MANILA – Years before becoming the chairperson of ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation and accepting the post of secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Gina Lopez once left her family to become a missionary.
Days after President-elect Rodrigo Duterte appointed Lopez as DENR secretary, local magazine Rogue republished an essay written by the well-known environmental advocate last March.
Here, Lopez shared why she turned her back on a privileged life.
“I was clearly looking for something, and I didn’t find it in the externals of organized religion. I was looking for something deeper,” she said in the essay.
When she went to the United States for college, Lopez developed an interest in meditation. She entered an ashram as recommended by a friend, and it was there where she “felt something deep.”
“Tears rolled down my cheeks. I felt something I had not felt in church or in school. I had a feeling of Divine Love. That changed my life forever,” she said.
After leaving home at the age of 18, Lopez became a yoga missionary and went to Portugal, India, and Africa.
“It was in Africa that I spent 11 years and met my now ex-husband with whom I have two sons. The basic responsibilities of an Ananda Marga yoga missionary are to teach yoga-run, pre-primary schools and children in homes for the underprivileged. The slogan is ‘Service to humanity is service to God.’ I was constantly looking for money to survive and take care of the children I was responsible for.
“Like all institutions, one has a goal, but often what happens is something else… I grew up in a bubble where people were good and loving and true. This results in a naiveté about people and life.”
Far from her comfortable life in Manila, Lopez recalled memorable moments in her 20 years as a missionary – from living in a slum area in Kenya for two years to doing all the chores on her own, among others.
It was through this experience that she learned not to be wasteful, how to be persistent, how to adapt, and the “value of being a Filipino.”
“The camaraderie inherent in the race is amazing. Wherever I would go, as long as there was a Filipino, they would help me,” she said.
After her work as a missionary, Lopez returned to Manila, worked with the ABS-CBN Foundation and headed the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission.
Aside from helping the poor, taking care of the environment became her passion.
(WATCH: Gina Lopez, MVP debate on mining)
“I remain convinced that we can have a country without poverty if we take care of the environment and institute mechanisms wherein the community around benefits. I have been able to do it in a few sites where the communities are able to send their kids to college in the second year, so I know it can be done,” she said.