Mark Gonzaga: His Journey with Real LIFE

1. What is your name and what do you do?

I am Mark Gonzaga, a campus missionary at Every Nation Campus.

As a Campus Missionary, I do 3 things:

1. Campus Outreach

I engage with students in campuses and share with them the message of the gospel.

I help them find purpose, hope, and meaning in life through Jesus Christ.

I connect with School Administrators, Teachers, Guidance Department, Student Leadership organizations to identify how we can help them in the character development of the students. From these, we conduct seminars, trainings, team buildings, and retreats.

2. Student Discipleship

I meet with students weekly to help them grow in their relationship with God and their understanding of the gospel. This can either be a one-on-one or a small group discussion.

3. Leadership Development

We believe that everyone is called to leadership. I coach and mentor students with leadership potential and capacity. We impart leadership values to help them handle current and future changes they might face.

In Victory Ortigas, I help actively in the character development of scholars through coaching, mentoring, and the recruitment process which also include house visits and meeting the parents along with initial screening interviews.

I firmly believe that when we impart faith in Jesus in the lives of the young people, the new generation of godly leaders will rise up and bring greater change in our nation and the world.

2. How did your journey with Real LIFE start?

My journey started in 2009 when I was in the 2nd semester of my studies. I have enrolled only by faith.

My mother was working at that time as a domestic helper in Macau, but she was experiencing a growing health problem that affected her ability to work. I deeply desired to finish a college degree; however, I didn’t want to sacrifice my mother’s health just to achieve that dream. At that time, I was living here in Pasig, sharing a space with some church-mates.

She was able to send me money for enrolment, but due to her health condition, she was not able to provide for my allowances and meals. Because of my desire to study, I walked from home to school and back again daily, which was perfectly fine, but I came to a point that I would have no meals at all for 5 days. I was grateful for a piece of candy, cracker, or a banana that my schoolmates would give me out of nowhere. I kept this to myself at that time. I don’t want to beg and be pitied. Having no money in hand was difficult. Not only that I had no meals, I also constantly think of where I am going to get provision for projects, school contributions, and school materials. When preliminary exams came, I had to talk to teachers to allow me to take the tests without paying the tuitions and then give me the grades later when it is paid.

I have thought of dropping out of college. My schedule at that time was full and could not possibly allow me to work part-time. I said to myself, I can work, then continue my studies by taking up few units at a time. I opened up to my leader in church about my situation and plans. That is when he gave me the advice to try applying for a Real LIFE Scholarship, so I did.

The wait was excruciating. As days and weeks passed, I felt frustration, doubt, and anger, which were taking a toll on me, but I continued in hope.

But amidst all of these thoughts, God made me the President of the University Student Government, working with different student leaders and organizations.

Finally on February of 2010, after much waited evaluation and consideration from Real LIFE, I received the news that qualified me to receive the scholarship program. Real LIFE program gave me full tuition fee, weekly allowance, and other allowances for books, uniform, and shoes. It also provided trainings and coaching to help in character and leadership development.

After a few weeks, my mother arrived here due to her medical condition that disabled her from fulfilling her job. I picked her up at the airport and broke the news to her personally. She, too, rejoiced greatly, and was relieved that she no longer had to think about providing for my education.

Because of Real LIFE, I no longer need to worry and think about tuition, fare allowances, project, contribution, and above all, my daily meals. I was able to focus on my academics and responsibilities in the campus. I also became a consistent dean’s lister. I finished with the degree of Bachelor of Science in Business Administration major in Financial Management.

3. What are the challenges you encountered and how did you overcome them?

Adversities only reveal what is already in us.

Breaking the poverty mindset was one, and victim mentality came along with it.

I am grateful for the godly men and women who mentored, coached, prayed, and who always pointed me back to the word of God that liberated me from all worries. By embracing God’s word and my Biblical identity, I am set free from that mentality, and poverty no longer had a grip on me.

During this period, I have learned to carefully budget and maximize the allowance I was receiving from Real LIFE. I was receiving Php 600 per week. From there, I have managed to fit in my daily meals from breakfast to dinner, school materials, and miscellaneous payment. Real LIFE taught me the discipline of budgeting, which I have carried on up until today.

I have always struggled with Mathematics and all subjects related to it. I always feared to learn and understand the subject because of its complexity. In fact, all throughout elementary to high school, I barely passed the subject. But to keep the scholarship, I had to meet a grade requirement. I desired to go beyond meeting the expectations, so I reached out to my life coach in Real LIFE to help me achieve this. He connected me to people who voluntarily tutored me and patiently taught the principles especially in my accounting subjects. With their help, I improved significantly on my math subjects and was able to pass all of them.

4. Can you also tell us about the time you worked in The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf®? How did your being a Real LIFE Scholar lead you to the company and then to campus ministry?

I was a CBTL Specialist, hired to promote and do sales for CBTL Coffee Machines through Lynn Nawata who was the Real LIFE Director during that time. In my time with the company, I also underwent training for baristas- learned how to prepare the drinks and the gourmet selections. Coming from a finance management background, I found it fun and challenging to do. I remember a time when I was asked during the training which knife to use for a particular purpose. I was overwhelmed with that question because for me, it was just a knife. I still laugh at myself every time I remember that moment. I loved the adventure of meeting new people to present the products to, and I also enjoyed working with different people. Above all, I appreciated working for a company that values social responsibility.

Meanwhile, my calling for campus ministry started in 2007 because I’ve been an active volunteer going to campuses. It was also one of my driving motivations to finish college in order for me to inspire and set an example to the next generation to value education.

While working with CBTL, I’ve come to a point of missing doing campus ministry, talking to students, doing discipleship, and outreach programs. So when I was asked by our youth pastor if I would consider going to full time ministry, I immediately said yes. In 2013, I started joining the full-time team of campus missionaries, and that’s what I’m doing up to now. I’m grateful that the journey I have taken from Real LIFE to CBTL led me to doing what I love everyday.

5. What would you say are the top 3 learnings you gained from being a Real LIFE scholar that you could also impart to those who want to better themselves and their lives?

– Faith in the almighty God that enables us to overcome the challenges in life.

– Never, never, and never ever give up on your God-given dreams, no matter how impossible they might seem.

– Be surrounded by a community that will help you and keep you grounded on your faith, values, vision, and direction in life.

6. For you, what is generosity?

Generosity is not about the amount we give. It is when we give sacrificially, giving up a portion of our convenience in order for others to be blessed. It is the willingness to act in faith for the greater good, even with the knowledge that this may immensely cost us.

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