Johnny Villaverde Ibarrola, my interviewee, bounced down the ally of green tables smiling from ear to ear, offered a short apology although he was hardly considered as late. He sat at the table catching his breath, offered to save the seat while I went to get my favourite food which usually my wife would not have approved of me eating, but the appeal is too strong to resist...
Dressed in his trademark long-sleeves blue shirt, our good friend Johnny ate his Chicken rice with much care... taking his time to chew and savouring the taste of the famous authentic Hainanesse delicacy. He told me that this is his son Isaac's favourite food. The boy will choose chicken rice over MacDonald any time. Which I believe, cos its my children's favourite food too.
In between sips of Soya bean milk with grass-jelly, I started the interview...
Johnny and his youngest son Stephen
Johnny was born into a big family in Quezon province, Philippine, with 5 older brothers and 2 elder sisters.
During his teenage years, like any other teens who has not realized his destiny, he had a hard time realizing his dreams, he wanted to be a priest, but he loved tourism, yet he also had the passion for designing buildings.
Although his passion overwhelmed and he took Architecture as a major during his college years, but the same passion did not carry him all the way to Board Exam for a license to practise architecture after he has completed the course.
Instead, he got a job as a Draftsman which he worked for 6 months, after which he worked in a purchasing firm for 5 years.
During these years he also pursued another dream... his dream girl Marichu.
They lived in the same town, met in the same Church. But it wasn't that easy as there were other suitors too... Obviously, our handsome Johnny touched the heart of beautiful Marichu with his sincerity and love. And after nearly 3 years, they were married.
During the year 95', Johnny was offered to be a paint salesman, which he stayed in the company for 2 years. But the 97' recession came and he was badly affected. This got him to reconsider his options of his career path, which the obvious choice was to be professionally inclined in order to have a market value.
He started to hit the books and went for refresher courses before taking the board exam for the license to practise architecture as a professional. Although it has been 9 years since he left school, he took the exam only once and passed! Praise the Lord!
For the next 4 years he work freelanced.
But the live changing point came in 2001 when he was offered to work in Singapore... At that time, his daughters were only 6 and 3 years old, wife was pregnant with Isaac... As a father, I can imagine his pain of leaving the family to work in other countries. But his decision was for the better of his family. Most important is, he trusted God with his family.
When he first arrived in Singapore, he was financially very stretched... but no matter how difficult it may seemed, he would send home more than enough, trusting God with what he has.
I love what he said. He told me: "But I am very faithful with my tithing." He has never short-changed God in this aspect.
And in 6 years, he was offered jobs after jobs... sorted after, head-hunted... he changed 6 jobs, and every job offered was a greater blessing for him and his family. Now he no longer stay in the rented flat but bought over the entire house.
In 2006, his family moved over to reunite with him in Singapore . I remember when he first told me about the success of his application for his family to come over, I was so happy for him, I was near tears.
When we talked about his family, his face will beam.
Children has always been challenging but yet fulfilling to him. All these years of marriage, and being a parent, he has not depended on his own parents for help. They want to be a responsible and mature parents bringing them up, taking care of them by themselves.
Dreams and Vision
In terms of the family, he would like to see his children be successful and healthy in the aspects of financial, spiritual, emotional and physical.
As for his career, he plan to stop working as an employee by 55 years old and start his own architecture firm back in Manila, Philippine by then.
Part of his plan to be back in Philippine is also because he knows he has a calling that God wants him to minister to the people there. He has passion and love for the people of his hometown and want to reach out to those who are in poverty and help them.
He may be quiet, meek and mild, but he has a very big heart. He is an amazing person, who truly loving God whole heartedly, loving people fervently.