‘Balikbayan’ Home at Last

I woke up in the middle of the night as I felt someone was trying to shake the couch I had been sleeping.  It could have been the three glasses of coke that made my nerves awake and kicking. It could have been the bad news that haunted me in my sleep. Or it could have been Uncle Sam.

I looked around the living room. I saw the chair where he spent most of his naps. Whenever he slept on the chair, he stretched his legs and placed them on the table. As I remembered how Uncle Sam slept in the living room, I could not make my eyes shut and my body rest. I left the couch and continued thinking of Uncle Sam in my bedroom.

My family had always looked forward for Uncle Sam’s visit because he was a ‘balikbayan.’ If loosely translated, ‘balikbayan’ meant someone who lived abroad and came back to his country. When I was a little girl, ‘balikbayan’ meant chocolate and dollars. As I added another year in my life, ‘balikbayan’ meant having someone for a short time and not seeing him for a long time. From that last definition, indeed, he was a ‘balikbayan.’

Though my Uncle Sam had worked in America for almost all his life, he did not have lots of money as other Filipinos who worked as nurses and doctors in the States. He chose to be a minister in a small city in Kentucky.   At the same time, he worked as an agent in US Chamber of Commerce to support his financial needs. He had lived all by himself in a mobile house. He rode his bike to town in the mornings and had his breakfast in McDonalds. We could have thought how lonesome it was to live in a land with no relatives, no wife, no children of his own but Uncle Sam had stayed in the United States for fifty years.

In all his vacations in the Philippines, he made sure he had something to give whenever he visited home. He always gave me money even if I never asked.  He sent me greeting cards and inserted cash. Sometimes, he brought home a box filled with Kentucky key chains, souvenirs, pencil holder, toothbrush, tooth paste, mouth wash, music box or anything he could think of.  He was one of most thoughtful men I had in my life because I had not known another man who would pack some goods in a ‘balikbayan’ box for his relatives.

happiest moment with his family


Uncle Sam with his niece, grandson, and nephew

He wrapped us with his bear hugs. He called me, “Ms. Belo” with his loud and commanding voice. As I grew up, I found my title name “Ms. Belo” special and endearing. He would spy on us with his tape recorder. I probably inherited Uncle Sam’s gene. We both liked to talk with the tape recorder and loved hearing our own voices. He also did not run out of jokes. He was very cheerful. His laughter was contagious. His smile was the kind of smile that I would want to see everyday. And even if he weren’t my uncle, I would still love him for the joy he shared. He had so much energy. Before I rose from my bed, he already had a sip of coffee and brought home bread for our breakfast. He liked to walk around. He was comfortable going to Tacloban’s downtown without our company. He traveled around the three big islands of the Philippines by bus though he could afford to ride a plane.

Last December, he came back to attend my parents’ golden wedding anniversary. He was recording his vacation through his tape recorder. He did not know that his tapes would soon serve as memorabilia. Our wedding photographer had been quite reluctant in taking pictures. I did not even have a solo picture. But, among my relatives, Uncle Sam was present in almost all my parents’ wedding pictures. He sang with his four brothers and his sister, “How Great Thou Art.” The song number left the audience with teary eyes. And today, people cry harder than before while watching their performance on video.

last sermon
Last Sunday Lunch


Last Sunday, he preached about the feeding of 5,000 people in Matthew 14:3. He showed two fish and five loaves of bread on the pulpit. The members of the church glued their eyes and ears to Uncle Sam and laughed when he cracked jokes in between his sermon.  He shook hands and exchanged smiles with the brethren. We had our family lunch in a restaurant. He insisted on paying the bill. He could have thought that it was the last opportunity that he could treat us in a restaurant. At six o’clock, he attended the evening worship even if he was starting to feel ill. During the closing prayer, he was about to fall. By the end of our evening worship, his fever was raging.

The next day, he slept the whole day in the living room. Well, we thought he was sleeping. He could hardly walk. Somewhere near his right ankle hurt. My parents gave some remedies for arthritis. He was trying to make the most of his sleep that he pushed the glass on the table while he stretched his legs. When he was sleeping, I did not know what came into my mind but I checked how he was breathing. I knew it had nothing to do with his foot pain. I came near him. And I felt guilty of thinking the possibility, he might stop breathing. I was relieved when I saw his stomach moved up.

