Losing close loved ones unexpectedly challenged Ruelson Lee's faith in a good and loving God after years of routinely attending church each week.
Ruelson says he deliberately "compartmentalised" his life, allowing thoughts of God only into certain areas of his life, until he received some devastating news: his mother, who he had not seen for three years, had fallen comatose while he was away.
He desperately started praying that God would keep her alive as he returned home to the Philippines but was crushed when he arrived to find she had already passed away.
"I started questioning God," Ruelson remembers.
"I thought He loved us because we were serving for His purpose."
The loss of his mother shattered his trust in God and he withdrew from church attendance as a result.
Despite pouring all his efforts into a fine arts degree and political activism, a deep emptiness settled over him.
Ruelson went on to win a prestigious national visual arts competition but says "those achievements made me proud and yet I still felt empty".
"My relationships became wild, transferring from one girlfriend to another and getting more depressed all the time," he admits.
"I would easily resign from my work when things did not go right. Drinking with my 'barkadas' and going home drunk to fill-in my sadness was a casual thing to do, until I was expelled from my uncle's house."
Ruelson made a snap decision to join the underground armed struggle of his poverty-stricken countrymen in the mountains, despite all his friends telling him not to go.
"I convinced myself I would be doing good, but in reality I just wanted to end my life in a better way [than suicide]," he confesses.
The next day a kind woman from his former workplace told him she would pay his rent while he looked for another job.
"I was so touched that I wanted to cry but held back my tears. I thought that nobody really cared for me."
Ruelson ended up marrying this generous Christian woman and they raised three sons together, yet he still felt far from God.
"I never wanted to go to church, pray or cared to read the Bible. I did a lot of things that brought so much pain to my life, my wife, and my sons at that time," he says.
Ruelson's wake-up call came one night on his way home from work when a uniformed police officer beat him up at gunpoint.
"Bloodied, beaten black and blue, I thought that was my last chance to live, so I uttered a prayer, 'Lord Jesus, take my life!'"
The policeman paused from beating him and Ruelson took the chance to pick up his phone and belongings and flee.
"I was just waiting for a gunshot but miraculously it did not come."
Shaken up, Ruelson asked his reverend uncle Fred Lee to visit and Fred openly shared that he needed to surrender his whole life to Jesus.
"Jesus' words from John 15 struck me, 'I am the vine, you are the branches... If you abide in [depend on] Me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you... that you bear much [spiritual] fruit."
These words from Jesus told Ruelson that satisfaction and spiritual life come only in dependence on Jesus, "the way, the truth and the life", as is written in John chapter 14, verse 6.
Ruelson says that his uncle and aunty, Fred and Aida Lee, helped him recuperate from past wounds, until Fred passed away in 2002.
Instead of discouraging him this time, Fred's death prompted Ruelson to become "God's servant for life" as he explains.
He resigned from his company artist position, trained in theology and became a full-time Christian pastor of two churches in Metro Manila. In 2007, he and his family moved to a church in Santiago City, Philippines.
"I know that life's ultimate purpose is just as Jesus said in John chapter 12, verse 24: 'Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.'
"I am learning to die to myself, to worldly passions and selfish ambitions to gain what is best: the life that is eternal given through my Shepherd, Saviour, and Sovereign Lord." •