SpBy Bo Sanchez
In the morning of November 11, 2008, Tita Neneng Mangahas died.
My dearest friend was 83 years old. Who was she? She was God’s love to me. Really. Let me tell you her incredible story.
She was a short, plumpish, silver-haired, never-been-married woman with a contagious laugh and a heart as big as a boat. For years, she was a very successful businesswoman who owned a gigantic canteen in a hospital. All her life, she cooked and fed people. If she fed a human being and that human being said, “Sarap!” (Delicious!), she was in heaven.
I first met Tita Neneng in 1980, when she joined our then tiny prayer group we called Light of Jesus. After a few weeks, I noticed how people loved her. People greeted me with respect because I was their leader. But when Tita Neneng walked into the prayer group, everyone stood up and adored her. Because each week, without fail, she brought a humongous pot of steaming tinola (chicken soup) for everyone.
Here’s a secret I’d like to share with you…
She Was My Second Mother
One day, when I was only 18 years old, Tita Neneng pulled me aside and pressed a thick, white envelope in my hand. “Brother Bo,” she said, “I know you’ve been praying for a car. Instead of just praying for it, I’m giving you money to buy a second-hand car.”
I couldn’t believe my eyes. Tita Neneng gave me PHP50,000 — in cash! It was the biggest amount I’d ever held in my hand. In 1984, PHP50,000 was a big amount of money.
But I simply couldn’t buy the car for myself. So months later, I told her, “Tita Neneng, I’m donating your money to the community. We need a community van more than I need a personal car.”She understood. “That’s up to you, Bo.”
She was like a second mother to me. Whenever she saw me, she’d give me food, stories, and laughter. When community needed money, she’d be the first person I’d call. “Tita Neneng, I want to buy a small piece of property for our community office. Will you help me?”
She didn’t even ask me to explain. She pulled out her checkbook and wrote a check for PHP100,000. (Today, that would be worth PHP500, 000.) Our office building is now sitting on that same property.
When I ran out of money for the salaries of our full-time staffers, I called her up. When I greeted her, “Hi Tita Neneng,” she didn’t even let me speak. She just said, “I have a check for you. Visit me.”
She Left Everything for Love
Something happened when she was 70 years old. She suffered a massive heart attack. So massive, she died—for one minute. Thankfully, the doctors were able to revive her.
I visited her in the hospital and I was shocked by her request. Even as she was still lying down in bed, this 70-year-old woman said, “Brother Bo, I want to serve the Lord.”
I said, “Tita Neneng, you’re already serving the Lord.”
“No,” she said, “I want to serve in Anawim,” she said. “This is now my second life. Please let me live with the poor and cook for them every day.” Anawim is a ministry for the poorest of the poor which I founded a year before. Today we house abandoned elderly in Anawim concrete cottages on a 5-hectare property in Montalban.
Tita Neneng left everything—her big house, her air-conditioned room, and her brand new van. And she also left her businesses.
She lived in Anawim and took over the kitchen. Tita Neneng moved into one of the houses where the poor old women we’d pick up from the streets stayed. In that house, she shared the same toilet with these street people. It wasn’t an easy life. During these early years of Anawim, we didn’t even have electricity or running water. But every day, with great love, she cooked dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for our Anawim residents. Indeed, we called her the Mother of Anawim.
Many times, she pulled out her own money and gave it to the ministry. Until one day, she said with a laugh, “Brother Bo, I don’t have money anymore. It’s all gone.”
She gave everything. Her strength. Her time. Her money. Her life.
The Happiest Woman I’ve Ever Met
Many times, Tita Neneng and I talk over lunch. She loved telling me, “Brother Bo, I can die right now. I’m so happy. What else will I ask for?” Every time she said these lines, she cried tears of joy. Believe me. She was one of the happiest persons I’ve ever met in my life.
Her death was as dramatically beautiful as her life. Here’s how it happened.
The Monday morning she died, she led worship in Anawim. And the last song she sang was a song I composed titled Draw Me. Here are the lyrics (Reading them gives me the chills).
Draw me now closer to thy throne,
Take me near to receive thy mercy,
Draw me deep into thy presence,
Oh lift my soul higher and higher…
Higher, draw my soul higher,
To thy throne where I will rest…
After worship, Tita Neneng should have rested — because Monday was her day off. But this 83-year-old woman insisted on orienting the new batch of caregivers. At the end of the orientation, she closed her eyes, her head falling to the side. And that was it. The Anawim staff took her to the hospital, but even in the van, they could no longer find her pulse.
After 13 years of service to the poorest of the poor, she suffered another heart attack. This time, God didn’t let go of her.
Heaven is now celebrating. No wonder. God and his Angels must like tinola too.
For the longest time, Tita Neneng often told me, “Brother Bo, I want to die on active duty for the Lord.”
And God granted that request. To the letter.
I don’t know about you, but that’s how I want to die. Peaceful. Quick. Painless. And with my boots on — serving the Lord.
Do you want to be happy? Serve the Lord like Tita Neneng did. It’s the greatest thing on planet earth.