Two Bible students came in to interview Uncle Sam for class assignment. They came at the right time to get a piece of advice from Uncle Sam.  They knew he was leaving for the States on the next day. They knew that it was their last chance to have an interview with Uncle Sam but they did not know it was the perfect time.

For the second time, my Uncle Sam gave all of us money. My nieces would soon have a new cell phone. I could afford to repair my personal camera while my parents and my brotherwere amazed at his extraordinary generosity. But we did not know we were going to spend it for his funeral.

Last Supper

We had our dinner in my brother’s house. We took two family pictures with Uncle Sam. During that time, a little voice whispered on my head to take more pictures of our dinner. Yet, I failed to do it.

He started his sleep in the chair. Then, he was kneeling while he was going to his bedroom. We offered help but he said he could manage.  We guided his way till he reached his bedroom. Later on, he smiled and asked, “Hi Jacklyn, can you get me a glass of water?” I brought him a glass of water but he refused. He preferred a plastic cup because he might break it.

The following morning, my dad heard my Uncle Sam groaning in pain. He made attempts to put his foot on the table while he slept on the chair but he could not. He moved down to the chair. On the floor, he continued his sleep and extended his legs. My brother suggested that he should not fly to Manila but he said he could not postpone his trip to the US. Before he left our house, we prayed together for his trip. My dad wept as he prayed. If he knew what would happen next, he would not just cry but moan in his prayer. I kissed Uncle Sam goodbye on the cheek and he returned me a smile. And today, I’m glad i kissed Uncle Sam goodbye. On the airport, he was on wheel chair. His brother met him in Manila airport.

The next day, he was brought to the hospital because he could no longer bear the pain. He was in the Intensive Care Unit. The doctors found out that the pain on his foot was due to infection. His foot infection caused septicemia, blood poisoning.  They gave him antibiotics to stop it from spreading in his body.  His brother and his sister were with him.  He said to his brother, “I haven’t slept for seven days.” On his death-bed, he carried a Bible with him and said to his younger sister, “I will see you again.” At around 6:30 in the morning, God called him back to his real home.

What happened was like a dream. He was here a few days ago and now he is gone. How come a man, who never had been in the hospital, had a fatal infection?  It is hard to believe that he did not die with old age but he died with septicemia, which can be a disease for a twenty year old or an eighty year old. My family had a series of questions but the answer boils down that it was God’s will.

His life and his death became an inspiration to everyone. When news came out, testimonials for Uncle Sam flooded in Facebook. We heard story of a woman who once dreamed, as a girl to have Uncle Sam as the officiating minister in her wedding. Her dream came true and Uncle Sam even led the funeral service for her husband. We learned he taught kids in church. We saw the people he baptized and helped. Now, we know why Uncle Sam had second thoughts of retiring in the Philippines. He touched a lot of lives in the US. While American missionaries came here to share the gospel in the Philippines, a Filipino came there to preach the word of God. He was loved not only here, but across the globe.

I am going to sleep again in the living room. Even if it’s my imagination or not, I hope he will shake my couch and let him sleep in so that he can still be at home with us.  But, I know he has a better home up there.  A place where there are no bacteria, blood and tears.

31 thoughts on “‘Balikbayan’ Home at Last

  1. Jacklyn, Just wanted to see how you & the family are doing, Been thinking about you all! I e-mailed you several times but not sure if they are getting to you! Everything is ok here except I’m missing Sam so much! It’s probably just in my head but sometimes I feel his presence, whenever my tears start to fall and silly thoughts rises in my mind & head..Sometimes It seems I can hear him say” Don’t you give up now, We worked too hard on this”.. I haven’t been able to bring myself to go back to that Church, How’s the weather there.. It’s really cold here,, and been getting alot of snow, so I’m stuck in the house alot now..and I’m an outside person.. but kind of hard going anywhere when you have to walk in the cold but hoping Spring will come early.. I hope you all are doing ok.. And I will continue to keep you in my thoughts & prayers! Love, Peggy


