This year’s Minister of the Year Award at the School of Theology was presented to the multi-talented John Michael Salazar from the Philippines. SOT writer Dave Riel Espanola interviewed him on his passion for serving.
What does it really mean to serve? Are all the talents one has developed solely for the cultivation of the Kingdom of God? Is it good or bad to be a jack of all trades? Sometimes, it can be a struggle to identify one’s specific call. For John Michael Salazar, or JM to the cohort of SOT 2019, being good at many things simply means that he can express his heart for service in abundant ways.
JM serves full-time in World Harvest Church in Bacolod in the Philippines. Coming to SOT this year, he quickly extended his heart for service to the whole SOT community. Though his talents are many, JM believes that a talented Christian is ultimately a humble Christian.
Tell us, who is JM?
People link “JM” with words like talented, passionate, hardworking, submissive, nice, patient, gifted, and has a good heart. But for me, JM is just a man that only does what God wants him to do. Whenever I hear such praise from others, I am humbled—I’m often surprised to hear those compliments. But I am only human: sometimes I fail, and I have nothing to boast about myself. If there is something that I want to boast about, it’s that God is good to me, He is mindful of me, He prospers the things I put my hand to.
You love to experiment and create new things. Tell us about some of these during your time at SOT.
It all starts with a desire to learn new things. For instance, I learned how to make bubble tea because I needed to find a way to use the three packs of tapioca starch sitting around in our hostel unit. I looked for recipes that use tapioca, and stumbled upon the famous boba pearl. I realised that a lot of our classmates in the hostel like bubble tea, so I watched videos on how to make them then I tried it out.
Then there was the time I tasted a salted egg dish at Far East Plaza. I became curious as to how it’s made, and I wanted to try making the dish.
In SOT, I had the pleasure of serving the whole cohort. During our team’s PA week (a service week run by each SOT team) I volunteered to cook some snacks and meals for the class. I would also do the preparations for my teammates’ birthday celebrations, including preparing and doing the barbecue cooking. That gave me the opportunity to be the one heading the cooking whenever there was a barbecue fellowship in the hostel, or when other teams had their celebrations.
My interest is in the technical things, but along the way, whenever I serve in my church, or when there are big events in my church, I have developed new skills along the way that is according to the need of the church.
It’s not only cooking that you do. You also cut hair? Tell us about that.
I became the “resident hair stylist” in the hostel for most of our classmates because of the need to save money. At first, I only cut my own hair and those of my Filipino church mates. But word got out that I was cutting hair, so I extended my services to those other SOT students who needed to save money.
How did I learn to cut hair? Once, my cousin asked me to cut his hair using a razor. I did his hair twice, and that was the only experience I had! Because of the demand, we bought a razor here, and started experimenting new styles by watching some video tutorials.
Your actual training is in electronics. How did you use that at SOT?
I majored in Electronics Engineering Technology while in university and made a stereo amplifier as one of my projects. I developed a love for the sound ministry and I am also one of the sound technicians in our church back home. So at SOT I would help out with the sound in class and also during breaks when we had performances.
What else did you try your hand at while at SOT?
My first project I did in SOT was to create a T-shirt for my team, Team 4. I did the design and production of the logo since I had the experience of silkscreening designs on T-shirts. During our final PA week, I also made wallet-sized group photos of every team, so that they could put them in their wallets of their phones as a remembrance of SOT 2019.
That’s amazing. Where does all this talent come from?
I think they come out of my curiosity and from my being a naturally observant person. What I see sometimes I try to do. Just as Albert Einstein once said, “I am not smart, I am just curious.” It was out of his curiosity, not intellect, that he was able to provide a big contribution in the field of science.
What gives you the greatest joy?
Cooking for other people. Seeing the smiles on their faces as we hold fellowships with good food—that’s something I always looked forward to. This usually happened at our hostel unit (09-34)—almost every one of our classmates living in the hostel would visit us to have some good food and a great time.
What motivates you to do all that you can do for the ministry?
My motivation is that each one is an opportunity to give back to the Lord. All the skills and talents I have come from God, and the way for me to give back is to be excellent in everything I do. But though a person can have many talents, you can’t use it all at once. There are times when I only do one thing. If I try to do too many things at once, it gets stressful. I burn out. Just do what you can one at a time.
What other advice would you give about serving?
In every ministry, we must be responsible with what God has given us. Trust yourself. Be confident in what you do. We are serving an excellent God, so we must also serve excellently.
What can you say about serving in the background and not getting due recognition for your service?
What I tell myself is that I am not doing it for man, but I am doing it for God. Sometimes I don’t get the attention of people, but I all I seek is God’s attention. Everything you do, you must do it for the glory of God. When serving, we must be careful with the trust people have given to us.
How can one cultivate a servant heart?
It’s about having an attitude of humility towards God. It’s about our willingness to serve Him, and the commitment to do what He wants us to do. Having a servant heart takes time; it’s not instant.
I’ve been raised up to have a servant heart through my parents. They’re both hardworking people. My mother is a helper, and my father was a carpenter. I help my mother to serve, too. My mother would make snacks and she would ask me to help her sell those snacks on the streets. That’s what I have been exposed to since I was young.
It also boils down to finding people who believe in your abilities. For me, my pastor’s encouragement really helped me a lot. Because of his belief in me, I have done a lot firsts in our ministry, things that I’ve never done before. It has been my pastor’s trust that has kept me going.
A servant heart is something one needs to develop. When we begin to achieve success, sometimes we get boastful. Our heart gets lost and we stumble in that success. When we are at the top, sometimes we forget that there is someone higher than us. Being a servant is for a lifetime; we are intended to serve God and do His will.
Some struggle with this idea of servanthood. What advice do you have?
I’m encouraged by Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” You will get discouraged or disappointed if you do it for man, and haven’t gained the respect in the people in the ministry or church. I just say, “Do it for an Audience of One.” There are times when I struggle too, but I just remind myself to do it for God.
What’s your takeaway from SOT that you want to bring back home?
There’s so much to take away, but one main thing I want to bring back home are the testimonies of the people that I’ve encountered at SOT. Time will come that I might share it to the people who are having the same experiences. I also want to bring back the memories I made here with people and in school: how I survived here, how my faith is strengthened and stretched beyond what I can imagine.
What has God put in your heart that you are able to keep on serving wholeheartedly?
My life verse says, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13). I am not afraid to do new things because I keep on believing the promise that God has given to me in Deuteronomy 28:8, “The Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The Lord your God will bless you in the land he is giving you.”