The So-Called “Prophet of Prosperity”

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

The Hale-Bopp comet glowed in the sky above Manila Bay, but the 50,000 ecstatic Christian followers of Brother Mike paid it no heed. Flying saucers were the last thing on their minds. Their reward was here and now: good jobs, good health, good marriages and, best of all, money.

At the high point of the rally on a vast fairground beside the bay, thousands of people lifted their open wallets and bank books to the heavens to receive financial blessings from the Philippines’ most popular evangelist, Mariano Velarde, known as Brother Mike.

Some raised their passports in hopes of a job abroad.

”Do you believe that without documents you can go to the United States with the help of Brother Mike?” said a worshiper named Nene Arreliano. ”I do.”

Evangelical movements are sweeping this largely Roman Catholic nation, with its undercurrent of pre-Christian mysticism and ritual, but never has the Philippines seen a movement grow so fast and claim so many followers.

Founded a decade ago by Mr. Velarde, 57, a real-estate developer with a religious radio program, the movement known as El Shaddai — a Hebrew name for God — has a following estimated at five million.

It is a religion of its time, when the Philippines is just beginning to join the economic growth spurt of its Southeast Asian neighbors.

”Mike Velarde is a new kind of prophet, a prophet of financial capitalism,” said Alex Magno, a political scientist. ”This is a religion in the age of portfolio investment.”

Its base, he said, is among the 700,000 overseas workers who are the nation’s leading earners of foreign exchange, sending home $8

El Shaddai preacher Mike Velarde

billion to $10 billion a year. El Shaddai has chapters in 30 countries where Filipinos work as maids, entertainers and construction workers.

It is a solid financial foundation for a religious movement that asks its followers not only to donate 10 percent of their earnings but also to offer ”seed money” that will help them reap great financial returns.

”Remember this: whoever sows (gives) sparingly will also reap (receive) sparingly, and whoever sows (gives) generously will reap (receive) generously,” an El Shaddai pamphlet says, paraphrasing the Bible.

The transactions are straightforward. Donation envelopes at the rally include a space on which a worshiper can describe the reward he hopes for.

A herald of hope drew the people to him. Known for his prosperity gospel, Bro. Mike promises healing, financial prosperity, and success to his followers. El Shaddai also ascribes magical healing powers to a wide variety of objects as eggs, bankbooks, and specially blessed handkerchiefs printed with prayers. For El Shaddai followers, with no exception to politicians, miracles are an earthly possibility. Still, the El Shaddai leader and preacher did not completely turn his back on his old enterprising business. Currently he owns and runs the Amvel Land Development Corporation, the real estate company behind the 3,000-unit Amvel Mansions, a residential project in Parañaque.
His children are into real estate as well, with some into politics.

”I call it transactional spirituality,” said Randy David, a Philippine sociologist. ”You get something for your spirituality: a visa, a job abroad. Or maybe you get cured of an illness, or you win your wife or your husband back if they are alienated.”

It is a transaction that Mr. Velarde happily acknowledges he is engaged in himself. His literature tells and retells his personal story of real-estate investments that paid off, after a period of travail, thanks to his faith.

”He used to sell real estate,” Mr. David said. ”I think he has found it more lucrative to sell religion.”

Like some American evangelists who collect large donations, Mr. Velarde has come under fire here for his financial dealings.

He has been criticized by the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission for irregularities in stock offerings from companies he controls, and a former associate has accused him of embezzling millions of dollars in El Shaddai funds. In 2001, Velarde made headlines along with former President Joseph Estrada regarding a questionable sale of his land property as a supposed “right of way” to the proposed government C-5 Road Project. Despite being overpriced, Estrada intervened to ensure the sale of the property prompting the government to charge Velarde and Estrada with plunder. The acquisition was believed to have been President Joseph Estrada’s thank you gesture to Velarde and his El Shadai followers in supporting his candidacy. A year and a half after paying Velarde’s firm P1.22 billion, the Estrada administration shelved the C-5 Link project indefinitely.

Nowhere in the Holy Scriptures that the gospel taught that those who believed will be enriched in material things. Unlike Velarde’s gospel prosperity, or any kind of gospel where pastors are promising material riches to their followers, Christ never promised His believers with anything like these. Instead, the Savior said,

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

El Shaddai Movement worship service.

 The doctrine of the gospel points the believers to look upon the things which are unseen than the things which are seen, because the things which are unseen are eternal and those that are seen are temporal, and every Christians should be taught in the same way. Christ wants us to look upon those things that endure in eternity and not to those things of this world because wherever we focus our eyes to this we will rest our hearts, too. In fact, Christ Himself or anyone of His apostles did not seek any material wealth except Judas Iscariot who used the ministry of his Lord to gain money until he lost. The Gospel is not all about money, but about spiritual riches. Paul said;

Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also. (II Corinthians 8:7)

The greatest riches that a Christian should aim is eternal life in the kingdom of God in heaven. It is the only blessing “that there shall not be room enough to receive it”. David said;

As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore. (Psalms 133:3)

Moses, though a prince of a great empire, did not coveted the great wealth promised by this world, but rather choose to live in poverty with Christ. Abraham in spite of the wealth he acquired, looked not upon temporal things but instead focused his mind upon that city which was built by God and not by man.

By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.

By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:

For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. (Hebrews 11:8-10)

The pattern of Velarde’s teaching and the materials which he used to seduce the minds of the innocents, like the eggs, the passport, the handkerchief, are all unbiblical. These are invented methods to beguile the carnal minds of  people. The message of his gospel that makes the hearts of the people more attached upon the things of this world is actually contrary to the principles of the pure teachings of God. To those who leaned their hopes upon worldly prosperity, God said;

Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. (James 5:3)


The New York Times