  2. I can’t believe this happened it happened without any notice here in ky. i just hate knowing abaut him assing away I have thought abaut him every night
    it coud almost kill me that I know this I can’t stop dreaming abaut the good times we had when he wasn’t hurt. It fills like my heart is cracking every secont I get more information abaut him getting hurt. i cry at night abaut him I hit my head tring not to think abaut the bad only the good since he got hurt I am
    hurt now.People hat he knew here in ky. are coming to his reunion my heart is broken but good thing i have my family to comfort me but it is not as perfect
    as it was when uncle sam was here.
    -Little Cea Dunford
    P.S. me and uncle Sam’s special # is:*****10854 i can’t say the whole #


    1. Chloe, we are all in pain for the loss of Uncle Sam. But let’s just think that his death is his gain. God is rewarding him for being a good warrior of Christ. Though it hurts us, we should be happy that he does not have to suffer long on earth. May he be an inspiration to us all


  3. dear jacklyn, i don’t know if you remember me or not, but it’s me your cousin michael traspe cachela. i really love your story about uncle sam. from what you wrote he really was a great man, and a true MAN OF GOD. my only regret is that i never got to meet or know him while he was alive. but i praise GOD that he is w/HIM now, and that one day i will get to meet him. my thoughts and prayers continue to be w/you and the family. i pray that, GOD willing and hoping, we will see each other again soon. take care, and GOD BLESS.


  4. Jackie, I enjoyed so much reading your article about Bro. Sam. It had been a few years since I had seen Bro. Sam, which happened to be when my younger brother passed away in Aug. 2009. It was always wonderful to see him. I went to the first Church of Christ that he preached at in the area in Kentucky where he eventually called home. That was DeKoven Church of Christ, which no longer stands. The year was 1967. All of the members there fell in love with Bro. Sam and always cherished the times that he preached there. His sermons were always full of comparisons to the simple things in life. His outlook was always so refreshing and pure. He had many meals at my parents home and shared many many good times together. We especially enjoyed our monthly 4th Sunday Gospel Sings. We would rotate going to the different churches of christ in the local area for 2 to 2.5 hours of worshipping through songs. I remember him teaching us the two phrases “I love you” and “You are beautiful” in his Phillipine dialect. I can still say them, but can’t spell them. LOL
    My sympathy to you and your family. He will certainly be missed by everyone that ever knew him.


  5. Jacklyn,
    Keep on writing Jack. Uncle Sam may be gone but he left a strong message to all of us about fighting the good fight, finishing the race and most of all keeping the faith. That’s what his life is all about.
    So while we’re still here let’s keep on spreading God’s word and live the life God wants us too – just like His servant Uncle Sam.
    Great job Jacklyn!!



  6. Jacklyn;
    I am very sure Ucle Sam is just so proud of you.This writing and all the comments indeed will continue to make him smiles and proud that God is always good and faithfull and true..May he continue to inspire us…God Bless..


  7. I am so grateful for this story, you have done an exceptional job with the details of all the chain of events about your Uncle. Tears streamed down my face over the beauty of the man in life and in spirit. Thank you for sharing this it has answered many questions.


  8. Sam was the most caring, kindest man I have ever met! I have Known Sam for over 8 years and in those years I got to know a true friend! Sam was always on call, day or night, it didn’t matter what time it was, without questions, he’d come right away! He became a very important part of my husband & mine lives.. He was our minister but he was our friend! When my husband became ill, Sam was there, encouraging me to trust in the Lord! In March, 2010, my husband passed away and in my sorrow & grief I turned to alcohol & drugs, and as always Sam came to my rescue, It was a hard long battle but Sam never gave up on me, never stopped believing in me, his faith stayed strong in me even when I lost faith in myself.. I gave him hard times, shutting him out of my house, telling him to leave me alone, I wanted to die, but Sam refused to let me destroy myself! My favorite words to him was ” It’s my Life” & his words back to me was “You’re a stubborn, hard-headed woman”.. Whenever I would ask him why he won’t just give up on me, he’d just smile & say ” I don’t give up that easy!” For 7 months of struggling with alcohol & drugs, Sam was always there, never complaining about the long hours he spent by my side,. He stood by me when everyone else gave up & walked away! He would always say to me “I want the friend I know back” (me).. And I am Very proud that before the Lord called him home he saw his friend again!(me).. The day he came to say good-bye to me as he was leaving for his trip, he told me he was very proud of me, I will forever cherish those words! Thanks To Sam, I found God again, and I found my life again! He gave me Hope & Faith again! Sam is and always will be my BEST FRIEND! and The tears that’s now falling from my eyes are for Sam, because I know he’s happy in Heaven with God, and for Me, because I miss him so much and I don’t know what I’ll do without my BEST FRIEND! Yes Sam has touched so many lives and everyone who knew him loved him! He touched my life and I will never forget him! Sam, I will continue staying strong and I will forever be your sober, clean friend I promised you I would be! REST IN PEACE! Love, Peggy Jones


    1. Ms. Peggy Jones, thank you for sharing your story. Your friendship with Uncle Sam is truly inspiring. We would not know how much impact Uncle Sam has made there without your stories and experiences with Uncle Sam. Thank you for loving Uncle Sam the way we do. We may be crying today because we miss him but we will be crying for joy when we join him up there


      1. Jackie, Is there an E-Mail address for you I can personally talk to you.. Thanks! I hope you & your family are doing ok! You All are in my thoughts & prayers.. I know the pain that’s in your heart.. I miss Sam more than words could ever say.. I hope & pray he knew just how much he meant to me, I just can’t imagine not hearing his voice, seeing his smile and yet I know he wouldn’t want me to be sad! I’ll always remember him picking me up for church, him making me smile even when I didn’t want to, going to McDonald’s after Church, He was the first person I told when something good happened, the first person I told when something was wrong.. Sam knew me better than I knew myself.. I don’t mean to be bugging or bothering you, I know you got alot on your mind & you’re hurting right now.. It just that talking to a family member of Sam feels as if he is here talking to me.. I don’t know if anyone truly understands just how much Sam meant to me! You can have many friends but there’s only One True Best Friend, And I am Blessed to have Sam as My Best Friend! I saw Sam all the times, sometimes he was here 2-3 times a day, and Sam was the best.. Please don’t think I’m silly but when you bury him tomorrow, will you whisper to him, & tell him I love him and he’ll always be in my heart.. God Bless You All! Love, Peggy Jones


      2. Ms. Peggy Jones,

        I’m sorry I was not able to whisper to him for you. The internet connection in here is quite slow. I only get to read your message today. He was buried in her mother’s tomb at around eleven o’ clock in the morning.

        Last night, my sister read the testimonial you posted as comment in my blog during the memorial service for Uncle Sam. She did not finish reading it because it brought her to tears. My brother continued reading it instead.

        It’s nice to know that Uncle Sam is your best friend.
        You may reach me at my email address: jackiejacklynbelo@gmail.com


  9. Jacklyn, What a great tribute to your uncle. I got to meet him once when he came through Harlingen, Texas, perhaps to visit your sister Miriam who was living here at the time. The Belo family is such a great inspiration to so many people in widely different parts of our world. God bless you all as you continue to touch hearts and souls for the great I AM.


  10. Thank you Family of Brother Sam, for sharing him with us. I don’t think I have ever met a kinder man. His prayers sounded like beautiful music. He would come into the library some afternoons to read the paper or read his Bible and there was always such a peaceful feeling throughout the building when he was there. We will all miss Brother Sam!


  11. My Husband and I would eat lunch at the Hong Kong Restaurant in Morganfield on sunday’s after church. Bro. Sam was there most sundays, he would always say saloam as we entered and again when we would leave. never did I see him without a beaming smile on his face. A true man of God, he walked the walk and talked the talk. We sure will miss him.


  12. Your Uncle Sam was Uncle Sam to alot people. My family is very Honored to have know Sam. He has told me alot My family loved hearing his stories and his jokes. When he would preach it would send goose bumps. Brother Sam you are sadly missed and Loved FOREVER…..
    The Duncan Family


  13. Jacklyn,
    Thanks Jack, I think you did a great job in writing and letting us all know the details of Uncle Sam’s las few days. I love you sis.



  14. This was a great article. I never really knew Sam, but saw him out and about often. Everyone in Morganfield and Sturgis thought the world of him. So glad I got to see what you had written about him.


  15. Your uncle was an inspiration. He always had a smile and a kind word for everyone, and he would put a smile on my face when I saw him.


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